Back in September 2010 Bleeding Cool first broke the news of a TRANSMETROPOLITAN Tribute book for 2011…ish.
With the book finished and on the verge of (a very limited) release, Project Manager Susan Augér (who donated her time as a freelance volunteer unaffiliated with the Hero Initiative and CBLDF) and book designer/contributing artist Pete Venters (who is also a long-time illustrator for Magic: The Gathering and has a blog here) chatted with Image Comics writer and longtime journalist/columnist Dirk Manning (who can be friended here or followed here) about TRANSMETROPOLITAN: ALL AROUND THE WORLD and why you best start saving your pennies for a donation to either The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund if you want to get your hands on a copy of it when it sees release later this year.
Dirk Manning: How about starting us off by telling us a little about the book itself? Not the details of when and how it came together… but just the book itself. You know, a simple two sentence primer for people who somehow haven't heard of it yet.
Susan Augér: In two sentences: TRANSMETROPOLITAN: ALL AROUND THE WORLD is an art book. It is a book created for the purpose raising money for the comics community through donations to the CBLDF and the Hero Initiative.
From my perspective the book looks different than, say, from the original team's perspective, or a fan's perspective, or the charity's perspective. It's difficult to explain why the book does not fit under a specific label or into a convenient box. Pin-up book? Well, no. Tribute book? Not exactly. The best analogy I can give you is this:
The previously published collection known as Transmetropolitan: Tales of Human Waste (Vol.0, which will be collected under "Volume 10" later this year, as they reconfigure the volumes over at Vertigo), was a scripted effort. There were stories and sort-of flash fictions written by Warren Ellis, and accompanying illustrations by a range of talent. It was, in a sense, an orchestration with an experienced conductor.
This art book, by comparison, is a backyard jam session. Everyone brought their own instruments, their own ideas of what they liked and wanted to do, and the book formed solely around those ideas and those interpretations.
I think contributor Pete Venters would be able to give a different perspective, given that he is a long-time fan of the series. Pete, what is this book, to you?
Pete Venters: In two sentences: The Transmet art book is a unique opportunity to see the borderline-insane world of Transmetropolitan through the eyes of a broad spectrum of artists and writers who have one thing in common: They're all fans.
And personally, the book is a golden opportunity. I don't foresee another chance to take a dip in Warren and Darick's world any time soon. If ever.
Dirk: When did the ball get rolling on this collection? And whose idea was it? You? Darick? Warren? All of you together?
Susan: In March last year, at Emerald City Con, a fan suggested the idea to Darick Robertson. He was happy to agree and participate, and his only conditions were simple: it had to be okay with Warren, and the book had to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the Hero Initiative in some way.
Dirk: Speaking of DC… what was their role and reaction in this? After all, they have a pretty big stake in all things TRANSMETROPOLITAN. Honestly… how much did it take to get them onboard with this tribute book?
Susan: I have to give them credit where it's due, they were quite amiable to the whole thing. I'm sure you were expecting me to tell you that they had to be pleaded with or begged, or bribed handsomely, but that just wasn't the case. We approached them politely and professionally, we were patient while they made their inquiries and determinations, and they chose to support the project by granting permission.
Dirk: You have an absolute boat-load of artists contributing to this collection… and yes, this is an open invitation to do some serious name-dropping – so have at it. Who were some of the people you were most excited or surprised to get involved with this book? (I know you won't remember everyone, of course… but who are you especially tickled about or what are some names comic readers perhaps most recognize and get excited about?)
Susan: This is where I will have to admit, once again, that the book formed itself. People heard the jam session going on and walked up the driveway with their own instruments. We invited people, sure, but not all of them showed, and it was never clear until layout finally wrapped what we had in our hands.
I was very glad that Jimmie Robinson, one of your peers over at IMAGE with BOMB QUEEN, was able to make an appearance. I adore Jimmie, and I just love his art. Lukas Ketner is an emerging talent whose book WITCH DOCTOR will be out this summer, and he's a delightful person to work with. There's not enough that can be said about Lea Hernandez (Marvel GIRL COMICS contributor, co-creator of KILLER PRINCESSES with Gail Simone). She was incredibly supportive, and had worked on both the TRANSMETROPOLITAN original series and Volume 0. We were honored to have her return.
The best contributor who walked up the driveway and invited himself over, though, had to be Pete Venters. He and his wife were indescribably supportive, and Pete's enthusiasm for the original series is clearly evident in his attention to detail.
Pete: Print does a poor job of showing the long pause of shock as I recover from that flattery, so just assume it's there. As for pieces I'm looking forward to, I'm eager to see what Clint Langley, Liam Sharp, and Milo Manara have created.
Dirk: Do you have any especially favorite pieces? Of course I'll suspect that you love them all, but are there any that really took you aback a bit when you saw them arrive?
Susan: I'm especially fond of what the photographers did. I should walk that back, actually, the photographic illustrations in the book are not necessarily by contributors who identify as photographers. There is the well-publicized art installation by Matthew Borgatti, photographed in Manhattan. There's the wall mural, executed by graffiti artist Darren Ellis (no relation to Warren Ellis) and photographed in England. You can see a video of him working on it here:
There's the photo-comic by renowned photographer Seth Kushner. And there are images by photographers Libby Bulloff, Audrey Penven, and Pinguino Kolb.
It must have been intimidating to know they would be in the minority, surrounded by images in more traditional formats by comics professionals they had read and admired. They must have been nervous, but they never showed it. I love that bravery.
Pete: I haven't had the chance to see the finished product, though I am looking forward to seeing the full version of the piece by Anna-Maria Jung. I've only seen a snippet of it but what I've seen cracks me up!
Dirk: You touched on this a moment ago, but can you talk a little bit more about the process of gathering collaborators for this book? In the name of full-disclosure, I have to admit that I only got involved second-hand when my frequent artistic collaborator Len O'Grady literally called me to and invited me to write a two-page script for him, so I'm a bit out of the loop on how you put this massive army of people together. It couldn't have all happened like that, with people calling other people, could it?
Susan: To go back to the backyard jam session analogy, we invited everyone. We invited everyone who had worked on the series, we invited creative professionals who were fans of the series, we invited friends and neighbors. It wasn't an exclusive party, or anything particularly sophisticated. There wasn't a plan. The jam session formed itself, and that's it. When Len O'Grady invited you to the jam session, no one blinked an eye or told you that you weren't welcome, and that is how we tried to treat everyone: like a guest. In fact, Pete also joined the book through another contributor.
Pete: Yeah, I first heard of the book through Libby Bulloff who I begged – hey I'm not proud – to put me in touch with the people coordinating the project. The whole process was pretty laid back with no requirement for a sketch review and carte blanche on what subject matter we tackled. For my part, I extrapolated from events – and passing comments – in the book to illustrate two scenes; one from several years before issue #1, and the other from a year or so after the series' finale. I'm looking forward to seeing how people react to these pieces.
Dirk: One of the things that excites me most about the book is the format. This is going to be a big, fancy book. Why did you choose to go with more of a prestige format rather than a traditional TPB format?
Susan: The truth is, it's what the contributors wanted and it's how the book formed itself. One of the chief complaints we heard from returning guest artists who had previously worked on Volume 0 was the quality of the paper and the colors. Not that the colorists had not done a good job, but that the paper did not support it in a way that best reflected the original art. We wanted to create a book that presented the work of the artists the way they intended it. Any thoughts on the format, Pete?
Pete: I'm glad to hear it's bigger than a typical TPB. I think the format's going to be that optimal size where it's large enough to really soak up the art, but not so big that's the book's a cumbersome load that kills your arms while you try to browse through it. I probably sound like a cheerleader but I'm stoked to see the final product.
Dirk: The online fund-raising site Kickstarter was used to raise the funds to get this book made… with pretty spectacular results, I'd say. Can you tell us about what happened with this book at Kickstarter? Also, what advice, if any, can you offer to people who might want to use Kickstarter to fund a project such as this?
Susan: Those results were entirely thanks to Cory Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, Ryan Penagos, the fans, and the contributors. Fans who were paying attention might have noticed that Neil Gaiman posted specially on Twitter at the behest of Pete's lovely wife, Jillian Venters.
Pete: We've known Neil on and off for years, so Jill dropped him a line asking for him to "tweet" about the book, which he graciously did only twenty minutes after Jill had sent the email. Needless to say his one and a half million followers caused a bit of a spike in pledges.
Speaking of pledging to Kickstarter, I noticed that once we hit the $26,000 needed to fund the project, the rate of pledges actually increased rather than slowed down. People, not surprisingly, feel more confident putting their money towards a project they know is happening but it underlines how new Kickstarter is and how few people understand it. On Kickstarter, any money pledged is completely safe. If the project doesn't make its total, no money is deducted. You only get billed if the project goes ahead. Presumably as people become more familiar with Kickstarter, these early nerves will be less of an issue for future projects.
Apparently having a video to accompany your Kickstarter project significantly increases your chances of being successful. I've seen this mentioned on a few 'how to's" for Kickstarter and our video did give us an up-tick in pledges, but nowhere near as many as when Darick's art for the front cover was finally posted.
Susan: We were very fortunate to have Nathan Eyring on-board, he was the colorist on the original TRANSMETROPOLITAN series. He returned the full-color cover for the book to us in record time. And we absolutely would bit have had a video for our Kickstarter campaign without the support of Whiskey Media, and Sara Lima at Comic Vine. We had no budget or equipment for a video!
Dirk: The proceeds of this book are all going to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which is just phenomenal. How and why did you choose to go this route?
Susan: It was Darick Robertson's immediate reaction: if you're going to do this project, do it for charity. He's a generous guy, which is understating the fact, frankly, so it was unsurprising that his first thought was to help someone else. He was also very supportive of having unpublished, unknown talent in the book.
Pete: And you've got to admit, if Transmet's going to aid a charity, one that fights censorship is a pretty fine fit.
Dirk: OK… we've been talking about (and talking-up) this book for a bit. How about we close out with any final thoughts you may have about it and details on how fans can get their hands on a copy if they didn't pre-order a copy… if at all.
Pete: Well, the bad news is that if you didn't order one from Kickstarter, your chances of nabbing a copy are slim. Real slim. I know some comic stores took the plunge and ordered a few copies to sell on, but they're a small fraction of the retailers out there. The hard truth is that no matter how much we yelled from the rooftops (and Twitter, Facebook and a variety of comics blogs) we couldn't get the news of the book to everyone who'd be interested.
Also, in this day and age people are so used to marketing hyperbole that few give much credence to order deadlines anymore and I can't blame them. However, Kickstarter runs with some very rigid rules – no deadline extensions, no orders after the deadline closes – to ensure their very no gray area business model of "if the money isn't there when the deadline is reached the project is canceled" works. It's a safeguard to protect the creator as well as the people who have pledged. It's not an ideal solution but it's what we had to work with.
The one other chance of getting a copy is via the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. They are receiving an agreed upon number of additional copies for them to sell through their site. Follow this link to ensure you're informed when they are made available:
Susan: My final thoughts on it: Darick Robertson will not get you a book. Warren Ellis will not get you a book. Please, folks, do not ask them about getting a copy of the book. Please support the charities by visiting their websites and keeping a close eye on their updates as they determine what they will do with the books.
This is Dirk Manning's first, and probably not last, contribution to Bleeding Cool. Aside from being a long-time comic journalist and columnist he also writes NIGHTMARE WORLD for Image Comics/Shadowline and FARSEEKER for ACT-I-VATE with artist Len O'Grady along some other comic projects on the verge of release, details of which can and will be found on Facebook and Twitter. Cthulhu is his Homeboy.