Last year, artist Austin English released Gulag Casual, a graphic novel that presents the result of a lifetime of artistic cross-pollination. It’s a complicated, multi-faceted work—no easy-going read—and was highly commended by both The Comics Journal and BOMB Magazine. Gina Wynbrandt’s Someone Please Have Sex with Me, has also been revered this past year—an unflinching autobiographical account of a woman’s insecurities and her quest for carnal pleasure.
Both were published by 2dcloud, a Minnesota company fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in the world of alternative comics. Founded in 2007 by artists Raighne Hogan and Maggie Umber, 2dcloud publishes comics that feel like expressive, intimate sketchbooks. We spoke with Hogan about running the publishing company and the kind of alt-comics they promote.
Tell me about how 2dcloud began.
Ten years ago Maggie Umber and I were working on two small comics for an anthology that someone else was going to publish. We missed a critical deadline and Maggie got to wondering, why don’t we just do this ourselves, and have a local fest date be our new deadline? It seemed achievable if we worked hard. So we did, and our anthology Good Minnesotan was the result. The first issue contained work by Maggie Umber, Justin Skarhus, and myself.
Publishing or running a label was always an obsession I had in school. I would dabble with possible projects and try to “convert” other artist friends I knew into making zines and comics. It was a social activity. I think, in general people have ideas of things they want to do, but they may need someone who can at minimum match their drives and occasionally propel them further.
2dcloud books share certain aesthetic similarities—they often make a show of their own tactility, and the artists you work with draw or paint with a loose hand. What draws you to this style and sensibility?
I love people that are passionate and driven and expressive. Work is an extension of the people making it. It’s always been an aesthetic I have been attracted to. I think there is a truth in it. Getting to something that is real and immediate and resonates because of that.
Blaise [Larmee, American cartoonist and critic] has been taking a more active role in making sure our books look sharp in terms of material used, binding techniques, and what sort of extras we may want to look into.
And where do you meet the illustrators you work with?
We find them at zine fairs, comic fests, online, friends, through school. It’s a very organic process. Meeting like-minded people at a show, getting to know them over time, and just reaching out, y’know? The artist Tommi Parrish was first suggested to me by Justin Skarhus, our distribution director.
In this space, money matters in a different way than maybe it would if it were a larger market. Passion is a large driving force. Taste and how it is formed is maybe arbitrary. Trust is a stronger barometer. It takes a peer group to build and maintain something like that.
Are there any companies you feel are providing a good model for smaller, independent publishers?
I’m impressed by how much work was done by Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly in building a sustainable space for themselves. I mean, it’s just unreal. Taking a space that is indifferent or hostile to what you do—it’s just crazy to try and eke out an existence in such a climate, and crazier to succeed. You almost have to be a bit of a con artist or a magician to make this work.
And are there other platforms that have been important for creating awareness around the alt-comics scene, that have perhaps provided you with clues about how to move forward?
Brain Frame, the performative event series has been another hugely important piece. It’s gone on to inspire Zine Not Dead as well as our Altcomics event series. Brain Frame is actually how we discovered Gina Wynbrandt.
What is it about Gina’s work that has made Someone Please Have Sex With Me resonate so much with readers?
I think there is a real need for Gina right now in our political landscape. Biting, hilarious, self-deprecating escapism that also is functionally a kind of medicine to our very fucked up misogynistic culture. Here’s something Gina said in an interview with Kim Jooha that explains this pretty well:
“My work is kind of inspired by misogynistic culture and society; I try to make a response to that. In my comics, I portray myself very flawed, unattractive, fat, and yet I’m able to surround myself with really hot men, who are usually fairly one-dimensional. They are around only to exist as eye candy and/or help me pursue my own happiness. You see the inverse of that (fat husband, sexy wife, etc.) all the time, I wanted to subvert it for my own selfish pleasure.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own independent publishing company?
Any market will always be a crowded market. It takes time to discover your voice. But it’s always good to be passionate about what you’re doing. That will carry you through the pain of doing the work, of struggling, of just surviving.
The best way to start an alt-comics publishing company is by just doing so. Start with an anthology; seeing how difficult it is to get work from artists with little to no financial incentives makes it hard, but it’s also realistic. It can also be thrilling to get people whose work you have long admired involved, or to pay someone their very first check (even if it is an embarrassingly small amount)—it feels incredible, and is encouraging.
We want to find a space where we belong, where we have agency, where we can create something that can communicate beyond ourselves and our lives. And for that, zines and comics are a pretty good place to start. If you get a tiny, tight knit group of passionate people together, well, you can do incredible things.