What Does It Mean to Support Diversity in Comics?
Art comic critic and publisher Kim Jooha of 2dcloud speaks on fostering new talent, experimental comics, and sharing international artists with North American readers.
I came across the writing of Kim Jooha on her blog good (art) comics, and it blew open my world as a comic reader: She’s exposing whole networks of European abstract comics, analyzing digital iconography in the work of Andy Burkholder, and breaking down the scientific elements of the quiet, geometric comics of Alexis Beauclair. Jooha’s compelling reviews and formal analyses also caught the attention of 2dcloud, a small but influential comics press based in Minneapolis, where she is now an associate publisher. 2dcloud is known for prioritizing cutting-edge innovations in comics over mainstream or already established works and artists. Their books, as well as their magazine Altcomics, are poetic, genre-bending, and forward-thinking. That said, running a small press without succumbing to commercial pressures in the comics world is complicated, and no small feat.
The Queue spoke to Kim Jooha about what it means to prop up emerging artists and distribute the greatest work in comics today — which is not as simple as it seems. You can follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram, and make sure to check out the many treasures on her blog.
The Queue: What has led you to the comics publishing world?
Kim Jooha: I was writing for my blog, and before the blog I became interested in comics because one of my college roommates was taking English 101 where Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth was required reading. I’m from South Korea, so the comics I was used to are Manga — Manga’s really huge in Asia — but Jimmy Corrigan was so different. I really loved the art and design (I’m a huge follower of art and design and architecture drawings) but I loved everything about Jimmy Corrigan.
After that, I started to read more comics, and I started the blog because there weren’t enough reviews of books I loved, like Maggots by Brian Chippendale. I wrote all about Maggots because nobody wrote a really good review about it. That’s how I started writing, and then [Raighne Hogan of 2dcloud] actually contacted me and asked me about writing reviews for 2d Cloud books. I knew 2dcloud, I think because of Rudy by Mark Connery, and I became online friends with Raighne. Then they came to last year’s [Toronto Comics and Arts Festival (TCAF)] — I live in Toronto, Canada — so I helped them and we talked a lot. After TCAF, Raighne asked if I was interested in working for 2d Cloud, and I said yes.
TQ: Can you describe your role as an associate publisher and what’s distinct about that at a small press?
KJ: 2dcloud is a very small, almost micropublisher, and all of us are not professionals in the publishing industry, so it’s not super organized [laughs], but I’m in charge of almost everything except production design, because while I don’t know anything about design or art, I do marketing and production. I talk with comic shows like TCAF, and I write descriptions for books for Amazon and whatnot, and I talk with artists. Starting in December, the book I edited will come out, and then more books I’ve recommended will come out as time goes on. One thing about publishing is that it takes a long time for a book to come out — it took a year for that book to get ready — so more and more books which I suggested will be coming out [in the future].
TQ: 2dcloud seeks to publish “diverse and dynamic” comics. What does that mean for you?
KJ: One thing I really liked about 2dcloud when I first talked to Raighne is that Raighne is a white guy, but 2dcloud tries to publish at most only half of our published books by white cis straight guys. It’s our mandate. It’s really important to us for not just the art, but the artists to be diverse, which I think is very rare. Nowadays there’s Koyama Press and other presses which really take care of this stuff, but I think in more avant-garde and arts communities, it’s still a lot of white guys. That’s one thing that 2dcloud and myself really try to do.
With art itself, it’s just taste. I am not a huge fan of narrative, I don’t know why, it’s just my taste. I’m also interested in really international stuff, not just North American, but also European or Asian. I also just love formal stuff — movies I love are structural films.
So many great works that are more experimental or that are more adventurous in their way to make comics, there are so many of these that are not being published by large publishers. Like Sarah Ferrick, she’s just great, or Austin English. Our book of Austin English’s was one of the first collections of his.
I also really want libraries to have [our books]. I just want to promote these artists, I love their work.
TQ: I want to ask you about an Instagram post of yours that I saw in August where you expressed that you’re often conflicted about when to publish artists as they’re developing, because it’s important to support new artists but often their work gets better over time. Could you speak more on what it looks like to try to strike a balance between wanting to publish quality work and fostering artists over time?
KJ: When I joined 2dcloud I had this list of artists I wanted to publish, and also a list of artists I’m interested in. There are these works that, in my personal opinion, are really great, and there are also lots of artists that I think are good, and artists that could be and would be great artists in the future. As a small publisher, one thing that’s important is to reach talent before they get too famous [laughs]. We want to publish the best artists. There’s really great publishers like Koyama Press, I really love their books, and also [Fantagraphics] these days, thanks to Jacq Cohen, publishes a lot of great female artists that they didn’t use to. Also, Drawn and Quarterly’s next year line up is really good, like Julie Doucet. There are so many great publishers these days and I think it’s really important, especially for a small press like 2dcloud, to have really unique artists with a distinct vision.
I didn’t know before I joined 2dcloud that lots of works I like are zines, or not something that would be a hundred-page book. It’s hard to make a comic with your job, and comics doesn’t make a lot of money, so if you’re young and if you haven’t published before, it’s really hard to start to write a graphic novel.
After I joined 2dcloud, and after I started thinking about asking artists [to publish with us], I realized that a lot of artists I want to contact don’t have enough material for hundreds of pages of books or graphic novels. And lots of great publishers, like Koyoma or Fanta or us, are focusing on publishing books, not zines. Also, some of [the artists] I like, but I think their next works would be better. They’re in their growth. I was trying to contact this artist, [and I thought], maybe I should contact this artist when their really great work comes up next year or month, because this artist has been getting better. But at the same time, I worried, what if this person leaves comics? That’s happened so many times before, and so many artists I discovered recently left comics a year or so ago, and I didn’t want that to happen. That’s the reason why I wrote that Instagram post.
One thing I really like about Raighne is that he’s really good at finding those talents. Like Tommi Parrish, I like Perfect Hair, and I was so surprised that it was their first graphic novella. And I [asked Raighne], “How did you find this incredible person? How did you know this person was this great?” and Raighne was just like “I just like their work.” That made me think that maybe waiting until artists have great work [means] it’s too late; maybe I need to support even before that happens. I started to think about this so much, because people’s support is so important in the comics community. There are lots of great talents, but it’s hard to make money, and even if its a tiny amount, I want to help. That’s why I do 2dcloud and I think that’s why Raighne does 2dcloud.
That’s the thing, I wanted to help, but I also don’t want to just publish “good enough” stuff. I’m really snobbish, I’m really elitist [laughs], I hate good enough or bad books because I think it’s a waste of paper. I hate seeing wastes of paper, I want to recycle them [laughs]. Why would you publish mediocre books? It’s a waste of time, money, and energy. I want to publish the greatest in the comics scene, but at the same time, if someone has talent that I think could make really great work, when should I start asking about more practical stuff, like contracts? When should we start collecting for the book, or should we just publish a zine for now? At the same time, I think there are those philosophical thoughts about how to support. That’s why I wrote [about this issue] in an Instagram post and not on the blog. It’s everywhere, and it’s very complex, and I don’t have an answer.
TQ: That’s fair. And there’s certainly not an answer that comes overnight.
Finally, without giving anything away, can you tell me something about the upcoming book you personally edited that you’re really excited about?
KJ: It’s actually available on Amazon for pre-order. It’s Alexis Beauclair, who I wrote about on my blog. It’s a silent work. It’s super abstract. It’s is the epitome of European abstract comics that I love. I think it’s not going to sell a lot [laughs], but I wanted to introduce his work to Americans and also the fact that there’s this kind of work in comics. And also, I hate mediocre abstract comics, so I wanted to show that there’s really good works out there. I just love his work, so it’s an honor to publish it.