Comic books are more than just action stories -- they can be instructional, from how to handle yourself on a airplane to how to handle yourself on an 18th century tall ship.
That's right, an 18th century tall ship.
Cartoonist Lucy Bellwood is in the final days of a Kickstarter campaign funding a collection of her minicomics of nautical knowledge titled Baggywrinkles: A Lubber's Guide To Life At Sea. Bellwood spend two years as a deckhand on an authentic 18th century sailing vessel, and imparts her lessons learned in Baggywrinkles as a comic book. Bellwood, who works in the Portland-based Periscope Studio alongside Terry Dodson, Jeff Parker, Joelle Jones, Steve Lieber, and more, has already surpassed her $15,000 Kickstarter goal for Baggywrinkles, but is taking in additional money for stretch goals and as a pre-ordering system.
Newsarama talked to Bellwood about this nautical collection, translating her know-how into text and art, and what she sees as the market for this unique project.
Newsarama: Lucy, how would you describe Baggywrinkles?
Lucy Bellwood: Generally I pitch it to people as an educational, autobiographical comic about living on an 18th-century tall ship in the 21st century. Baggywrinkles acts as a catch-all series for nautical lore, personal anecdotes, and oft-forgotten corners of history. Each issue covers a different topic, from traditional sailors’ tattoos to costuming choices to whether “walking the plank” is really the way to go when you’re executing someone at sea. There’s so much information to share about the Golden Age of Sail—not to mention the fact that several of these vessels (or very convincing replicas of them) are still plying the waves today! My goal starting this series was partly to share my love of this rather unusual lifestyle, but also to let people know that it’s still a thing you can do. I wish I’d had that information sooner in my life.
Nrama: And that title, what is “Baggywrinkles” anyway?
Bellwood: A large portion of working with the public on tall ships revolves around answering many, many questions day in and day out, and I’d bet that the number one question most people get asked is “What are those fuzzy things?” I suppose you can’t blame them—I mean look at this thing:
Basically a baggywrinkle is a fluffy bundle of old rope fibers that wraps around any line likely to rub up against a sail and cause chafing. They’re strung throughout the rigging and therefore end up being the first thing most people notice and comment on. It’s such a ludicrous term that I couldn’t resist naming the comic in its honor.
Nrama: This is inspired by your time as a deckhand on classic marine vessel. Can you tell us about that experience?
Bellwood: It was everything I could’ve hoped for—grueling, exhilarating, and deeply rewarding. Several times a day I’d pinch myself watching dolphins gambol off the bow, furling a sail on the highest yard, or falling asleep rocked by the gentle movement of the ocean. Everything about it was so inescapably real. I spent so much of my childhood wishing I’d been born in another time, and sailing gave me the opportunity to live that dream—without being subjected to the frankly appalling conditions of the Golden Age of Sail. The food’s a lot better, for starters.
As a deckhand you’re basically thrown head-first into a world of incomprehensible jargon and expected to figure it out as you go. The First Mate will be calling orders down from the quarterdeck and you just have to run around like a chicken with your head cut off until the outlandish terminology starts to make some kind of sense. There are 114 lines on the Lady Washington—each with a name and a very specific purpose—and it takes some time to get used to, but once you start to understand the larger systems at work in maneuvering the vessel, it’s a real thrill.
Nrama: And when did the light bulb go off that led you to think you should do a comic book based on this?
Bellwood: I was on a train headed to Vermont for a week at the Center for Cartoon Studiesto do their Summer Session workshop. The goal of the five-day course was to finish some concrete project of our choosing, and I’d never even drawn a comic before so I was sweating bullets. My favorite creators at the time were generally autobio webcartoonists, so I started wondering what I’d done with my life that could possibly qualify to be interesting enough for a comic series. I’m embarrassed to say I was on that train for several hours before I remembered the whole “boat thing”, but as soon as it came up I realized it was a perfect fit.
Nrama: Most of this has previously been seen in your minicomics – is the comics portion of the Baggywrinkles book completely done?
Bellwood: As of this interview, we’ve smashed through all the stretch goals for the campaign (which means I’m frantically drafting more as we speak), so the book will be printed in full color! This means there’s some work yet to be done getting the inked pages sent off to Joey Weiser and Michele Chidester, my colorists, but Issues #1 through #5 are totally done. The last chapter of the book, Scurvy Dogs, is about a quarter inked, which means I’ll be wrapping that up around the same time the campaign finishes. I scheduled everything pretty obsessively before the launch, so even with the added time for color the book should still ship ahead of schedule.
Nrama: As with Kickstarter-funded projects, you’re essentially self-publishing. What do you see as the interest from readers in a book like this?
Bellwood: Iget a bit of incredulity from folks about the draw of a book like Baggywrinkles—so obscure! so niche!—but I think it’s a world many people want to know more about. This is the beauty of mashing these two passions into one title—sailors and nautical enthusiasts (probably) haven’t encountered a comic like this before, while comics readers may not have known that tall ship sailing was still a thing you could do. It’s a perfect opportunity for people to learn something new and share it with others in a convenient package.
Prior to putting together this book I’d been printing and distributing Baggywrinkles minicomics on my own, which was a fun, semi-underground operation that won me some diehard fans, but a book (with an ISBN and a proper distributor, even) opens up so many more opportunities to get into libraries, maritime museums, and bookshops. I want to be reaching a wider audience of kids and grown-ups alike, and this book is going to make that possible.
I also think “weird” niche titles like this one are also going to start cropping up more and more as the Internet alters the landscape of indie publishing. With a greater range of voices being heard online than ever before, we’re getting stories direct from the creators who care about them, and when they take the risk of sharing that content online they learn that actual people want to read that material. Take science and nature (Bird and Moon), sex toy reviews (Oh Joy, Sex Toy), Victorian computing (The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage), or object-based origin stories (Brief Histories of Everyday Objects) just for starters. There are comics about everything—it’s up to us to discover them.
Nrama: This seems like it would have interest beyond just the Kickstarter audience – any plans for mainstream distribution beyond just for Kickstarter backers?
Bellwood: Absolutely. As I mentioned above this Kickstarter is definitely designed to get books into backers’ hands as quickly as possible, but my aim is also to have enough stock left over afterward to start distributing through comic shops, bookstores, nautical operations, and so on. I have a distributor lined up so retailers and shops can contact me directly (lucypcbellwood [at] gmail [dot] com) if they’d like to be notified when the book is available through wholesale channels. I also do a ton of conventions each year and I’m dying to have this volume on my table—it’s about time!
Nrama: This isn’t your first Kickstarter, as 2012’s True Believer earned an astounding seven times its goal. What did you learn from that project that you implemented with Baggywrinkles?
Bellwood: Oooooh boy so much. Looking back on that first campaign I had no idea what I was getting into—even with all my obsessive research and preparation. Kickstarter is always a wild ride, and there’s a reason I waited three years before launching a second one. There’s the will we/won’t we funding stress, sure, but in both campaigns I’ve funded in under 24 hours, which brings on the bigger, scarier stress of "Oh my god, I have to make this thing." Granted, in both cases the actual meat of making the comic is done, which is a must for me when approaching something like Kickstarter, but the thrill of actually being able to follow through on a dream is huge.
As far as learning goes, I’ve watched many, many campaigns over the last three years and tried to learn as much as I could from each of them. Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan are incredibly professional about the presentation of their Kickstarters for Oh Joy, Sex Toy printcollections—their willingness to be transparent about budgeting and financesis a boon to creators everywhere. Yuko Ota and Anath Panagariyaset the bar for gorgeous, over-funded collectionswith clear, playful presentation. Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag demonstrated smash-hit-success bringing their webcomic to print. Each of these campaigns held a lesson in designing comprehensive, appealing campaigns that would make people excited to participate.
The biggest change for me this time around? Paying professionals to get the job done right. I’m printing the largest print run I’ve ever financed overseas, which means investing in a book designer, print broker, reward fulfillment service, and professional distributor are all worth it. I had a lot of enthusiastic DIY gumption when I started, and while that energy still drives me, I’ve recognized the importance of paying folks to handle the logistics so I can keep my head down and keep drawing—that’s the work I want to be doing, and it’s not a failure to invest in professionals who can do the other stuff right.