In addition to their close proximity to Canada’s Western Coastline, they share something else in common; founding membership in a comic book collective by the name of Cloudscape Comics.
I was fortunate enough to recently connect with a few individuals involved with the group. My goal was to learn a little about what they do, what they stand for, and how local comic creators can benefit from collaborating through a collective like their own.
According to Jeff Ellis, current Cloudscape President and a founding member himself, the collective’s reason for being is to promote and assist Vancouver-area comic artists and writers.
“There are a lot of talented individuals living in the city,” says Jeff, “but they’re all working on their own, and it’s much harder to get recognition working that way. Cloudscape Comics is a way to support those individuals. Secondary to that, we also want to build up the reputation of comics in general – we’re trying to make interesting fictional stories that have a broad appeal, not just for kids and not just for really discerning indie connoisseurs.”
Jeff says that Cloudscape was born out of the initial desire of a few Vancouver comic artists to start up a local collective. Without any real idea where to start, he and a friend created a Facebook Fan page, which ended up pulling in quite a few members. They decided to meet in person at Our Town Cafe in Vancouver, which became a weekly event.
“The next idea that came to us,” says Jeff, “Was hey, we have all of these artists making comics – rather than spending money to do our own individual works why don’t we work together and pool our resources to publish something. That’s where our first volume came from, Robots, Pine Trees and Broken Hearts. It was a 48 page floppy comic, and doing that encouraged us to keep going.”
Angela Melick, author of the popular webcomic Wasted Talent, initially became involved with Cloudscape immediately after graduating from University.
“I was searching for structure in my life before I found a job, and Jonathon Dalton told me about a group he was starting up with these other cartoonists,” says Angela, “I said hey you know, I’ve got nothing better to do, I’m unemployed, and I’m looking to get back into doing comics. So I wrote a story for the group and we actually managed to publish an anthology together, which I think shocked everyone in the community. As many cartoonists could tell you, anthology groups come together very often, and ninety percent of the time they implode.”
She says that publishing Robots, Pine Trees and Broken Hearts was significant in that it showed the group they could actually pull together to release a quality anthology. In doing so, herself and the other Cloudscape artists also learned a great deal about the publication process and what they would need to tell artists submitting works in order to make the process flow more smoothly in the future.
“Since then,” says Angela, “we published Historyonics, which was a long book of history comics, and we published Sunday Funnies, which was a color book – and that impressed a lot of people, because they didn’t know that color was achievable. Our latest book, Exploded View, we really tightened up on the editorial direction and we’re really proud of the emphasis on story-telling in the book. I think with Exploded View, we really hit our stride as a group. ”
As for the origin of the name, Cloudscape Comics was not the group’s original moniker. Back in the beginning, they called themselves Cumulus – that is, until they found out there was another publisher in Montreal with the same name, coincidentally also doing comics.
“We decided to rename ourselves,” says Jeff, “after a long meeting at the comic shop we took a vote and Cloudscape was what we ended up with. I think we were looking for something related to the Vancouver weather, so we came up with a lot of names very cloud and rain related. Precipitation Press was another option. (Jeff laughs)”
Over the course of four anthologies, Cloudscape has built an impressive list of over thirty contributors – including the likes of Camilla d’Errico, Colleen macIsaac, Jordyn Bochon, and Colin Upton, to name a few. (We’ve actually featured both Colleen and Jordyn on The Fabler Blog before – click on their respective names to read the articles!)
Of those contributors, Colin Upton would be the member with the longest hands-on experience in comics. He started making minicomics in 1985, and released his first full-length comic, Big Thing, in 1990. He saw his comics published by Fantagraphics and several other Seattle-based alternative publishers throughout the nineties, before returning to the minicomic format around 2000.
“I remember coming across the first Cloudscape anthology,” says Colin, “and being very impressed with this group of young people who were managing to get their stuff together enough to publish in print. I particularly appreciated this since so many new comic writers and artists choose to put their stuff online, rather than publish in print.”
Another draw for Colin was the fact that Cloudscape was very story-oriented.
“At the time,” he says, “I was seeing a lot of comics that were what I like to call ‘arty-type comics’. That is, ones that don’t have much of a plot or direction where it seems to be mostly about sketching or drawing, rather than anything story-driven. So I appreciated that about Cloudscape, that they were story-oriented.”
For these reasons, Colin decided to get involved with the collective. He has contributed to every Cloudscape anthology since.
“Cloudscape allows local comic creators a chance to come together and do something larger than a minicomic,” says Upton, “Also, in my case it allows me to connect with what’s going on in the comic scene these days. Just about all of the artists I knew doing comics in the eighties or nineties have gone on to other things – working in video games, graphic design and the like. It gets quite lonely when you reach my age, having very few cartoonists as your contemporaries.
Not to mention, hanging out with a group of younger people involved with web-publishing and the modern world of comic publishing in general helps me come to terms with those developments I don’t yet fully understand myself.”
The value of connecting with local comic creators is, in itself, a significant benefit to collectives like Cloudscape. As Angela Melick points out, drawing comics can be a very isolated experience.
“One of the greatest things for an artist about the internet is being able to find other artists,” she says, “but being able to do that locally is ten times better. You can actually talk to people informally about the artistic process, and learn from their technique as you’re sitting with them, watching them draw. Even if you don’t ever publish anything in your group, just finding other cartoonists near you is tremendously helpful for anyone.”
Currently, anyone that is presently living in Vancouver or has previously lived there can contact the group about getting involved.
“All of the contact information is on the website,” says Jeff. “We’re currently trying to keep the anthologies grounded in a West Coast perspective, but we also run comic battles as a weekly feature on our website, and anyone can submit something for that. We post a theme, and anyone is welcome to submit a comic, then we put it up for a week for everyone to vote on. The winner gets the glory (and possibly a prize, depending if we have a prize ready).”
Jeff says that one major goal for the near future of Cloudscape Comics is to establish a distribution method that can get their anthologies onto shelves in a wider radius of bookstores. Being a sharp sort of fellow, he acknowledges that this is no small feat.
(For those unfamiliar with the world of indie publishing, distribution is traditionally one of the largest hurdles to overcome – largely thanks to the existing, outdated, and non-indie-friendly Diamond-based infrastructure of distribution.)
The group is also working on tightening their editorial control over the next Cloudscape Comics anthology, Journeys, which would hopefully be due out sometime around next March .
“When cloudscape first started, it was very democratic,” says Colin Upton, “which has its problems. But increasingly they are attempting to up the quality of the book by making editorial decisions and judgements and suggestions. Which is great, because in my experience with editors I’ve dealt with before – even from professional publishers like Fantagraphics – you don’t usually get much feedback. Getting that from the editorial group at Cloudscape really helps you improve your story and see some of the mistakes you might otherwise have missed yourself.”
“We’re really trying to up the ante, creatively, ” says Jeff. “We’re trying to push everyone to write and draw to their best ability, and we hope to make something that could maybe catch some critical acclaim. We’d love to attract the attention of, say, the Shuster Awards.” (hint)
Angela Melick writes this super fun and quirky autobiographical webcomic, and she also has Twitter.
-Written by Kevin de Vlaming