BUN&TEA editor Claire Napier is a powerhouse. Not only was she once editor-in-chief of this very site before spreading her editorial wings, but she’s since published her own comic, Dash Dearborne and the Unexpected Earthman, and edited La Voz De M.A.Y.O. Tata Rambo, published by Top Cow. Now, she’s branching into publishing with BUN&TEA, a monthly comics magazine containing serialized short-form work from a diverse body of creators.
The magazine, soon to be raising funding on Kickstarter, will be equivalent to a double-sized American monthly—around forty pages. Season one, starting in Spring 2019, will contain eleven different stories spanning multiple genres and lengths. Each one has been carefully created to be entertaining not just as one complete narrative, but in individual slices, as well. Though each one is a finite story, there’s attention paid to serialization, too.
BUN&TEA is set to be a celebration of short-form comics, created and edited by people with genuine passion for them. The roster of creators is packed full of fresh and fascinating voices, including a retelling of a Bengali folktale by Priya Huq, a kaiju-ridden love story from Tom Lake, and a story of a young witch written by our own managing editor Nola Pfau with art by Willow Tomoe.
Claire was kind enough to not only answer my questions about BUN&TEA, but to answer them with such thought, thoroughness, and voice that it would be a shame to trim them.
Tell me a bit about what made you want to start BUN&TEA?
I stopped being an editor for this site in June, and I didn’t have anything else to do with the immense chunk of time that retirement created. I watched a great deal of television and then I started to think about how nice it would be to be involved in making stories, since I like them so much. I’ve been doing freelance editorial for some wonderful creators and I certainly don’t want to stop, but being hired by the creator and hiring the creator are two different things. I’m honest in my freelance editorial, I work hard to identify flaws that can be fixed, but I’m the guest. I feel better balanced when I have a regular role as host, it turns out.
I wanted to be willing to fail because if I succeed then everyone gets good comics, and if I don’t it’s even more clear how well everyone who’s making it has done. I admire them and want to be like them.
So, Zainab Akhtar has been setting her usual example with Shortbox, wading into a river of treacle (“the comics industry”) in such a way as to make me know myself a coward for not navigating my own path. Zach Clemente just launched his Bulgilhan Press, and when I saw him at Thought Bubble he spoke about his plans and they were so … real. I don’t want to disrespect my brilliant friends by pretending that publishing is something that they’re ~just magically able to do~ instead of something that takes practical application, and I think a way to actively respect their achievements (unless I was rich—then I’d just buy all of their books for libraries, etc) is to act in earnest in our shared field. To put it another way, I wanted to be willing to fail because if I succeed then everyone gets good comics, and if I don’t it’s even more clear how well everyone who’s making it has done. I admire them and want to be like them.
But I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a publisher, exactly (thank goodness Megan Purdy and Bleating Heart Press were willing to have my back in that regard), but what did I want to be? I wanted to organise and encourage and mentor, and be responsible for a project. If not criticism, then why not the subject thereof? Basically I just thought “I’ve got to do something, but only something I might be good at. What could it be??”
And it turned out that it was this.
Tell me more about the extremely cute mascot, as well as the magazine’s cozy name.
Oh, that’s Bunton Cuppasham. Bunton is a very soft rabbit who likes warming his paws and being told stories. Any genre; as long as there’s a plot and some character, he loves’em. He’s not very good at engineering or making plans but he’s very gregarious and he has a good heart.
You are excited to get to subscribe to the serial comics magazine I've been mentioning, right? Of course! But first, meet the host: this cute bun✨ pic.twitter.com/KAXFAoNpeR
— Clownhunter (@illusClaire) November 7, 2018
As our host (all the best comics magazines have a host, and so do some of the bad ones) Bunton will be in charge of introducing the magazine and telling readers about what to look forward to in each issue—although he has a lot of children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren so it’s possible he’ll palm off his duties onto one or more of them, sometimes. Listen, let me tell you: never work with animals.
BUN&TEA is named for the ideal story-reading situation. Get a bun to eat, have some tea, read a story. This is one of the only guarantees for mood improvement I have found in life. Benton is there to add a crowning element, which is “something to cuddle.”
Why short comics? What’s unique and interesting to you about this form? Feel free to wear any or multiple of your many hats—comic creator, editor, curator, et cetera—to answer this question.
Short serial comics were the kind that dominated my childhood. In terms of what was available there were Asterix and Tintin albums, or there were weekly story magazines, and honestly at the time those two sorts of comic (serial and collected) were unassociated in my mind; they were wholly different things. On a Saturday, you (I) went to the newsagent and bought your weekend magazine. That’s the entertainment for the day, since children’s programming finished after breakfast. Obviously, I’ve become so old that I reflect with nostalgia on these halcyon days (this is a joke; I’m thirty-one; it’s also not a joke, because it’s what happened).
I figured if working to serial was helpful for me, a person who hates to be helped, it could be helpful to a lot of creative minds. So I thought, “I’ll see if anyone fancies it.”
I still read the serials that informed my readership and my peers’ readership, as well as being the format which trained famous export names like, oh, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, whoever. And I still enjoy them. I admire their formal properties. They’re good stories told well in a handful of pages, and it’s the latter part of that description that defines them and gives you something to watch out for: how much character can you fit into a handful? How much momentum? How can you captivate an audience and make them feel rewarded enough to value your return, in a handful of pages? Some people can’t do it in twenty, or forty, or sixty. If you can make the sale (I mean: satisfy the customer) on a minimum page count you can know you’ve given your reader something good, and if you’re doing that serially you know you can be pleased with your work. For the reader, a good serial chapter is like a shot of beet juice, or something, a shot of something nice that’s also good for you. It’s stimulating, both in the moment of receiving the new aesthetic events, plot, and new character interactions, and afterwards as you consider what could, or might, happen next.
Additionally, as a cartoonist, I found it impossible to begin what was at the time my biggest project until I decided I would do it in six-page bursts. I had an entire story plotted, I had characters and character designs, I had themes and goals, and I knew how many issues it would take (five)—I had it all so polished-to-gleaming in my mind that I couldn’t start. When I tried, I got anxious because knowing so well where I was going made it feel like getting there was an appallingly long journey and my mind slid from whatever I was doing to try and think about all parts of the narrative simultaneously. Treating it like a serial took away that nervous energy because instead of trying to beam my beloved narrative onto the page without malforming it I was completing a brand new challenge: make the story, which I love, perform a six-page improv set to maximum success. Then do it again three more times, managing to execute all the necessary beats of issue one. It gave me such a buzz to make my whole cloth into these jazzy little outfits and I am in love, in love, with that now-completed story. I figured if working to serial was helpful for me, a person who hates to be helped, it could be helpful to a lot of creative minds. So I thought, “I’ll see if anyone fancies it.”
You’ve assembled a very interesting and fresh crop of creators for the first volume. Were they handpicked? What drew you to these creators?
I am very, very pleased with my creative assemblage, and part of that is because (this sounds mean BUT ISN’T) they are not handpicked at all. I put out a tweet saying “who has a story for me” and twenty-four people replied. I continued dialogues with all of them, and some fell off or didn’t respond, but the rest— some had pitches that were immediately solid, some [had] pitches that we volleyed back and forth for a while, some had a huge list of pitches that we chatted about together until one shone brightest, and some had pitches that weren’t finalised in time to make season one but which we’re still developing (casually, currently) for season two. I opened my DMs to this fantastic crop of quality premises, and as we’ve continued to work together my respect has only grown.
I said “who has a story … that you’re willing to submit to my editorial eyeball,” so I only had pitches from people willing to be creatively flexible and who welcome collaborative development, which is obviously a big plus. I asked for people willing to work with me, and I got them, and we’re working together to terrific effect.
Actually, that first part’s not quite true—I said “who has a story … that you’re willing to submit to my editorial eyeball,” so I only had pitches from people willing to be creatively flexible and who welcome collaborative development, which is obviously a big plus. I asked for people willing to work with me, and I got them, and we’re working together to terrific effect. The commonest denominator amongst these creators is “they follow me on twitter and aren’t afraid.” (The second most common is that they want to tell stories with queer romance in.) I think it’s about half and half friends or friendly acquaintances vs functional or complete strangers, but all of them seem to grok my communicative approach. That’s a relief. I don’t have to worry about translating myself and can just give feedback in earnest. Most of the team have some existing comics work (a collection of these is a backer reward on the Kickstarter! A chest full of history) and are proven self-motivators but have yet to be well-appreciated by established publishers. Hopefully BUN&TEA might contribute to changing that, because more than one of my cartoonists are people I would have handpicked if I’d chosen to be bold instead of speculative, and the rest are doing such good work in this planning stage that I’m thankful I did choose the latter route. I’m over the moon.
The wonderful thing about turning to comics editorial after working and thinking as a critic for quite a while is that I’m essentially playing chess against myself: what do I want to not be able to say about these outlines by the time they’re finished comics? How do I make it easy for the cartoonist to avoid triggering that comment from readers with their final product? I’m helping people to outwit an imaginary future me, which is delightful, and “very comics.”
What audiences are you hoping to attract with this magazine?
What I want is adults who like stories. The rich experience of submersion in narrative. Sometimes characters say “fuck” and there is the odd assassination or monster stomp, but on the whole it’s designed to appeal on exactly the level of curling up with a bunny and a hot drink to get read a book. I shied away from asking for pitches on a theme other than “a good story” because that feeling of being told to is the primary goal. We want to give the gift of borrowed experience.
Will you be open to submissions in the future?
Man, I hope so! I’m daring to dream. Yes!
BUN&TEA will be raising funds on Kickstarter soon. To stay up to date, follow Claire Napier on Twitter.