The Gathering #2
cover by Aaron Bir.You've probably heard this before: Getting started in the comic book industry isn't easy. As the often-told story goes, Mark Waid once compared breaking into comics to breaking out of jail — once someone manages to find a way in, it's sealed shut forever and the next person has to figure out their own means of entry.
But what is also widely agreed upon is that pretty much anyone can make a comic book, provided they can write and illustrate a story and figure out how to publish it. Of course, a lot of people aren't willing to actually put in all the work that involves — but not the folks behind indie self-starter The Gathering, which has released five anthologies in the past year-and-a-half.
The project started as chatter among posters on Brian Michael Bendis's message board who, like many comic book fans, also happened to be aspiring creators. Andrew Goletz, who had copywriting experience on books like The Official Handbook of The Marvel Universe, took charge to help make things happen."People on message boards are always saying, 'Let's do an anthology.' I always got aggravated because a lot of the ones I saw sort of fell apart," Goletz said. "I always wanted to do it. I think part of being a fan is always, 'What if you can do this?'"
After a production period of approximately six months — there was a bit of a learning curve, as Goletz had never published a comic before — the first volume of The Gathering debuted in July 2010, with a theme of "hope." (Each subsequent issue has had its own distinct theme — despair, heroes, horror and romance.) Featuring nearly 30 creators, many working on their first published stories, the issue got the attention of Bendis board regular and legitimate big-time comic book writer Gail Simone.
"These guys were serious, they were organized and dedicated, and they worked hard, they supported each other," Simone said via email to Newsarama. "I thought it was really wonderful to see. So they sent me the first issue and I just loved it, it was such a mix of styles, with everyone really putting forth their all."
Simone didn't just admire the book from a distance, but also provided a criticism of the material."She didn't just do a review, she did an in-depth analysis," Goletz said. "Good things, bad things, positive reinforcement and just really helping out where we fell short in some aspects."
The Batgirl writer's involvement didn't stop there, and she offered to write a story for The Gathering's second issue, centered around "despair."
"I volunteered to do short story on the spot," Simone said. "I didn't want to soak up all the oxygen, but knowing how hard black-and-white books struggle right now, I thought having a semi-known creator would at least get them a bit of ink on the news sites. It was a pleasure to do."
Simone's story, illustrated by Cassandra James, attracted other professional talent to The Gathering, including former Marvel editor Glenn Greenberg, I, Vampire writer Joshua Hale Fialkov, Young Allies writer Sean McKeever and Supergirl alum Sterling Gates. For many of these creators, The Gathering represents an opportunity to do two things not always common in mainstream comics — produce short stories, and tell stories outside of the superhero genre.
"I wanted to get involved in some anthology work," said Gates, who collaborated with James for a story in The Gathering's sixth volume, the second issue focused on horror. "I really like the art of telling short comic stories. It's a lost art, I think. Short stories are hard, because they have to be very lean."
Gates said that he wouldn't have heard of The Gathering if not for Simone spreading the word on the project, and similarly sees it as an example of fans doing something positive."A lot of people use message boards to vent about what they don't like about comics. They always say, 'I could do it so much better,'" Gates said. "Well here's a group of guys and gals who are actually standing up and trying to produce work, to prove, 'We can do this.' I think that's so admirable."
The Gathering has grown beyond a semi-regular anthology. Under the name GrayHaven Comics, Goletz (as publisher and editor-in-chief) is releasing another print comic, Ever After by Matt O’Keefe (also a Bendis board poster) and Lee Giles. GrayHaven is also publishing multiple webcomics on its site, and has brought on several volunteer editors and John M. Coker — another individual Goletz met on the Bendis board — as art director.
Though still a labor-of-love project for all involved, GrayHaven's had a presence at major shows including last month's New York Comic Con, and earlier this year received $5,670 in donations through a Kickstarter campaign. While there are questions of quality control inevitably raised by an anthology series produced by more than 100 different creators, predominantly ones new to the industry — submissions are handled through GrayHaven's website, and are currently open only to artists — Goletz said that's something he and his staff take seriously.
"What I tell everybody is, 'You want to pass these books along to editors. You want the whole thing to look great,'" Goletz said. "You don't want to have anybody looking at this with, 'Why are you showing me this crap?"Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!