“There is an attempt at uniqueness, something provocative, something to ponder!” Ken Reynolds talks Sliced Quarterly volume 2

The first time we encountered Ken Reynolds Sliced Quarterly it was a digital only experimental comic that was looking to push the boundaries of what a comic could be. Two years on, and it has become a fixture of the independent scene and one of the most interesting and eclectic series going. As Ken launches a Kickstarter for the second printed volume of Sliced we talk to him about how the book has changed since that first issue and why the small press scene needs comics like Sliced Quarterly

The second volume of Sliced Quarterly is now on Kickstarter, for those who are new to Sliced Quarterly can you tell us a bit about it, and what is in this collected edition?

Ken Reynolds: Sliced Quarterly is an experimental comic anthology. We invite creators to play with the unique narrative format that is comics. To do this we want to display simple, authentic stories told in extraordinary ways. As the title suggests we publish a digital edition every 3 months, then each year we use crowd funding in an attempt to collect them into a printed trade paperback. Last year we managed to do this for issues #1-4, this year we are collecting #5-8.

All of our past issues are free to read on our website, however each printed collection has at least an additional issue’s worth of material included that is not available on the website.

How has Sliced grown and developed from it’s early days as a one off digital experiment, to this? Did you ever think it would get this far and how has it developed and changed in the time since you launched it?

KR: I always intended for the book to be an ongoing project. The first issue was a bit of a watershed. It proved the concept, and I proved to myself that the idea behind it all could attract content. Since then it’s been a bit of a thrill to discover that I haven’t had to scrabble to fill the pages for each book. By the end of the first year we had established a small pool of contributors, and it was relatively self-sustaining.

There is a small disadvantage with longevity in small press, which seems like an odd thing to say. But I feel as though the longer and more stable the book is the more we blend into the scene. We are ‘taken as read’ to a certain point. Just like mainstream comics, new books and new #1’s will always attract attention. We take this as a challenge, and push things more as we go along to try and always be evolving. The idea is to keep trying, and accepting the occasional failure. But I believe it’s vital that there is a place where certain parts of the creative process of making comics can be explored and shared.

Has Sliced become more experimental as time goes by or has it become more traditional do you think? Do you still continue to ask contributors to push the boundaries?

KR: I think as time has gone on we’ve collectively become more open to trying new things with the publishing format itself. We’ve branched into ‘jam pieces’, special issues and concentrated on developing comics from concept to script all the way through production. As an editor, it’s wonderful to be able to give input from the very start; help shape the work and facilitate the contributors in making the comics the very best they can be.

Ultimately I get to choose certain directions. I will admit to allowing the odd, more mainstream comic into the book now and again. But I use them as doorways into the rest of our content. Anthologies will always be hit and miss for readers, but I try very hard to make sure there is something of merit on each page for everyone. There is an attempt at uniqueness, something provocative, something to ponder. Even if a story didn’t hit you right, maybe an image will stick with you, or a feeling.

Comics as a narrative form are always described as a collaborative medium. I believe that collaboration extends to the reader, they are part of making a comic work. How they process what is put in front of them defines all the work done to the point of each page turn. The beauty is each page and story will mean something different to each reader… But at the end of the book I hope everyone will be able to think about what they have read and feel like they’ve at least seen an element that is new and interesting.

As far as instructing contributors… I haven’t changed the submission page on the site since we began. The brief is always open. This book has always been the home for work artists make out of passion or to see if they could, without thinking about a place that might publish it.

The biggest challenge with any anthology is maintaining quality, so how do you ensure each issue is the best it can be? Do you manage the content quite tightly, or do you cherry pick the best of your submissions?

KR: As I said earlier, we have the luxury of making comics from concept through to production. It’s very easy to keep a quality standard when you have that much editorial input. I’m very lucky that the contributors feel comfortable with our process. As for complete work that is submitted… I accept a very high percentage of it. I sometimes request a few changes… Maybe offer to re-do lettering, or suggest some line edits. I guess I can take a little credit for myself, as I’m a control freak and I get final decision on what goes in.

It’s for the readers to judge if I have maintained the quality over the last two years… I’m not overly concerned with rating the content in terms of ‘quality’ as that’s a subjective term. What I think is great, someone else will dislike. I have a very fixed idea in my head what fits the Sliced remit. I can’t always describe it, but when I read a submission, I know. I edit very much with my feelings. I don’t have a written criteria or set of benchmarks. It’s a reason why I feel so connected to this project, because my sensibilities are tied directly to it. So when you say ‘maintaining quality’ I prefer to aim for the book ‘being Sliced.’

You’ve developed quite a nice little community around Sliced, do you think that has helped it grow and develop? And does that help you maintain quality?

KR: The community aspect of the project is one of the most unexpected and pleasing elements of the whole thing. The nucleus of it all is our little closed contributors group on Facebook. I post there often with updates on submissions, putting calls out to make teams or generally just discussing process and craft. It’s a really nice place to visit online. I’ve always tried to keep the editorial process transparent, as I realise contributing to this book isn’t for everyone.

When we get to the crowd funding portion of the process it’s my time to give back to everyone that has given their time and talent so we have a book to put out. I’m tasked with taking all that goodwill and giving them all back a paper and ink book. Last year we achieved it and it was a humbling experience to finally hold that book in my hand. I’ve always said it’s a book that has no right to exist. We’re a niche book within a niche industry. A group of very talented people along with a lot of generous and interested readers willed that book into being.

I hope we can do it again.

Do you have any goals for future issues? Collaborators you would like to bring in to the fold? Or are you just going to continue doing what you do so well? In other words, what’s the next step in your master plan for Sliced?!

KR: I think we’re going to keep trucking on as we are. I don’t really chase creators to be a part of it. Things have happened quite organically up to now. Some enthusiastic contributors pass us along in a word of mouth fashion and new people appear in that fashion. Just as I get to know more creators on the scene at cons and through other work, and sometimes that will turn into a Sliced conversation.

A lot of what we do does hinge on these Kickstarters. The physical product at the end of the year really defines it as a sustainable product. So I guess it’s a bit like sending up a weather balloon to make check on the forecast… To make sure there’s enough interest.

I have plans, at least, for another 4 digital issues in 2018, and a Vol #3 in 2019. In general I want us to carry on holding up our little corner of the small press scene. Last year, and if we’re successful this year we will have put a lot of talented creators into print for the first time. Having a physical end product goes a long way to encourage people to keep making weird and experimental stuff. Something that should always be encouraged, no matter how successful you judge the result to be.

You can pledge to support Sliced Quarterly volume #2 on Kickstarter here and you can download the first 8 issues of Sliced Quarterly digitally from www.slicedquarterly.co.uk