Kelly Phillips On Kickstarting Dirty Diamonds, An All-Girl Comic Anthology

By Nikolai Fomich

 Carolyn Nowak[Cover by Carolyn Nowak]

For the past five years, cartoonists Kelly Phillips and Claire Folkman have been working with dozens of amazing cartoonists from around the world to produce the all-girl comic anthology Dirty Diamonds, a comic which gives "the women of comics a dedicated outlet for telling their stories." For their sixth issue, Kelly, Claire and their talented cohorts have put together a collection of stories focusing on beauty – along with a Kickstarter campaign! I sat down and spoke with Kelly about the latest issue of Dirty Diamonds, their campaign and just how complex beauty really is.

Nikolai Fomich: Kelly, what is Dirty Diamonds?

Kelly Phillips: Dirty Diamonds is an all-girl comic anthology. With each issue, we put an open call out on the internet for semi-autobiographical comics around a central theme. We're interested in collecting stories that touch on topics that are universal, and therefore as open to interpretation as possible. The wider the range of reactions we get to each theme, the better! We get the opportunity to highlight the work of female comic artists while also getting to learn more about their personal experiences.

NF: What's the secret origin of Dirty Diamonds? What compelled you to co-create an all-girl comic anthology?

KP: After walking around a comic festival one day, Claire and I got really fed up that there weren't enough comics by ladies being published in anthologies. We're not ones to shy away from a challenge, so back in 2011 we decided to take on the task ourselves. Dirty Diamonds started as an opportunity for us to publish our own work alongside ladies that we admire (Carey Pietsch and Dre Grigoropol rounded out the first issue), and with issue two (Jobs), we branched out beyond our circle of Philadelphia-based artists and opened the book up to submissions online. From there, the book has grown and evolved and taken on a life of its own! The enthusiasm we get about the books we've put together, and about the opportunities to participate in future issues, has been incredible.

Noni Garcia[Artwork by Noni Garcia]

NF: Issue six deals with the subject of beauty, a complex topic if there ever was one. You've got a stellar group of cartoonists contributing to this issue – from Kate MacDonald and Olivia Stephens to Noni Garcia and Carolyn Nowak – and giving voice to their ideas on beauty. Talk a bit about working with these artists and their diverse contributions.

KP: First of all, we were floored by the responses we got for this topic. This is the most abstract theme we've presented so far. When the comics started rolling in, we couldn't have been more surprised by or happy with what we read. (Comics about gut bacteria and skateboarding and quitting your job in order to wander the woods – come on! We're in love!)

For this book, we took a more active editorial approach. We really wanted to be involved in helping our contributors craft their stories, so our submission process began with proposals. After sifting through all of the initial entries, we narrowed our selections down and worked with everyone individually to provide feedback, suggestions, and lots of encouragement! We loved being able to work with everyone so closely, and we think the book as a whole, with its messages and common threads, benefitted from it. The comics all create such an interesting dialogue between one another. We've had a really fantastic challenge in front of us to curate a range of interpretations of the theme that will speak to readers in very meaningful and unexpected ways.

We are also so excited to have had Carolyn Nowak create our cover. It's amazing. Like, look at it. Seriously. It's such a perfectly brilliant way to show you exactly how packed this book is with mind-blowing comics.

Stephanie Mannheim[Artwork by Stephanie Mannheim]

NF: It's interesting that we spend a lot of time talking about the sexualization of women in comics (and rightfully so), while not talking as much about women and beauty itself. In other words, we talk a lot about what beauty isn't, but not so much about what beauty is. Why is focusing on beauty itself important, and in what unique ways did your contributors approach this subject?

KP: It's an important conversation to have. Beauty is almost equal parts real and unreal. It isn't a quantifiable thing. It isn't something we can really measure. But it's something by which plenty of people feel measured. There's a lot of pressure to be beautiful, and if you don't fit into those ideas of what beauty is supposed to be, you're made hyper aware of that.

The great thing about the comics in this anthology is how surprising they are. They're raw, they're funny, they're reflective, and they don't all tie themselves up with a tidy bow at the end. They show both triumphs and ongoing struggles. I think seeing uncertain and tenuous relationships with beauty is just as important as reading about experiences where these women were able to make peace with and celebrate ideas around beauty.

Beauty is so layered and personal, and the comics we managed to collect for this anthology went to places and depths that we couldn't have ever imagined.

Olivia Stephens[Artwork by Olivia Stephens]

NF: Finally, what can contributors to your Kickstarter expect from backing Dirty Diamonds #6?

KP: Backing this Kickstarter helps us do two crucial things: pay each of our contributors, and cover our publication costs, which keeps the retail price of the book low. You're directly supporting the artists in this book when you support the campaign. On top of that, we have a lot of cool rewards! Postcards, coozies, magnets, even prints, t-shirts, and custom sketches in your copy of the book at higher reward tiers. If people don't want to worry about shipping, we also have a few digital-only reward tiers, including one that gets you PDFs of every issue we've published!

The reward that we're most excited about is the one that we've been asked about for a long time: we're producing an omnibus of the first four issues of Dirty Diamonds, all of which are currently out of print. They were originally printed on photocopiers and assembled by the two of us by hand, so we're excited to finally get these comics into a big ol' high-quality book of their own! (It will also sparkle, which is pretty exciting.)

Thanks to Kelly Phillips for taking the time to talk about Dirty Diamonds. Check out the Kickstarter here!

Kelly Phillips is a Philadelphia-based cartoonist, co-creator of Dirty Diamonds, and Weird Al Yankovic aficionado. Follow her on Twitter @kellypcomics

Nikolai Fomich is a Philadelphia-based writer, teacher, and comics journalist. Follow him on Twitter @brokenquiver

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.