Comics and Gut-Wrenching Connections: An Interview with Kevin Czap

Image courtesy Kevin Czap/Czap Books.

Comics is a business. We rightfully spend much of our time talking about what we love, what infuriates us, and what gives us life, but we sometimes forget about the financial transaction involved in getting the art that moves us. Cartoonists and comics writers need to eat, to pay their rent, and to feed their cats, and those that self-publish have to work extra hard to make all those ends meet.

Kevin Czap’s micro-press Czap Books sprouted out of this community of talented and supportive artists and has launched a Kickstarter to publish three new books: Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky, don’t tell me not to worry (i’ll worry all i want) by Kelly Kwang, and Egg Creme #1 by Liz Suburbia. I spoke with Kevin about founding Czap Books, growing the press through the Kickstarter, and the concept of “fusion comics,” which actually has nothing to do with Steven Universe.

The Kickstarter is fully funded. Congratulations! What kind of rewards and stretch goals can contributors look forward to?

Thank you! Since the motivation behind this Kickstarter is to help us be a better publisher–and since I subscribe to the belief that being able to pay artists well is a big part of that–the stretch goals are all based on paying Jessi, Kelly, and Liz more than I would have without raising this money. At the time of this interview, we just reached our third stretch goal of $20,000, with the promise of each artist getting a $400 bonus. Our next stretch goal is to raise $23,000, which will raise the artists’ bonus to $750 each. We’ve also added some new rewards–largely giving backers more options for how they want their reward. We added the “Old VA” tier, which includes a t-shirt designed by Liz Suburbia and a handful of Liz’s comics that have been out of print for years. We’re also introducing a baseball cap designed by Kelly Kwang to a number of the existing tiers. Kelly is a master at apparel design, so I’m really excited about that one.

A preview from don't tell me not to worry (i'll worry all i want) by Kelly Kwang. Image courtesy Kevin Czap/Czap Books.
A preview from Kelly Kwang’s don’t tell me not to worry (i’ll worry all i want).

The three books Czap Books is publishing are very different. Jessi Zabarsky’s comic is a fantasy piece that seems to be largely about identity, Kelly Kwang’s zine is emotional and poetic, and Liz Suburbia is taking us even further into the world and life she created in Sacred Heart. Why these three comics?

The shortest answer is that I need these comics to exist, and I’m lucky enough to be in a position to help make that happen. All three artists are people whose artistic vision I trust so much I would champion anything they do. It’s easy when these three particular projects are some of, if not the best work they’ve done/are doing. But why three books that are so different, specifically? It’s because I feel so strongly about presenting a vision of comics as varied and formally open.

You describe Czap Books as “dedicated to publishing genre-defying comics that celebrate the poetic, the personal, and the weird.” Tell me more about the books that fit Czap’s style. What attracts you to the comics you publish?

The protagonist of Egg Creme by Liz Suburbia. Image courtesy Kevin Czap/Czap Books.
Egg Creme by Liz Suburbia.

Putting “genre-defying” in there is new; I thought it would help make it more descriptive. At least one, maybe two of these three books is working in a recognizable genre, but the way Jessi makes comics takes the genre in a different direction.

A few years ago, there was talk about “fusion comics” or work that combined elements of American, Japanese, and Franco-Belgian comics traditions. I totally bought into that idea, and I think that informs the work Czap Books seeks out and publishes, except I want to apply that idea of fusion more broadly. I think manga is a consistent influence across the board of our titles, but so too would be web comics, poetry comics, etc. Mixing all that stuff together and putting it in service of a unique artistic vision results in something really interesting.

There’s something about these comics that sticks me right in the heart. It’s difficult to place, and it’s done in different ways from book to book–like the way something is drawn, or a specific phrase, or a panel transition–everything we’ve published and plan to publish makes some degree of gut-wrenching connection.

Preview pages from Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky. Image courtesy Kevin Czap/Czap Books.
Preview pages from Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky.

How do artists get connected to Czap Books? Do artists approach you, or do you approach them?

I approach them, usually after following their work for a while and getting to know more about where they’re coming from. We’ve flown under the radar the majority of our time being active, and it’s only recently that artists have reached out. I have a short list of people I’d love to work with, but I also try to keep eyes and ears open as much as possible and be aware of unconscious biases that draw me to specific places rather than others (and whether that’s a good thing or something to work harder at, depending).

It’s interesting how self-pubs sometimes become publishing houses in indie comics. I always imagine really cool artists just chilling together and magically cooking up a business. How did Czap Books grow from a self-pub to a micro press?

It started just because it’s easier at first to do things together. Like, I had a few mini-comics that looked really bare in the middle of a half-table, so selling friends’ comics helped fill that space. Then Liz Suburbia and I decided we wanted to put together an anthology to take to SPX, so that was the next phase. Doing the anthology, PUPPYTEETH, made me realize that on top of enjoying designing and assembling the comics, I really enjoyed managing the different contributors. I was also inspired by my interactions with Adhouse Books, Secret Acres, and Koyama Press, who were all publishing my favorite work and being run by outstandingly generous people. As time went on, and we kind of honed the approach to the anthology, I started to become interested in the challenge of publishing individual artist projects.

Sadly, the majority of dialogue happening about all this stuff behind-the-scenes is over email, since everyone always lives in different states. This has plagued me for years, and why conventions are so critical! There was a time, though, when Jessi and I both lived in Northeast Ohio, and we had fairly regular hangouts.

Pages from Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia. Image courtesy Kevin Czap/Czap Books.
Pages from Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia.

There’s lots of advice about getting into comics out there, but what advice would you give to those looking to start their own press?

What I feel has worked for me is to start small, go slowly, and focus on the human aspect of things. Pay attention to how you react to different work, and follow the strongest feelings. Also, advice, which I always need to remind myself of, ask questions if you don’t know things. You’re almost guaranteed to not know a lot of things.

Check out Czap Books’ full catalog on their website, and fund the Kickstarter before it ends on August 25th!

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa is a queer librarian and intense cat mom. She spends her days reading zines and indie comics, and twittering about D&D podcasts at @alenkafiga.