We are so happy to be joined by Josh O’Neill today. Josh is publisher and co-founder of Beehive Books. As Beehive Books have launched a Kickstarter this week for the GratNin graphic novel by Ronald Wimberly, we got a chance to sit down and chat with the editor of the graphic novel.
Hi Josh, it’s a pleasure to have you here with us.
Could you please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us about Beehive Books? Hello! I’m the publisher and co-founder of Beehive, a small-press graphic arts outfit based out of Philadelphia. We sometimes describe our project as an exercise in the possible — we want to test the boundaries of what a book can be, and what kind of creative work we can produce. With inventive formats, visionary art and writing, and an utterly obsessive approach to design, we aim to build paper worlds. We have titles from Brecht Evens, Mike Mignola, Yuko Shimizu, Jim Woodring, Paul Pope, Bill Sienkiewicz, Ronald Wimberly, Rebekka Dunlap, Kent Williams and more. GratNin is our fourth project with Ronald.
How did this collaboration between Ronald Wimberly and Beehive Books come about?
I’ve worked with Ron several times as a contributor to books for my previous publishing venture, Locust Moon Press. So when Maëlle Doliveux and I launched Beehive in 2016, I knew Ron personally, and admired his work to no end. When Maëlle and I began approaching authors, our basic pitch was: what’s a project that you think no publisher would take on? Ron, who for my money is one of the true visionary working artists of the 21st century, was literally the first person we approached. The answer then was LAAB Magazine, an experimental broadsheet art newspaper powered by the radical imagination — we’ve since released three annual issues of LAAB. Now it’s GratNin, this crazy accordion-folded story scroll, the next step of our ongoing work together (and part of the sort of nascent LAAB imprint). Ron has become more than an author, to us — he’s a friend and a partner, and his work is part of the DNA of Beehive.
When and how did you discover GratNin?
I just read it as a passionate follower of Ron’s work. I’ll read anything and everything he puts out. When I finally sat down to read the whole thing through several years ago, I just fell in — it’s full of such humor, excitement, suspense, humanity, love for its source material, love for its characters. And it has this wonderful feeling of being a huge world to roam around in. We follow the characters we follow, but there’s this feeling that more intrigue is down every alleyway. It’s just an outstanding comic and we’re so excited to be publishing it.
Can you tell us about the Kickstarter for the GratNin graphic novel?
GratNin presented an exciting and singular problem — how to present this pageless digital comic in a print format. As per our usual ideological commitments in Beehive, we came up with the least practical, most exciting solution — to present these remarkable stories on a series of unbroken accordion-folded scrolls, turning the downward-swiping digital read into a thrillingly physical experience. You track down four hundred feet of narrow page-space, in a format that brings to mind skyscrapers, alleyways, subway tunnels — all the long verticals iconically representing this fantastical vision of New York. And we filled the box with ephemera from this alternate reality — metrocards and maps and furoshikis and trading cards, making up a whole enveloping experience, skulking around New York with then Namba clan.
What have been some of the hurdles that you have had to overcome to get the project up to this point?
The biggest one was just figuring out how to present this story in a readable way. It’s this pageless comic that goes down and down and down. How do you do it in print? That was the problem that we faced. It’s the kind of problem that our team, and especially LAAB and GratNin designer Chloe Scheffe, find most delicious. I think it’s been solved beautifully here.
We understand that the graphic novel will be an accordion style with folded pages; was this feature something that you wanted to do right from the beginning?
No — we started with the problem. We didn’t know the best solution. We thought about doing it as a scroll, as a giant folding map, as a long vertical book with a spine at the top. The accordion seemed the most elegant solution, especially for something so long — we’re talking about 600 pages, printed on three pieces of paper. It’s the best at replicating and reinventing that feeling of falling down into this crazy thrilling world that you get from reading GratNin digitally.
Beehive Books is releasing the GratNin graphic novel as a box set; can you tell us about the box set?
We took the next step, when designing GratNin as a fully formed reading experience — we created a little miniature space to explore. We filled the box with ephemera from this alternate reality — metrocards and maps and furoshikis and trading cards, making up a whole enveloping experience. A world for you to crawl into a skulk around. We didn’t want to just present a print version of Ron’s wonderful web comic – we wanted to work with him to reinvent it, and to build out his world.
As you are crowdfunding the graphic novel and dealing directly with consumers, does that make the project more special for you?
Well, we crowdfund most of our projects, so it’s not any different from what we usually do. But yes — crowdfunding does mean a much deeper-than-average engagement with your audience, and we conceive of Beehive as something other than a producer of goods with a base of customers. We see our readership as a vital community, the backbone of this whole operation. They’re keeping the garden cared for and the soil tilled, so we can grow the things we grow. Our practice of building books out of an engaged community of readers makes all of our projects feel a bit more special to me.
Do you have a favourite Kickstarter reward?
Beyond the comic itself, I really love the printed cotton-cloth furoshiki wrap! I know I’ll get a lot of use out of that… just a beautiful and useful object, which is all we ever really aim to make.
Any message for the ComicBuzz readers?
Be kind to yourself. And buy GratNin! (These two go together quite nicely.)
We would like to say thank you to Josh for chatting to us about GratNin. We would like to wish the whole team of GratNin the best of luck.