Eddie Raymond launched his fanzine, Strangers, in February 2020 as “a celebration of the forgotten and overlooked.” The inaugural issue featured interviews with cartoonists Paul Kirchner and Don Lomax, dollar bin comic book reviews, and playful features such as a soundtrack to Charles Burns’ Black Hole. The tone and aesthetic of Strangers seemed to arrive fully formed, marked by Raymond’s DIY editorial sensibility, eclectic taste, and seemingly boundless enthusiasm for creating. Ensuing issues have brought similar content with the addition of production upgrades, as well as comic and editorial contributors (including myself). A year on and Raymond has expanded Strangers into a small press publisher and comics distro, focusing on small run capsule releases from creators such as Jasper Jubenvill, Jake Machen, Adam Falp, and Pat Kain. Raymond’s enthusiasm is infectious. He is learning as he goes and making it look fun in the process. With Strangers, Raymond has created a welcoming common ground for those on the fringes of comics, from the dollar bin diggers with their stacks of genre books to the artsy world of mini-comics acolytes. — Ian Thomas
Ian Thomas: Can you give some background on yourself? Where were you born? Where do you live now?
Eddie Raymond: Sure! My name is Eddie Raymond, I’m 27 years old, and I’m born, raised, and still living in Connecticut. Right now, I’m living in New Haven, which is where I’ve been living in and out of for the past nine years.
What were your earliest experiences with comics? Once you were into them, were they a constant in your life?
So it’s kind of funny, comics are a relatively new thing for me. I’ve only been reading them for give or take the last 4-5 years. I used to read manga as a kid; Dragon Hunter, Dragon Ball Z, etc., but never really cared too much past that. Having grown up in the punk/hardcore scene, I always had an interest with zines, and was always too intimidated to make one, until I finally learned the Adobe Suite programs at my day job, which is also where I was introduced to comics. After that it became an obsession only comparable to the one I had for music growing up.
What is the comics scene like in New Haven? Do you do a lot of traveling in search of comics? I guess I'm asking if the context in which you find the books you cover in Strangers plays a role in your consideration of them?
There isn’t much of a comics scene unfortunately - at least not on a comparable level to the closest cities in our proximity. There are definitely some cool creators in Connecticut though: Sophia Gaia, Karneeleus, Ryan Alves, Aude Jomini & Eben Kling to name a few. Because of the pandemic I’ve yet to really meet anyone besides Karneeleus [where] we’ve got mutual friends.
In regards to some of the odd books I search out, I do a good deal of traveling around the area. I’m always looking on Facebook marketplace or Craigslist for warehouse sales, antique stores, who bought a collection, etc. Every once in awhile I’ll go down to Koch’s Comics Warehouse, which is a whole other trip in itself.
Can you explain the title of your fanzine? To what does Strangers refer?
I can’t remember exactly how I came up with the title of Strangers, but essentially it all refers back to that original subtitle “a celebration of the forgotten or overlooked.” Comics, I feel like more so than most media, has so many lost gems and things that just get completely forgotten about. These creators and these books are quite literally strangers to most readers. It’s a bit ham-fisted but it fit the overall story of what I wanted to cover. In the introduction section to the first issue, I noted that I wasn’t interested in covering mainstream comics or things that were getting a ton of praise, I wanted to cover weird oddities and things that I felt needed more attention.
Do you do a lot of bin-digging? If so, are you looking for specific things? Can you talk about some of your best finds? I'd like to know about the stuff that you knew was great when you stumbled on it and the stuff that you bought cold and really blew you away.
Bin-diving is one of my favorite things on Earth to do, and pre-pandemic I was doing it probably a bit too much. I’ve become pretty calculated with what I’m looking for now, but I used to just go in without a list and grab whatever looked interesting. I was really inspired by the Power Comics model of just getting things that looked slightly off-beat, which is kind of how the ‘It Came From The Dollar Bin’ section came to be, but I’ve since curbed my habits to sticking to the runs I’m trying to fill in. I live in an apartment and at some point I realized I’m going to have to move, and with that comes moving all these stupid books I’ve collected. That was a great way to trim back the fat.
I’ve got a range of best finds - most recently it would probably have to be picking up multiple full runs of Richard Corben books at a shop, all for cover price. I basically filled in every hole I had and then some in one fell swoop. Some other great highlights would be finding Ōtomo’s Domu for $3 a piece, or his Farewell to Weapons for $1. I also found all of the Moebius’ Blueberry graphic albums for like $10 a piece at a used bookstore, as well as some extremely early Clowes and the first 10 issues of Watchmen for $1 each, that was a good birthday.
In regards to books I’ve stumbled on that turned out to be great - I’d probably call out L.I.F.E. Brigade by Craig A. Stormon or this really weird small publisher called Graphomania that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere on the internet. Both those books [to] me look genuinely great, and it makes me wonder why things never went further for them.
What were you hoping to accomplish when you launched Strangers? What were your coverage intentions?
Like I mentioned before, I was really hoping to just be able to spotlight creators I felt were neglected throughout the years. That first issue is almost entirely focused on older books, with almost no exception, which I think if I were to keep down that route, the [zine] would’ve become stale. For issue #2, [I first worked with] my most consistent contributor: David Moses, [who] pitched me on interviewing a current comics artist, Patrick Ian Rooks, who does this awesome book called Celery Stalks. That shaped my shifting as to what future Strangers issues would look like. I had not really much experience or knowledge of the small press scene prior to launching this distro, but it really opened up a whole new world for me that I was interested in covering. So now it’s this balance of current creators (Hyena Hell, Alexis Zirrit) that I think deserve more attention, older creators who completely got overlooked (Ragne Naess, Paul Kirchner), and then usually some more ‘legendary’ creators who worked on the fringe and produced interesting work (Geof Darrow, Richard Corben.)
What were your expectations?
I really had no expectations going into this. I printed off 100 copies of the first issue, put it on sale on Valentine’s Day, and it just kind of took off. I think I sold like 30 in the first day and by the end of the second week they were all gone. I hustled a lot of that first initial batch out to comic shops, which helped get my name out there!
Did you have any publishing experience when you launched Strangers?
I had zero publishing experience prior to Strangers. The most I knew was how to use InDesign and Photoshop so I could lay out books, but I had never published anything before.
What were some of the technical issues you encountered in putting together those early issues?
Honestly, the biggest growing pains have been around shipping. The first three issues I would handwrite/stamp out every single package, and then it just became too much, especially when I launched the distro, so I started using fulfillment software and got a thermal label printer. It’s down to a science, and I’ve cut my actual packing time down to about as low as it could be without just having someone else do it for me.
When I first put out the second issue, I accidentally made it two pages short so there was a weird blank page at the end of it - but I adjusted that upon future printings and thankfully have not made that mistake since.
Upon publishing, how did you go about promoting it and what were some first impressions of how people received it? Was there a “big break” moment?
I’ve not really done much promotion outside of Instagram. The first couple issues I’d send comp copies to Cartoonist Kayfabe because they used to run these videos where they’d do mail unboxings and I knew a lot of folks would check it out. That community gave me a big bump initially! Almost everything else has been word-of-mouth (via social.) I sent a comp copy of issues 1 & 2 to Keenan Marshall Keller because I was a big fan of The Humans and he was really kind in posting a bunch about it, which then led Tom Neely to buy it and post about it. The two of them have been super kind and supportive of the magazine since basically its start and I do credit a lot of my initial exposure to them. It’s basically been a snowball effect ever since.
Can you talk about those initial overtures reaching out to people for interviews? Have you grown more confident in your critical and interviewing skills as the zine has progressed?
The first couple interviews I conducted with Paul Kirchner and Don Lomax were sent completely ‘cold’. I had nothing to show them besides that I was working on this zine and I admired their work and went from there. I find I’m best at interviews if it’s with a creator that I think has an interesting background versus just a great amount of talent. For example, in issue #5, I’m interviewing Kate Lacour, and we spent very little time actually talking about comics because of everything else she’s involved in, like taxidermy and the learning center she runs in New Orleans. I found that to be a really natural conversation because I was genuinely fascinated with everything she did.
I’ve definitely grown more confident in my interviewing skills - I still think I’ve got a ways to go, especially for ones I conduct in person. I’m rather shy so it’s sometimes hard for me to think on my feet to keep the conversation going.
Being critical is tough for me because in the reviews I’m doing, I really don’t want to be ‘mean’. The mail call review section isn’t meant to skewer these creators, it’s for me to give them a brief shoutout and spotlight. I’ve ‘reviewed’ things I didn’t like before, but I always try and find the good in it. I personally think it’s kind of easy to tell what I actually like versus what I’m just shouting out, but nobody has ever called me out for not liking their book so that’s pretty cool.
When did people start contacting you about contributing? Did that change how you thought about the possibilities?
With issue #2 came our first contributors! I think it was originally in the form of comics, and then David Moses hit me up about doing the interview with Patrick. Outside of what I mentioned before with how I changed the scope of coverage, I also started featuring a lot more comics as another opportunity to expose people to new work. In that first issue I booted that first issue of [Jamie Hewlett's] Fireball in the back of the magazine, which was cool, but wasn’t something I was super passionate about doing. I’ve always loved bootleg culture and how odd and offbeat a lot of it looks - so when Jasper Jubenvill and I started talking about doing a bootleg comic together and he pitched me on the idea of Daredevil, it was like a match made in heaven. Now those boots are one of the main staples in Strangers.
Additionally, I started a little review section in issue #2, which has grown significantly. At first it was just me covering some books I had picked up along the way, as well as a couple upcoming releases. I think that first review section had something like seven titles, and now I’m averaging about 20-40 reviews per issue.
The biggest overall change is just how I’ve broadened my scope to the mission statement of ‘a celebration of the forgotten and overlooked’. I care a lot about growing the small press community and giving back to it where I can. So whether it’s interviewing new creators, featuring comics or illustrations, or a small review - I try and offer many opportunities for engagement. I believe that if you’re willing to send me your book for free, then it’s only fair as a courtesy I do at least a few sentences about it in Strangers. I’m sure at some point if the magazine keeps growing it will become unsustainable, but for now it’s the least I can do.
What parts of the zine come together more easily now that you have experience, and what parts are still challenging or have grown more challenging?
Oddly enough, it still all feels like a challenge each issue. Since the issues come out quarterly, it always feels like a little bit of shaking off the dust whenever I start to work on a new issue. The easiest part has been curating the comics, but that’s probably because it’s just a thumbs up and thumbs down, but that goes back to my interest in growing my skills as a comics editor.
You mentioned in a recent issue that you will aspire to a greater diversity of coverage in future issues. Did this decision constitute a change in your mission statement? What prompted this?
Nothing really prompted it besides me looking at what artists were covered in issues 1-3 and just being like "Wow, I’m an asshole." Nobody had ever said anything about the lack of diversity, but I was disappointed in myself I let it get to issue #4 before we covered anyone who wasn’t a non cis white male, so I called myself out, held myself accountable, and fixed it.
Are you worried about alienating readers who may not be up for this shift in coverage?
I wouldn’t consider it a shift in coverage, it’s just about being more inclusive. If anyone has a problem with that, I’d like them to stop buying my zine.
What prompted the decision to extend the Strangers brand into a small-press distro?
Everything goes back to me wanting to give more exposure to creators that I think deserve a bigger spotlight. There were a couple UK creators that I’d become friends with by picking up their work, but stomaching that $7 shipping kind of sucked every time. One day I was thinking about how much of a hindrance that must be on U.S. readers who want to check out a book but don’t feel like paying that much, so I just reached out to them and asked if they’d let me carry the book for them and act as their U.S. distributor. I started originally with Atomic Hercules #1 & #2 by Adam Falp and Tony Esmond, and every copy they sent me sold out within the day, so we just kept it going.
How does the distro dovetail with your initial vision?
The distro to me is just an extension of the zine. These are books that I truly love, speak highly of, and fit into the vision of what Strangers is about. I do think curation is super important, at least for my distro. I think a lot of my readers buy what’s in my distro because they trust my taste and know I’m going to give them really great books. My taste does range, and I’ve seen an interesting split in my readership. There are the folks that will pick up something more ‘indie’ like Goiter by Josh Pettinger, and then there are folks who like the genre comics I distro like Atomic Hercules or Fortress.
Does the stuff you publish necessarily fit in with your critical tastes? What qualities does a perfect comic have for you?
Similar to the distro, the books I publish are even more an extension of my taste because I can be even more selective about what I put my name on. I don’t really consider myself much of an editor, I feel weird about asking creators to make changes in their books. I’ve offered suggestions on how to improve the narrative, but for the most part these artists know way more about this stuff than I do, so who am I to tell them what to change? What I am really enjoying about publishing is workshopping pitches with my artists and fielding what I actually put out. Lately I’ve been coming to certain artists that I’d like to work with, and just giving them a genre I think they’d be able to tell a cool story in.
I don’t know as much about what I’d look for in a perfect comic but for me - I really like to see comics where the art and the story have a lot of dissonance. Something like Tezuka’s MW is a great example. He draws these really cutesy characters but the story is so incredibly dark and evil. The best current example of that is Jasper Jubenvill’s Dynamite Diva. It’s like melted Chester Gould comics, but you get to see her blow some dudes head off with a Tommy gun.
Can you talk a little bit about your tastes? Based on your coverage, I think genre stuff is front and center in your preferences.
Genre comics are the majority of my taste for sure. They are obviously the vast majority of comics on the market, but so many of them look awful or the story just feels like it’s a pitch for an HBO series. I remember the first time I opened Night Business by Ben Marra, everything kind of clicked for me. I wanted every comic to look as cool as that book was, and for some reason there really isn’t a ton of it out there - and the ones that are, I clung to tightly like The Humans or Copra.
So many of the comics I hold near and dear have pitches that are so off the wall that they border on asinine. "Planet of the Apes but they’re in a biker gang." That’s the coolest shit I could ever imagine. Comics is a medium where you can literally do whatever the fuck you want, and it seems so silly that people would waste it with art comics or something critics would describe as ‘pushing the medium forward’. Myself and my readers just really want to see two mech robots fighting each other with chainsaws, but not done by someone who’s just waiting until Marvel or DC picks them up for the next Teen Titans book.
So for me, when publishing, I’m trying to capture that certain energy. I want to publish the most absurd stories with really unique art that people can read and be like “dudes rock” and not have any further critical analysis on.
Do you think genre comics can get at issues and themes in a more meaningful way than something that isn’t strictly within a genre or milieu, or do you think it simply comes down to them being more engaging and fun?
I think they can absolutely cover important themes. Take something like Dave Baker & Alexis Ziritt’s Night Hunters, for example. That book is amazing to look at, it’s great action focused cyberpunk, but it’s also a pretty on the nose criticism of the police state we’re living in. They don’t try to hide it. Some genres are going to be easier than others to cover important issues, like science fiction being the most obvious example, but I think it’s always a possibility. It’s not something I’m necessarily seeking out when I’m looking for stories to publish, but I’d never shy away from it, if it felt tasteful. I definitely care way more about story being engaging and appealing to look at. I even prioritize appealing art over actual story a lot of the time.
What do you envision for Strangers and the Strangers distro in the coming months and years?
2021 is already starting off pretty wild, I’ve got about fifteen books I’m publishing by the end of the year, as well as four issues of the zine and whatever comes with the distro. I’m starting to flesh out the distro a little more and expand into current and older books. One of the things I’m discovering is a lot of these older forgotten creators are still sitting on large quantities or their books, so I’ve been coming up with ways to get them into readers' hands. I’ve got an audience that is interested in picking up these types of '80s B&W boom books that they might not be able to find in dollar bins, so I’m going to help make it happen.
In regards to the zine - I’ve got a handful of interviews/longer pieces I’d like to try and put out. Moving on from just interviewing one creator, I’d like to try and highlight a specific moment in comics history and do more ‘verbal histories’.
You seem to be taking an ambitious approach in your distribution rollout? Are you worried about running too hot?
I think I’m always worried about running too hot, but then when I think about the timelines I’ve put in place at a larger scale, it feels less intense. I try to organize everything into ‘drops’ [so] as to not feel like I’m constantly rolling out new books. It also makes managing fulfillment easier because thankfully-- whenever I do a new drop, everything generally sells out within the day so I’m not constantly in fulfilment mode, and with larger drops, my girlfriend has been really amazing and helps me pack orders which saves a hell of a lot of work.
I try to also give myself proper space from everything so I don’t get burnt out - the moment I started viewing it as a job, I was able to adjust the expectations in my head and not feel like it was a hobby that I could have consume my life.