PopCultHQ‘s “Get to Know…” feature puts the spotlight on the comic book industry professionals behind-the-scenes who are making big things happen. From editors to publishers, publicity reps and VPs, these individuals are instrumental in delivering the comic books you enjoy, engaging in social media interactions, producing the breaking news in the business, and the ones listening to fans in an effort to continue to produce content which you desire. Most of the time without recognition.
I recently was afforded the opportunity and privilege to speak with indie publisher A Wave Blue World‘s publishing (dynamic) duo Tyler Chin-Tanner and Wendy Chin-Tanner. The husband/wife team have big plans for their label, recently hiring their new Vice President of Sales and Marketing Lisa Y. Wu and their Editorial Director Joseph P. Illidge, both well-recognized talent in the industry. They also have a music-themed horror anthology entitled Dead Beats on Kickstarter right now, jam-packed with amazing talent and up-and-coming creators to watch. And this is just a sampling of the incredible things happening from the indie publisher. But for more on A Wave Blue World, I chatted with Tyler and Wendy to find out more about their growing label, a look into their hashtag #MakingStoriesMatter, and the relationships they share as a married couple, creators, and co-publishers. Let’s do this!…
PopCultHQ’s Creator Spotlight:
Tyler & Wendy Chin-Tanner
Co-Publishers at A Wave Blue World
PopCultHQ: In 2005, the two of you launched A Wave Blue World. Given you both are experienced as writers and editors in both books and comics, you’re likely to have had some good insight into the industry and how publishing was ran. Can you recall the moment when the two of you decided, “Let’s do it!” and start your own publishing company together? Looking back over the almost decade and a half, how have you grown, as co-publishers and partners, over the last fourteen years?
Tyler: Looking back at it now, it seems crazier than ever. There was an industry-wide recession going on, and these were the days before Kickstarter or even before digital comics had really gotten started.
But we knew the kind of comics we wanted to publish and didn’t want anyone telling us what we could and couldn’t do. We weren’t here to chase trends or retread over the same old ground. Wendy has always been very supportive of the comics I’ve wanted to create, but she’s not here just to be my sounding-board. Over the years, she’s taken more of a proactive role in influencing our direction and being directly involved in project development. She’s definitely putting her stamp on this company and we’re better for it.
Wendy: I was a casual comics reader when I was a kid, but when Tyler and I first met in 2003 and I was doing my PhD in sociology and he was at the Kubert School, he introduced me to the industry side of comics and graphic novels. We went to a few conventions, notably SDCC and Wizard World Philly where I really immersed myself in panels and started getting back into reading stuff like Selina’s Big Score, 100 Bullets, and Promethea, and I fell in love with the medium all over again. I also grew up in a family business — my parents opened up an art supply store in Brooklyn in 1972, which is still going strong today, so when Tyler broached the topic of starting A Wave Blue World, the idea of having a mom-and-pop shop of our own made total sense to me. Throughout most of the fourteen years that we’ve had this business, my work has been mostly in the background editing and sometimes co-writing, but recently, we have decided to expand the company. Part of that growth includes stepping into a more explicit role as co-publisher where I will be bringing my experience as an author and editor in the literary world to my curation of new books for AWBW.
PopCultHQ: What challenges, if any, have you encountered being both business partners as well as life partners? Are you able to easily switch off “work mode” and get a break from the comics scene on occasion? Or have the two of you found a kind of harmony melding a publishing company with your marriage?
Wendy: As the work-at-home parents of two kids, our life definitely involves Cirque du Soleil-level acrobatics and juggling. I have actually found that we struggle more to carve out time for our separate projects than for the ones that we do together. From the time that our older daughter Maddy was born in 2007, when we were co-writing American Terrorist, working together on creative stuff gave us a way to connect outside of our domestic roles through storytelling, which is our first love. It certainly helps that our professional passion feeds into our personal passion and honest critique definitely keeps things spicy. Since I have a whole other career as a literary author, we tend to coordinate things so that our circus can go on the road, as it were. For example, I have a new poetry collection out this spring so we traveled as a family to the Pacific Northwest where we did the ECCC and I did a poetry reading in Seattle, and then we went to Portland where we did a couple of store events for AWBW while I also did AWP, the big writers’ convention, and a bunch of poetry readings. In June, we’ll be the doing the same thing in Charlotte for Heroes Con and a poetry reading as well as D.C. for the ALA and a reading at the American Poetry Museum. So, it’s a lot, but with good planning, communication, and flexibility, we make it work.
Tyler: Being creators is just part of who we are. We knew that going into this relationship, and frankly I think it’s pretty sexy when Wendy’s got a new idea percolating or she’s reading me a passage from the latest thing she’s written.
PopCultHQ: Questions for each of you individually. Tyler, you attended The Kubert School, which instantly shows you have a love and passion for comic books. Being a publisher can be demanding in and of itself, but do you have any kind of goals set for you, as a creator (not a publisher)? Can you see yourself writing X-amount of comic books annually yourself on top of your publishing role?
Tyler: This is definitely something I struggle with because being a creator is what’s most important to me. If this all came tumbling down, I would still want to get up every morning and write comics. But publishing is a demanding job and I take the responsibility seriously. It’s really about balance. Over the last few years, as we’ve been ramping up our publishing output, I really haven’t had the time to write anything other than the short stories included in our anthologies. But all of that is about to change. My fantasy series, MEZO, will finally see print by the end of this year, and another epic adventure I’m writing will launch in early 2020. Beyond that, I’ve got plenty of stories that will be part of AWBW’s future.
PopCultHQ: Wendy, as a trained sociologist who specializes in race, identity, and culture, you must have your finger on the pulse of today’s comic book community. As creators today are uniting more than ever in their desire for a more inclusive industry, has that motivated you in taking a sociological look at this business and how you can contribute and respond to it?
Wendy: My background in sociology is also in discourse analysis and production of culture, so Tyler and I have always talked about the industry from both a narrative perspective of what stories mean and from a business perspective of how comics are made at each step of the production line, from scripting all the way to distribution. I like to gather data and extrapolate things like which demographics are interested in what, which narratives are on the wane and which are growing, and what the gaps in the market might be. New markets definitely include more women, more young readers, particularly young girls, and more people of color. We want to be able to identify what readers are hungry for, what might expand the reach of stories beyond the usual comics fans, and deliver it all in an entertaining way.
PopCultHQ: If you both had to pitch each other to the comic book community as a whole, how would each of you describe one another and what each of you bring to the industry?
Tyler: Wendy is exactly the kind of person we need in comics right now. I’ll take it a step further. She’s exactly who needs to be playing a major role in shaping the future of this industry. She grew up as a fan of a lot of the same pop culture staples that we all did — reading comics and watching Star Wars and Thundercats — and she’s got degrees in English Literature, Photography, and Sociology. Wendy’s writing experience ranges from poetry to screenplays to cultural critique to novels. Her taste level and skill set are a driving force for AWBW.
Wendy: Tyler’s unique background as a lifelong comics reader, former public school teacher, and humanitarian aid worker gives him a fresh firsthand view as a publisher of readership beyond the usual fandom. His world is as big as his empathetic heart and he applies this sensibility to the story-driven, character-based books he creates, as well as the books he publishes by others.
PopCultHQ: AWBW is dedicated to publishing independent comic books and graphic novels which connect people through storytelling. Your hashtag of #MakingStoriesMatter add to your vision of the change that can occur when creators can express their voices. Can you share with us more on the origins and significance to “Making Stories Matter” at A Wave Blue World?
Tyler: This is the simplest way to state what AWBW is all about: We’re here to tell great stories that will affect the way you see the world.
Wendy: I’m gonna say it a little less simply. ”Making Stories Matter” comes from the social science concept that “words make worlds.” What this means essentially is that storytelling is a way for human beings to understand and make meaning of the world. It allows us to walk in someone else’s shoes and identify with experiences that we have never personally encountered. Stories are the conduit of empathy and empathy is the engine of change. So our vision is to not just to tick the box of diversity with greater representation but to practice inclusivity by passing the mic to creators from all different backgrounds.
PopCultHQ: With your recent blockbuster announcement in hiring two of the comic book industry’s power players in Lisa Y. Wu and Joseph P. Illidge, you made a bold statement as to the direction and growth of A Wave Blue World. From the relationships Lisa has made or strengthened over the last four years among fans and retailers, and Joseph’s experience writing and editing across a number of publishers and mediums, both bring a wealth of talent and experience, not to mention a great energy from each. What does it mean to you to have both of these talented individuals join your label? In what ways do Wu and Illidge help A Wave Blue World continue to make stories matter?
Wendy: Bringing Lisa and Joe on board the AWBW team represents a new era of growth for our company which shows how we serious we are about making stories matter. We have spent fourteen years crystalizing our vision and preparing for this moment. Lisa and Joe’s gifts are precisely what we need for marshaling our collective resources towards a future where we can each bring our best abilities to the table and combine them to create the kinds of comics and graphic novels that audiences are hungry to read.
Tyler: One thing you learn really fast as a publisher is that there are a lot of hats you have to wear. Doing it all is a great way to learn the business but it only gets you so far. You can’t skimp on things like marketing and editorial direction. These are areas where you need someone who knows their stuff and has a passion for what they do. So we went out and hired ourselves the best.
PopCultHQ: Currently, you are running a Kickstarter campaign for your music-themed horror anthology Dead Beats. Featuring over 40 well-known, recognized creators and writers/artists on the rise, the 160-page
collection is over 70% funded with three weeks remaining (Stretch Goals, baby!). Aside from the support it has received from backers, how has the response been for Dead Beats by fans? Given your previous five anthologies have been on Kickstarter and gone quite smoothly, do you feel you have found a winning formula for crowdfunding collections like Dead Beats?
<Update: As of last night, A Wave Blue World’s Dead Beats anthology has met and exceeded their campaign goal on Kickstarter>
Tyler: Kickstarter has opened up so many new possibilities for creators, and they’ve opened up a whole new audience to comics. I really feel that anthologies are a great fit for the platform, and our backers seem to agree. Every time we deliver an anthology, their first response seems to be, “This is great! When’s the next one?” So we here we are with Dead Beats.
Wendy: We try to vary up the themes each time to keep things fresh, but still deliver the same quality product that makes people come back for more.
PopCultHQ: What can people expect from A Wave Blue World in 2019? Will you be tabling at any upcoming conventions, planning signing appearances, or making announcements regarding new creators or future projects?
Tyler: We have some really fun stuff planned. I’m excited. There are some projects we’ve had in development for some time and have been waiting for the right moment to release, and others that we’ve just picked up. Expect some exciting announcements and releases this year!
Wendy: Our convention schedule is pretty full, especially during the latter half of the year. Heroes Con is our next big show, followed by SDCC and NYCC with some smaller shows sprinkled in along the way. I’m sure there’ll be a good number of retailer visits, too. Good thing our 12-year-old daughter Maddy is our apprentice/intern now, because we need all hands on deck!
A very special thank you to Tyler and Wendy for taking the time to be interviewed by me and PopCultHQ. And a huge thanks to Lisa Y. Wu for making this interview happen. Be sure to follow these wave-makers online (links below) and Like, Follow, and Subscribe to A Wave Blue World for all the big things coming from the publisher – and see how AWBW is Making Stories Matter!
Co-Publisher/Creator – Tyler Chin-Tanner
Co-Publisher/Creator – Wendy Chin-Tanner
Publisher – A Wave Blue World
Founded in 2005 by Tyler and Wendy Chin-Tanner, A Wave Blue World is an independent publisher of high-quality graphic novels, anthologies and art books with the rally cry, “Making Stories Matter.” AWBW connects people through storytelling and providing a platform for a multitude of creative voices. By using comics and graphic novels as a medium for change, A Wave Blue World imagines a better world and builds a brighter future as seen in The New York Times highlighted anthology, All We Ever Wanted.