Creators Annie Stoll and Kevin Jay Stanton Talk 1,001 Knights
1,001 Knights is an anthology project that has been making waves in the comic art community for over a year now. It is the brainchild of artists Annie Stoll and Kevin Jay Stanton, and features more than 250 artists over three volumes. Earlier this week, 1,001 Knights was posted on Kickstarter. Thirty-six hours later, it had already hit its funding goal of $70,000. (I covered this story for Graphic Policy here.) I had the opportunity to chat with Kevin and Annie on Friday evening about their passion project, and talked about everything from how the anthology grew into a massive undertaking to what they’re most excited for readers to see.
Graphic Policy: First of all, thanks for taking the time to talk to me! I actually just learned about your project last night and I was amazed at how popular your project got on Kickstarter so quickly, so congratulations!
Annie Stoll: We’re a little overwhelmed!
GP: Understandably so! But congratulations on raising your goal so quickly.
Kevin Jay Stanton: Thank you.
AS: We honestly didn’t think it would go that fast. I mean, we were confident about it, and we were like, “we need to reach 30% of our goal this week,” but we didn’t expect to reach that in a few hours. It’s ridiculous.
GP: As I was writing my article I kept watching it jump higher and higher, and by the time I finished I already had to go back and make an edit saying it reached its goal.
AS: We had that issue too, where we were trying to make updates to say, “hey guys, we’re at 90 percent….no, 92 percent.”
GP: So I guess that answers my first question, which was, did you guys expect the wide response you got from the Kickstarter? But this project has been a year in the making, as you’ve said. How did you come up with the idea and what pushed you into making it a reality?
AS: I’ll recount it.
KJS: You recount it, because all I remember is babbling about lady knights on Twitter.
AS: How it really started is, Kevin actually followed me on Twitter and was someone I’d talk to as part of the indie comics crowd…and he was talking to me one day about, he said, “It would be really cool if we collaborated on a project.” Kevin had just done Fezzine and I had kind of come off of doing Hana Doki Kira with my Year 85 crew. And we both really like lady knights, it was kind of talking about our different interests, and were like, “Oh man, we should do a cool zine, maybe like a woman warrior or Game of Thrones.” We both really like Arya and Brienne, and we were like, “We should do an Arya/Brienne zine with the lady knights of Game of Thrones.” So we got a rough idea together and put a Twitter call out, basically saying, “Hey, you know, anyone who’s interested in doing a lady knight zine, specifically Arya and Brienne, you know, hit us up.”
KJS: It was so casual, too.
AS: It was super casual, it was just like…we figured we’ll get four or five people, and we’ll ask another two, and we’ll have our zine. But in the course of a day, we got a hundred people saying in various degrees, “We want to be in the project.” And a lot of people were like, “We really like Arya and Brienne, but we like lady knights even more.” This concept was totally beyond liking two Game of Thrones characters. It was really speaking to this need for diverse and cool and kickass women warriors. The other thing I want to say is, everyone who asked to be in it is like, an amazing artist. A lot of people…we were floored. We were like, “You want to be in this?”
It was something bigger than just a little zine. We kind of brainstormed and let everyone in on what we were coming up with. So instead of doing a zine, we were like, let’s do one giant tome that would be super cool, like one of those ancient books that’s leatherbound and maybe we’ll add a couple more people in. So between that and us starting to put it together, even more people got involved. Then we decided to ask some of the people we really wanted to ask and it got even further out of hand, to the point where we were like, this is too big for one book!
KJS: Well, we also joked, when we were coming up with names for it…we were jokingly like, “Oh, ha ha, it could be a thousand and one knights, but how would that work if we weren’t featuring a thousand and one artists or a thousand and one artists?” And then we were both like…maybe we should do that.
AS: It was one of those things where we were like, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this right. We’re gonna make this happen. So we divided this book into three, so it wouldn’t be this massive thing that you’d never be able to pick up. It’s three books, three volumes, and then each volume has a sort of house with a different theme—it’s a good way to support the artists, because there’s so much art that you need something to unify it.
Every single person that we asked, none of them were negative…even the people who weren’t able to were like, “Sorry, I’m really busy with work right now, but good luck,” and a lot of people have been retweeting and backing the project. It has really been an organic process, and to us, it was very important that we took the time it needed to happen. It was a massive project, and we can’t throw it together on the fly. Basically, taking our time, doing this right, and listening to our artists has really paid off. It’s a testament to the need for better, diverse characters and for giving artists a platform they can use to express themselves. Sorry, babbling! We’re really passionate!
GP: No, that’s great! That’s what you want to hear from creators! Especially with your dedication to doing everything right in the process and creating diverse characters. So many people I talk to are like, “This is great, but it would be better with more female characters,” et cetera, and it sounds like you guys are doing that.
AS: We will say that it’s not 100 percent binary female characters in the anthology. It’s people-positive. Everyone is welcome regardless of gender, race, et cetera, et cetera, which is really important. We realized it was really important to let people express themselves, and allow the knights themselves to be as diverse as the artists. I think doing that has fostered a really positive environment that is very creative.
It kind of goes back to this thing that Kevin and I talk about, where there’s a lot of negativity in the world, and you can shout at someone as much as you want, but it’s not going to change anything. When you put a gorgeous book down in front of them and say, “read this,” and they get inspired by beautiful images and stories—that plants a seed in their mind. It can uplift someone and inspire someone and change their mind.
It’s just really important to us to allow these artists to be heard, and we wanted to make this book as gorgeous and beautiful as possible. We were like, let’s dream as big as we can, let’s make it hardcover, let’s make it clothbound. Let’s make this the coolest thing we possibly can and allow this to benefit the artists. Basically, we cover the cost of making the book and everything else goes to the artists.
KJS: It’s great because we got the opportunity to create our ideal scenario. It’s feminist and people-positive and then, on top of that, we get to involve our friends, and new friends, and all these incredible people who wanted to be on board, and hopefully create a platform where they can be accepting themselves but also getting their work out there to people who might not see it, necessarily. We’ve been talking about where we’re giving voices to people who might normally be spoken over.
AS: I think it’s important too, to expose your viewers to all different kinds of art, because there’s not one way to draw, and there shouldn’t be one way to draw “what is a knight.” It’s really interesting because we gave the artists a work-off, which is, “What does it mean to have strength?” and we told them about our message of people positivity, and we didn’t tell anyone, “You have to draw a lady knight, you have to draw armor.” We left it open-ended. The art that we got back was absolutely incredible, like we have some really cool knights in armor, but we also have little kids playing pretend. Someone even drew a water knight, which is a bug.
GP: So you have a diversity of characters, but artists, as well.
AS: And we talk about unexpected art…we can tell you we have an artist who is a puppeteer, who is making a fully decked out lady knight puppet. So that’s really cool, and when he saw all the artists working on their works in progress, he contacted us and was like, “I really love the idea of your project, would it be okay if I made a puppet?” And we were like, “Please be in our book.”
GP: One of my questions was just, how did you amass such a huge lineup of artists, but it sounds like it was partly through a Twitter call, but also through word of mouth and general interest?
AS: At the very beginning, it was very grassroots, and then once we had that momentum, when we already had a hundred people on board and we were like, let’s just fill the extra space we have and ask our dream people. The worst thing they could say to you is “no.” I think the best example is, I’ve been a fan of Loish since I was in high school, and actually, me and Kevin both sent her an email. She wrote back and said, “I’ve been wanting to try a new style so yeah, I’ll give you an illustration.” It was just being honest and saying to people, “this is something we’re trying to do and we think you can help us out.
GP: So what has been the best part of this project for you?
KJS: Oh, boy. We’ve been doing this now since…May of 2014?
AS: We didn’t get super serious until the fall, but yeah.
KJS: That’s a hard question to answer, because there’s been lots of really cool like, waves of stuff happening, like the Kickstarter launching was one of those moments. Making the goal in thirty-six hours was crazy. But then, a lot of it has been little things, like contacting Loish and having her say, “You know, I never get invited to these things and I’d love to contribute something.” It’s been peppered by little successes and happinesses in bringing this project to fruition.
AS: I will say, there are a few moments that come to mind. The people at SPX were really nice and let us have a meetup—they got people at the convention to sign up for it, and it was this first sort of communal coming together of the artists. From that, there are people who have become friends…
KJS: They’ve launched webcomics…
AS: Yeah, and people have gotten work from their works in progress. It’s really cool to see all the artists have these moments. There was another time when we wanted to film the video, and we asked anyone in the area if they wanted to come to the Cloisters and film with us. It was great to have people come to these Medieval Cloisters and just sit and sketch with us.
I think the ultimate best part is really seeing the reactions–not just the artists and the backers, but seeing how many people are touched by the message of what we’re trying to do which is, you know, create a book that’s positive, that uplifts other art and is really, really fun and meaningful and just to see how many people are like-minded and embrace that has just blown us away and is the most meaningful to us. Or, well, to me.
KJS: Recently, we’ve heard a couple things since we launched the Kickstarter from parents who had said, “Oh, I can’t wait to show my daughter this.” We’ve been talking about, if we have a couple extra books, donating them to libraries. The idea now that the project is actually funded and that this is happening, the idea that someone having that physical book, that they could see someone who looks like them potentially…that’s the newest highlight for me.
AS: If we can create a project that has this multitude of cool characters, different kinds of people…that’s inspiring. You can show that to someone and they can feel inspired by it.
GP: Once you realized that it kind of surpassed the boundaries of a zine-type project, did you decide to go all out for the hardback book?
KJS: Annie and I are the same kind of crazy, workaholic dreamers. Which we didn’t realize when we first started talking. As we got to know each other better, we were like…oh boy. We’re both actually crazy. Probably with a normal person, at some point in this process, we would have been like, “that’s a little too much” and instead, Annie and I have been, the whole time, just like, “You know what? I think it’s going to be three volumes now, and it’s going to be hardback, and it’s going to be clothbound.”
AS: It takes all that kind of stuff where it’s finding people who can help strengthen you and help this the project happen.
KJS: Yeah, we never hit a point, really, where—besides the people who have helped us with the video and the music and the PR—with the books themselves, that kind of freed us up to never really get to the point where we were like, “Ooh, I don’t think we can do that.” Annie and I have never gotten to that point because we’re really supportive and we work really well together. All of our working together has been like, “How do we make this happen?” as opposed to “Let’s scale it back a little.”
GP: Based on the Kickstarter, it looks like all this hard work and perseverance has paid off, because it looks like [the anthology] is going to be beautiful.
AS: Thank you!
KJS: Annie is an awesome art director.
AS: Kevin is a kickass illustrator and collaborator, so it’s an easy job to have.
GP: As far as readers go, what are you most excited for readers to see when this project comes out?
KJS: Oh, gosh.
AS: I think one of the most exciting things is…this is kind of an exclusive scoop to you, but instead of doing a biography of each artist, we asked every artist to make a quote, and we asked them to define what it means to have strength. So across the book, there will be 250 quotes about what it means to have strength, what it means to be a knight, along with an avatar that serves as a representation of them—their knight, as it were.
KJS: All of our artists count toward our thousand and one knights.
AS: Asking them to speak about their work, to speak about what strength is, you actually get to peek into what their philosophy is. And I think that’s great if you’re trying to discover new artists to follow, because you see the quote in the back and say, “Who drew this?” and then flip to the page and see, “Oh, she drew this.”
KJS: I think what I’m most looking forward to is…a lot of the comics in particular are about younger characters finding their own strength. A lot of them are really about finding yourself and finding out how important that is.
AS: A lot of why we as a society love the idea of knights is kind of like…if I had the strength I could do this, but a lot of these stories are like, “You really can do this.” And that’s a great message to send to people.
GP: The book is only going to be available through Kickstarter, right?
AS: Correct. If you want to get the books, you have to back the Kickstarter. Part of what we are Kickstarting for is to create a special edition just for the artists, so the only way to possibly get a book after the Kickstarter is to get a book directly from an artist. We’ll make sure after everything is settled that we give links to sellers or artists.
KJS: And they’re gonna have special covers. A big part of what we talked about is it’s not just about making the books but the carry through. We want to do our best to drive people to artists.
AS: Part of this was, “How can we make this better for our artists?” This whole effort has been very grassroots. We haven’t gone to media outlets. It’s been word-of-mouth, artists going to their networks and stuff.
KJS: We hoped we’d kind of get approached to talk about the project. Annie and I talk about the project to each other all the time. The fact that we made the goal so quickly, but also that we have such an energized group of people that want to talk about it, and that are proud to talk about and promote the project is just infectious. To see that work on the level of promoting the Kickstarter that then got funded so quickly has been crazy.
1,001 Knights will be available on Kickstarter until February 26. For a full list of artists, visit the anthology’s website here.