by Marie Anello
To say Taneka Stotts is a comics polymath is an understatement. In addition to writing multiple ongoing comics, including the Eisner nominated Deja Brew, Stotts has edited and published several critically acclaimed anthologies, while also writing for television (Craig of the Creek), developing a visual novel with collaborator Ria Martinez, and speaking regularly at colleges and conventions. Most recently, she won the 2018 Eisner Award for Elements: Fire, an anthology showcasing creators of color from around the world.
Stotts has also been a vocal and necessary force in the comics industry, advocating for diverse representation, challenging antiquated and damaging stereotypes, demanding equal visibility and respect for marginalized creators, and lifting up queer and POC voices. Her drive, creativity, and savvy have made her an undisputed leader in the comics community and readers have flocked to her projects.
I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Taneka and discussing her insights on creating comics, her upcoming projects, and her advice for new creators.
The MNT: Firstly let me just gush and say I’m thrilled to be interviewing you! I’ve admired your work in comics so much ever since I first read the Beyond Anthology (I loved your story “A Royal Affair”), and you’ve continued to produce amazing stories as a writer, editor, and small-press publisher! Can you talk a bit about the differences you’ve discovered between writing and editing comics? Are they two halves of a whole or completely different skill sets?
Taneka Stotts: I would say there’s plenty of differences. As a writer, I’m focusing on telling a good story that people will want to read. As an editor, I’m serving as that test audience and providing feedback, not just for writers but artists too, to make the story as cohesive and impactful as possible. Meanwhile, I’m also determining the flow of a book, writing copy, marketing the book, running social media accounts, making sure everyone is meeting their deadlines, and handling contracts. There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes and I feel like I “wear a lot more hats” as an editor than I do as a writer.
The comics you write tend to reside in speculative genres (fantasy/science-fiction/horror). What do you like about working in those genres? What challenges do they produce? Do you find any particular themes or elements call out to you as a writer?
I tend to stick within those genres because they’re the kind of stories that I enjoy reading most. Comics are such a labor of love that I feel like it wouldn’t be worth the amount of effort put in to release a story that wasn’t something that I would want to read. Plus, there’s a lot of creation that goes into speculative fiction because you’re responsible for pretty much every detail about this world you’re building. I like to play with alternate futures in a lot of my stories and find most of my work focuses on looking up and moving forward.
Speaking of elements (haha, I am very good at segues), your anthology Elements: Fire won an Eisner Award last year! Congratulations! You’ve mentioned in several interviews that you’re planning to do another instalment, Elements: Earth. Can you tell us more about how this anthology will build off of Fire and how it will differ?
Thank you! I was very surprised with how well Elements: Fire was received. A lot of people thought I was going to do “Water” next but I had always hoped to follow Fire with Elements: Earth. If you consider the first book was about passion, this one is about strength, healing and stability. The idea is sort of that the fire has died down leaving the earth to sprout anew.
You’ve worked extensively with anthologies in addition to writing several ongoing webcomics. Do you see a lot of difference in how you approach anthologies vs. long-form stories? Do you have advice for comics creators looking to get involved with anthologies or perhaps even edit their own?
Absolutely. I always want to tell a contained one-shot story in an anthology, versus the longer more in-depth stories you can get away with in ongoing webcomics. My advice for creators interested in anthologies is to get out there and submit! Even if your pitch doesn’t make it in, you still have that experience for next time. I often encourage the submissions I can’t take to make their comic anyway. It’s always good to have something in your portfolio for next time that shows “hey, I can do this”, because it’s really hard to pick a pitch from someone if I can’t find any other comics they’ve worked on.
As for editing an anthology, well it’s a lot like herding cats. Be prepared for a lot of work!
Something that strikes me so much about your presence in the comics community is the confidence you exude. Whether you’re talking about the details of your projects, or demanding equal representation for people of color and the queer community, or giving insight on the process of putting together comics as a medium, you always speak with this amazing conviction, it’s so inspiring! Do you have suggestions for creators who might be struggling with self-doubt or uncertainty as to how they can overcome those feelings?
You know, you’ll never achieve anything if you think you can’t do it. Just do it! If you mess up or fail, try again. Everything takes practice, and that includes believing in yourself.
I know you used to do slam poetry, do you feel like that helped prime you in some way for this chapter of your life? Do you have any thoughts on the intersection of performance and comics as art forms?
Slam poetry is all about getting up on stage and selling your experiences to an audience. I think you really learn what people want to hear and what they don’t, and it definitely helped me learn how to take criticism, while also proving that people do want to hear what I have to say. That my voice does matter. Art is all the same, in that every artist, whether an actor, singer, painter, or writer, has their own unique experiences that they bring with them to everything they create. You can tell when something is sincere and personal, and that work is always the best.
You’ve done so much to support and elevate creators of color with Elements and queer creators with Beyond. What kind of stories do you hope to see being told as comics continue to grow and change as an industry?
I just want new stories, and I think bringing in new perspectives from groups of people that usually don’t get a chance to tell their stories is the most obvious way to get that.
Finally, what things are inspiring you and bringing your joy right now? This can be comics, tv, music, people, anything at all!
Taneka Stotts is the writer for Casual Hex, Deja Brew, Love Circuits, and Full Circle. She is the editor and publisher of the anthologies Elements: Fire and Beyond I & II, and edits the Image Comics series Afar. You can learn more and see her upcoming appearances at her website, tanekastotts.com. She is represented by Jen Linnan.