Exploring 'Cartozia Tales,' The Crowdfunded Fantasy Anthology for Readers of All Ages

"I thought I could put together a few people who could do really smart, really inventive comics that kids would enjoy," editor Isaac Cates tells THR.
Leah Palmer Preiss/Cartozia Press

Cartozia Tales is a comic book series unlike most others. A fantasy anthology, Cartozia features a cast of characters shared between storylines and creators as each issue sees writers and artists swap stories, round-robin style, to create an ever-changing, always entertaining series aimed at readers of all ages. This week, the series launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a revised edition of its first issue featuring new material from a number of guest creators. Editor Isaac Cates told THR about the new drive, and what makes Cartozia Tales so special.

The series originated as the result of a number of different factors coming together, Cates said. "I'd really wanted to get immersed in a fictional world created with some of my friends," he explained, citing the European comic series Dungeon as a particular inspiration. "It's sort of a great way to put yourself into a friendship, as anyone who has played Dungeons and Dragons knows — you imagine a world together, and that becomes a part of what you share as friends."

At the same time, he'd started thinking about the importance of comics suitable for younger readers. "That's where adult comics readers come from, and how you make more cartoonists, too," he said. "There's not a whole lot of all-ages work in the indie comics scene (though there's more now than there once was), and I thought I could put together a few people who could do really smart, really inventive comics that kids would enjoy — something that had a strong chance of being really amazing, and filing a real need."

The collision of those ideas became Cartozia Tales, a 10-issue series that features a core collective of cartoonists — Cates, Mike Wenthe, Sarah Becan, Lucy Bellwood, Shawn Cheng, Lupi McGinty, Tom Motley and Jen Vaughn — creating a new world filled with fantastic characters, with guest creators including Evan Dorkin, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dylan Horrocks offering additional stories and concepts.

For Cates, gathering the team of contributors together was "one of the best parts of the process, actually. If you've seen Seven Samurai or Magnificent Seven, it was sort of like the first act of that story," he joked, with collaborators coming from longtime friendships, professional relationships and random happenstance. "I recruited [Bellwood] after someone told me I should check her out," he admitted. "I ordered copies of her minicomic Baggywrinkles, sent her an email invitation when I liked her work, and she agreed to come aboard."

The organization of each issue means that each cartoonist has to start over, while simultaneously building on what's come before. "We start with a map [of the Cartozia Tales territory], and at the beginning of planning each issue, each cartoonist is assigned to a part of the map that he or she hasn't drawn in before," Cates said. "That means we don't get to carry one plot or character forward from one issue to the next — but we can pick up someone else's story and characters and determine their fates."

The reason for this approach, he said, was somewhat practical in origin. "I wanted to let storytellers all add their ideas to the world but have the world remain coherent. If I just let everyone have his or her fiefdom, and have them interact minimally, all sorts of stuff would naturally fall out of sync, and the world would cleave apart. Instead, if anything, the eight issues to date have shown the world growing together — plots and themes coming into contact with each other — so that I don't even think of it as an 'anthology' anymore, but as a shared-authorship work."

It's a hook that's captured the attention of those who've come into contact with the series so far; an initial Kickstarter campaign to launch the series two years ago was successful, and Cates said that the response to the issues published to date has, for the most part, been even more positive.

"When I go to small-press conventions, readers will come to the table dragging a friend by the arm, insisting that the friend also buy the whole run. Really, for the sort of reader who wants an immersive original world to imagine, it's kind of the perfect book," he said. "A couple of issues of Cartozia Tales will last a lot longer, as a reading experience — and stick with you longer — than twice as many superhero comics."

For the second edition of the first issue — a possibility that came about as stock of the current printing of the series' debut ran out — Cates intends to add new work by a murderer's row of talent including Roger Langridge, Dylan Meconis and The Boxtrolls director Graham Annable, while also adding color to previously black and white strips and "generally cleaning up" mistakes made at the start of the project. To fund this, he's turned back to Kickstarter.

Crowdfunding, he said, "makes it easy to approach an audience, and makes it easy for new people to find the work who aren't already plugged in to indie comics. And it lets me pile up enough capital that I can afford to print the book really nicely. The offset printing we're using, and the nice paper we print on, means a minimum printing cost per issue of around $3,000. Some of them have cost more. Raising that sort of money without crowdfunding would mean applying for a bank loan, I think — and would any loan officer give you that sort of money for a minicomic?"

Beyond the new edition of the book's debut, Cates is currently thinking about the final two issues of the current run, and what the future could mean for more Cartozia Tales beyond that.

"I'd like to get the stories into a format that libraries can keep on their shelves — most libraries don't really have a way to store saddle-stitched comics long-term — and I'm hoping I'll find a publisher to do that with me, so I don't have to handle all that shipping and distribution out of my basement," he said. "And I think there will be other stories set in Cartozia, too, though that won't mean just going into 'volume two' with the same collaborators and characters. I have some other ideas that would allow us to keep the stories going."

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