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“Feedback Is Not Important to Me”: An Interview with Taneka Stotts

I’ve known Taneka Stotts primarily as an editor, one of the founders of Beyond Press, a co-creator of The Harpy Agenda micro-grant and a vocal voice in comics. She initially made it onto my radar in 2015 when Beyond, a queer post-apocalypse and urban fantasy comic anthology, was fully funded in the first day of a month-long Kickstarter campaign. What isn’t discussed as much is Stotts’ role as a comics creator who is behind webcomic series such as Full Circle, Love Circuits, and the Eisner-nominated Dèjá Brew, and has worked with creators like Christianne Goudreau, Genué Revuelta, and Little Corvus.

Despite reading comics her entire life, Stotts started out doing poetry slams, performing in cities, and her work can even be found on a few CDs. “My life was definitely beatnik poetry, fun coffee shops, middle of the night, hanging with your friends, spitting out little verbiage from your journals. That was me.” She left it all behind to find something new and was offered her first editorial gig on a friend’s webcomic in the early 2000s. She edited more webcomics before starting her own with her girlfriend called Gran Grimoire. That was put on hold when work life got in the way and Stotts decided to team up with Christianne Goudreau on Full Circle.

Taneka Stotts: [Full Circle] was something for me to cut my teeth on. [It was] yet another series that I could take and make into a slow burn but use my creativity in a way where I had no limits. I could definitely explore everything, [and] kind of start learning panel structure, start learning how to talk to an artist, and how to build up a personal collaboration relationship that wasn’t fueled on the normal resources of an agent [who] contacts somebody [an artist] and they look at your script and then, without communicating with you, they draw and color your script, and then, you know, put it out there for a company.

This was different, this is something where we lived in the same vicinity of one another and eventually even lived together for a short time. Where we [could] go ahead and have little meetings on the couch and collaborate [on] what we were doing next. Then I reached out to an editor, who’s a friend of mine, to look at my work and edit me because having that critical eye come back on you is very important, and no matter how vain or how narcissistic you are, you need it. [Laughs.]

Ardo Omer: Oh yeah, yeah. [Laughs.]

So that was it. That was how [it] was born as far as like a comic project that went next. After Christianne, then came Genué [Revuelta], which was the invention of Love Circuits. Again, I’m one of those people who likes to see people paid for their work, so therefore, we started Patreons, thankfully, to not only pay for pages but also for Full Circle because we had jobs ourselves and this was a passion project. We wanted to make sure that our colorist was paid in full. So we had a full page rate. We looked at all the rates that were currently going out of certain publishing houses, and we made one for our little indie project and we were successful, so we have successfully paid a colorist for all of our pages.

That’s great. So Genué [Revuelta], was your colorist for Full Circle, and then the main artist for Love Circuits.

Yes.

Which was really cool.

So you can see a trend going here. [Laughter.]

Yes and it’s great. Even with the webcomic after that that’s on Stela, Deja Brew, has Little Corvus on it and I love that all three have…they’re different in style, but you still get this very rich world that’s built. I personally like my characters to have very interesting facial expressions, and a wide range of them, and really exaggerate in the way human beings exaggerate. Then the colors for all of them are so vibrant. It wasn’t only just in terms of the actual storytelling, because I think all of them were paced well, the pace of it is just really good, but the coloring and the art just made it great. I also noticed that they all shared a genre and you can see that with the anthologies that you’ve put together as well. It’s fantasy. It’s sci-fi. Is that something that you’re personally really interested in exploring in terms of genre direction?

I love, as Der-shing [Helmer] coined it, sci-fantasy. A little bit of science fiction, a little bit of fantasy. Smashed together, it makes a really cute little world. As a child, I would say I didn’t grow up seeing a lot of these things that interested me, they were usually very gritty, very focused on sex, body and one white guy who would white savior the world or worlds or home worlds or beacon points that lead to other home worlds. [Laughs.] There wasn’t this inclusion of myself ever really being reflected back, and when it was, it really seemed like a shill attempt just to get brown dollars and, as I got older, that became more apparent.

So for me to be able to create something from my own voice, from my own experiences, from other experiences by including these people in my projects. It was something that was kind of soul-relieving to see these things given a space on a page or on a web and just existing and not having to have its source come from something that didn’t respect and didn’t care for the community of where it was coming from.

Yeah. All three of the webcomics that you’re actively working on are so…When I say vibrant, it’s not just in terms of the coloring, but also in terms of the racial make-up of the characters or the different sizes and so on. It’s not like, “Oh, got to start my checklist of making sure that I feel represented.” [Taneka laughs.] I didn’t feel that with any of the works, which was really good, and also a testament to your writing because all of the characters have engaging issues. You have these little character moments in these big, sweeping genre stories. The stress of building an entire world feels like a daunting task. How do you approach storytelling when it comes to that?

I approach [storytelling] with the need to see the things that don’t exist just exist, but without having a checklist or a bingo card of the little dots that I want to fill. I just want to see things materialize so that they have their own voice and let it speak for itself. I don’t usually get a lot of feedback [Laughs.], which I’m fine with. Even though, you know, one got nominated for an award [2017 Eisner], I don’t really know where I stand as a writer sometimes, just because these things seem to happen and then they just seem to kind of sail away and I just continue creating.

I keep everything in notebooks, I have dozens of notebooks surrounding me right now, and I continue to create projects from those notebooks. And I guess where it would truly, truly begin with is literally a character. A character is kind of born and I get so involved with this character and creating them and giving them a life and a voice and body that I begin to delve into this world that would manifest not only this character, but their story, and would allow them to live and exist and have mundane problems and then outside problems. I like that things can exist outside of people, not necessarily impact them personally, much like myself, but it still is going on and it still needs some sort of acknowledgment.

So that’s one form, and then pretty much just kind of like when I share that character with someone else and someone else is just as excited about this character and about their story, we build this kind of bond and sometimes they’ll make characters and reply to that character, and then we just kind of continue to go from there, and I’ll start laying down the building blocks for the world that, not only that they exist in, but that they’ll continue to kind of grow together within and thus, it flourishes even more.

Do you see yourself as an adaptive writer? In terms of working with different types of artists and adapting, maybe not your narrative style necessarily, maybe so, but I guess your process of approaching storytelling?

Yes. [I’m] very adaptive in the sense that every genre kind of has its little beats, its strides, its tropes, you know, that kind of create that genre. Anytime I’m creating a project that is cross-genre or just one genre, I like to think of the things that exist already within it and kind of do my own subversion or completely play it up, be a ham, have fun. It depends on what mood I’m kind of in and my partner as well because they’re very important to the whole collaboration process of putting our thoughts together and being like, “Okay, this is the story we’re going to do and this is how it’s going to play out. How do you think about that? Maybe I should change this.” And then kind of outlining out something basic and then committing to it after going through approval process.

You mentioned not getting feedback from, I assume, the wider world in terms of reviews and things like that. Is that what you meant?

Yeah. Feedback is not important to me, so to speak, because I just create things and that’s about it. I just don’t usually get people who seem to care about it [Laughs.] who care deeply enough to know the characters as much as my editor does [or collaborators do], per se. So it’s still something new for me. For a long time, I felt very wrapped up more as being just an editor versus a writer as well. Most people know me editorially and publishing-wise, such as Beyond Press, but they don’t usually come up to me and they’re like, “Hey, Full Circle!” [Laughs.] So it’s really refreshing and kind of different. It definitely makes me very, very happy.

Like happy that the first thing people approach you about is your position as an editor and a Beyond Press founder rather than as a creator?

Yes. I like to be known as a creator a little bit more than I do an editor because I really enjoy my worlds, so I put them out there.

Do you find that how you receive feedback or how you work with creatives, your current view on both of those things, were because you started out as an editor?

Yes and no. This kind of goes back to slam poetry a little bit. Back in the day, there are things called group pieces [and] also duos which [are] literally when two creative artists or a group of artists sit down, write a poem, kind of like a song, spitting out little words here and there to one another [and] seeing how it flows with the group. Or taking someone’s piece, deconstructing it so that a group can read that piece on stage. So it might’ve already existed, and this poet might have already read it quite a few times, but they’re going to break it down into sections of four so that they can all read it together, give it more emphasis and bang, and then watch it, you know, perform on stage, and how it hits an audience.

I learned collaboration kind of through poetry…its zine scene is called chapbooks so putting these mini-books together are how we communicated with our audiences past just being on stage, past just having a bucket passed around and money [being] put into it. So that helped form my understanding of what is a healthy collaboration of learning someone else’s voice, jiving with that voice, and kind of harmonizing on page and on stage together.

Are there any comics right now that you as a creator are just feeding off of and thinking, “Yes, this is really pushing me. I can do this in Love Circuits, Full Circle, Deja Brew or even a new project”?

No. [Laughter.] I have been so busy getting Beyond [Anthology 2] finished, I haven’t really had a lot of time to enjoy things. And honestly, when I enjoy things, I enjoy them way outside of my own worlds. I’m never really needing inspiration because I have so much of it from the people who not only believe in me, but also work with me. So usually when I’m enjoying a work, I’m just enjoying it because it’s good. [Laughter.] I’m not trying to be like, “I don’t take anything from anything!” We all do it. It’s a conscious thing, a subconscious thing. It naturally works its way into your brain and you’re like, “Huh, where did that idea come from?” And then five years later, you’re watching a rerun and you’re like, “Oh, that’s where that idea came from!” [Laughs.] It works that way for everybody’s brain, but for me, there’s nothing I’m currently out there reading that does that to me.

I just have more guilty pleasures that I super love to just indulge myself with and break my brain away from my own work [and] just kind of enjoy somebody else’s world for a while, like any other reader would, to just sink in and let their narration kind of wrap around me and enjoy, not only the words, but the images and the body of work. And anything with more than a volume out, obviously, I’m super there for.

I saw on your site that you are working on a project called Kingmaker!?

Yes! [Laughs.]

With Mildred Louis, who does Agents of the Realm, the lovely magical girl webcomic.

Yes. I love Mildred. [Laughs.] Me and Mildred, we have a lot of feelings, a lot of black girl feelings about how things are just very whitewashed. History is very whitewashed, and we just wanted to culturally appropriate some Greek history on our own terms, or Greek mythology, and just kind of set ourselves loose on the pantheon, so to speak. Not only injecting our cultural influences, like hip hop and dance and fashion, but we wanted to make it a young adult kind of growing pains story, because Mildred’s already doing the college phase with Agents of the Realm, so I dialed it a little bit further back for Kingmaker!

We just kind of started creating these characters and I started creating the story and it just webbed together. Then Mildred gave me these amazing character designs and I gave her a script. Now we’re both moving to LA so we can both work on it more when we’re together.

Oh, that’s cool. [Taneka laughs.] That sounds amazing. Is it also going to be a webcomic?

We have no idea. We’re going to leave that up to our agent because a lot of people seem to be interested in this take, which is awesome. We just want to have fun at the end of the day. It’s kind of like we have our own mix list for it: music and just fashion and just fun. These are the things that I think we need right now, especially in 2018, to seriously help us through these trying times. A lot of people are going to keep resisting, but you got to have something to let your brain just stop and to enjoy and to have fun and then go back to, you know, the hard work that does exist out there right now.

We all love our characters, like parents love all of their children, or at least that’s the saying. But with your three webcomics, there’s always that one little character or one child that you’re like, “You know, I love you all equally, but I kind of have to give a little more love to this one because I’m a little worried. I just think they need a little more support.” Is there a character of the three that you think just needs a little more love?

Two, actually. Gideon in Full Circle needs so much more love.

Oh, yeah.

That poor, poor smol boy needs so much love. Smol, s-m-o-l, you know. [Ardo laughs.] Needs so much love. And then Javier. He is such a cute, angry booty, needs so much more love, which is why we created Glass Castles for him. So yeah, I definitely take my side characters and I reutilize them in other stories, or I give them their own stories, their own arcs, different narratives, different world settings, and continue on with them. It’s usually called AUs, but literally, I’ve fully fleshed these things out and I give them their own kind of series, their spin-off, so to speak, to kind of just continue being.

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