Death! Prom! The two worst experiences an American can experience, likely in that order. The two horrors are also the focus on a new anthology from ‘Ladies Night’, however, featuring a collection of fearsome fables for gruesome girls. Edited by Megan Byrd, Lauren Burke, Caitlin Rosberg, Anissa Espinosa, and Wendi Freeman, the anthology features all kinds of writers and artists – making for a massively diverse and unexpected collection of tales, all featuring one or both of the two core themes.
But in fact, this isn’t just a collection of spooky stories told with grisly glee – the anthology marks the second successful crowdfunding project for Ladies Night, a comics collective formed only a few years ago by Hannah K. Chapman. Originally intended to form a book club where girls could gather to talk about comics together, demand grew so huge that the project expanded across multiple sites – and where the members were once happy to read comics together, the desire to start making comics began to grow.
And so Ladies Night the anthology was collected. With a successful first volume, themed around ‘Chicago’, already released, ‘Death & Prom‘ marks an expanded lineup of all-female creators, many of whom are being published here for the first time. But while this may be their first time in print – I doubt it’ll be their last. There’s some wickedly funny stuff in the volume, with everybody bringing a vivid new dynamic to what could’ve been a played-out genre.
It’s a huge project, in other words. And a huge project? Well, that deserves a HUGE interview! And so I spoke to editor-in-chief Megan Byrd about the project – but then found a cavalcade of chilling collaborators burst into the interview, as a whole bunch of the ladies involved broke in and joined the interview too! Read on to find out about the project, first from Megan, and then from a dozen of the creators involved!
How did Ladies Night – the event – get started? What prompted you to set it up?
Megan Byrd: Hannah K. Chapman founded the monthly Ladies’ Night at Graham Crackers Comics in early 2012. I was a part-time employee of the store at the time and served as a moderator for the group discussion and acted as a general liaison between the group and the store. Since Hannah was studying in Chicago as an exchange student, she eventually had to return to her home in the UK, but myself and several other regular attendees have continued to keep up the monthly meetings and organize other events as well.
Have you found the events to be pretty immediately popular? Something I’ve seen a lot of online is that there are plenty of women who love comics – but there are fewer places where they can meet and interact with one another.
Megan Byrd: Our regular monthly meetings are always well attended and we have on average about 20 women join for discussion. We host larger events from time to time, such as holiday parties, launch parties, and other workshops specifically for the anthology, but those tend to be very loosely structured social gatherings. I believe part of the appeal of our Ladies’ Night is the intimacy – everyone is encouraged to join the discussion, whether we are talking about a specific comic, genre, or upcoming event that we’re excited about. I think that the success of our group has shown the need for more events like this that give women, both new and familiar to the world of comics, a safe place to meet and enjoy comics together.
Ladies Night has really grown over the years, too – to the extent where earlier this year there was a whole event, ‘Comic Book Slumber Party’, which was a natural expansion of the Ladies Night concept. Is the goal for this to spread across the country, across the world, and become a known concept where women can talk about comics, sci-fi, all their interests in peace?
Megan Byrd: The founding and continued success of Comic Book Slumber Party belongs entirely to Hannah – she definitely has ambitious goals that may or may not involve world domination (in comics). As a member of the Valkyries, I see retailers starting Ladies’ Night events every month, whether they are book clubs, private events, or essentially micro-cons that cater to women. It seems like a very organic response that is locally motivated. I cannot speak for other organizers, but making the comic shop, and comics in general, more comfortable for women is definitely the larger goal for us.
These last few years, in particular, have felt like women have kicked out against the gender disparity in comics and started to bring us a bit of balance. Do you feel like there is a real progression being made right now?
Megan Byrd: Over the last decade as both a fan and retail employee, I’ve seen a huge shift in the way women are seen and treated in the comic book community. I believe women finding each other online has helped a lot. Reading sites like Comics Alliance and The Beat was a revelation for me as a fan because they both (at the time) had women as editor-in-chief. Reading an op-ed by Laura Hudson comparing sexist portrayals of women in comics and how that related to everyday sexism – that just blew my mind. Seeing yourself reflected in a community has an immeasurable effect, whether it’s in the characters within comics, the people creating them, or the people writing about them. That was huge for me personally, just reading about comics from a feminist perspective made me reconsider my role in comics and inspired me to become more active in the community.
The old saying “girls don’t read comics” is downright laughable at this moment in time, and I’m happy that I haven’t had to convince someone otherwise in at least a few years! Still, there are enough unfortunate headlines every few months regarding harassment or really backwards-thinking creators to remind us that there is still a long way to go in making the comics community as inclusive as possible.
Art by Lisa Kwon
I think there’s this idea that women don’t make comics, simply because they don’t make the comics at DC/Marvel/Image. But there are SO MANY women in webcomics, self-publishing, working for themselves. Do you see that as being the next stage in reaching a more natural balance – in just pointing out that “comics” doesn’t just mean “mainstream” comics?
Megan Byrd: Plenty of readers are going to assume that not as many women create comics if they only read Marvel and DC – it’s no wonder they think Gail Simone is an outlier! You go to a small press convention or one with an international focus and your eyeballs tell you this is simply not the case. Besides broadening discussions about the different kinds of comics being created, I think it is still important to support and encourage more diverse hiring practices at the largest publishers. The impact Marvel and DC have in hiring a woman, an LGBTQ creator, or a person of color to write or draw their highly coveted properties goes a long way in dispelling myths about who creates comics. Visibility matters so much – just looking at the “featured guests” list of any major comic convention is a convincing argument for diversifying the creators working on high profile superhero titles.
How quickly into running Ladies Night did you find that the attendees had an interest in making comics themselves? At what point did you go from talking about culture to making stuff of your own and sharing it?
Megan Byrd: Almost immediately! I once again must stress Hannah’s pivotal role in this area as she is a creator herself and quickly formed relationships with other creators attending Ladies’ Night, forming our “dream team” of contributors and editors. Lauren Burke was a featured guest of one of our first Ladies’ Night events to discuss her work in Womanthology and as co-writer of the webcomic P.I. Jane; she has since been both a contributor and editor on both anthologies. Having someone with her experience self-publishing as one of our editors has been hugely helpful. Anissa Espinosa and Wendi Freeman, both local creators, also brought their expertise in self-publishing. Caitlin Rosberg and myself were relatively new to publishing comics but quickly applied our skills as writers and our passion for event organization to the business of creating comics. We’re all still learning along with many of our contributors, but everyone shares the same passion for comics.
This is now the second collection of stories from Ladies Night, so obviously there’s a lot of passion from the women involved. Was it harder to pick stories for this second volume? As editor, what was your process for pitching/accepting stories, and so on?
Megan Byrd: Anyone that met the submission deadlines was included in the anthology. Unlike a lot of open submission anthologies, we did not require creators to have a team ready, and no one was allowed to submit a comic as sole creator. Artists created a poster based on the book’s theme to showcase their style, and writers created a pitch for a story; the editors then paired up our creative teams. This way everyone, regardless of their skill level, was getting the same professional, collaborative comic making experience. Every team had an editor and artists were encouraged to letter their stories. We held workshops for writers, artists, and lettering, and editors worked closely with the teams throughout the creative process.
Art by Rachel Simon
What inspired the theme, ‘Death and Prom’? Is it because prom is the one thing worse than death?
Megan Byrd: It was one of many suggestions tossed around during a drink and draw after our first anthology wrapped; it was that or space pirates!
How did the creative teams come together? Was everybody an attendee, or did you use the group to contact writers and artists outside of the immediate circle?
Megan Byrd: Our first volume was based on the theme of Chicago, which definitely appealed to local creators.
For both volumes, our initial call for submissions was sent to attendees of Ladies’ Night, and we also posted a call for submissions on our Facebook and Tumblr pages. For Death & Prom we have quite a few more creators from afar! Writers Shawnelle and Shawnee Gibbs are based in California, artist Ashley Ribblett is in the UK. Those are just a few of our most geographically far-flung creators.
Well then! Ladies, what are all your stories about?
Ellen Linzer: “Death’s Corsage” is about a girl getting ready for prom when Death shows up at her door, telling her he’s here to collect. She begs him to at least her go to her prom, and he gives in, tagging along to make sure she doesn’t try to give him the slip.
And honestly the story just kind of materialized in my brain the second I heard the topic of the anthology’s second volume.
Art by Ali Gator
Raven Moore: My story, “Night of the Living Mallory”, with Ali Gator, follows a girl on a triple prom date…with her best friend turned zombie and the zombie’s ex-boyfriend. Since the anthology’s theme was about prom and death, it wasn’t too hard to come up with a story featuring a zombie in the mix (date night with a twist – I guess). Also, the title came first before I really fleshed out the story and, ironically, the name Mallory means “unfortunate.” From there, the story just sort of flowed out from a few hours of brainstorming.
Ali Gator: The original idea that was pitched was about Chen going to the prom with her dead best friend’s date and having a rude awakening when Mallory showed up to reclaim her date. Which is a great idea that I was insanely excited to work on, but as we discussed it more (Myself, Megan Byrd our editor and Raven) it under went some important changes and the story became about friendship rather than a possible rivalry.
I actually got a little teary eyed reading the last page. It’s a great story that I was really happy to be a part of. Especially when Raven gave me a lot of free reign in color choices and prom dress design.
Art by Monica Ras
Monica Ras: Death and prom! Haha, it’s essentially about a young woman who attends a school where the prom queens have all suffered from terrible deaths the night of prom due to a curse. Even though she has no interest in attending the dance, she suddenly becomes the frontrunner for queen, and she has to figure out a way to survive the night, lest she become yet another name added to the list of Prom Queen Deaths!
The process was pretty relaxed. Working with Lauren Burke was an absolute pleasure for sure! A lot of the work involved looking up a variety of prom dresses throughout the last few decades, which was definitely super interesting and fun to do. The styles have changed so much over the years. Otherwise the process was pretty straight-forward: read the script, design the characters, doodle some thumbnails, sketch out the pages, ink and color. It was definitely a heck of a learning process for me, so it was a lot fun.
Elizabeth Fogarty: ‘Paris is Burning’ about a teenager who has prophetic dreams about an unseen disaster at her upcoming prom. She draws and writes about her dreams in various journals. No one believes her including her own mother and she’s really not sure what to do about it.
As the artist I was able to give feedback to Amanda, the writer, about what worked and what didn’t. I also was able to give her an idea of how her story is seen from the artistic side. An artist basically has to draw what’s in someone else’s head. It’s interesting because everyone interprets things differently. It can be quite a process, almost like solving a puzzle by having someone else tell you where to put the pieces.
Shawnee and Shawnelle Gibbs: Our story, “Good Mourning, Jacob” is about a young man obsessed with a funeral singer. As sisters, we have attended more funerals than we’d like to over the last few years, but in losing loved ones, you discover there’s a whole world at work behind the ceremony itself. Funeral homes are their own sort of world, the resident Clergymen giving the same sermons, the funeral singers set the same somber tone for the service, etc. Once you have confronted grief and realize that pretty much every one experiences death at some point, each funeral is a little less frightening than the last. Yet we wondered, what if someone’s grief set off an unhealthy preoccupation with funerals. Who would notice and why?
We were drawn to the story because unlike a lot of towns in America, where the old are the usual guests of honor at funeral homes, our native city, Oakland California, has been plagued with the deaths of the young–particularly young men via gun violence. We wanted to tell the story of a grieving young man who, after losing his brother prematurely, attends so many funerals that he’s become a staple at them. Through death, he’s ironically found love and a reason to live–and he’s found that in a funeral singer.
Ashley Ribblett: I worked on the art for ‘Good Mourning Jacob’. As said above – it’s a short story about a funeral singer and her not-so-secret admirer that seems to always show up when she’s performing.
I came into the project kind of at the 11th hour; the story’s original artist had to drop out and I was contacted by the lovely women of Ladies Night to see if I was able to pinch hit for them!
Art by Sarah Benkin
Sarah Benkin: I was the artist on my story, “Daddy Issues, which is a heightened, tongue-in-cheek feel – a little comically over the top, which seemed to suit the fun, Tales-From-The-Crypt feel of the script by Wendi Freeman
Caitlin Rosberg: The story I wrote (Die Cleaners) ended up coming about a bit on accident. We got many more artists applying to contribute to this volume than writers, so several of our editors wound up contributing unexpectedly. I’ve always been more interested in the “background characters” of stories, particularly comics (thus my love for people like Jim Gordon and Rhodey).
I’m more interested in the lives of the people making things work around the protagonists. I’d also been listening to a lot of horror podcasts, and was struck by the idea of how horrible it would be to work in the dry cleaning place in a town like Nightvale or Buffy’s hometown of Sunnydale. Thus, the story was born.
Has working on the anthology given you the taste for comic-making, now? Are you going to be working on more projects moving forward?
Ellen Linzer: I definitely caught the comic-making bug. I’ve wanted to create comics before this opportunity, and now I’ve participated in this anthology and can’t wait to produce more. Nothing solid in the works yet, but lots of ideas bouncing around in the ol’ noggin.
Raven Moore: I worked on two previous anthologies, the first Womanthology with Renee De LIz and the Ladies Night Chicago Anthology. I have to admit, comic writing is much harder for me than straight forward prose writing (which I normally do). Right now, I’m gearing up for a project with Outland Entertainment to create an interactive story book…due out sometime (hopefully) next year.
Ali Gator: I’ve always been really into comics, and while my actual art degree concentrated on printmaking, I used that medium to tell stories with my images, sometimes as actual comics, sometimes as series of works that had a narrative. But working on the anthology definitely gave me a better idea of what it was like to make a comic with someone else.
That was really exciting and fun and it’s something that I’m definitely interested in doing again in the future. Raven and Megan were great to work with and it was really great discussing ideas with them as women in comics and that’s something that I really want to search out in the future.
Monica Ras: It definitely has! I don’t have much on my plate at the moment (though I definitely aim to fix that!), but I do assist with inks for “Touching Evil”, a pretty phenomenal comic by Dan Dougherty (www.beardocomics.com) who I was actually introduced to via an LNA Workshop. I do intend on working on a few projects of my own when I get the chance, and am totally open to the idea of partnering up with folks as well. I’m pretty interested in whatever my future in comics may hold!
Elizabeth Fogarty: This is my second year working with the Anthology. As long as we keep doing it, I will contribute. I’m even thinking about contributing in other ways. I am always open to new projects, but right now it is about time management between my day job and working on projects.
Shawnee and Shawnelle Gibbs: We have been writing for comics since 2012 but working on the anthology has definitely given us a new love for the anthology process and collaborating with other artists and women in a way we never have before. When we pitched our story to the editors of LNA and they found an incredible artist, Ashley Ribblett, who was interested in taking it on, we got the special feeling of community that is completely different from going it alone.
There’s something so satisfying about knowing that you’re sharing the same sun and moon with creative women working towards a common goal–creating great stories through comics–a medium we are often disenfranchised from in the commercial arena. From editors and letterers, ever woman took a piece of the job and the stories haven taken shape and life in a very short and wonderful period of time.
Ashley Ribblett: Comics are something I’ve always loved, but it was definitely an acquired taste making them. This was actually the first sequential comic work I’d ever done and definitely a challenge to say the least. A good challenge though. A very good, very rewarding challenge.
I’ve already wasted no time in working on another! Shortly after finishing GMJ I started work on another story for Outre` Press Xenophobia Anthology. I got to draw a lot of Frankenstein(‘s monster). I don’t know if you’ve ever drawn a Frankenstein but it’s crazy fun.
Sarah Benkin: I’m actually in the process of editing an anthology of my own! It’s called Then It Was Dark, and it’s a collection of personal paranormal experiences, true ghost stories and friend of a friend tales, and will contain the work of awesome female artists like Carey Pietsch, Elaine M. Will, Meg Gandy, Diana Nock, Molly Ostertag and more! It’ll be coming out February 2015.
Caitlin Rosberg: This is my second time editing the Anthology and I’ll definitely be sticking with that role. I’m considering submitting my writing to a few other comic focused anthologies, but I really love the mentor/organizer role that editors take on and I will do it until Megan kicks me out.
Where can we find you all, and your work, online?
Ellen Linzer: I have a blog where I talk about other people’s comics/media – comicdagger.com
Raven Moore: I’m a UX designer by trade, so I haven’t gotten around to posting much about my writing. But if you want to see what I’ve been up to in UX design, you can check out my site (and rarely updated blog) www.ravenmoore.com
Ali Gator: You can find my work on my website www.aligatorart.com which also has links to my twitter, tumblr and instagram. I’m always looking for more opportunities to collaborate and work on more comics and my email address can also be found on my website.
Let me know if you need anything else, I imagine you’ve got plenty of images but I believe I still have all the initial character design pages and possibly the base images if you want to include progress shots.
Monica Ras: You can find it all at gogomonimon.tumblr.com!
Elizabeth Fogarty: http://elizabethfogarty.tumblr.com/
Sarah Benkin: http://peppermintmonster.tumblr.com/ is the best place to go for updates, sketches, current work and ramblings. I also have a website (http://peppermintmonster.com/) which links to my store where you can buy prints, books, posters and wood burnings! If you’re just interested in news about my upcoming anthology, go to http://thenitwasdark.tumblr.com
Ashley Ribblett: You can find me and most of my work on: aribblett.blogspot.com or my instagram @tentaclees
Or stop by ScribbleNerds.blogspot.com to see me and a bunch of my pals make art at each other for weekly themes!
Caitlin Rosberg: My work is kind of all over the place, but you can find links to a lot of it at my Tumblr, www.youruinedmychildhood.com, which is also packed with comic book things and feminist rants now and then.
Phew! Megan – what do you see as the next step, now? Are there plans for volume three at some point down the line, perhaps?
Megan Byrd: Volume three is definitely on the horizon! In addition to publishing, there are many things we’d like to do more of within the comic community. Tabling at more conventions, creating more publications like fan zines, and organizing more panels (we hosted our first panel at this year’s C2E2).