You Are Not Alone—An Anthology of Hope
Gray Haven Comics is an independent comic publisher making a name for itself with its on-going anthology, The Gathering. Recently, publisher Andrew Goletz began mobilizing fellow comics creators—both pros and up-and-coming writers and artists—to contribute to their latest project: You Are Not Alone. Coming in the wake of numerous acts of violence, including the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Goletz wanted to do something. That something took the shape of a Kickstarter campaign to create an original graphic novel comprised of a number of short comic stories that would help further the discussions over bullying and abuse of all forms people experience, especially children and young adults.
Not surprisingly, I couldn’t let the opportunity to contribute to a project like this pass me by—both the Kickstarter campaign itself and with a story of my own. While I teach at college level now, it wasn’t long ago I taught high school students and saw bullying taking place and the isolation it caused. Sadly, it still happens in college too. And while it has been a number of years since I was last in middle and high school, the memories of being targeted by some of my peers has not dulled my memory of those experiences. These are stories that need to be told and heard. Sometimes, there is comfort to be found in discovering you are not alone.
While working on my script for this project, publisher Andrew Goletz shared some thoughts about his work on both You Are Not Alone as well as his role as the publisher at Gray Havens Comics.
Forrest Helvie (FH): Can you tell me a little about Gray Havens’ “origin story” for those unfamiliar with your company?
Andrew Goletz (AG): A few years ago, I was contemplating trying to put out my own comic. Other anthologies I’d try to be a part of had fallen by the wayside for various reasons so I figured maybe if I took complete control of everything it could get done. Either that or I’d have no one to blame but myself and no regrets. I asked friends who posted on a message board I frequent (Brian Bendis’ Jinxworld) of their interest and soon we had enough contributors to do THE GATHERING one-shot. Once it was released, Gail Simone took an interest in the project and asked for a copy. She was curious about how we went about pulling together and has always been a huge supporter of indie creators. She read the book and offered an in-depth critique of the book that went above and beyond what anyone could expect of a busy pro. Not only did she help offer insight into what we were doing right and wrong but she volunteered to write a short for the next issue. We published the second issue of THE GATHERING (Despair, as each issue would focus on a different theme) nearly a year later and of course, people outside of our community were starting to take notice with positive reviews and asking to help. We put out a few more issues of the anthology and then really started to ramp up production about 2 years ago. I brought in some editors who had worked with me on other GATHERING stories and we started having Open Submission periods where anyone could pitch stories to upcoming themes. Last year was huge for us as we put out the ten scheduled issues of THE GATHERING (bringing our total issues to 16) numerous one shots and started a few mini-series. This year looks to be even busier and I couldn’t be more excited about the future.
(FH): How do you differentiate yourself from both the bigger comics publishing companies and fellow indie publishers?
(AG): Well the bigger companies have a much wider distribution chain…as do a lot of the other indie publishers. One thing that really sets us apart from almost every other publisher is that we’re always seeking to publish new talent. To date we have over 200 writers and artists get published in our comics for the very first time. And because we have pros that sometimes join us for stories like Gail, Sterling Gates, Victor Gischler, Justin Jordan, and John Jackson Miller these creators can say not only were they published in a comic but many times they’re published in a comic featuring stories done by pros. Also in a lot of these cases, up and coming artists had a chance to do the art for those pros. Cassandra James did Gail’s story and some of Sterling’s’. Amanda Rachels did work with Sterling. Sam Tung is doing a sci fi/western mini-series with Victor Gischler that is part of our Phase Two line (self-contained mini-series) called TITANIUM STAR. And while we are not carried by Diamond so you won’t see us in comic stores across the country we manage to sell a decent amount of books through our online store, comic conventions and some retail stores that support small press so their work will be seen. We recently joined with Barnes and Noblevio to offer digital versions of the comics as well which will increase the visibility for the products.
(FH): What got you interested in putting together an anthology like You Are Not Alone?
(AG): After the tragic events at Sandy Hook, I felt compelled to do something. My original idea was a sort of tribute book to those who lost their lives in that senseless violence but I thought it was too soon and I didn’t want to make it seem like opportunism no matter what the intent. As a dad…as a human being…I wanted to put something out there to help younger readers. I discussed options with the other editors and we decided to do a general themed book to address all issues that kids face from bullying to depression to gun violence and homophobia and racism. I also wanted to make sure the book was free so anyone could pick it up regardless of his or her income.
(FH): What can you tell us about the stories readers can expect to see in this collection? Are there any known writers contributing to You Are Not Alone?
(AG): There are going to be around 50 different stories in the book at this point. They range from personal stories based on real life experiences by the writer to completely fictional tales inspired by some of the struggles people are going through. We have a number of stories on Racism, Homophobia, Body Issues, Abuse, Depression, Disabilities, Gun Violence and Bullying. These stories will focus on serious issues that effect young people today but it’s not a book simply for young readers. People of all ages can pick up this book and probably relate to something in it, but we wanted to focus on those that are the most in need of help. And it’s not designed to be a downer or depress people. All of these stories are meant to offer hope and guidance to show those affect that they aren’t alone.
Most of the creators are up and coming writers and artists just like we’ve done in THE GATHERING but pros like Raven Gregory, Dirk Manning, Mindy Newell, Pat Shand, Gail Simone and Len Wallace are also contributing stories. We may have a few others, too but that’s not confirmed yet.
(FH): I’d like to talk about the fact you brought this project to Kickstarter. Why did you go this route? What has the overall response been to the project so far?
(AG): We’ve used Kickstarter several times before to help fund printing, marketing and convention costs. Once we started getting flooded with submissions for You Are Not Alone I knew I was going to need some help. We probably got 5 times as many submissions to this book than any other. And many of them were heartbreaking stories of things that the writers had suffered through or observed others to have to deal with in their lives. Things no one should have to deal with. We couldn’t whittle these down to 10 or 11 stories in a standard sized comic so we decided to go bigger. The costs of doing a 200 page graphic novel are considerably higher than a 40 page single issue. Even with some of the editors sharing in the production cost and our printer graciously offering us a discount for this issue it was going to get pricey….and we still wanted to make this print run for Free. I couldn’t expect kids to go out of their way to buy a ten-dollar comic book that didn’t have a recognizable character on the cover but they could be compelled to check out something that’s free.
The response so far has been phenomenal. We hit our initial goal in less than 3 days and at the time of this interview, we just hit our first stretch goal. There are about 3 weeks left to go in the campaign and this is one where truly ever dollar counts. The more money we’re able to bring in, the more copies of the book we’ll be able to print and the better the odds that they will get into the hands of people who could use the inspiration.
(FH): When do you expect it to be published, and where can readers find this if they’re interested in buying a copy?
(AG): The first full scripts are already starting to come in and they’ve been great. We’re looking to have the book finished, printed and ready to go out by the beginning of the new school year this coming September. The easiest way right now to guarantee a copy is to pledge to the Kickstarter. It’s for a good cause and you can get some cool rewards at the same time. The book will also be available for free digitally through the Nook when it’s completed. I’m hoping that many of the schools and libraries across the country will be interested in carrying copies of the book and most of the print run generated through Kickstarter will go to supply that. Beyond that, I’m sure we’ll have additional print copies available that people can order through our store site at www.grayhavencomics.com like all of our other books but that hasn’t been finalized yet.
(FH): The last word is yours: What else would you like readers to know about this project?
(AG): It’s the most important project we’ve ever done. This is a book designed to help and inspire people whether they are victims of any of the topics we covered, have witnessed it first hand or heck, even committed them. Maybe we can have a bully or other ignorant stop and think before they do something to someone else. Maybe that young person that thinks they have nowhere to turn to or no one who will understand will recognize himself or herself in a story and seek help. One of the things we’re going to use as ‘chapter breaks’ will be to give the names, phone numbers and website addresses of organizations designed to help advise. I don’t know that we’re going to change the world or help everyone who needs it. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying.