According to their website, the comic book company A Wave Blue World is, “…an independent publisher of high-quality graphic novels, anthologies, and art books, focusing on socially conscious storytelling and providing a platform for a multitude of creative voices.” But none of their books would seem to present this ideal better than Embodied: An Intersectional Feminist Comics Poetry Anthology (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview with Wendy and Tyler Chin-Tanner, co-publishers of AWBW, and the co-editors of Embodied, they explain how this unique collection came together.
Wendy Chin-Tanner, Tyler Chin-Tanner
Let’s start with the basics: What is Embodied: An Intersectional Feminist Comics Poetry Anthology? The subtitle seems to explain it, but I’d still like to hear it in your words.
Wendy: Embodied showcases new work on the theme of gender, identity, and the body in 23 sequential art stories created by a dazzling array of cis female, trans, and non-binary poets and artists in the first comics poetry anthology of its kind. Ethnically, regionally, and generationally diverse, Embodied is a celebration of the breadth of intersectional feminism.
Tyler: I think what separates Embodied from the art and poetry combinations of the past is that it truly blends comic book storytelling with poetry. These aren’t illustrated poems or vignettes of images matching text. These are sequential stories based off of the poems. They’re not meant to be exact interpretations. We didn’t want to be that prescriptive. But through the medium of sequential storytelling, we’re bringing these poems to life in a new art form.
Who came up with the idea for Embodied, and where did that idea come from?
Wendy: AWBW’s mission has always been socially conscious, and at this moment in our country the rights of people of marginalized genders and identities have been more under threat than they have ever been in my lifetime, even under our new administration. Look at the transphobic legislation that just passed in Arkansas. Look at the resurgence of anti-Black and anti-Asian hate. Look at the continued state-sanctioned terrorism of the police and the continuing refugee crisis. In the past few years, as part of my literary activist work, I have been curating intersectional feminist poetry readings and panel discussions, so editing an anthology with that mission and ethos seemed like a natural next step.
How did you decide what poems or poets would be included in Embodied?
Wendy: From the networks that Tyler and I have built in over a decade in the comics and poetry industries, we assembled the most regionally, generationally, and ethnically diverse array of non-cis male poets and artists we could find, in recognition of the full breadth of intersectional feminism. This includes all our colorists and letterers, too. As a guiding principle, we have emphasized the inclusivity of underrepresented communities and as a result, the majority of our contributors are BIPOC and LGBT+.
Aside from having to fit the theme, were there any other parameters the poems had to fit?
Wendy: We didn’t place any restrictions on style whatsoever. In fact, we wanted as much stylistic diversity in both the poetry and the art as we had in the identities of our contributors. But given the scope of the project, we did opt for poems that had a strong narrative component and could be told as sequential art stories in 8 pages or less. Some of the poems are brand new and others have been recently published in poetry collections or literary journals.
And then how did you decide what illustrators to use, and what poems they’d each illustrate?
Tyler: Some of the artists were people we’ve worked with on previous projects, some were artists we’ve always wanted to work with. We also went on the hunt for new voices we felt matched the needs of this anthology. While styles varied drastically, we knew we wanted artists whose storytelling abilities were strong but who also had an imaginative approach and could come up with their own approach without being told exactly what to draw.
from “Tapestry”: poem by Khaty Xiong, art by Morgan Beem, letters by Cardinal Rae
So, did you give the poets their choice of illustrators?
Tyler: We didn’t involve the poets in the selection of each artist. Part of the appeal of working on this anthology, for both the poets and the artists, is that they’ve never had this experience of working across these two genres. Wendy and I relied on our rather unique combination of experiences in these fields to curate this anthology, and that involved matching the poetry with the art.
Along with co-editing Embodied, you are co-publishers of A Wave Blue World. How was the work on Embodied divided?
Wendy: I was in charge of concept and editorial curation of the poems and poets, and Tyler was in charge of art curation and the nuts and bolts of production organization, as well as the business end stuff like contracts. Embodied is an example of the comics poetry form and is the first anthology of its kind, not only in the fact that our contributors are all non-cis male poets and artists, but in our interpretation of the form itself. Rather than illustrating the poems or simply depicting images drawn from them, we chose to adapt each poem into its own sequential art narrative. In collaboration with the poets and artists to varying degrees, Tyler and I came up with the scripts, oversaw how they were interpreted, and then decided along with the letterers how to lay out the verse so that the poem and its art would amplify each other, making each story greater than the sum of its parts.
So, Wendy, what did Tyler bring to this collection that you did not?
Wendy: Tyler brought his network of artists, colorists, and letters on board, as well as his skills in anthology curation.
And Tyler, same question to you about Wendy?
Tyler: Besides her network of poets, Wendy brought her understanding of poetry and deep love for the craft. Without this, I don’t think we would have had the ability to draw out (pun intended) the necessary framework for a sequential story.
Now Wendy, along with co-editing Embodied, you are also a poet and have a poem in this collection. Some writers who edit anthologies feel they should never include their own work, while others feel they always should. Why did you feel it was okay to include your poem “Birth?”
Wendy: There are some differences between the etiquette and conventions of the poetry world and those of the comics world. In poetry, it’s not “the done thing” to include one’s own work in anthologies, but in comics, it’s quite common. At first, it didn’t even cross my mind to put my own poem in the book, but during one of our AWBW team meetings, several of our staff members — including Hazel Newlevant, whose art appears in Embodied — strongly encouraged me to reconsider.
And who picked “Birth” as the poem of yours to include?
Wendy: I realized that while we had poems about pregnancy and parenthood, we didn’t have any that were about the act of giving birth or about abortion, for that matter, so that was a gap in the gendered experience that needed to be filled. The last line of the poem also happens to be, “my body / turns itself / inside out,” so that seemed like an organic way to cap off a book entitled Embodied.
from “Drown”: poem by Venus Thrash, art by Y Sander, letters by Cardinal Rae
One interesting thing about Embodied is that it not only has the illustrated version of each poem, but it also has the, uh, “regular” version, just text on a plain page. Why did you decide to include both, as opposed to just the illustrated one?
Wendy: Each poem is printed in its original form at the end of each story to showcase the process of transformation it underwent from poem to comics poem. We also have process drawings at the back of the anthology, giving even more insight into how each story was created.
Each piece not only includes who wrote and drew it, but also who did the lettering. Which is common in comic books. What isn’t common, but you do, is that you have bios for everyone, including the letterers. Why was this something you wanted to include?
Tyler: Lettering is absolutely vital in comics. It’s how you read the words within the artwork, which is what makes reading comics such an incredible experience.
Furthermore, for this project, it took a keen understanding of the beats and rhythms of the verse in order to place the text properly. Cardinal Rae and Saida Temofonte deserve their place in this book along with the rest of the contributors.
Embodied also, interestingly, includes a study guide. Why was this important to you?
Wendy: Because many of Embodied‘s poets are also creative writing professors, a study guide seemed like an ideal opportunity for readers to benefit from their teaching methods and insights in order to increase understanding and spark discussion about their work.
So in putting Embodied together, did either of you discover a poet you liked so much that you’ve since gone out and bought one of their books?
Tyler: Wendy already knew all of the poets’ work going into the project, but for me, it was a great opportunity to familiarize myself with the work of some many incredible, contemporary poets. I don’t want to play favorites, but I can point out Venus Thrash as a poet whose work really stood out to me.
And in the same vein, did you discover any artists who you’ve since hired to illustrate other books for A Wave Blue World?
Wendy: I discovered Stelladia, who illustrated “Gender Studies,” and have since decided to work with her again for a Middle Grade project I’m developing that’s due out in 2022.
Now, I am a cisgender, straight, white, middle aged man. What do you think I will get out of reading Embodied? Or maybe that should be, What do you hope I will get out of it?
Wendy: Embodied has something for everyone. Whether you identify with what you’re reading or you’re encountering an experience that’s new to you, the stories in this anthology provide an opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes. We’re hoping to bring contemporary American poetry to comic book readers and comics to poetry readers in a hybrid that showcases the relevance, urgency, and power of both genres. Even if you haven’t read any poetry or comics, Embodied is accessible. And if you’re a feminist of any gender, this book is for you. Poetry isn’t just the dusty, classical poems we all studied in school. It’s sexy, raw, political, edgy, and alive. And comics have always been at the forefront of political discourse, from Superman on. By marrying the unique aspects of poetry with those of sequential art, we hope readers will be inspired, awakened, and ready to read more.
Finally, I like to end my book interviews by asking people to recommend other books to read. So, Wendy, if someone enjoys Embodied, what poetry anthology that someone else edited would you recommend they read next, and Tyler, same question to you, except that instead of a poetry anthology, can you please recommend another graphic novel published by A Wave Blue World.
Wendy: I love the anthology Choice Words: Writers On Abortion, edited by Annie Finch, which offers multiple perspectives on abortion by a variety of incredible women writers working in such genres as poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.
Tyler: If you’re looking for another anthology from A Wave Blue World, I would recommend Maybe Someday: Stories Of Promise, Visions Of Hope, a collection of 27 stories by over 50 creators sharing their visions of a better future. It’s not poetry, but it is very uplifting and meant to inspire the hope that a better world is possible.