'We Belong' Demands Your Attention And You Better Give It
Updated: Sep 1
We chat with creator William O. Tyler about not waiting on anyone and carving a space in the comics market.
Welcome to our Creator Corner, our new reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the comics industry. In this entry, we're conversing with William O. Tyler about We Belong. Listen to the unedited audio HERE.
A long time ago, when I was struggling to figure out how movies were made, especially by my fellow weirdos not associated with Hollywood, I devoured Lloyd Kaufman's Make Your Own Damn Movie. I remember loving the book, but I don't really recall any specific advice. Mostly, I remember the title and the attitude that comes with it. If you want in on any business, you gotta do it your damn self. No one will invite you.
William O. Tyler and his co-editor Viktor Kerney are science fiction maniacs, but they didn't see themselves amongst the genre landscape. Where were their Black Queer sci-fi stories? They got fed up with waiting for the industry to include them, so they went out and gathered their favorite authors and several newcomers and created the anthology they were so desperate to read.
We Belong is an all-Black, all-Queer sci-fi and fantasy comics anthology. It's seeking funding through Zoop (you have fourteen days to jump on board) and promises to deliver narratives and characters that you can't find elsewhere in comics. Not yet. Tyler and Kerney know We Belong fills a need, and they're excited for that desire to grow as a result. We're already primed for We Belong II and We Belong III.
Via Zoom, I spoke with Tyler about We Belong and what separates this project from the previous ones he's shepherded. We delve into the current cultural climate, where book banning seems as popular as it ever was, and how he hopes this anthology will serve as a rallying cry for the like-minded.
William O. Tyler on We Belong and Making Your Own Damn Comics.
Brad: I'm curious as to how We Belong came into being. I imagine that you were looking out there at the market, at the landscape of science fiction comics and stories, and you didn't see the things that you wanted to read, or you didn't see the Black Queer perspective represented properly, and you were like, "Well, we just got to do this ourselves."
William O. Tyler: Yeah, that's exactly what it was. Seeing the genre of science fiction and fantasy, and not quite seeing ourselves, or when we would see ourselves, especially more so in movies, if we have a Black mermaid or some Black characters pop up in Lord of the Rings, there's always this backlash - "Why are these people included? Why are these people here?" And so it was a very specific want for us to have a book where we felt like we belonged.
And in addition to the genre, looking at the landscape of comic creators, we would see a lot of Queer comic anthologies that didn't have a lot of blackness in it, or we would see a lot of Black comic anthologies that didn't have a lot of queerness in it. So we're stuck in the middle there. So we wanted to have something where we actually felt fully represented and just not partially represented as well.
Brad: And you're doing it yourselves. I mean, it's up on Zoop right now. You could have tried to find somebody else to back this, but you went with Zoop, with crowdfunding, because you knew there was a demand out there, but that comes with its own stresses as well.
William O. Tyler: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I've been making independent comics since 2004, so I understand the stresses, but it's a lot of work and crowdfunding especially is very stressful. It's very anxiety written - hoping that you make it. But we do have a really strong community of people, a really strong list of creators involved with this book that I think push it and give it that edge that will help us get the crowdfunding.
Brad: And it seems like it's also a pretty eclectic collection of creators and types of stories. I mean, yes, fantasy science fiction, but fantasy science fiction is pretty darn broad.
William O. Tyler: Yeah, we wanted to make sure that this was a diverse book, even though we are specifically Queer and Black focused. Even within that, there are so many different perspectives. And like you said, science fiction and fantasy can be pretty broad too. You can do so many things within that. So we have a lot of different types of stories.
One of the most rewarding things working on this book for me has been reaching out to Rupert Kinnard, who is a historic figure in comics. He is the creator of the first comic strip to be syndicated, that had a Queer Black lead. So I wanted to make sure he was a part of this somehow. I curated with him to make sure we could get some of his old strips reprinted into this book. We have that kind of historic, iconic stuff, but then we also have very fresh takes. Some of our creators are being published for the first time in this book.
And then we have mermaid stories, we have witches, we have outer space battles, intergalactic adventures. We have some more philosophical stories. What are the puzzle pieces of me, and what does that mean? So there's a lot going on in this book.
Brad: Rupert Kinnard was actually the name that popped out at me first when I saw the press release. I've never read any of his comics, and he's a relatively new discovery for me, even though he's been around for a while. I think I first encountered him through the documentary, No Straight Lines, and I was just blown away by the types of stories that he was telling, and I totally get why we've got to get these stories back into print. Was that a hard reach? How do you make that happen?
William O. Tyler: Well, thankfully, I had the right connection. This is the third book that I've worked on as an editor. The first anthology that I edited, I co-edited with Justin Hall, who is the creator of No Straight Lines, the comic that the documentary is based on. So when I knew I wanted to reach Rupert, I was like, "Hey, Justin, help me reach Rupert." And he gave me his email. I reached out, and Rupert was ecstatic to hear from me. I was so happy. I was nervous to email him because of his notoriety, but he was so happy to talk to me, and we had a couple of phone conversations and really connected, and he's happy to be a part of this, which has me on cloud nine.
Brad: Yeah, as it should. As it should. So what is the process of determining the types of stories, though, that you want in here? When you and Victor are getting together and going like, "Okay, we're going to assemble this anthology".
William O. Tyler: Well, the first step was when we started putting this anthology together. We knew that there were creators like Rupert and some other creators that we wanted to reach out to because they not only fit the demographic, but are just great creators. We knew we would get something interesting from them. So we reached out to a lot of them to see what the consensus was. A couple of people ended up in the book. A couple of people are just too big and have scheduling conflicts. They wanted to be in the book, but just not good timing. So possibly in the next one, if we get to do a next one. I also checked the Cartoonists of Color Database. I don't know if you know of that database.
Brad: I do not.
William O. Tyler: Yeah, there's a Cartoonist of Color Database that cartoonists can have a profile and people can contact them through that. There's also a Queer Cartoonists Database, and these two databases are actually connected. They were created by the same person, MariNaomi. So I just went through that and found some people that I thought were interesting that I hadn't heard of before.
So I was like, "Yeah, let's get some fresh stuff in there." And then after that, we also just wanted to make sure we weren't overlooking anything. We had an open call, so that anyone Queer and Black who wanted to create a story could pitch us a story and see where it went from there. We wanted to make sure that everyone had the chance to be in this. And at the same time, we were picking stories that were diverse. We didn't want to have two stories that felt too similar. So as we started to get stories, we would see, "Oh, this person's perspective is coming from that angle. This person's is coming from that angle, and they're very different." So it's a good match.
Brad: We are at a time right now where sections of American society are so scared of a different perspectives. Censorship and book banning seems to be rejuvenated, and it's horrifying and so scary for me.
William O. Tyler: Oh yeah, for me too, if you think you're scared. I mean, especially as far as being a creator and trying to get my work out there. That's exactly it. I feel like it's very risky to be in the industry and be marginalized at this point because I may not be making any money off of it, unfortunately. Hopefully this crowdfunding goes through and that isn't a hurdle that we have to figure out. So far, so good. But yeah, that anxiety actually, it sits in my head every day.
Brad: You brought up earlier when Lord of the Rings has people of color, suddenly the internet's a blaze and all these hateful voices come out of the woodwork to spit their venom at that project, and that was one of the inspirations for putting this project together. But in putting this project together and putting it out in the world, it could encounter some of those venomous voices.
William O. Tyler: It could. I mean, if it were to happen, I wouldn't be surprised. It has not happened yet. I think so far we're still in our community, so everyone has been very supportive of it. But I would not be surprised if I woke up tomorrow and there was some sort of campaign against us. I mean, I hope that it would bring in media and get attention or our Zoop and get people to be like, "No, we want to support these people." So there's a positive way to spin it, for sure.
Brad: And I think just the very act of creation and creating and rallying like-minded voices around your project, that is the defense.
William O. Tyler: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. That's kind of why I've remained, I mean, there are multiple reasons, but this is one reason why I've kind of remained an independent artist as opposed to trying to break into the mainstream, is just because that community feels a lot stronger and a lot more supportive of your work. No matter how out there your work might be, there are still people who want to read it and want to hear that experience and want to support it.