Winner of an Ignatz Prize for excellence in small press comics, the new anthology “Elements: Fire” is racing up the lists of most-recommended comics in libraries and curated comic book shops. A collection of work by artists and writers of color, it’s the brainchild of Portland-based writer and editor Taneka Stotts.
The pages, rendered in slick black and white, with splashes of bright red spot-color, tell all-ages stories: nations clash, robot insects do battle with giant eagles, spirit dogs return home, kids get in trouble — with all the rollick and snap that comes from asking artists to let their imaginations loose.
We talked with Taneka Stotts about getting “Elements” off the ground (it’s the second for Beyond Press, the imprint she founded with Sfé Monster and Shing Yin Khor). She had a lot more to say about her own fandom, and why she’s leaving Portland later this year, so listen to the sound file for our whole conversation, but here are just a few highlights.
Q&A with Taneka Stotts
April Baer: Tell us about one of the stories you worked on for this.
Taneka Stotts: So “Pass the Fire” [with “Agents of the Realm” artist Mildred Louis] is about Artemis and Apollo living in a cyber-punk, Philip K. Dick noir style, hip-hop-inspired metropolis called Arcadia. In this society information is passed through little technomancy tricks. She uncovers a USB drive that has a goddess inside of it.
Baer: And such a goddess! The dialogue runs like, “Surprise, surprise. Apollo before my diamond eyes. And here I was expecting one of your errand bots.” Who were the inspirations for the deities?
Stotts: That is literally Kim Chi from RuPaul’s “Drag Race” in front of you.
Baer: How did co-founding Beyond change your life?
Stotts: I became an editor! As a creator I’m in charge of my own world and my own narrative. As an editor I want your narrative to shine and for you to always feel you’re 100 percent in control. Those two worlds are very dramatically different. Especially when you’re trying to make sure a person feels comfortable and like their story hasn’t been taken away from them.
Baer: It sounds like you’ve been on the business end of interactions like that.
Stotts: Yes! Yes, I have. Very many. I would say it’s because I was introduced to comics. I found comics very similar to customer service in general IT and video games, which I had worked in before. I just realized it needed a certain approach in terms of organization and having a schedule. Oh! Having a schedule is wonderful.
Baer: Are younger editors and creators of color coming at you with questions?
Stotts: Absolutely! My inbox is full!
Baer: What are you telling them?
Stotts: Get an accountant to do your taxes, learn about your sales laws in your state, contact attorneys to do wonderful lawyer work on contracts, and look at resources around you for free or for pay and to invest within yourself — not within art school — but within yourself.
Baer: What’s the difference there?
Stotts: Investing within yourself means understanding social media, understanding business models, and putting together plans of action — not only so you can become an entrepreneur, but so you can continue your growth, so that it doesn’t just disappear, so that you can be on the same level as the people you idolize on the other side of the table. So that you’re not as afraid and nervous. We’re all people, we’re all the same, we started with the same roots: on the other side of the table, getting our books and things we love signed.