As a long time comic reader, I am on the everlasting hunt for new titles from unique voices that are able to help me fully understand the sheer power that the medium of comics is able to convey. Luckily, I am never looking for long, as the internet has brought us a new golden age of comic books.
Since the beginning of the 2010’s indie comic publishers have made a huge splash, with additions like Action Lab Entertainment, Aftershock Comics, and Behemoth Comics. These companies offer a smaller, more focused platform for young creators to house their books, and build that ever so important foundation of publication that creators need to grow in this industry.
One such publisher is a small Buffalo, NY based company called Band of Bards Comics. Along with trying to “Tell Untold Stories that Break the Mold,” Bards is one of the only publishers currently operating that is actively LGBTQIA+ affirming. They use their hashtag “Comics Doing Good” to promote their work, which has a focus on characters and creators that aren’t simply cis gendered, heterosexual white men. This focus allows Bards to create a space that is much needed in comics today; a truly diverse catalog of books for readers who feel that they haven’t yet been able to see themselves take part in the stories told.
With the recent announcement of their newest title, Final Gamble (Written by Robyn Z, with art duties by Jorge Santiago Jr. , Harry Saxon, and Geo Grant), we wanted to give Bards a moment to go over what exactly sets them apart from the other independent comic book publishers. I spoke to founding member Tim Stolinski about the origins and goals for Band of Bards.
BoB truly began in 2016. I wanted to do something about the Civil/Military divide in America. I majored in history in college (first time around) and thought it would be great to collect oral histories from Vets and turn them into graphic novel anthologies. I reached out to Chris who was working on his own online comic (Vultures) at the time and to an Army friend of mine Zach who had some professional historian experience. The initial concept was to make a non-profit with an educational mission that could bring true, authentic representation to the Veteran community. For numerous reasons this fizzled out but Chris and I would talk about it from time to time. During the ‘Demic we began to dig deeper into what would be a workable model. A big missing part that I recognized between 2016 and 2020 was how big of an issue representation and diversity in comics was. I saw what at heart drove me to want authentic stories of military service was also a problem faced by many other social groups. Groups on the outside are always tokenized or erased. That’s true for sexual orientations, nationalities, racial divides, economic divides, and basically anything that we as humans can ‘otherize’. I saw solidarity in this void where so many people just wanted authentic stories they could see themselves in. People want characters like them who aren’t superficial polished up stereotypes. Comics are for everyone and everyone deserves to see themselves in a comic.
Simply put, Comics Doing Good. I think what we’ve learned from the creators who have brought their stories to us is that our ethos, our priorities as a publisher, and our desire to preserve creator-owned IP combine to be unique. At the end of the day Chris and I are a couple of old punks who grew up in a tiny Rust Belt town. Our roots in a DIY punk rock scene are foundational for who we both are as people. I am a union member myself at my day job. So we are a bit more labor-leaning in our outlook as publishers. We don’t just want to maintain creators’ ownership of the IP they bring to us, we also want to reshape the compensation standards in the comics community. This has led us to begin forming a Guild of Bards that will be kind of “organized labor lite”. The point of The Guild will be to empower creators who work with us and with others who share similar values. We’ll all rise together in comics, just like we did as young punks expressing rage in 6-strings and circle pits.
Well-crafted stories, quality art, and stories & teams that fit the BoB mission of increasing representation and diversity in comics. It’s that simple. No constraints on genre, format, or duration of run. We want to have a product mix that provides one-shots, mini series, long run series, & graphic novellas and novels. It always helps a pitch package to include as much material as possible, to have some kind of marketing plan with a target audience or comparable titles. We list a lot of submission guidelines on our website but those are ideals. Not everyone is going to have a finished product or character turnarounds. We’re happy to work with creators who have the skeleton of a story figured out and provide some editorial assistance in fleshing out the details. That’s one of the fun parts of being a publisher! So put your energy into your storytelling craft and if your story and/or team fits with our mission then we’re happy to talk!
Publish some damn comics! We have lofty plans for incorporating as a Benefit Corporation in the near future. We want to help change the landscape of comics to shift some power to creators. We’d like to help fix the disastrous Direct Market system. But first thing’s first. We need to get Final Gamble published and ensure success for Bobby and her team. We’ll have a few more titles to announce in the next month or two as well. So we need to rack up a few wins, show we can pull off what we’re planning, and get hooked up with a distribution partner so that we can bring BoB stories to a much wider audience.
Comics are fun, but they’re also a ton of work and require massive capital. Honestly this is an industry deserving of much more academic research! Mostly I’d like to take time to thank the comics community that has been supporting us since we went live in March. The encouragement from others, the help and willingness to share lessons learned have been invaluable. I honestly don’t know if we would have even incorporated [it] if not for the advice and kind words from Pulp 716. The LCS ( local comic book store) is the backbone of this industry and our locale has been so damn wonderful to us.”
The kickstarter for Final Gamble began on August 3, 2021 and will run until September 3, 2021. The campaign is filled with a number of exciting tier rewards, and prizes for everyone looking to satisfy their indie comics needs! You can find them on Twitter (@bandofbards) to sign up for launch notifications for Final Gamble and to see updates on future titles from Band of Bards.
For more positivity from your LCS, check out Isaac's article here about Excalibur Comics!