Comics, Feminism, Interviews

Choosing Comics for Choice: An Interview with Editor Hazel Newlevant

Comics for Choice, Sophia Foster-Dimino, 2017Comics for Choice is a black and white comics anthology that features 60 contributing artists and writers, 41 stories, and is raising money for the National Network of Abortion Funds. You might recognize the publisher and co-editor Hazel Newlevant from her book, If This Be Sin, or her previous crowdfunded anthology, Chainmail Bikini: The Anthology of Women Gamers. She’s joined by co-editors Whit Taylor (Madtown High, The Nib), and Ø.K. Fox (Paper Jazz Small Press Fest). The comics collected showcase a wide range of abortion experiences from a diverse array of voices: trans voices, older voices, activist voices — relatable voices. I had the opportunity to interview Newlevant about this undertaking, repro rights, and logistics.

First off, what inspired you to do a comics anthology as a fundraiser?

A year or so ago, I was feeling sad and outraged about continuing attacks on abortion care, and Republican state lawmakers forcing abortion clinics to close with TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws. I vented my frustration to Facebook, and wondered aloud about how to best use my time and energy to help. My friend Ø.K. Fox was the one to say, “you’re good at editing anthologies, why not do that and use it to raise money to help protect abortion rights?” It was a brilliant idea, and now they’re one of the co-editors! We wanted to make a book that would have beautiful and moving art, help readers who’ve had abortions feel understood, and give everyone the knowledge and passion to become a better advocate for reproductive justice in their own lives. I think a comics anthology is the perfect medium to do this. It was also a lot of fun to work on, which helped keep me from burning out.

I also noticed this was on IndieGoGo – why not Kickstarter this time, as with Chainmail Bikini? How did you decide what platform to pick?

We wanted all proceeds to go to the National Network of Abortion Funds, and Kickstarter doesn’t let you raise money for charity. Even if you’re creating a physical reward and deliver on that promise, you can’t tell backers that you’ll donate the profits to charity. It was also inspiring to see The Adventure Zine on IndieGoGo, which had pretty much the same funding model we were going for: raise money to print a book (in this case, fan art for D&D podcast The Adventure Zone), and donate all the proceeds to charity.

What lessons from Chainmail Bikini, or any other crowdfunded projects and anthologies you’ve worked on, did you take into this one?

A good crowdfunded comic takes a lot of advance prep. We did our best to get all the comics in hand and start working with press before launching the fundraiser. Do whatever you can to get the word out beyond comics-specific news outlets. Unfortunately, the audience for indie comics is relatively small, so it’s important to have a reason for folks who don’t generally buy comics anthologies to be interested. With Chainmail Bikini, we tried to reach gamers, and with Comics for Choice, we’re aiming for everyone who wants to directly support reproductive justice while learning more about it!

Did you already have a list of contributors in mind when putting this together? Tell me a little about how you assembled this group of artists and writers, and was there anyone you’d worked with before?

The contributors list evolved based on who submitted. We specifically invited a few cartoonists who’d done comics about abortion or reproductive health before, but because everyone was donating their work, I didn’t want to twist anybody’s arm. We got a lot of submissions from cartoonists who wanted to tell their own stories—folks who’d had abortions or who wanted to write about the law, medicine, or some other angle. But there were also a lot of artists who said, “I don’t have my own story but I’d like to help out, can you pair me up with a writer?”

Can you tell me a little about the editorial process in an anthology like this?

Once we had all these artist volunteers, we invited storytellers from We Testify (a group of women and nonbinary people who share their abortion stories to combat stigma), reproductive rights scholars, and activists to team up with artists and create comics. We made a spreadsheet of all the potential artists, had writers choose the top three they’d like to work with, and went from there.

A month or so before the final page deadline, we had everyone submit scripts and/or thumbnails, and the editors reviewed them as a group. This was extra important with such a weighty topic as abortion, to make sure the comics were both accurate and sensitive. We also helped guide the folks who hadn’t written comics before, and helped artists and writers communicate so the collaborations would run smoothly.

It’s a scary time for abortion rights and repro health right now – was this project already in the pipeline before the November election? Or was there a sense of urgency post-election?

We came up with the idea early last year, and both Ø.K. and co-editor Whit Taylor offered to help. But I put it on the backburner, because I was intimidated by the responsibility of fact-checking, and the harassment I might get from anti-choice folks. The day after the election, I decided those fears were minor in the face of how important it is to protect reproductive freedom, and that it was go-time on the anthology. Whit and Ø.K. were immediately down as well.

Have you encountered any pushback for this project?

Nothing more than a few negative quote-tweets so far, thankfully! I did up my online security dramatically before announcing the project. I highly recommend the online guide Speak Up & Stay Safe(r): A Guide to Protecting Yourself from Online Harassment.

What information do you want readers to take away from this book?

There’s so much to cover! We want folks to understand the breadth of reasons people get abortions, how the power to terminate a pregnancy can transform someone’s life for the better, and the obstacles our government and society imposes on accessing what should be a fundamental right. Of course, many readers have had similar experiences and faced similar obstacles themselves, and we want them to know there’s nothing to be ashamed of and they are not alone. We want everyone to come away well-informed and ready to defend reproductive freedom.

I thought previewing a work from the anthology on The Nib was a brilliant way to get the word out; how did that come about?

Thank you! Since the writers and artists generously donated their work so all proceeds from the IndieGoGo could go to NNAF, we tried to pair up with sites that could pay the artists to run their comics. The Nib was very supportive, and we have a comic on Fusion about The Jane Collective, and two more going up on Rewire later this month. I think previewing a few full comics, as well as single-page samples, is generally a smart way for an anthology to promote.

Any last thoughts/concerns/lessons to impart?

Just that the National Network of Abortion Funds is a really incredible organization that helps people pay for their procedures, transportation to faraway clinics, housing, and more! No one should be forced to remain pregnant because they don’t have the money. I can hardly imagine a more direct and profound way to help someone than giving them the option to terminate a pregnancy when they need to. I don’t know exactly how many people’s lives will be changed by the money we’re able to raise for NNAF, but I’m proud of what we’re doing. If you want to be part of it, and get a powerful collection of comics at the same time, please donate to Comics for Choice now!

Comics for Choice: Anthology for Abortion Rights’ IndieGoGo campaign runs until June 30, 2017. You can learn more about the contributors, and see excerpts from the book, at their Tumblr.