Fanbase Press’ upcoming graphic novel, The Margins, explores the positive and negative effects of the creative process through a story about a comic creator opening a portal to a fantasy realm via their artistic work. It is a tale that could only be inspired by those intimately familiar with the creative process, storytelling, and world building. While the entire creative team behind The Margins helped to influence and form the final product, artist Amanda Donahue’s undeniable and unforgettable contributions came later in the process, after much of the foundations had been established by co-writers David Accampo (Lost Angels, DC’s New Talent Showcase 2017) and Paul Montgomery (Wormwood: A Serialized Mystery, Panels.net). In this month’s edition of “Creating Fandoms,” we dive into the inspirations and motivations that moved Accampo and Montgomery, why they chose to examine the creative process, and their emphasis on themes of gatekeeping, isolation, insecurity, and more.
It might be unusual to hear the act of creation described as both a source of positive and negative consequences, but for those familiar with the creative process like Accampo, that duality is always present.
“For me, it all starts with equal parts fear and inspiration of the blank page,” Accampo explains. “The blank page, to a writer or artist, is infinite possibility. But once you start writing and drawing, you’re constantly afraid that you’ve taken the wrong direction, that you don’t have the chops to pull it all together. It’s exhilarating and nerve-wracking all at the same time.”
Self doubt and second guessing one’s choices seems to go hand in hand with creating for Accampo, but he is also quick to point out that working as part of a team helps to battle some of these insecurities.
“Collaboration is a huge theme in this book, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the artistic process. Writing can be EXTREMELY lonely, and having great artistic partners to challenge and/or validate you… somehow that makes it a little easier to launch into that next page.”
When it came to the specific creative inspirations behind The Margins, Montgomery and Accampo tapped into a well of motivation, combining many influences with which they both shared.
“I know my initial vision of the story was inspired by indie comics,” Accampo explains, “Folks like Charles Burns, Adrian Tomine, and Los Bros Hernandez. I wanted to take a very 'slice-of-life' approach to the creative life, but then slowly creep in some Charles Burns-esque surreal horror. Of course, as we developed it further, the world building really led me to think about the films of Hayao Miyazaki and, of course, the pulp trappings of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.”
Montgomery says that, while Accampo hit most of their big influences in his description, “I'll add Junji Ito, whose horror manga informs some of the creepier scenes. He has this deranged sense of humor that courses through his work. A roller coaster is scary enough, but when the guy holding the lever is smiling like that? All bets are off. That's pretty exciting.”
While the direct inspirations and influences for the co-writers are fascinating in their own right, one of the most compelling origin points for The Margins was the examination of that strange feeling when a story begins to tell itself, with a momentum that almost seems from a source outside one's own imagination.
"The initial push," Accampo explains, "was that curious notion of creativity and how there’s a point at which the ideas seem to have grown 'bigger' than us. That feeling that we’re no longer writing the story, but rather the story is coming from somewhere distant — almost like the story needs to be told, and it’s got its hooks in us. This is especially true in collaboration, when you don’t know exactly where you end and your creative partners begin — it makes those fuzzy edges even fuzzier."
For Montgomery, much of the initial seed of The Margins hinged on concepts and themes such as imagination, obsession, and self-doubt, but it wasn't until Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon suggested that the male lead (written as a bi-racial comic creator) be gender-flipped, that things really started to come together.
"That's when the story truly clicked for me," notes Montgomery. "All of these themes we wanted to explore surrounding authorship and gatekeeping are confounding, and all of that has to do with toxic masculinity. If we wanted to confront that at all, we needed to look within and without. So, there was no question. Charley and her significant other would both be women. That didn't change the story. It made the story."
As many comic readers are all too aware, there has been notable push back, or "gatekeeping," against the increasing number of new fans (especially female fans and the creators they support) in the comic book world as comic books and comic book-related content becomes more mainstream. While the reasons for wanting to restrict access to something that is of personal value may be somewhat understandable, the consequences are almost exclusively negative, and this was something the co-writers had to consider when contextualizing this concept within their story according to Accampo:
"We do have a character who sees a dream world as a sanctuary, and he is afraid that outside forces might ruin that safe space. We had to really think about what that meant to us — because we all understand what it’s like to need a refuge from the world. But keeping people out often just isolates us."
Montgomery doesn't mince words when it comes to the presence of gatekeeping in The Margins and why it's there: "Oh, it's fairly overt! Flashing neon. And I think that's important. Gatekeeping is a big, white albatross weighing down so much of fandom. Working in and around comics for the past ten years, I encountered so many horror stories about individual men, communities, even whole companies actively chasing new and longtime readers away from the things they claim to cherish. In case anyone is not cognizant of that, or in denial about it, we give it form here. It's this lingering insecurity and sense of entitlement that simply won't let go."
While the creative team does tackle subjects like gatekeeping and entitlement in a direct and intentional fashion, one thing that attracted Fanbase Press to The Margins as a publisher was Accampo and Montgomery's history of exploring and humanizing flawed characters, as they did in the audio drama, Wormwood. While Accampo may not have sympathy for those who employ gatekeeping tactics, he still has thoughts on where and why these actions take place in fandom.
"I can’t speak for everyone who engages in gatekeeping, but I feel like it’s largely borne out of this fear… that the thing that means so much to you is somehow being 'sullied' by people who don’t love it the same way as you. As if that somehow diminishes your safe space. (It doesn’t.) In the end, as we see in The Margins, art means different things to different people, and there’s no right or wrong way to be a fan.”
Gatekeeping is one of the many negative effects of creation that is represented in The Margins by the character of Simon Kent, a pulp author from the 1930s who, admittedly, stems from the co-writers’ fascination with authors like Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, particularly the problematic flaws (e.g., racism) of Lovecraft, and how that informs readers’ understanding of him today.
Montgomery elaborates on that inspiration, stating, “I thought about Lovecraft quite a lot--more the person than the style--though his weird sensibilities certainly informed the metaphysical horror we flirt with in the book.”
While Lovecraft may have been both talented and prolific, Montgomery and Accampo - given the focus of the story they were telling - didn’t let the man’s accomplishments overshadow his obvious and undeniable flaws.
“He was a lonely, isolated bigot, and I think there was some self-loathing there,” explains Montgomery. “How that informs the character of Kent is not an attempt to redeem or excuse either of them. Personally, I enjoyed imbuing him with the worst traits I've identified in myself and others. Kent and Charley are like an old short story or term paper you find in the attic. Kent is the purple prose that makes me cringe. Charley is the apologetic earnestness.”
As may be expected, Accampo feels that the characters of protagonist Charley and her girlfriend Rita are “a lot closer to home,” with comic book artist Charley consistently attempting to achieve a healthy work/life balance that suits her and her significant other.
“I think Charley has a lot of the anxieties that Paul and I both experience,” says Accampo. “The relationship between Charley and Rita is inspired by my move (with my fiancée) to Portland. And also a woman we met shortly after arriving in Portland who ran a food truck and had moved to the city (as a central geographic compromise) with her partner who she met online. That plot point helped us figure out how Charley and Rita ended up in Portland, where our adventure begins…”
The Margins is currently available for pre-order through the Fanbase Press website (www.fanbasepress.com), and the graphic novel will be released for sale on July 23, 2018. Pre-orders made by June 1, 2018, will receive an exclusive sketch by Amanda Donahue, as well as a digital “Tales from the Margins” companion story by David Accampo and a bookplate signed by the entire creative team.
For more information on The Margins, please visit www.TheMarginsComic.com. The Margins may also be found on Facebook and Twitter (@TheMarginsComic).