Get Down with The BeBop – An Interview with ELIZABETH CRAIG

Comic Book Yeti contributor Andrew Irvin is back with an installment of Cryptid-Bits chatting with Elizabeth Craig about The BeBop Bao, curating this diverse anthology of stories, how everyone should get to make comics, and her vision for the anthology series as "uninhibited pure expression, celebrating creativity in all its forms."

 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Elizabeth, it’s a pleasure to have you with us. How are things going today?


ELIZABETH CRAIG: Hello! Thank you so much for having me. I am excited to talk comics with you. It has been a pretty good day overall. Any day we get to talk creating is a good day!


CBY: So, The BeBop anthology series is now entering its second installment, with a third planned. How did you and Francis determine the themes for each collection, and if Vol. 2 and 3 meet (or hopefully, exceed) expectations, have you discussed potential themes for subsequent volumes? Do you envision this anthology to come out on an annual basis if the audience demonstrates demand for it?


EC: Yes, we are so excited to be on the second BeBop and to begin our process for book three. When selecting themes for The BeBop, we generally decide on whatever we are passionate about at the time. We started The BeBop project during the pandemic and it was an unexpected pivot for us. Our convention plans were canceled, our projects were put on hold, and creators were out of jobs or even lacking motivation to do what they love. Many of us were adapting to all sorts of things. This is what led us to our first theme, Unexpectations. Things don’t always turn out as expected.

The second issue is very much inspired by our love for food and cooking in general. Making and sharing food is definitely our love language. After a crazy few years, we wanted to focus on the things that brought us together. A celebration of life through food and family.


For the third book, we look to the future. Franky and I are both lovers of sci-fi and big Philip K. Dick fans. This led us to The BeBop P.K.D, with ideas of Philosophy, Knowledge and Dystopia.


A new BeBop every year would be a dream come true! I originally wanted to make one every season, but we quickly learned that was a bit ambitious. I would love to put one together to celebrate nature and we’ve been discussing a Pacific Northwest issue. We’ve also talked about having guest editors in the future. The possibilities are really endless with the way The BeBop is set up.

CBY: With the thematic variation across volumes, there’s also an immense amount of stylistic variation within each anthology, both in terms of visual presentation and narrative pacing. Contributors have provided stories from a single page up to nearly standalone issue length. When selecting material and organizing layout for anthologies of this nature, how do both practical (page count, etc.) and aesthetic considerations factor into the selection and editorial process?


EC: We have the luxury of working with most of our stories from the ground up. Oftentimes we receive scripts and artist portfolios separately. We get to select the art style we feel not only best fits the story but also complements the other submissions in the book. It’s important to us that while each story is self contained, the book as a whole feels less like a collection of random stories and more like a curated experience. The collection ends up having this synergistic effect where the stories sort of elevate each other.


Sometimes we’ll read fantastic stories that we just don’t have room for. We keep those in mind for other issues. The BeBop Unexpectations ended up being a lot bigger than intended when we initially started the project. But I think we’ve found the sweet spot. Comic styles can be so varied. From abstract paneling, to realistic colors, old-school cartoon vibes, or surreal dream logic, and traditional comic storytelling. Aesthetically, we try to include a little bit of everything.


CBY: I notice a certain amount of continuity between the creative contributors in The BeBop Vol. 1 returning for Vol. 2 – can you explain a bit about the solicitation and selection process for the first anthology, and what you learned from that experience to make the process of assembling Vol. 2 smoother? To that end, have you also begun the selection process for Vol. 3, and is the next volume still open to submissions from creators?


EC: When we started The BeBop, we were a little unsure of how to go about compiling stories. This is our first anthology project, but we’ve worked with artists on a few single-issue comics. We thought we would at least be able to put together a 70-80 page volume with the few creators we’d worked with up until that point. Then we announced open and paid submissions on a few subreddits and Instagram, and set up our submissions page on our website. We were absolutely blown away by the amount of submissions from creators. It’s incredible! The community behind The BeBop has grown organically since the first issue.


We have read through some submissions, but haven’t made any big decisions for PKD. We’ve really been focusing on The BeBop Bao’s Kickstarter. We decided to leave submissions open through October to give creators and us some extra time to work with. Issue 3 will be the biggest one yet! I think there’s going to be even more variety.

CBY: On that note, you and Francis both made significant contributions to the content – particularly your lettering efforts on numerous entries within each anthology. Given your experience with The BeBop anthologies and previous titles you’ve published, what perspective do you bring to collaborative, facilitative efforts such as this where providing a platform for supplementing and showcasing the work of various creators is at the core of your focus?

EC: Honestly, I didn’t grow up reading comics. But I really love bringing stories to life and connecting with people. It’s so fascinating to be able to convey a specific idea to a complete stranger, whether they be reader or collaborator, and then share a bond with them because of it. We also did not know anything about making comics when we first got started a few years ago. We’ve been learning as we go. I think that contributes to the variety in the books we make. They are sort of on the edge of mainstream and indie.


I personally have a lot of interests. Making comics is really just one of them. I’m a jack-of-all-trades kind of person, or multipotentialite, some call it. I’m constantly throwing myself into new ideas and learning new skills. When we work on The BeBop, I bring with me whatever I am fascinated with at the time.


Creators shouldn’t have to live and breathe comics to make a beautiful story come alive. There should be a space for creators to showcase just that part of them. Writers shouldn’t have to learn how to draw and market themselves just to share a moment with a stranger. I think sometimes as creators, we have to sort of lean into what is familiar or conform to what projects require of us, and sometimes our creative passion gets lost in the process. So The BeBop is really everything that I ever wanted to get out of making comics. It’s uninhibited pure expression, celebrating creativity in all its forms. That is my vision for it anyways.

CBY: As a point of consistency amidst the amazing range of contributions, you’ve selected Jingle Jude as the cover artist for both of The BeBop anthology volumes thus far. Is it fair to assume Vol. 3 will feature a continuation of their work, and can you tell us a bit about how you decided upon Jingle Jude to put a face on this series?


EC: Yes, absolutely. The cover for PKD is actually already complete. Jingle Jude did a fantastic job. We could really go on and on about her work.


I had been following Jingle Jude on Instagram for some time before we reached out for one of our first ever art print commissions for our first comic a few years back. Truth be told I was so nervous reaching out to an artist that I had been a fan of. With a theme like Unexpectations, we wanted to have something no one had really seen before, especially on a comic book. We really love how Jingle Jude takes our initial ideas and puts her own touch on them. Her work always has a sense of enchantment and mystery. There’s an iconic vibe to her work. We would love to continue to work with her on other issues.

CBY: Around the general ethos and aesthetic of The BeBop within the Bird’s Eye catalogue, how do you see the content relating to, and to any extent, tying into other publications you’ve released in the past and may plan on putting out in the future? For instance, is this a testbed for any ideas that may merit full-length publications in the near future, or are there connections to existing titles that the uninitiated may otherwise miss and might have reason to go back and dig into further?


EC: That’s such a great question. There are actually a few stories in The BeBop that come from other full-length graphic novels or series from other creators. For instance, from The BeBop Unexpectations, The Skeletal Guardian is a segment from Zan Miller’s series Cinder, and Galacto Pit-fighter is a single page from Kirt Burdick’s Galacto Pit-Fighter full-length graphic novel. In The BeBop Bao, Franky has a short written in the universe of City of Roses, one of our stand-alone series. We definitely welcome creators to submit smaller segments of their original stories for The BeBop to test out their ideas, but we aim to only include self-contained shorts. Readers get to enjoy stories from a wide variety of creators without needing to know any outside context and we hope they follow those creators to see what else they are working on.

CBY: It’s worth acknowledging the cross-cultural perspectives delivered across each volume thus far. How deliberate was the selection process oriented towards inclusivity of varied inputs, and are there any obvious gaps in terms of regional or cultural coverage you’d like to see filled in with future submissions? What else would you like to see represented in subsequent volumes?


EC: I’m so glad you noticed! Diversity is pretty important to us. But I think at its core, The BeBop fosters diversity. When we curate an issue, we look for original characters and unique perspectives. Oftentimes, we pick a story based on how much it makes us feel connected to the ideas. We have yet to pick a story because it, or its creator, checks a particular box. We are fortunate to work with creators from all around the world. And not all of the creators are in the comic industry necessarily. One of the stories in The BeBop Bao is from a bakery owner who wrote and created a beautiful short comic just for the love of it. The love really comes through. I think because submissions are open to first time creators as well, we end up getting to choose from a highly diverse submission base. You don’t have to just be “in comics” to make a comic. That’s really where The BeBop shines. That being said, there are some gaps I would like to see filled in myself, but that is reflective of the comic industry as a whole. For instance, I am always on the lookout for female letterers in particular, especially since the lettering community is pretty small as it is. But I think we’re seeing a lot more inclusion in the industry in general, which is really exciting. There are so many new stories to be told!


CBY: Though the themes are clear in each volume, the genre of each individual story varies widely. What sort of stories draw you in, and does Francis have different, distinct taste in what catches his eye? What sort of aesthetic foundation from media you’ve enjoyed over the years have you built your current editorial sensibility upon when selecting comics, and what has informed your decision-making process as a creator?


EC: I think what we look for most when selecting stories is how much the script or comic made us feel. When we look at artist portfolios, we don’t look at how perfect the lines are, we focus on the ability for the artist to make us feel anything at all. The plot and characters are definitely important, but I think a lot of the emotional response comes from how that story is told, taking into consideration things like pacing, panel layout, and general tone. Some of these stories have brought tears to my eyes several times over and a lot of them have made me laugh.


The range of genres probably reflects our multitude of interests. Franky has a lot of skill and experience in film, editing in particular. We watch a lot of films and shows. Our favorites are anything from Tarantino, Scorsese and recently Jessica Gao. We both really love video games, too. Some games we’ve really enjoyed recently are The Last of Us and Blasphemous. Franky does love a good drama, and he really has a soft spot for mafia movies. I tend to gravitate toward more abstract things like the show Midnight Gospel and the movie Mr. Nobody.

CBY: Lastly, what else out there besides The BeBop have you been keeping an eye on in terms of comics, movies, books, and other media? What should our readers make sure they check out that has caught your attention recently?


EC: The Poison Apple anthology about villains, creatures, and fables from Aaron at Comics Manifest just had a Kickstarter. I’m excited to read that! Aaron has a couple of stories in The BeBop and they’re both great.


Another BeBop creator also has a story in Fairytales from Mars, which is having a Kickstarter soon. It’s an anthology of fairytale stories that would have been told by the first Martian colonists. It sounds like a cool mix between fable and sci-fi. I’m interested in reading what all the creators do with that idea.


Jordan Thomas has been putting out some cool stuff. I just got my copy of Metallic Dynamite, a sci-fi anthology, I’m excited to read.


I really love the new She-Hulk show. It’s funny and light-hearted, but also makes fun of itself and society. I hope the writing keeps up for the rest of the season. Another great show is Rap Sh!t. Issa Rae is such a talented person! Her other show Insecure hits deep also.


Franky has been replaying The Last of Us 1 remake. I think the creators must have really loved the game to put that much more detail and upgrades into a project they already spent years on. I think we’re going to see cool things from the Cyberpunk universe also. The game had a rough start, but I think there will be more opportunities to experience the stories of that world. The show is surprisingly really good.

CBY: Thank you, Elizabeth, for taking the time to chat with us today. Before we close, please let us know how readers can reach The BeBop vol. 2 campaign, and feel free to share any social media or publication links around your work.


EC: Thank you! The BeBop Bao campaign is on Kickstarter until October 6th kickstarter.birdseyecomics.com. We’ll also be opening up preorders on our website birdseyecomics.com. You can find submission info on our website at thebebop.birdseyecomics.com. And follow us on Instagram , Facebook or Twitter for updates and future projects.

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