I first met Enrica Jang while at Philadelphia Wizard Con a near two years ago. She was on a panel speaking about diversity and women in comics, and I—the baby comic journalist I was then—bucked up the courage to speak with her. She gave me honest advice about writing and promoting one’s self online. She kindly invited me to her table, where I met with some of the writers and creators of Red Stylo Media, who gave me samples of the company’s work.
The whole exchange was very warm and very welcoming. As a new indie company in the market, they’re producing a fantastic, interesting product. But I wanted to know more about the ins and outs of the industry life. Jang is a woman who built her own company from the ground up in 2008, through the power of sheer determination and a Kickstarter. I was intrigued to learn more about the trails and errors Jang has faced and was lucky enough to have snagged her for an interview.
What inspired the creation of Red Stylo and specifically the decision to create a themed comic anthology?
I started the way many do: at first, I needed to self-publish my own comics as a way to try and break into the industry. But I also wanted to be an editor—which is its own set of skills—so I figured if anyone was going to take me seriously, I should show an interest in editing and publishing other people’s work, too. The best way to get a substantial amount of comics out (and work with the most people) is a comics anthology. So the first collection was all stories and art from other people and included none of my own writing.
I felt that a themed anthology was the best way to focus the collection and also promote it—people with an existing interest in a concrete theme would be quicker to pick up a collection of stories, even if they were by creators they didn’t know. I didn’t realize how popular the books would become! Or how much I would enjoy the process of putting them together.
What are some of the challenges in building a publishing house from the ground up?
Maximizing limited resources (i.e. money) is always the hardest thing. And then finding ways to stand out in a chorus of people who all want to promote their own projects.
Any advice to new writers or editors seeking to run their own studio or have their work published?
My advice is for people to understand those are not the same thing. They are related, but they are very different enterprises. The logistics and coordination required in running a studio are a separate undertaking from being published, and if you do one just to achieve the other, you will lose sight of your goal. Focus on getting published if that is your goal. Or be committed to learning the business of running a studio if that’s what you want to do. Some people get lucky and things turn out for both, but I feel that is unfortunately rare. Thinking one is a stepping stone for the other is a recipe for bankruptcy.
Red Stylo has put out four themed anthologies with another one in the works. Can you tell us about the process that goes into the anthologies? How do you go about choosing themes and creators?
The ideas for all the anthologies has been to use the themes as inspiration for original work, not to adapt it. I wanted the theme to be beloved, to already have some recognition, so that people would have a frame of reference and really pay attention to the original work from a new creator. Our first three anthologies had literary themes (Poe, Shakespeare, and Frankenstein), simply because I have a background in literature and if I was going to spend a year immersed in the theme, I had to still love it by the end! But by the end of three years, it was time to go in a new direction—I was trying too hard to think of a literary theme I could get excited about, so it was definitely time to shakes things up and break free. Changing to rock-n-roll was a great way to do that.
The process as a whole begins with an open call for artists and writers on January 1st of each year, selection by March 15th, and then production for six months. By September, we’re rolling out stories digitally, one-by-one to showcase each creative team that contributes, and then the printed book is usually/hopefully/fingers-crossed ready to debut by October when holiday orders begin.
Your latest anthology, KILLER QUEEN, had a very specific design that I found very engaging. What was the inspiration behind it?
Thank you! The design for KILLER QUEEN was of course inspired by the band, with their huge discography and stylistic progression through their music. We started by thinking of each story and vignette as its own track, and so the book as a package was designed to be reminiscent of a box set.
The book design is always determined by the body of work within: the balance of stories, the natural progression from one to the next. A little like building a mixtape, I guess. Once you see the stories come together, you get a sense of how you want to frame things. And I’m lucky to have a fantastic production team, with Mark Mullaney working on logos, colors, and smaller graphics, and then Erica Schultz has a great graphic background and flair with fonts—I tell those two what I want to achieve and they either make it happen or give me what I need.
I noticed that your track list of stories, while influenced by Queen songs, didn’t just stick to their more commonly known singles. Was this an editorial decision or a creator based one by the writers and artists who submitted their works?
It’s funny you ask that. When we announced open call for KILLER QUEEN, I was braced to get a bunch of pitches for the most well-known songs, so I specifically stated that people should feel free to really dig deep into Queen and find less well-known songs for inspiration. And then we ended up with next to no pitches for the most well-known songs (in fact, NOTHING for “Bohemian Rhapsody”), and I resorted to specifically prodding people in the other direction.
We just finished our open call for this year’s new anthology, 27, inspired by Rock-n-roll’s infamous “27 Club” and there is a very long list of musicians, some super famous and many not-well-knowns. I wanted to make sure what happened with KILLER QUEEN didn’t happen again, and so I specifically stated that people should be brave and find inspiration in the most well-known names on the list. And so, of course, this year practically everyone descended on just the more well-known names, and we’ve had to go looking for the more obscure to fill things out. When it rains, it pours!
What do you look for in your submissions?
I stress over and over that we want inspiration, not adaptation. Stories that take some element, theme, character, setting from the theme as the starting point and then do something original and different. I try to strike a balance, too, of making sure the stories have a clear point of reference and are not too tangential to the theme.
Have to say, I’m always surprised by how funny, talented, original people can be. Every year has brought something good. I’m grateful for that. I don’t get tired of this.
Can you tell us about your upcoming anthology?
27, A Comic Anthology will be a collection of original comics inspired by the “27 Club.” We are going to change things up a little bit and also include a couple of essays with spot illustrations. Music is such a personal thing, and the fact that the music we’re celebrating is also linked to a sad, premature end for these artists, is deeply moving. Some of our contributors are going to talk about their feelings about that.
Aside from anthologies, Red Stylo also produces graphic novels and on-going comic series as well. Can you tell us a little about your other titles?
I have a couple of graphic novels and series of my own that I’m always working on. ANGEL WITH A BULLET is my own mini-anthology collection of stories inspired by Tom Waits. THE HOUSE OF MONTRESOR is a sequel to my favorite story from Edgar Allan Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado.”
A few years ago I started a creator-owned imprint called Red Stylo Press, and we carry three series from other creators there.
Finally, can you tell us what the company’s future goals are? And if you’ll be appearing at any upcoming events?
We are always trying to expand our readership, and my focus lately has been on digital comics. We’re doing that through Patreon, releasing stories every two weeks and showcasing the talented creators who have contributed to the anthologies. We also have a newly designed site, and we’re expanding the catalog through Red Stylo Press. As for events, C2E2, Special Edition: NYC, Awesome Con, Derby City Comic Con, Boston, Heroes, Baltimore … wow, there are more, but those are the ones I’m thinking of. We try to keep an updated calendar on RedStylo.com, so do please check there. I’m excited that we’ve started to participate in more panels, too, and we even hosted our own at New York Comic Con last year. “Marry, Do, or Kill? What will it take to shatter female stereotypes in comics?” It was so popular, Reed accepted it again for C2E2. Hope to see you there!