To most, Gwan is a Caribbean colloquial expression of goodwill, but to Jerome Walford of Forward Comix, the popular phrase is much more.
The Gwan Anthology is a forthcoming comic anthology set to explore themes of foreign lands, the immigrant experience and cultural fusion through the written stories and illustrations by 30 writers, from 13 countries, spread across 5 continents.
Walford, a longtime proponent of diversity in the comic book industry selected stories and illustrations for the anthology through an open call on his website and has narrowed his choices to writers and illustrators from as far China, Australia, Czech Republic, and Cameroon. Walford’s varied list goes beyond nationalities and reveals a diverse array of story lines and illustrations. Walford promises that the anthology, which will feature the standard science fiction oriented stories as well as slice-of-life storylines, will have something for every reader.
The Jeli talked to Walford about the upcoming anthology, what makes a good comic, and the key to creating more diversity in publishing.
THE JELI: Can you talk a little bit about your background and how you got into comics?
JEROME WALFORD: I read a lot of old comics while growing up in Jamaica. I can remember receiving worn American comics, and reading them, totally immersed in the adventures and worlds I discovered in those old issues. This also inspired me to pursue art at an early age.
THE JELI: I know that you worked in advertising, but before that you worked also worked as an illustrator.
JEROME WALFORD: After graduating college with a BFA, I wanted to find some way to follow a creative career, yet have some stability along the way. It became easier to pitch myself as a really good graphic designer, who happened to be even better at illustration. This allowed me to have a consistent career and to open doors to doing illustrations for top brands, such as Yahoo, Nair, and British Airways.
Being versatile is important in advertising, but left me feeling nostalgic for my long-lost style that reflected a love for comics. After digging up some old comic ideas, I began re-scripting them. It turns out I had a knack for writing too!
THE JELI: Tell me a little bit about the trajectory to Forward Comix and how your experience influences your work, if it does.
JEROME WALFORD: Forward Comix evolved out of a need to publish my own work since opportunities with more established comic publishers were few and far between.
Gladly, Forward Comix has developed into an award-winning small press publisher, producing and publishing two or three major projects each year. Our goal is to focus on delivering select works and doing them well.
THE JELI: How did the idea for the Gwan Anthology come about and why did you think it’s necessary?
JEROME WALFORD: It is based on a word so distinctly Caribbean, yet complex in its meaning, roots, and history. I personally invited a few experienced, indie comic creator friends to ask if they were interested. Despite being very busy, a number of them said yes. Based on having that core, I decided to take a chance to do an open call, inviting anyone to submit stories reflecting on the themes of foreign lands, cultural fusion, and the immigrant experience.
Gwan will include at least 25 entries, provided by an estimated 30 artists/writers, representing 13 countries and five continents. It is my hope that readers of the anthology will be able to embrace the joys and challenges of the immigrant experience and realize just how universal and human this theme can be.
THE JELI: I know you mentioned what kind of stories you’re looking for in the press release, but can you elaborate on what kind of stories you’re looking for in this anthology?
JEROME WALFORD: It’s about balance. We wanted each submission to take a unique approach to their short story. Whether it was based on real experiences, or completely fictional, each story needed to highlight a different aspect of the immigrant experience.
THE JELI: I know you can’t reveal too much, but can you tell readers what they can expect from Gwan?
JEROME WALFORD: There will be lots of variety. Some stories are meant to be poignant commentary while others will be entertaining with only subtle hints towards the theme, still others will be downright hilarious. There will be many perspectives brought together in one book.
THE JELI: What does diversity in publishing look like to you?
JEROME WALFORD: I think there are a number of aspects to diversifying in the industry:
– More representation via leading roles across the spectrum.
– More opportunities for diversity writers and artists to work at mainstream comics and entertainment outlets.
– More commercial success for independent creators developing and publishing their own content.
If we can make progress in all three areas, I think we would achieve a more complete picture of success in bringing about comprehensive diversity to the industry.
THE JELI: What makes a good comic? (visually and editorially)
JEROME WALFORD: Much like assembling the panels on a comic page, a good comic has layers. There is a bit of pushing the social envelope, entertainment, and excellent artistic execution.
THE JELI: How would you like to see the comic industry and publishing in general grow?
JEROME WALFORD: I think in order for the comic industry to grow, it has to attract new readership. That is only possible when as an industry, there comes a switch from the constant reboot of childhood favorites to encouraging new storylines and original content.
THE JELI: How has the comic industry evolved, if it has since you’ve been creating comics?
JEROME WALFORD: Digital publishing has created new avenues for small publishers to reach an audience, and crowd funding has made it possible to make direct sales to our consumers. However, publishing is continuing to evolve at a rapid and unpredictable pace. Thankfully, two things remain constant: tell a really good story, and tell it well. My hope is that we at Forward Comix will keep that at the center no matter what the future holds.
Will you be checking out this comic anthology? Let us know in the comments below!