Gregory Anderson-Elysee: After reading and heavily enjoying quite a few books recently from Rosarium Publishing and having a few creators from RP on the Griotvine, I thought it'd only make sense to finally try to get the head honcho himself on here! Welcome to (Heard It Thru) The Griotvine, Mr. Bill Campbell! How is it going today on your end?
Bill Campbell: Oh, every day is a mad rush lately, but I wouldn't have it any other way. A lot of good things are happening.
Greg: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Bill: Hm, well. I grew up in Pittsburgh. My mom's from a small mining town in western Pennsylvania and my dad's from Kingston, Jamaica. I grew up loving comics, science fiction, and being a smart ass. So now I write science fiction and satire and have finally started dabbling in comics. I started Rosarium Publishing back in 2013 because there were a bunch of projects (like Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond) I wanted to see the light of day and I was pretty sure that mainstream publishing wasn't going to do it for me.
Greg: Educate us on the word "Rosarium"? And how does it relate to Rosarium Publishing?
Bill: Oh, that one's simple: I named it after my daughter, Rosa.
Greg: Oh nice! I swear I was expecting you to start talking about gardens and growing comics, haha!
Bill: Ha! Nope. There's also the Catholic rosary, but I thought a name as vague as "Rosarium" meant I would have a lot of leeway with the range of things we could publish.
Greg: Is your daughter also a growing proud comic geek?
Bill: I've started grooming her as best I can. Princeless really kicked things off, but she also loves Malice in Ovenland, Zita in Space, and I can't get her off of My Little Pony. But she also likes reading chapter books. I recently took her to her first comic convention, Awesome Con, but I was doing so much networking, she came away from it saying, "Daddy, you talk too much." Ha!
Greg: Haha! What was the start of Rosarium Publishing?
Bill: As I said, there were a bunch of projects I just wasn't seeing being produced by mainstream publishing. While everybody is included in and involved with Rosarium, I felt that we "people of color" are severely under-served (and often misrepresented) in mainstream culture. White people make up roughly 68% of this country's population, yet if you're watching TV or movies or going into comic book shops or bookstores, you'd swear they were about 95% of the country. And a lot of people get really pissed about that 5% sliver of the pie we do get. It's like mainstream culture simply ignores the 100 million "colored" folks in their midst. While we're a small company and couldn't possibly make up for such a grievous shortfall, we can do our best to try to, I guess you can say, "introduce the world to itself."
Greg: That's usually one of the things I'm always arguing about when it comes to showcasing people of color in stories and media. You would think in reality only one person of color exist to each group of people, that people being all a hand full of Caucasians. Or non-existent at all. Yet damn near every thing I've been a part of growing up in NYC has been extremely diverse.
Bill: Well, I think there have been studies that bear this out, but most white people's lives aren't terribly diverse. Therefore, a lot of their attempts are very awkward at best, but usually just god-awful because they simply don't know a lot of people of different races, ethnicities, genders, whatever. And since white people control mainstream media, anybody who's not white will usually feel excluded and/or misrepresented. Also, you get an incredibly skewed perception of the actual demographics of this country and the world.
Greg: I'm glad there are creators and publishers working hard to change that perception. Now you're not just a publisher. You're also a writer and your writing tends to reflect your thoughts and what you'd like to see with representation, correct? Can you tell us a bit about your writing itself?
Bill: That's actually a really difficult one. I don't write very often, but it tends to be all over the place. I guess it just comes from being interested in a wide variety of things. My first novel, Sunshine Patriots, was a semi-satirical, anti-war military sci-fi novel. My Booty Novel was just a bit of fun I had making fun of all those Terri MacMillan knock-offs that proliferated a decade ago. I call it "Black Nerds in Love." Koontown Killing Kaper was just a balls-to-the-wall satire excoriating media representations of black folks--with vampire crack babies!
Greg: Vampire crack babies?! Haha. Can you give us a bit more details about this book? What happens exactly in this book, what's the plot? That title is definitely a throat grabber along with that cover.
Bill: Sure. All the rappers in Koontown are being killed, and everybody thinks its vampire crack babies doing the killing. So it's up to ex-supermodel/ex-homicide detective/private eye Genevieve Noire to save the day. As I said, it's all about the mediated black image. So, think Boondocks or Chappelle Show, but totally inappropriate for television.
Now I'm working on some comic book ideas I've had. The first one is Baaaaad Muthaz, which Ashley A. Woods is drawing. That's just a fun, little space-ploitation comic about a female band of space pirates who also happen to be a James Brown revival band. Benjamin Rosenbaum and I are supposed to start co-writing a supernatural mystery taking place in the shtetl. Ben and I haven't found an artist yet. I'd really like someone who could get that "ghetto noir" (as in the 19th century Eastern European ghetto) we're looking for. I do have some ideas, though. And John Jennings and I are working on something that will just leave folks scratching their heads. Super secret project, but that's about a year away.
Greg: That all sounds great. I can't wait to see what's going on with those. Did you find it difficult getting your work out and getting publishers comfortable and willing to share your work?
Bill: Hell yeah! That's part of the reason I started my own publishing company.
Greg: Can you share details of your experience with trying to hustle your work out? What was it that was so different and difficult about your work?
Bill: Well, Koontown was banned from a lot of places just because of the title and the cover. But even before that, it's just hard to be taken seriously as a self-published author for a myriad of reasons. Attitudes are changing, but I found it a lot more difficult going out there then as opposed to now.
Rosarium's a bit different experience than, say, when I was just out there by myself. Now, we're a team and we have a distributor. So, whatever event you'll find me at will not be the only places you will see our books. As an artist, I've found that it's a lot easier to have a name (even if it's a small one just starting out like ours) behind you, and, as a publisher, it's a lot easier having a distributor behind you. In the beginning, a lot of times I felt like I was spinning my wheels a lot. Now I feel like we're getting somewhere.
Greg: How were you able to get it from conception to reality? People can talk the talk but you actually got it up and have been gradually been building a fan base along with your library.
Bill: Jason Scott Jones (who'll be doing Flatbush Yard with us) told me it was a combination of talent and hustle. I'll go with that: other people's talent and a lot of everybody's hustle.
Greg: As a publisher, how did you prepare yourself for such an up taking of building a comic business of this sort? And did you have any business and marketing experience?
Bill: I didn't really prepare myself at all. I just kinda did it. Self-publishing all those years gave me a bit of experience, I guess. But as far as learning the ins and outs of the publishing industry before starting Rosarium? Yeah, that never happened.
Greg: Has becoming the head of Rosarium influenced your writing in any way? Maybe viewing the production and creativity in a different light at all?
Bill: Oddly enough, it really hasn't. My day job is reading books for a living. I think that definitely had much more of an influence on the way I write than anything else. I spent a lot of my formative years trying to figure out how to write a "great" book. That job taught me how to write a good one, which, I feel, is equally important.
Greg: What have you found to be some of most challenging parts of this publishing job? Or any particular challenging experiences in itself?
Bill: Almost everything about publishing is challenging. I could write a book. Ha!
Greg: Ha. I'd definitely pick that up... I actually really wanna read that now! So what attracts particular writers and artists to you? What kinds of works grab you if someone wanted to publish under Rosarium?
Bill: I've never really asked. I wouldn't be surprised if it were my raw animal magnetism, though. It's the same stuff that gets me out of speeding tickets. Ha!
Artistically, I really like idiosyncratic artists--folks who don't particularly remind me of other people. I also like a wide range of ideas, but the stranger the better. At this stage of the game, it's really about having projects that stick in people's heads. Whether they like something or not isn't as important to me as much as whether or not they remember the thing.
So, I guess if you were an artistic team or a novelist looking at Rosarium, I'd say you'd probably have to have something I'd either hadn't seen nor heard before. That would be a good start. If you have a ready-made comparison for your work, that work probably isn't for us.
Greg: What books are currently running and announced that are coming out?
Bill: Well, digitally, all of our comics are on Comixology. The ongoing ones would be DayBlack, Malice in Ovenland, Chadhiyana, Manticore, Kid Code, Echo Gear, and The Little Red Fish. Next month, we'll be releasing first issues of Blue Hand Mojo and The Adventures of Wally Fresh. The first DayBlack graphic novel was released a little over a month ago.
Our next big comics release at the end of the month, though, is APB: Artists against Police Brutality, which I co-edited with Jason Rodriguez and John Jennings. It's a massive anthology with comic shorts, flash fiction, pin-ups, cartoons, personal and academic essays, basically the kitchen sink. Folks like Keith Knight, Barbara Brandon-Croft, Lalo Alcaraz, Jerry Craft, and Dean Haspiel contributed. I'm quite proud of it and the people who contributed to the project. The proceeds are going to the Innocence Project.
Greg: APB: Artists against Police Brutality. I feel like the title says it all but what brought about this book? What drove its conception?
Bill: It was the night of the Staten Island grand jury's decision not to charge the police who killed Eric Garner. It was one of those moments that don't surprise you, yet leave you outraged. Their decision was way too familiar--even with overwhelming video evidence that they killed that man--and I was absolutely outraged with my own familiarity, with yet further confirmation that my life meant absolutely nothing.
I called up John Jennings instantly, cursing up a storm. Somewhere in that rant, I said, "We need to do something! Fuck it! An anthology, I don't care! What the hell, we can call it APB: Artists against Police Brutality!"
He loved the idea, so I called up Jason Rodriguez. He also loved the idea. Within an hour, the anthology idea was born.
Greg: That was definitely an emotional moment for many people, many people starting to become more driven to do more and to raise awareness for this ongoing epidemic, which is what I'm going to state it as. I recall seeing a lot of people submitting art for the book online, all very powerful. From the various creators involved, were any personally affected by police brutality and injustice that will be showcased in the book?
Bill: That's a good question. I'm not too sure. For so many of us, though, police harassment--being stopped, questioned, bullied, whatever--while simply minding one's own business happens so frequently, you think it's just a part of your African-American existence. Therefore, the possibility of one day being brutalized by the police is a very real one. I don't know how many people have actually suffered personally from police brutality, but it's all very real, incredibly visceral for us all.
Greg: Given the sensitive topic and issue at hand, how do you plan to go about marketing this book? I definitely hope it gets into some academic hands.
Bill: Stop asking the tough questions, Greg. Ha! I'm not exactly sure. This is the one project I've done (and keep in mind, I wrote Koontown Killing Kaper) where I really feel it's important to tread lightly. I'm always a bull in a china shop. This time, though, I'm wearing padded slippers while I stomp.
Greg: I'm more than certain a ton of people will be extremely grateful for the production of such a book. As a publisher, what has been your proudest moment thus far?
Bill: Hm. Well, when Samuel R. Delany thanked me for putting together Stories for Chip, I damn near cried. I mean, he's a hero to me. Other than that, it really touches me when people thank us for Rosarium's existence. A lot of what we do is because we didn't have this type of stuff growing up. So when we're thanked for providing these works now, it really touches me. I mean, everybody wants to feel that what they do is important, right?
Greg: That's extremely heart-warming. I'm very happy to hear all that. You truly deserve it. What advice can you give creators trying to get published, especially creators and artists of color?
Bill: I think, when it comes to comics, the best thing I've heard is that you need to prove to people that you can produce. So get out there and produce some stuff, then go table at a con or two. Let folks see that you can actually produce good work and be about the business.
Greg: Where can potential readers and others find your work?
Bill: Our distributor is IPG, so you can find us on Comixology, Amazon, in select bookstores across the country. We produce our single issues digitally, so Comixology and Amazon are the best places for those. If you want a paper edition of one of our #1s, you can go to IndyPlanet. If you're looking for one of our graphic novels, you should ask your neighborhood store. It's imperative that we support those folks. Culture dies without them.
Greg: Any last words before we wrap?
Bill: I can't believe I forgot to mention a project that's near and dear to my heart because I've wanted to do it for so long. But Keith A. Miller and Tommy Nguyen are adapting Tobias Buckell's Arctic Rising into a comic book. They're still in the development stage, but I'm really excited. Keith knows exactly what to do, and Tommy has the thing looking beautiful. I can't wait to read it.
Greg: More Rosarium goodness to spend my broke self on! Thanks, Bill! Haha. But anyways, thank you for stopping by, Bill Campbell! I hope you had a great time at the Griot Vine!
Bill: You're welcome. And thank you for this wonderful opportunity. I really admire what you're doing here.
Greg: The admiration is mutual.