Earlier this month, science fiction novel and comic book publisher, Bill Campbell, launched an Indie Go Go campaign to take his company, Rosarium Publishing, to the next level. "Rosarium Publishing was started in 2013 with one goal: to bring true diversity to publishing so that the books and comics we enjoy actually reflect the fascinating, multicultural world we truly live in today," front man Campbell wrote in the Indie Go Go campaign. "We publish science fiction, crime, steam punk, satire, comics and represent over 40 artists and writers from all over the world. With the success of this campaign, we will be able to print thousands of books and continue our mission to further our quest for diversity in publishing with the high quality of work you deserve."
Rosarium Publishing has been a godsend to me as a comic book reader and collector. The past two years of me discovering this company has lead to such a great source of appreciation for the comic book craft. Before we jump more into Rosarium Publishing, though, let me tell you a little bit of history about myself...
I have been a comic book junkie since I was in second grade when I bought my first comic book: Superboy #19. But of course, even before that, I was watching Batman and Superman shows, and X-Men and Spider-Man on Saturday mornings. Like many boys and girls, these colorful characters with over-the-top abilities and the need to solve their problems with fists was the coolest thing I've ever encountered and my love for this drug has followed me to this day, and has grown stronger as I got older.
Around the beginning of my drug addiction, as a tiny one in the early 90s, Bishop's introduction to the 90s X-Men animated series opened my eyes. While I found Storm to be pretty cool and represented Black folks awesomely with her melodramatic speeches which still excites me when I watch reruns, Bishop was that dude to me. Brolic, badass, take no prisoner, unapologetic, mysterious and in your face, and Black. He was a Black male that I could look up to and the first Black male superhero I was exposed to as a kid and made me feel welcomed. I'm not counting Zack from Power Rangers because I always found him to be boring as hell and if not boring, annoying. I would eventually be introduced to Blade through a trading card, which made me a fan for life. Imagine how excited I was when homeboy showed up on Spider-Man, tied Spidey up and tossed dude off the side of the building like so much trash.
Growing up as a young Black geek, certain Black characters just didn't appeal to me initially. At a particular age, I'd be damned if I was interested in Black Panther, Luke Cage, Brother Voodoo, Cyborg, or hell, even Icon! First glance, they just seemed so dull and pointless. To me they were Zacks. But it wasn't until I got older that I learned just how powerful they were, especially to a Black reader who just started to realize the disproportionate number of racial representation that was being showcased in these funny books, these books that I injected into myself without question. Over time I started to drift more towards Indie books, starting with Image Comics.
Spawn was my ultimate favorite: this scary Black man in the middle of a superhero and horror book. He had a Candyman element to him that just filled me with glee. And I love me some Candyman! Spawn was a type of story featuring a Black lead and cast that I just wasn't used to seeing in other superhero books. It definitely was different in its presentation and what I was used to with genre books featuring Black leads.
Eventually I sought more from my books. I suppose you can say I started to become more conscious of what I was putting into my skin. My skin. My dear Black, brown skin... soooo why exactly wasn't my skin as accepted or represented like all these heroes I grew to love since childhood? Why was I only OK with the very small number of Black characters that were presented as if it were a treat for being such a good ol' boy reader? ESPECIALLY when I lived in NYC, this ultimate melting pot where diversity of all types, different races and sexual preferences, was and is the status quo? Yet these comic stories were all taking place in cities that were NYC or based on NYC and I'd be lucky to see any Black folk in my books.
Quite frankly that shit really bothered me and by the time I really noticed all this, Milestone had already come and gone. But alas... I slowly but surely started to learn that there was a Black Independent Comic community, with all types of creators, who were making books with strong Black characters and showcasing the diversity I was used to seeing in NYC. And boy did my already strong love ignite into passion.
This finally brings me back to Rosarium Publishing. Rosarium Publishing was started and founded by writer, Bill Campbell, who, as stated above, sought out to create a business that would showcase the type of racial based content that other companies refused to sponsor or give a chance to. Originally selling his books from the back of his car, Campbell has fought a long fight and has come a long way and has built such a solid platform to showcase other creators and content of color that presents just how strong, engaging, and diverse characters of color can be. And dare I say, content that can definitely challenge how you look at People of Color based content.
"Talent knows no race, gender, religion, you name it. But too often artists are imprisoned in boxes not of their own making. 'We want THE black experience ... THE immigrant experience ... I don't think YOUR people really act/talk like this,'" Bill Campbell tweeted, referring to a situation in the past when his work as a Black man wasn't seen as "Ghetto" enough to market and distribute. He continues, "This suburban Jamerican growing up in the AME church while going to Catholic school was told growing up he didn't exist. How many have gone through this? Told that your very existence wasn't legit because they couldn't even bother to grant it legitimacy. Well I learned long ago that I didn't need anybody's legitimacy and after being told I wasn't 'ghetto' enough, I stopped looking for it as a writer. I knew of other writers and artists who'd gone through much [of] the same thing. I knew I wasn't alone. I wanted to create a space for them, a publishing house. A place where artists didn't have to worry about not fitting some marketer's preconceived notion of the Box. That was how Rosarium was born."
If you haven't been living under a rock, you'd know that diversity has been one of the biggest topics within the past few years concerning the comic book industry, from creating characters of color and actually hiring creators of color to tell their own stories. While there's been an upswing of content trying to fill this void, some trying to capitalize on it, Rosarium Publishing has been one of the solid providers of diversity when it comes to their contents since Day 1. There's a ton of variety to choose from when it comes to their books and each time you buy a pack, you realize you're just scratching the surface. And variety is something that I feel is very important when it comes to entertainment. Due to the small number of characters of color in mainstream books compared to the white majority, it can be difficult to get much genre diversity. But my experience with Rosarium has challenged that. As a comic book lover, I know there's more to love than just superheroes. And I love that fact.
"Bill Campbell actively recruits experimental stories, stories by women, and stories that engage with alternative view points. It's a space of resistance to the cookie cutter mainstream that is too afraid to rattle what they perceive to be their fan base. Rosarium lives up to its motto: Introducing the world to itself," writer and artist John Jennings states.
Comic creator J.M. DeSantis added his thoughts, "Working with Rosarium Publishing has been wonderful. Bill works really hard at and for Rosarium, and I've always told him how much I appreciate his seemingly tireless efforts. He created this small but growing publishing house to represent the world as diverse as it truly is, through writing and art, but also so that writers and artists could tell the stories they want to."
This year, three books from Rosarium Publishing (Blue Hand Mojo, Malice in Ovenland, and DayBlack) have been nominated for Glyph Awards, the premiere award ceremony that honors and recognizes comic book works of color, picking up four nominations in all.
John Jennings, who is a nominee this year for both an Eisner and two Glyph Awards, is one of the many talented creators signed on by Campbell and among his many works is Blue Hand Mojo. "My book Blue Hand Mojo is about Frank 'Half Dead' Johnson. He's a conjure man who also happens to be the fictional cousin of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson. Because of a thirst for revenge against the racist men who killed his family, Frank goes to the crossroads and makes a bargain with Scratch for the power to exact his own hoodoo-empowered justice. He now regrets his mistakes and is trying to work off his debt to the Devil." Blue Hand Mojo, Vol. 1, is available for order for on the Indie Go Go campaign, which also comes with his art book, Pitch Black Rainbow.
Blue Hand Mojo is one of a kind within this publishing house. We also have Chadhiyana, which is also available for purchase on the campaign. J.M. DeSantis describes the book as, "A dark fantasy tale set in a world inspired by medieval India and the Middle East. It centers [on] the title character who is a woman on a journey to deal with issues of her past, as much as adventuring through this world. In the first graphic novel, we find Chadhiyana as the first female member of an assassin group known as the Tal-Ifatiir. They are on a quest to destroy a demon and capture a supposed servant of his, a witch, partly to that end. But soon this witch gets Chadhiyana to begin questioning everything about the quest and her place in the group."
As is part of the FOR THE CHILDREN Perk Pack at $40 and SWIMMING WITH THE FISHESpack at $10 is The Little Red Fish. "The Little Red Fish is an Orwellian retelling of the Iranian revolution. It has a lot to do with how the will of a people in an oppressive state can resonate enough to cause change, and it creates to the determination and cunning needed to overthrow any oppressive force," writer James Moffitt says. Artist Bizhan Khodabandeh also adds, "[It's] a political allegory in serial comic form and in the style of George Orwell's Animal Farm. The story is inspired by the Iranian revolution of 1979—starting with the coupe of Prime Minister Mossaddegh up to the rise of Khomeini. It's a book that I've been wanting to make for quite awhile and I'm thankful that I'm able to share this project with James Moffitt who is a great writer."
"Sometimes I feel like Rosarium Publishing is hiding in plain sight. When people were asking where were the artists speaking out against police brutality, we were here." Campbell says, referring to APB: Artist Against Police Brutality, which collected various stories, comics, artwork, and pieces from various comic book creators and artists about the on-going problem of police brutality in Black communities. "When people asked why aren't companies publishing more women in comics, we said we're working with nine women."
Among these women is Micheline Hess, a former Milestone colorist who is the writer and artist for her book, Malice in Ovenland, which is also nominated for a Glyph. Malice follows "a bright, curious, energetic young girl from Queens, New York," named Lilly Brown. After being forced by her mother to do chores all summer, Lilly learns of a world filled with greasy monsters on the other side of her oven. "Due to Bill's fierce dedication to pushing Rosarium titles all over the country and far beyond, I've had a chance to share Malice in Ovenland with audiences MUCH larger than I might have reached on my own. The release schedules for my comics really forced me to reach deep down inside and produce beautiful work at a rate I didn't really know was possible for me. This was a pivotal moment where for the first time I was really beginning to realize my true potential as a comic artist. Also, Bill put a lot of trust in my story-telling ability and as a result, I enjoyed a great amount of creative freedom throughout my creative process." Along with the order of the first volume for $20, Malice in Ovenland is also part of both FOR THE CHILDREN ($40) Perk Pack and CREATIVE WOMEN OF COLOR Perk pack ($50).
A book that has grabbed my heart and continues to be a favorite of mine is DayBlack by creator Keef Cross. Cross' story is about "a slave, bitten by a vampire in the cotton field, who presently works as a tattoo artist as a means to collect blood." DayBlack has garnered tremendous acclaim and award recognition. "It feels amazing to be a part of such a diverse and talented group of individuals," Cross says of Rosarium. "At first I was worried about my book being censored but when I realized my editor wrote a book that included vampire crack babies I knew that my story would be safe." Volume 1 of DayBlack can be purchased as part of the GRAPHIC NOVELS PERK pack for $75, and Vol. 2 is also set for pre-order for $20.
We are now within the final week of the Rosarium Publishing Indie Go Go campaign and many have already donated to the cause. But there is still work to be done as the campaign pushes to reach its goal. I can personally say that with your help in donations to the campaign, the fight for legit content of quality with stories where the displays of diversity is neither a fad or trend but instead is common place, Rosarium Publishing can finally reach a bigger platform and wider audience. And I can attest, there are some really solid books from these fine folks!
"Rosarium Publishing was started with an idea; it was not, however, started with a lot of money." Campbell continues and reveals, "This has all been funded by the publisher's day job. So, with the rapid growth we've been experiencing, it is now time for us to move away from print-on-demand, which, in the long run, is too expensive for any publisher to rely on, and have to move to offset printing."
With the current trending topic of diversity in books, Rosarium, the little publishing house that could, continues to push forward and be one of the legitimate companies currently running that actual represents a serious number of actual content of diversity but lacks the much needed platform to really showcase among the other companies in the running today. Rosarium continues to make me think about the little Black boy by the name of Greg who was watching and looking for comic books with a bit more truth when it comes to racial representation. I know when I was searching for something a little bit more from my addiction, a company like Rosarium would have been the light at the end of the tunnel.
"Supporting Rosarium IS supporting diversity, and we need your help right now. Diversity isn't our only mission. So is quality. We want to earn your support. We've had some critically acclaimed, award-nominated and award-winning projects. Please check it all out," Bill Campbell concludes.
Be sure to watch the video below and visit the Indie Go Go campaign today and before the end of the week. Even if you're unable to donate, you can help the cause by spreading the good word through word of mouth and social media.
That's all, folks!
Click HERE to check out the Indie Go Go page and support now.