Diversity, Feminism, Geek Culture, Harassment, LGBTQ, Race, Racism

We Have Voices, Too: Milkshakes with Taneka Stotts

Taneka Stotts, POC Comics Champion

Taneka Stotts

She’s written multiple comics, like Deja Brew and Full Circle. She’s published the first fiery book in Elements, a series of anthologies that features creators of color, front and center. She’s been a champion for POC creators, and independent comics. She’s inspired and inspiring. She spends a lot of time reading comics out of her sheer love for them. This is Taneka Stotts, the founder, editor, and primary driver of Beyond Press. Just after San Diego Comic Con, I had the privilege of interviewing her. We talk about comics, and the experiences she’s had breaking into the world of our favorite story medium. 

It hasn’t been easy for her, but she’s determined. Stotts keeps going even when she meets roadblocks, and encourages others to as well. Her positive outlook is no doubt what attracts so many wonderful creators to her. She has worked hard to build a community that continues to expand beyond itself (no pun intended). She has created multiple spaces for minorities to express themselves without fear, and to tell their stories in their way. We got right into it as we chatted.

What does it feel like to have to fight other creators for their approval of queer POC work? What does it feel like to have to break the white mold?

I wouldn’t say it’s so much of a fight right now as much as it’s a gathering. We’re not in the calm before the storm, but there are definitely other places for queer POC to go to speak to one another, to learn how to make things, to learn how to collaborate, to learn how to put books together. They’re definitely happening! You’ve got so many people coming out now with their own awesome queer identified books or queer characters in their stories. It can’t be stopped anymore.

It’s starting to spill into that white chasm that exists in queer works. Not saying it’s bad, it’s awesome. We love having queer works. These works inspired our works. It’s really funny how that happens. But it’s nice to have our own works that not only represent us and speak to us, but give us our own form of confidence. We are capable, and we are welcome within these spaces. As our history is, we have been here just as long if not longer in some cases. You can’t whitewash Stonewall all the way.

[pullquote]It’s nice to have our own works that not only represent us and speak to us, but give us our own form of confidence.[/pullquote]

What can the comics community do at large to champion queer black voices, and black creators as well like you’re doing at Beyond Press?

Beyond Press

Beyond Press

At first, paying attention would really help. Not trying to be super rude, but it would be nice if people were paying attention to the community and what the community is outputting. It would be great if they used the same resources that they used to promote one another, to promote other POC. My whole thing is, it’s not just black creators who are under attack, it’s all creators of color who are under attack, who aren’t deemed palatable by the status quo, to be part of their little circles. It’s like sometimes they pick and choose us, but they don’t embrace all of us, which is very sad and very negative at the same time. I don’t like people’s wordings, where they try to use “Well I’m really happy for this person, because they represent all of these people”. That’s not how that works. Also, please stop putting that on their shoulders. You’re making them very tired. They’re not there to represent all people, they’re there to represent themselves and their stories.

So I would say, also calm down on the idea that “only one work represents all these people”. Maybe let everyone else identify and enjoy and create and be part of this really cool collective that we have. That would be very nice as well.

What’s an interview question that people of color are tired of hearing, when they get to talk about their comics?

Here’s the question: “What is it like being a black creator in comics?” That whole question. You can fill in the blanks slightly, “What is it like being a black creator in …? The movies?” It’s like, “Gee, oh thanks, I really didn’t know the color of my skin when I woke up this morning.” Thanks a lot, I was hoping you’d ask about my actual work. Have you ever read, watched, enjoyed any of it? Everybody else gets cool questions about their characters. We get questions about our skin color. What if you actually read what we wrote, and then engaged us like everybody else? And if I’m not getting “As a black creator…” I’m getting, “As a queer black creator…” They tack on as much as they can, every time.

Speaking of your works, I love Full Circle, and I’m really excited to get Elements: Fire in the mail. One of my favorite animals is a tiger, so to see the Cerberus-like tiger on the cover of Elements: Fire … I knew I needed to own it.

For the cover I worked with Chrystin Garland, who is amazing, she’s a black comics creator. She’s worked on Steven Universe. I approached Chrystin and said, “I need a cover that invokes fire, can you help me?” And I think Chrystin nailed it. 

Elements: Fire Anthology

Elements: Fire Anthology

Yes, she did! I’m excited to see the other anthologies coming from Beyond, are there any in the works right now?

Yes, actually, there is! The next anthology after fire will be earth. After the fire cools, new lands rise.

Do you know when you might have the Kickstarter up yet?

No, not yet. I’m really busy right now, so it will probably be a late 2018, maybe 2019 project.

Well I look forward to getting it for Christmas next year, or something…

Well, I’ll try to do it as soon as possible. Though I am trying to focus, and I do think it will be a little bit thinner than Elements: Fire. I definitely want to take a different approach for this one. We’ll see what happens.

So tell me how you discover creators of color, how do you discover queer creators? How do you reach out to them? Do they reach out to you?

I find them three ways. One, I actively like to read webcomics. Fancy that, right? I actually like to read comics. I enjoy everything that’s not the mainstream at this point in time. I don’t buy the mainstream anymore. I don’t enjoy it, I don’t find the incidents that keep repeating themselves enjoyable. I don’t want to be party to them. Whenever you’re paying for one thing, you’re enabling this company to put out something that’s a piece of crap later. I don’t feel like, “I’m supporting this creator, this goes to them.” That’s not how it works. That’s not how royalties work. It’s IP (Intellectual Property) work, and it’s very shady business. I don’t read mainstream. I read indie comics, and I look out for themes, I look out for people who are trying to tell their own stories.

And I find them very easily I feel. I like to retweet them as much as I can, on my own personal Twitter. I also find that people have now starting sending me emails, and I also leave my DMs open so people can send me things and I can take a look at them. I’ll tell people right now, I do not promote everything I see. If it’s genuine to me, I will take the time out to give it that spotlight even more. I don’t have infinite time, so it is unfortunate that I can’t give everything the proper credit I feel it needs sometimes.

What are some criteria you use to evaluate a story? What draws you to a story?

Well that goes into parts two and three of my way of figuring things out. My other two ways of finding creators are the Cartoonists of Color database and the Queer Cartoonists database. I always go and check and see who are the new additions. I look for people who might not know of the databases’ existence, and I say, “Hey, you make comics, you’re a person of color,” or “you’re a queer cartoonist, (or a queertoonist, as I like to say), go add yourself to this database.” It’s really cool, and people have gotten jobs from it. So, there’s that.

Pretty much, how I engage work is really just asking the question, did I enjoy it? I read comics like anybody reads comics. You pick it up, you look it, that art’s really neat, you open it up inside, even if you’re clicking through a website, and you actively engage with the characters. If it keeps your attention longer than five minutes, I think you’re sold. 

So do you have any great graphic novels or comics from this perspective that you would recommend, where you do have queer people of color getting to write their idea of a strong person of color? Who would you recommend?

I’m going to recommend a few people whose work I love and enjoy. Especially because they are black comics creators, who are in my life. It means a lot to me to see them rise up and do the works that they create. So I’m going to recommend:

Nilah was the first black woman to write for Marvel Comics, it was not Roxane Gay, as it’s been so popularly misquoted. Nilah wrote for Marvel first. It was never corrected publicly, by Marvel. Or pretty much anybody. She did the Rocket Raccoon short for them. She was actually the first black woman to write for them.

It still doesn’t negate that Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey have been hired by Marvel to write for Marvel. But the fact is that this was never corrected just goes to show you what companies actually care about. They care about large-listing names.

[pullquote]We have voices too, and we can use them![/pullquote]

Yeah. Frankly, they care about what’s going to make them the most money and how much money they can make. They have millions of dollars that they could be funneling into things like #WeNeedDiverseCreators. They could also be trolling Twitter and finding people to publish, but they’re not.

Yeah, and I’m trying to do something else that is louder, in the sense of, what we need to be exposing children to. Their idols are not just white people. There are also black people that can write books too. We need a Harlem Renaissance right now. We’re not here to destroy everybody. We’re here to enjoy with everybody, and we can speak for ourselves, be us black, be us Asian, be us Pacific Islander, be us from wherever we’re from. We have voices too, and we can use them!

I tell especially people of color, “You don’t have to just create black stories. You can create whatever stories you want. They’ve been doing it for just as long.” We have our own voices as well. They have all the time and all the money to build up one specific person as a focal point for sales. They only invest as much as they have to. That’s why you only see one person at the top of original bestsellers list for comic books being sold to kids. That was an investment. That was their way of turning a profit.

It’s, “Oh, yes, we did it, we look good now.”

Yes.

Alright, so tell me about Love Circuits, and what’s coming this fall.

I am enjoying making it with Genué, a lot. It’s going in a very fun direction. Everybody asked me, when I was at Comic Con, will Yvonne and Lucos hook up? I mean, maybe. There’s so many other ways to go about this, and to have it be a fun story. I wanted to tell a different type of robot story. I feel like there’s so many out there, it’s not that they’re all the same, I just have a different interpretation. Mine happens to take place in Nuevo, Miami. I have my own interpretation of a world that is already well into global warming, and a world that is well into androids. I’m looking forward to sharing it, and I hope everybody enjoys it. And also, there’s lots of sex toys, so have fun.

That’s… Awesome. I look forward to reading. Do you think you’ll ever get back to Full Circle, or is that on hiatus?

We lost our colorist, it’s Genué, she works on Love Circuits. We made her do Love Circuits and we had less time to do Full Circle. We are actually actively hiring a new colorist right now. We have a ton of pages that need to be colored, so we can just put them onto Full Circle. The site is ready and rarin’ to go.

And Christianne, who is the artist  for Full Circle, just got engaged to her partner. So they’re looking for a venue, they’re doing the whole marriage thing. Giving them space to figure out a wedding is part of that as well. She works really hard, while maintaining a full time job, and drawing Full Circle.

Last question for you, where do you see Beyond Press in ten years? When the people that are kids now that are interested in creating, might be coming to you and saying, “You’ve inspired me and I’ve made something”?

I hope Beyond Press doesn’t have to last ten years. No offense, cause I’m a creator. I wanna go out and I wanna create a bunch of stuff. Beyond Press is a little family thing we have, where we can put all of our projects together now. I foresee myself doing a lot within the next five years, so it’s not to say that there’s no hope.

But there are many other places that black women are leading that want to be publishers, like Spike Trotman of Iron Circus Comics or something like that. That’s something that they’re building, that’s a publishing house that they’re making. On the other hand, I see myself being a lot of different places but still putting out Beyond titles every now and then because they’re special to me. They mean something to me. So hopefully it means that there’s a million other presses like Beyond that exist between people and their friends. And not only that, but that they understand they can do the same things that we do.

You don’t have to be a publisher the rest of your life to publish one series. Spike’s not even a publisher, she wrote Yes Roya which is bangin’ good. Know that there’s other opportunities and there’s always going to be other options afforded to you if you seek them out.

So essentially, keep creating.

Yes, just keep creating. I’m tired of people just being really depressed right now with current state we’re in with politics and things like that. I don’t want them to stop creating. A lot of kids have never felt this kind of stress before because they’re kids. They need to have this feeling that they can relax, that they can let their guard down, and that they can still smile. They need to know that we’re there for them and that we’re fighting for them very hard so that they continue having these things in their lives.

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Did you enjoy this interview? You can support POC and queer creators too! Check out Taneka’s comics, her publications, and more on her website. You can also help keep Beyond Press and Taneka’s work going by donating to her Patreon or buying something from the press.