The Autonomous Creative with Josh O'Neill

Publishing the almost-impossible (and rethinking creative business) with Josh O’Neill of Beehive Books

with your host Jessica Abel

Subscribe to listen on the go!

Listen to the episode:

Josh O’Neill is a comics writer and editor, and co-owner of the Philadelphia-based publishing company, Beehive Books.

Using Kickstarter, Josh and his business partner Maëlle Doliveux, publish books and literary objects too risky for traditional publishers. Josh shares what inspired him to pursue publishing, and how crowdfunding allows Beehive to create art that’s for and by their community.

Selected works published by Beehive Books

More from the episode

  • Josh explains how he went from working in a local video store to running a publishing company.
  • The pros and cons of crowdfunding, and why traditional publishers are risk-averse.
  • How a community of local artists inspires and sustains Beehive.
  • Josh talks about starting over after shutting down his first business, Locust Moon Comics.
  • The importance of creating a healthy work environment and being a good boss to yourself.
  • Why the world needs business owners with the same “wide-eyed creativity” as traditional artists.

About Beehive Books

Beehive Books is a small press imprint founded by artist and designer Maëlle Doliveux and writer and editor Josh O’Neill, formerly of Locust Moon Press. They are a boutique company committed to producing book art editions of distinctive literary and pictorial works with singular design sensibilities, the highest production values, and a special emphasis on comics and graphic art.

Additional links:

Beehive Books

Challenging the dominant culture: intent vs. interpretation with Ronald Wimberly

Our interview with Ronald Wimberly

Transcript

Click here to read the transcript

Publishing the almost-impossible (and rethinking creative business) with Josh O’Neill of Beehive Books

Josh O’Neill: It turns out most things you can pretty much renegotiate. There’s only a few that are real disasters and so save up the panic for the real disasters, cuz you’re gonna need that panic at some point.

Jessica Abel: What does it really take to become successful as a writer or artist?

There are a lot of destructive myths out there about what a creative career is supposed to look like. We’re told we shouldn’t care about worldly success or money. We’re told that if we’re good enough, everything would magically fall into place. That’s a lie and it keeps us struggling, baffled, and hungry for any shred of information that might shed light on how to keep making the work we love. That’s why I get any two artists or writers or any creatives really together in a room. And it’s a foregone conclusion that the conversation will turn to money and the nitty gritty reality of being a professional, creative.

I’m cartoonist and creative business coach, Jessica Abel.

In my own life. The studio visit back channel conversations with other artists where we share our insights and hacks anxieties and red flags have been critical to any success I’ve achieved.

And now. I’m bringing that conversation to you. This is The Autonomous Creative.

intro

Jessica Abel: My guest today is Josh O’Neill. Josh is a comics writer and editor who runs the Philadelphia based publishing company, Beehive Books, along with his business partner, Maëlle Doliveux.

Beehive rocks the Kickstarter model on a regular basis and uses Kickstarter’s ability to connect with super fans to publish utterly improbable literary objects, like an edition of Dracula, which is an epistolary novel, interpreted literally as a suitcase full of documents.

Beehive has also collaborated with a star-studded roster of artists, including Ronald Wimberly, who you might remember from a previous episode of the Autonomous Creative. They work with Ronald to publish the award-winning LAAB magazine.

Josh is a fellow Philadelphian, and it’s been amazing to get to know him in person and get to know his story. I can’t wait to share with you how he went from aspiring comic writer, working in a video library store to co-founder of a successful niche publishing company.

We’ll get all the answers right after this.


This episode of the Autonomous creative is brought To you by the Creative Engine. I talk to working creative people all the time, both on the show and in our membership, the Autonomous Creative Collective, and one of the biggest challenges they struggle with is procrastination.

To most people, it feels like it’s just a permanent character flaw. Like they were born that way and doomed to suffer, but that’s just absolutely untrue.

Art is hard. Yes. And we will all feel resistance to using that much cognitive energy on anything, but procrastination typically stems from specific root causes that are totally fixable.

If your creative work is essential to you and who you are and your life yet, you still struggle with procrastination. And it just feels like this is crazy.

I want to invite you to check out the free creative engine masterclass. This class will help you overcome your resistance and put your priorities first before you’re derailed by everything else.

The creative engine is a complete, simple, straightforward, and powerful framework that will help you pinpoint where your creative process breaks down and highlight exactly how to fix it.

In it, you’ll master the four essential phases of the creative process you need to produce awesome work reliably. And you’re probably skipping at least one. Possibly two.

You’ll learn how to predict and avoid the pitfalls that derail you time and time again.

And you’ll overcome self-sabotage take back control and keep moving even when things get really challenging.

This class is totally free and you will get immediate, deep clarity into what makes your creative life tick.

So stop procrastinating and start finishing your most important creative projects by harnessing the power of your own creative engine@jessicaabel.com slash engine. That’s J E S S I C a a B E l.com/engine.

Now let’s start the show.

start interview

Jessica Abel: Josh. Welcome.

Josh O’Neill: Thanks Jess. Good to see you.

Jessica Abel: Yeah, you too. Um, so I’m gonna start off with questions about what your life is like now and you know what you’re doing, and then we’ll get into this sort of history piece of this and how you got here after a bit. So I just wanted to start off with a question of how, how do you make a living right now and, and assuming you consider Beehive your creative work, how does your creative work fit into that?

How do you make a living?

Josh O’Neill: Well, I mean, I make most of my living through Beehive at this point. It’s been a sort of gradual transition from, I mean, for the past five years I’ve been living mostly off of Beehive and then also freelance editorial work and some freelance writing and stuff like that.

And we’ve sort of scaled up gradually. We started in 2016 and we’re almost to the point where, I mean, Beehive is definitely my main source of income at this point. And as it’s grown, especially over the last year and a half, it started to take up so much time that I just don’t have time to do any real freelance stuff on the side. So yeah, my, my day to day is just trying to keep all of these, uh, wheels turning and keep this company afloat and keep pushing these projects forward.

What do your days look like?

Jessica Abel: Well, that brings me to, what does that look like? I mean, what do you do in a given? I’m not gonna say day, cause I’m sure it changes day to day, but like in a given short period of time, what does it look like to run a publisher like this?

Josh O’Neill: Well, I mean, it’s an incredibly chaotic process in a lot of ways, because for most- we’re sort of going through a transitional process right now. Because for most of the time we’ve been around Beehive has been me and Maëlle and this incredible cast of authors and artists and freelance designers, um, and other contractors we work with.

But on the company side, it’s really just been me and Maëlle for most of this time. Now we’re bringing some more people on board. We, we have an assistant who’s been working with us for almost a year now, Violet, and she is fantastic. And we’ve hired three or four more people just over the past month. So we’re trying to sort of scale up to the point where we have, uh, some help, because as we’ve done more and more projects, the like logistics of doing stuff has just started to devour so much of our time. Um, and so that’s been one of the big challenges of Beehive.

So in any given day, you know, I might be, you know, in a meeting with an artist, giving them feedback on a draft of their book. I might be filling out shipping spreadsheets, answering customer service emails, on the phone with our distributor, with our, uh, fulfillment company, uh, with our shipping company trying to figure out various logistics of- I mean, about half of my life at this point is just, how do you get boxes from point A to point B in a way that they arrive in a timely and affordable fashion?

But then there’s a lot of creative work too. I mean, uh, just earlier today I was working on, uh, I was literally taking the text of Dracula and working backwards from the ship’s log to create a map of where, Dracula goes from Romania to Whitby in England. Um, and they’re, they mention a lot of different landmarks on the ship.

So I was drawing a little course that the ship take. And in the midst of doing that, I was like, wow, I’m still working on shipping logistics, but this is kind of more fun.

But it’s, I mean, I, you know, both Maëlle and I wear a lot of, of different hats because there’s just so many things that have to get done within even, even such a small publishing company.

We’re very small. We publish maybe five books a year. Uh, we have ambitions to get bigger. We’re hoping in a couple years to be doing 10 or 15 books. But there’s not really a predictable flow of what any day looks like. Uh, a lot of it is just waking up in the morning and dealing with whatever crisis happened.

This morning I woke up, you know, we have our illuminated editions line and we have our illustrators signed book plates for our signed a numbered editions. And we just shipped book plates to our, uh, illustrators in Italy. The Balbusso twins. And they went to sign them and it turns out the ink coverage, they’re almost completely printed green with like knocked out white art. And the ink coverage is so strong and the ink is too glossy, so they can’t sign the book plates. So that, you know, you wake up in the morning and you’re like, all right, I had other stuff I have to do, but now I have to figure out this.

So that’s what a lot of it looks like, but I also just get to work with these like absolutely brilliant genius people who are also lovely human beings. Uh, and I get to collaborate with them and talk about their projects and try to figure out how to bring sort of their creative visions, uh, to life, which is the greatest privilege I, I, I’ve ever had.

And it’s sort of what Beehive has always been about. And I feel very lucky that I get to, I get to spend my days working on this stuff.

Jessica Abel: Yeah. And I think that the, what you’re describing about sort of focusing on shipping logistics is this, I mean, it, it’s a, I was looking back to the beginning of your publishing history, which is when you put out, when you’re still the owner of Locust Moon and you put out some anthologies, right? And then you’ve got, essentially your main focus is on dealing with artists and still a ton of logistics, I mean, I’m sure it’s herding cats, but you have one book. It isn’t published yet. You’re not trying to ship it. You’re not, you know what I mean? You’re not doing anything yet. So it must be really, I’m just thinking like over time with the accumulation of backlist and different customers and, you know, Kickstarters in the past that you’re fulfilling and new ones, you’re setting up that the balance of your work is probably shifted quite a bit.

Trying to improve BOH processes

Josh O’Neill: Well, yeah, it’s shifted gradually more and more towards the logistics and business side, um, which I’m trying to do something about because it’s been a problem. Like we, we haven’t been able to get as many projects going as we normally do because we have this backlog of Kickstarters we’ve been trying to finish and we’re releasing them all in the book trade.

And so, I mean, from a financial standpoint and a sales standpoint the horrible last year and a half has been pretty kind to our company. I think people were just stuck at home and they want stuff to, to read and keep them, you know, interested and distracted and entertained. So our sales have been fantastic for the past year and a half, so we have a bit more funding than we have before. So we’re spending that on bringing more people on board and trying to figure out sort of more sustainable systems for how we can create like a pipeline of these books.

Maëlle and I are so obsessive about every single project. We want everything to be absolutely perfect. Nothing is slapped dash. Nothing is just sort of thrown out there. We think through every aspect of these things, and one thing we’ve been talking about recently is like, we need to treat our own company like we treat our projects. We need to think through our own processes because it’s a very, like behind the scenes, things are extremely chaotic and then the final product looks extremely non-chaotic. They look very, planned.

So, uh, I think our, our, our new strategy is kind of, okay. Let’s take a step back and look at some of our larger processes here and figure out how to perfect those.

Jessica Abel: I think that’s so smart to see that. And you know, that, I think that probably could go deeper than that in some ways that it’s not just that you want, you know, with your books, you care, you care so much for your authors. You care for the quality of the production, you’re very detail oriented about every aspect of how you’re putting the book together.

And I could imagine that for a company too, on the backside and say, you know, we’re very detail oriented and everything’s lined up and, you know, whatever. But there’s also like there’s an ethical and values alignment with the way you handle, uh, your relationships with authors and artists. That also, you know, how do you wanna treat yourself? How do you wanna care for yourself as an employee of yourself?

You know, how, how, how do you- you’re hiring new people, you’re thinking about what’s our company culture, are you a good boss for yourself?

Are you a good boss for yourself?

Josh O’Neill: Right. No, that’s something Maëlle and I have been talking about too, especially as we’ve been bringing more, more people on board, uh, because we, throughout the history of Beehive, we don’t treat ourselves great. Like we’re sort of the most disposable resource, uh, that Beehive has. And, uh, we both love the work so much that we can just get into this like grind mentality.

And we’re always behind on so many things that there’s been a lot of all nighters pulled throughout the course of, of this company. And it’s not ideal, but you can sort of roll with it. But now that we’re bringing more people on, we sort of have to, we have an extremely sort of ethical orientation towards our business practices and always have with our authors and our, uh, partners, and our collaborators, and our, and our printers, and everybody. Uh, we really try to think through sort of what the stakes of everything are.

Um, and that’s a big part of why we started Beehive to try to do better than what I, I, I see in a lot of comics and publishing. But now that we’re bringing more people into this company, like, we don’t have a very ethical framework within our small company because we’re just like, okay, whatever, let’s just get this done. But we can’t bring other people into this chaos so we need to make systems that make more sense so that other people can have sane work lives working with us.

Jessica Abel: And you too, right?

Josh O’Neill: Yeah. And it’s, it’s like, okay, if we’re gonna make other people’s work lives sane, maybe ours should become sane too.

Jessica Abel: I was just talking about this today, actually for myself, cuz I was thinking, you know, in our own, in Autonomous Creative, in our own company, you know, when I get anxious about stuff, when I’m like worried about a project or something like that, the resource I have that I know how to use is my labor and my attention.

And you said it’s the most disposable? Well, it’s also the most essential, that I’m the one who, less so now, um, you know, Lou is here with me and Lou’s been with my company now for three plus years. So I’m not the only one who knows stuff and I don’t know everything, but I know most of the things and have my fingers everywhere.

And so the idea that I can just jump in and do stuff and fill the gaps. And a lot of times it’s really tempting for me. And I’m just, the question part of this is coming I swear, that the, the thing that I think about is sometimes I’m, I know that sometimes I invent work or I invent urgency because I’m anxious about something. I’m worried that it’s gonna not gonna work or whatever. And I’m like, well, the only thing I have that I can throw at this is my labor.

Josh O’Neill: Yes, no, we, we do the exact same thing and it’s something we’ve been talking about. Like, we have so many things that are actually urgent. Like there’s a, there’s a need to stop pretending things are urgent that aren’t really. Cause there’s a sort of inflationary aspect of, of urgency where it’s like, whenever- we, we’re always falling behind schedule and then everything that’s in the past on your calendar becomes like an ASAP thing.

And when you have a hundred things that are all ASAP, it’s impossible to add a new ASAP thing, because like sometimes a real emergency comes up and this actually does have to be addressed right now, but so do 40 other things. So it’s, it’s been important to us to say like, okay, like when we fall behind, when both things get pushed back, what’s an actual problem?

And what’s us just saying, well, this is our release date. We have to hit it. Like, what are the stakes of pushing a release date back? Is, is it okay if we don’t hit it? And so that’s a lot of stuff we’ve been, we’ve been thinking about sort of from the, sort of thinking about backwards through the inside of our company.

Jessica Abel: Yeah, I think this is something that every creative person faces individually as well. It’s the stakes have been amplified for you with having multiple projects and stakeholders and so on, but I’m sure you remember this from earlier in your life, too, where you set yourself a deadline or somebody says it’s gotta be this.

And then it all becomes like this crazy urgent race to the finish line when we all have to learn to, and I’m saying this for myself too, um, we all have to learn to question those assumptions and figure out what, like you’re saying, like what really is essential to happen and what, what can really, you know, we can renegotiate.

Josh O’Neill: Yeah, exactly. It turns out most things you can pretty much renegotiate. There’s only a few that are real disasters and so save up the panic for the real disasters, cuz you’re gonna need that panic at some point.

Jessica Abel: Good point, good point.

Working with a partner/first comic store

Jessica Abel: So that kind of it skips over some other things I wanted to ask you, but gets me to this idea of partnering cause you’re talking about Maëlle a lot. Tell me the story of how you started working with Maëlle, um, and I know you previously partnered with somebody else, Chris Stevens for your store. How do you pick partners? How do you work with them? Is it awesome?

Josh O’Neill: Well, yeah, I mean, it’s Chris and I started working together at a video store in, in West Philly in like 2008 or something like that. And it was a great video store that was, as all video stores were, sort of seeing its final days and they had expanded into comics. And a little, like sort of comics community like built up around the store.

So it was almost accidental that we like stumbled into starting the store together. The store ended up going outta business and there was a desire for there to still be like this comics community there. So we started this like tiny little comic store, just sort of to keep this community going. And it turned into this much larger thing than we partnered, uh, with another friend named Andrew Carl who worked with us on, it’s when we started publishing books.

And those books were really, we didn’t have like ambitions to be a publisher at all. We barely even had ambitions to be a store. We were more like a collective or something like that.

Jessica Abel: But so you backed into partnership. You, I’m sure you weren’t like let’s, you know, maybe you did, but like set up a partnership agreement, start an LLC together and you know, those kinds of things. Did you do those things? Or did you, you know, how did you handle it?

Josh O’Neill: We did one by one sort of as, as we suddenly realized, that’s something that you have to have. I mean, we, we didn’t do it all ahead of time. Like none of us knew anything about how to run a business, really. I mean, I have an English major and I worked in the restaurant industry for years. And, uh, I, I had, you know, I, I had worked in retail for a long time, but I, I didn’t know anything about how to start a business or how to run one.

And it’s the same as we’ve done in, in publishing. You just sort of put one foot in front of the other and then sort of realize with a sense of panic that you haven’t done a thing that you really desperately need to do. You’re like, oh my God we, do we need a business license? I guess maybe we need a business license. We should probably get one before the, the government arrests us.

But yeah, it was all this sort of outgrowth of, of this community. And that’s when, when I sort of first started going to- I mean, I’d been obsessed with comics and loved comics my entire life. That’s when I started going to comic festivals and we sort of started publishing these, uh, these little anthologies and, uh, sort of quarterly magazine that we were doing.

And it was all because we had this like community of amazingly talented people and it didn’t feel like anybody was really, everybody was just doing their own sort of self-published thing off in this little silo somewhere.

And you’d take it to MoCCA Fest and set up a table. And that’s sort of what everybody’s career looked like. And so it, it was just sort of let’s do something together. And when there’s all this talent in one place, it’ll sort of be an undeniable thing.

And we ended up publishing this book, uh, Once Upon A Time Machine, uh, which, which Dark Horse put out for us that had like a hundred creators in it.

And that, I, we sort of got obsessed with publishing and with the sort of creating these, these places where people could come together. And originally it was almost all anthology kind of stuff. Um, and then we put out a graphic novel by this great Philly cartoonist named Rob Woods. And, uh, we ended up putting out a bunch of different things, but we sort of backed into it all.

The birth of Beehive/Little Nemo

Josh O’Neill: It was never intended to be a business, but the, the real turning point. And I think what ended up being the, the birth of Beehive was, um, we created, uh, a book. I had this idea for a book that’s like a tribute to Little Nemo in Slumberland, which is maybe my favorite comic of all time.

For, uh, listeners who don’t know it’s a, uh, it was a comic from the early 20th century by Windsor McKay. It was a weekly Sunday strip. And each strip was a dream that this little kid Nemo would have. And at the end of each strip, you would wake up back in bed. And they’re incredibly, formally ambitious gorgeously illustrated in the sort of art nouveau style. And full of just like the most insane invention and sort of meta textual gamesmanship.

And they’re really like one of the founding documents of what comics and cartooning and even animation can, can do. And I was really obsessed with those comics and part of the beauty of them is the grandeur of the full page Sunday strip. They’re 16 by 21 inches, the size of newspaper used to be. Um, and they’re just these amazing pieces of sort of early 20th century American visual culture.

And they’re, they’ve been such a huge influence on so many cartoonists I thought it would be cool to do a tribute to Little Nemo where you invite everyone to do their own Little Nemo strip. And you, you print them at this massive size. You do a hardcover book that’s 16 by 21 inches. And a lot of people told us we were crazy.

Uh, but we ended up doing this book and we actually made a bunch of money. We were able to pay the cartoonists really well. And we made money for ourselves and we were at this point, like a really struggling store. We hadn’t really made any money. We had published six or seven books at this point and they had all, you know, we paid our artists and we were able to pay ourselves a little bit.

But they, they were, if you, if you boil them down to how many hours we spent, we were probably getting paid a dollar an hour or something like that. And this project actually kind of worked like from a from a business model standpoint and it seemed like the craziest project we had ever done here. I have a copy of the book here. I mean, you, I can’t even fit it on the screen. It’s it’s so big and

Jessica Abel: So people are who coming to this later on audio only, the reason Josh’s voice got weird is he held it up in front of him and it blocks his entire self.

Josh O’Neill: Yes.

Jessica Abel: It’s huge.

Josh O’Neill: Um, yeah. It’s like people talk about like desert island books, but this is a book that if you were, if it’s your desert island book, you could make a tent out of it.

Jessica Abel: It’s a raft.

Josh O’Neill: as a raft to, to escape. Um, but, uh, but yeah, it was this crazy idea. And I mean, at, you know, we were very new to this whole sort of comics industry.

We had a store for maybe five years at that point, less even, when we started working on it, maybe just three or four years.

And we start, I started going to comic festivals and just walking up to people, cartoonists I admired and asking them if they would do a strip for this book and to my absolute astonishment, virtually everyone I asked, said yes. And I’m asking my favorite cartoonists in the world. People I’ve been reading since I was, you know, 10 years old, a lot of ’em. To me, they’re like wizards. They’re not people even, I’m just like, why are these people willing to work on this sort of project that doesn’t even exist yet? It’s just sort of an idea. So that was extremely addictive. It was this huge rush to get to work with these incredible people. There’s like 120 people in Little Nemo. And, and getting to know a lot of these folks was just an experience like no other and so it sort of got me thinking.

Jessica Abel: How was the, was this a Kickstarter book or was this something that was you sold through distributors and it was able to make good money through distributors?

Josh O’Neill: No, it was a Kickstarter that was, and it did well through dis, through distribution afterwards. But yeah, we raised like 150 grand on Kickstarter. We had only done one Kickstarter before, and it was for like $2,000 to do like this tiny little

Jessica Abel: So this was the launch really of the Kickstarter model for you?

Josh O’Neill: Yes, yes. And it worked so well. And we had so many creators and they all promoted it. And, uh, we made a lot of mistakes on it too, which I’ve, I’ve learned from since, but it was an amazing experience. And we were able to fund production of this massive expensive book. The production was, was insanely expensive.

And we were able, we were able to do it exactly like we wanted to, with all of the production elements that we, that we had planned on and exactly the paper stock that we wanted. Exactly the size that we wanted. And, you know, we had done other things that seemed potentially more practical and had not really worked out that well or had worked out, you know, to a small degree,

but then we had

Jessica Abel: This is, I’m getting, yeah. I mean, getting back to what you said, where like the people who are initially your impo, impetus in getting involved in any publishing at all, they’re all doing very practical, little publications of their, their self-publishing or working with small publishers or something like that to do these small books and thinking this is what’s gonna work because I’m just getting started.

And so I should do it this way, you know, I should do it in this kind of small scale way. And you come at it from the other direction with this and say, okay, well, what if we dream really, really big and we say, this is what we are gonna make. This is the thing we’re gonna make and this is the way we’re gonna do it, and start there.

It seems like you just kind of flip things, you know, you sort of flip things on, on their head in that, in that moment and said, I don’t wanna work small. I don’t wanna work in this kind of scrabbling at the edges kind of way. What if we just take a big piece out of the middle of the pie?

Josh O’Neill: Yeah, that’s kind of, that, that was sort of my, my realization. And it’s like, the insane ambition of it becomes almost a selling point of the project. Like that, that’s interesting to people that, you know, we’re these like random people who are trying to do this, this crazy thing with all these amazing artists and these crazy production values.

And so, yeah, I was like, what if we, we were starting to sort of, uh, Little Nemo came out 2014. We started working on it in 2012. By 2016, we had been running Locust Moon for like seven years, I think. And it, it, it was very, I mean, we were, every month, it was like, okay, how do we pay our bills this month? Like let’s scrape by. And I was really getting tired of just like the retail hustle of just having to, to be there, you know, 12 hours a day, like standing behind a register. And we were doing more publishing stuff and I was really kind of enjoying that work more than running the store at that point.

Jessica Abel: So, this is still you and Chris and

the other per Andrew.

Josh O’Neill: Yes. Yeah, that, that was the, the three of us. And we sort of all ended up going, going our separate ways. Locust Moon closed in 2016. They both, uh, went off to do, uh, some, some interesting things of their own. And I said, okay, I wanna, I wanna start a publishing company sort of based on the Little Nemo model where everything’s insane, um, like a publishing company that makes no sense, that like a bookstore is not even the right place to sell this stuff because every project, I want something, I want to be something that people would tell you, you were crazy to try, um, and see if we can do it.

And that was, you know, I mean, uh, we, we’ve done some more practical things since then. I don’t know that everything we’ve done is is insane, but, uh, that was the initial model, like stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else because it’s too weird and too ambitious and seems like it won’t work. Can everything be something that seems like it won’t work and can we make all of it work?

Jessica Abel: Right. What does you, what does it mean if book after book, after project after project works when all conventional wisdom says it won’t work?

Josh O’Neill: Well, I think that just a huge part of it, uh, was crowdfunding. I, I don’t think my company, Maëlle and my company would exist without Kickstarter.

Jessica Abel: No. Put a pin in that for a second cuz I wanna go back. How did you meet Maëlle and decide to work with Maëlle?

How did you meet your current partner?

Josh O’Neill: So yes, Maëlle and I met working on Little Nemo. Uh, she submitted a strip. Uh, we had sort of an open call for illustrators to submit strips and she, Maëlle, is a, you know, genius designer and illustrator. And she does this amazing cut paper work, uh, where she’ll do comics that are all made of little pieces of cut paper.

Which is not in and of itself a unique practice, but Maëlle approaches it uniquely in that there’s a sort of three dimensionality to how she approaches the materials. So the paper is sort of curling off the page. It has bends and sh- she lights them carefully. So the shadows are part of strip and she did this like mind melting, uh, Little Nemo strip.

I, I wasn’t aware of her. I’d never seen her work before. We just got it in our email inbox one day I believe and we were like, who is this person? Uh, at the time I assumed just based on her name and the, the, the level of, of brilliance. I was like, this must be an incredibly famous French cartoonist that I’ve never heard of before turned out Maëlle was very young and had not even done all that much work in comics yet.

Jessica Abel: And is basically American.

Josh O’Neill: Yes. I mean, she’s from, she is from France and is of French extraction, but has grown up mostly in America. But yeah, we, we ended up meeting and we became friends over the course of years. We have a lot of friends in common and, uh, Maëlle and I sometimes would table together at comic festivals.

And, uh, we became really good friends. And when I was planning to start Beehive, I was sort of reaching out to different people I, I wanted to work with and I reached out to Maëlle about potentially either doing books for Beehive, also doing design work for Beehive, cause she’s such an amazing designer. And we did a sort of dry run of having her do some design stuff for us.

And we just enjoyed working together so much. And I’ve always been like utterly in awe of her as a person. Like, I don’t understand how her brain works. Like where this, this way of looking at the world came from. I, everything she does is flabbergasting to me. So I, after we had worked together just a little bit on sort of a contract, sort of contractor level, I mean, I was like, do you want to be my partner in this company?

Like, I, you know, I’m, I think a really good, well, I don’t know I’m good, but you know, aspiring editor and, and publisher. But you know, I’m not a designer, I’m not an artist. Uh, and so I think you have a lot of the skills that I don’t have. And instead of just contracting all that out, like maybe we can team up and, and create this thing together.

So it was at the very beginning of, yeah, we hadn’t published any books yet. I was just working on getting the company started. I think we had Kickstarted our first book and were working on publishing it.

Jessica Abel: You’re saying we, but it, was it just you at this point?

Josh O’Neill: Well, Maëlle had, had helped with it. She wasn’t at that time part of the company yet. I had sort of hired her to help with the campaign.

And then it was through working on that campaign together. I was like, let’s, let’s just do this together. I thought she would say no, honestly, I was like, she’s got way too much going on to wanna work on this. And now every minute of her life is consumed with absolute publishing chaos. So I don’t know if it was a good decision on

on her end or

Jessica Abel: I’m sure there are moments where she’s like, Hmm. I could have been paid for this.

Josh O’Neill: Yes. Uh, she has a lot more talents than I do also. I mean, uh, so, so she has more things pulling her in different directions. She’s also teaching a lot and she’s working on her own incredible book, which, you know, I think, uh, the, the work that she does with Beehive has delayed how quickly she can finish some of her own cartooning stuff.

But I I’m just so, so lucky, uh, to work with her and we really love working together and we’re very, we’re very close and that, that partnership has been the, I mean, it’s been one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me in, in my life. I, I really like- working with Maëlle is one of the great, great joys I’ve ever had and Beehive is very much like a synthesis of both of our perspectives.

And we have a lot in common about how we look at things and a lot of different ways we look at things. But we’re very good at sort of working through them and talking about everything and sort of figuring it out as we go along. And we have very complimentary skills. It’s sort of the areas in which, in which I’m weak, she’s strong and the, the very few areas in which she’s weak, maybe I’m stronger.

But yeah, that’s, I mean, that’s, that’s what Beehive is, is born from just like me and Maëlle just talking about stuff. Maëlle actually named the company before she was even part of it.

We were, we were on a long drive from, uh, like Philadelphia to Boston. And I was like, I’m trying to think of a name for this company. And she was like, what about Beehive Books? That’s a great name. Um, so I think it was destiny. I should have known at that point.

Jessica Abel: That she’d already thought that much about it was a good sign I think.

Josh O’Neill: I think she just came up with it on the spot. She was like riffing. Um, she came up with like 20 names, I think like Maëlle’s a very generative, imaginative person. But yeah, it was, it was fated, I think.


I know you’re deeply committed to your creative work and yet when it comes time to make the thing, it’s like you short circuit.

Your inner critic comes roaring out and shuts you down.

You find your attention dragged off by some other shiny new object.

You can’t stop feeling guilty and that you should be focusing on paid work. Your clients, your children, friends, boss, parents constantly demand your attention.

Here’s the thing. There is nothing wrong with you. There’s just a breakdown somewhere in your creative engine and you can repair it.

I want to invite you to join me for the free creative engine masterclass, where you’ll learn which tactics will backfire when you’re trying to get traction on self-generated creative projects and what to do instead.

The four essential phases of the creative process you must implement to produce awesome work reliably. And you’re probably skipping at least one.

The good news hidden in your long history of valley and efforts to make your creative life work.

How to diagnose what’s off track and keep moving on your work. Even when things get really challenging.

And the secret to how to predict and avoid the pitfalls that derail you time and time again.

This class is totally free and you will get immediate, deep clarity into what makes your creative life tick and the specific next step to take to harness the power of your own creative engine. So stop procrastinating and start finishing your most important creative projects when you join the creative engine masterclass@jessicaabel.com slash engine that’s J E S S I C a a B E l.com/engine.

Okay. Back to the show.

The Kickstarter model

Jessica Abel: So, yeah. I wanna talk about this, uh, the Kickstarter model. And I know there’s a, there’s a way in which, what you just said about how the company wouldn’t exist without crowdfunding is a little bit dismissive of like is it real if it’s just crowdfunding or something like that.

But I would propose that the crowdfunding does an end run around certain kinds of limitations that, I mean, you’re fully familiar with having worked in retail, you know, the kinds of risks you need to take in order to kind of put a book out there and just see, see what happens, see if it flies. Like you have to control costs much more tightly in that kind of situation than if it’s pre-bought, essentially, you know, that you have it’s pre-sold and yet people want these things. There’s, it’s utterly clear. People want interesting, different, improbable, crazy literary objects of various kinds, but there’s, there’s no way for people to, for companies to, to figure out exactly what people want and provide it without some kind of dialogue between them.

And that gets back to how you talk about Locust Moon and, and that phase of your life growing out of community, that I feel like this is a thread through your professional life. This feeling of you belong to a community. You wanna support this community. You want to have active interactive projects with a community.

And that extends then, I would say through, or would you say, I guess that, does that extend through sort of the way you think about crowdfunding and subscription based kind of models?

Josh O’Neill: It absolutely does. I mean, we have a pretty small, uh, market. We have a, a small number of customers. You know, we did a huge project recently, uh, that was sort of an unexpected success, uh, where we sold like 15,000 copies, but normally a success for us, we do a lot of high end books. So they’re $100 or $200. And, uh, usually a success for us is if we can sell 1200 copies of a book.

Jessica Abel: Which I have to say is pretty solid for a small publisher. I mean with, or without a hundred dollars price tag, like, you know, small literary publishers or whatever, that’s not a bad number.

Josh O’Neill: Yeah. But it’s also, you know, if you’re selling those through the book trade you, the amount of profit that you’re seeing is so small, because half of it’s going to the bookstore and then 25% of what’s left is going to your distributor and then there’s shipping fees and it’s like, it’s a brutal, brutal business.

So only these companies that have massive amounts of money can really afford to take any risks. And then for their risks to succeed, like bookstores also have to take risks, and bookstores are all struggling. Mostly there’s, there’s very few out there that, that like have the, the capital necessary to make big bets on, uh, on things that might not work.

So it’s like when, when you market something through the book trade, you have to be able to show that it is likely to succeed. And that involves, comp titles is what a lot of the book trade runs on. And so you need to come up with other books that are very much like this one that have sold a lot of copies. And for everything we’ve done, like, I mean, you

Jessica Abel: which means it has to be similar. Like it has to be similar to something in order for people to wanna buy it. Cause they’re like, okay, this is similar enough to this, that I can buy it.

Josh O’Neill: Yeah. And I, I don’t blame the bookstores. I ran a bookstore for years and I, you know, we, we really made a part of our reputation on having all the weird stuff and having all the self-published zines and like doing as much of that as possible. But like, you’re always on the thinnest margin of how can I afford to order a copy of this and this and this.

And I, I know I’m not gonna sell a lot of these, but I really think it’s something that we should have. So it’s, it’s just really tough for anything genuinely new to get through. And it sort of works the opposite way when you’re going directly to customers. It’s like, what customers want is something genuinely new.

Jessica Abel: And different.

Josh O’Neill: Yeah, like something just, just, that’s not the same thing. Like that’s what excites people. Like people enjoy reading the same kind of stuff that they, that they often read, but like, they don’t get that excited about it cuz the same thing they read last week. But what people get really excited about is something that’s different.

So it’s been amazing for us that like we’ve sort of drawn in this, this small community of people that will sort of follow us down these weird back roads and, and wanna see what, what sort of discoveries there are in these strange hinterlands of publishing.

And it is sort of an outgrowth of the same sense of wanting to build a community that can sustain these things. Uh, it’s like first we sort of built a creative community that was sustaining, but then like that creative community needs funding to keep people’s careers going. People artists need to get paid, they need to eat, they need to pay rent. So then you need a community of people that will support this stuff.

And that’s been what the work of, of Beehive has been largely is, is trying to build and build and build that community. And it’s, it’s going, you know, uh, really well in fits and starts. But we do feel like we really have a growing community of people that are, that are behind our mission.

And it’s, it, it would not be possible through traditional mechanisms and like the traditional mechanisms are all breaking down anyway. Uh, so I, I’m very antagonistic to people that, you know, there is a sort of antagonism to, uh, crowdfunding that it’s amateurish or that it’s not as legitimate, but it’s like, there is an absolute necessity of finding new models. And if you don’t like crowdfunding, that’s fine. Like find something else.

But thinking that the, the, the correct model is to go through a big five publisher and, uh, that’s what like “real” publishing is. It’s like, that’s a, I mean, so much of our business was built on having so many friends that at all levels of the comics and publishing industry, from people who have never done anything except staple something they printed at Kinko’s, to people that have, you know, books topping the New York Times bestseller chart. And like, none of them are making any money. Like nobody’s making any money. Like the, the famous cartoonists are making, like maybe what might pass for like a lower middle class kind of living. Um, they can survive off it. Okay. That’s great. But like they’re famous. They’re like the cream of the crop. They’re the, they’re the 0.1% of cartoonists out there. So we really

The pros and cons of crowdfunding

Jessica Abel: You’re talking about my experience here is like realizing that there was no way to make this system work beyond, you know, unicorns. Like there’s no, it just, yeah. So figuring out some other way where you can derive more direct, greater value from the thing. I could understand why people are, um, have objections to crowdfunding in the sense that what they’re I think saying is that there’s no filter here.

Like if people just like stuff, then you can publish it, and so there’s no professional filter saying, this is publishable. This is at this level. Now you are of that filter because you are a publishing company and you have already filtered these projects. But I feel like that’s the main argument here is like when you buy something from a big five or even the rest of the medium size publishers, somebody’s vetting it and saying like, this is marketable.

This is good enough to, to send out to bookstores and whatever. But that goes along with what we were just talking about, where it also has to fit patterns. It has to fit historical patterns of behavior and the, it has to stay safe to a certain extent. And so that’s, that’s your trade off.

Josh O’Neill: Yeah. And it’s like, to me, the filter is the funding. You know, like if there’s enough people that want this thing to pay for the print run, then it is a publishable quality and like quality doesn’t even really mean anything anyway. There’s just, there’s different tastes and there’s different aesthetic worlds and there’s different practices.

And yeah, I sort of hate the filter system that everything has to go through. And I, I, I don’t consider what we do. I mean, it is, it’s filtering stuff in a certain sense, but it’s just filtering stuff for our own sensibility and the sensibility of our audience. And we do make, you know, we have, we make concessions to marketability too.

A lot of what we think about is, we do few enough books that like, they all kind of have to succeed. We can’t, we Don’t really have enough person power or enough capital to do a book that doesn’t really turn a profit, or only turns a very, very tiny profit. That’s part of why our goal is to up the number of books we, we can do.

Because one thing I envy about a big publishing company is, you know, a big publishing company, most of their books will not really turn a profit. Um, and so they do have a certain capacity to take risks that we don’t always have.

Jessica Abel: Although the thing that is, I think surprising is how soon they turn a profit, how easy it is to turn a profit on a book for a publishing company, and then how long it takes for an author to share that,

Josh O’Neill: Yeah. And it’s, you know, through our, our models, the, the author usually starts getting paid right away. We can, uh, I mean, and now we pay decent advances too. Originally we had no funding so we weren’t paying advances at all. It was all just a profit share. But we really pride ourselves, I, I don’t think we pay our artists nearly enough for the work that they do and for all the labor that it is.

But I do think as this tiny company, our rates are, are very comparable, uh, to huge companies. And the part of our initial challenge was like, or what sort of a challenge that we set for ourselves, was can we pay artists the rates that big companies would pay you to do commercial work to do really non-commercial work?

And so far because our profit margins are higher because we do so many direct sales. Um, and because we have this community of people that will follow us, uh, from one project to the next, the answer has, has been yes. And it’s, you know, we’re just started in that process and we, we need to do better and, and we wanna do better.

But, you know, I, going into this stuff, all I was interested in was, was comics and, and art, and storytelling. I, I never had any interest in business or publishing really. But you just realize backwards that it’s the, it’s the material realities of these things that create the art, like the artists themselves are not the only fountain of the work. Like the fountain of the work is also just the economic realities of the marketplace.

Jessica Abel: Well, and your, and your ideas, and your work, like the things that you do make it possible.

Josh O’Neill: That, that’s what we sort of realized like through Locust Moon and, and eventually through Beehive is like, without the framework, like none of this stuff can exist. So if, if you want this really interesting work to exist, there need to be people who approach business practices with the same, like wild eyed creativity that an artist approaches their work and sort of rethinks practices from, from the bottom up with this kind of work in mind.

And so, so that’s, uh, that’s how we sort of stumbled backwards into this, uh, in, into this career where, where I’m suddenly so focused on, on business models and spreadsheets and royalties. But I love it, honestly. I, I never would’ve thought this would be my career, but I, I, I love it so much.

Jessica Abel: I feel, yeah, I feel, I’m so- I find the, the process of building a business very creative and interesting. And I did not expect that. I definitely did not see that coming.

Josh O’Neill: Yeah, no, same, same here. We sort of, we came into it backwards, but, uh, but I, I, I really do love it and I, I love the freedom of it like that we decide how we want things to be here. We’re not bound to the rules of any of these broken systems that exist out there. And that’s, it’s just been a, a, a real joy for all of the stress that comes with it. There’s so much joy that we get to chart our own course through these, these challenged waters.

Jessica Abel: Yeah. So I’m gonna ask you a funny question and see if you have an answer for it. Did you ever make what you felt like was an enormous mistake, but it turned out to be really important, some strange way?

Biggest mistake and how did it turn out?

Josh O’Neill: That’s a really interesting question. I mean, we made a lot of enormous mistakes that we just learned from. I don’t know how, how many of them actually turned around, uh, into positives.

Jessica Abel: Well, the learning can be the positive, you know, that this is something that you’re like, oh, if I hadn’t made that mistake, I wouldn’t have been able to do this thing.

Josh O’Neill: Yeah, I mean, I mean for, this is not exactly a mistake, but, uh, just the sort of, when we, when I closed Locust Moon it felt like a huge failure at the time. It felt like, you know, I’d really tried to build this business that I thought would eventually be sustainable. And even if I didn’t want to do it anymore, like we would be able to hand it off to someone else.

And we were never able to build that. Um, and especially for the last couple years there going into 2016, 2017, it was really felt like beating my head against a wall. And when we did finally close, I was ready to be done, but it felt like a huge failure. And I can envision a life where I, we didn’t have to close, you know, we could have kept going.

We like, it’s not like we didn’t have the money to, to continue. It’s just that we barely had the money to continue for years and years and years. So the decision to close felt like a potential mistake cuz it was what my whole identity was based on at that point. It was what I had put all of my energy to, for, you know, eight years probably at that point, including the time that we were launching it.

And the fact that we did is what allowed us to start Beehive and sort of start fresh and come up with these new models. Um, but there’s also just a million individual gigantic mistakes that we made, especially in the, in the crowdfunding world cuz Kickstarter has so many weird sort of vicissitudes of its own. And we continue to make huge mistakes, like on a day to day basis that, that we’re learning from. But yeah, I don’t know if that was a, if that was a

Jessica Abel: No, that’s great. I think that’s a really excellent answer that that pivot is so scary and does feel like, when one makes a pivot like that, and I’ve done that too, like this is probably a huge mistake and am I gonna be able to get back from this and what’s gonna happen when I don’t have this identity anymore? But that’s what opens up the space for something new.

Josh O’Neill: Yeah. It was like, who am I without this thing that I’ve, I’ve spent the last eight years desperately breathing life into. And life got a lot better, like after, after the store was, was done.

Jessica Abel: And so do you feel like you have success now?

Josh O’Neill: I mean, I, I don’t feel like I have success. I feel like we’ve built something really great, uh, with Beehive that we’re just starting, you know, I, I, we. We need to do better for our artists and for ourselves and for everyone that works with us and, you know, neither Maëlle and I are, are making as much money off this as we would like to, especially considering the time that we’re putting in.

But I do feel like we have this beautiful thing that is, is growing and changing and we’re learning from it. And I, I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do here. And, you know, I mean, we, we keep trying weirder and weirder stuff. And so far kind of, all of it has at least to some degree worked and it’s just so heartening cuz it gives you the freedom to continue to try weirder and weirder, weirder and weirder stuff.

Maëlle and I often say like, you know, we’ve done 14 Kickstarters as Beehive, and they’ve all succeeded, but like we always say like, eventually we have to do one that fails, or that’s a negative reflection on us. Um, if we never push this to the breaking point and try something so absurd that people won’t follow us there, that means we were too conservative. Sooner or later, we have to do one that doesn’t work.

And so far so good, like, you know, but we’re gonna keep trying stranger stuff. And the joy of that is incomparable. So I, I don’t know what success means exactly. I feel just unbelievably lucky that I get to do this, this kind of work on a day to day basis. And really that I get to collaborate with the people I get to collaborate on.

Like often I’m, you know, in a meeting like giving feedback to an author or to an artist. And I’m, I’m like, they actually want to know what, what I think about this. And they’re a genius and I’m just me. Um, but they genuinely want my feedback. And I think maybe my feedback actually is helping them make a thing that’s already great a tiny bit better.

And you know, when you get to send out royalties at the end of the year it’s, I really feel so like lucky that we get to help artists make work that they didn’t necessarily think they would ever be able to make, or would ever be able to get paid for. I mean when Maëlle and I first started, we set up meetings with a lot of artists that we admired who we wanted to work with, who we thought would be good, potential Beehive contributors.

And the question we asked them was, do you have a project you’ve always wanted to do that you never thought would be possible? That was just impractical, or you thought wouldn’t make any money or wouldn’t sell, but is in your heart and you would love, love to make it? And obviously we can’t do every project like that.

Uh, you know, there were projects people pitched us that we were like, I don’t know how we could pull that

Okay. That actually isn’t probable.

Yes. Yeah. Or, or no, it’s, it’s, it’s, I’m sure it’s doable somehow. We just don’t, we haven’t figured it, figured it out yet. Um, and there’s other projects that we have long term plans for that we haven’t figured out how to do, but we’re working our way towards it.

But the fact that we can get artists paid for something that they often would’ve done for free and didn’t even necessarily think, I mean, that was our, our first book was this sort of flagship for what our mission was. It was this book about, uh, Herbert Crowley, uh, who was a genius artist from the early, early 20th century, who was completely forgotten and unknown.

There’s never been a book about his work before there was virtually no information about him on the internet, but there’s this artist from Philly, Justin Duerr, who is also a, a brilliant artist and musician and an obsessive researcher of mysteries. And he became like, obsessed is not even a strong enough word, with Herbert Crowley. And spent like nine years of his life just doing deep dive primary source research into Herbert Crowley, just for his own edification.

I think he had a, an idea that eventually he would write a book, but I think he thought he would self-publish it at Kinko’s or something cuz who’s gonna want this book about an artist no one’s ever heard of before.

And we were able to pay Justin, again, not as much as I would like to have paid him. But he got paid like a professional author of a monograph by a big company would get paid and maybe even a little more than that. And we made money off it and we got the word about Herbert Crowley out there.

And, uh, yeah, I just, there, there was just a piece of Herbert Crowley art that got auctioned, uh, at a gallery and Justin bid on it. And it, it was like estimated to go for 400 to $600 and it went for like $9,000 or something. And I was like, Justin, it’s, it’s your own fault for writing this book. Like three years ago, four years ago, however long ago before it came out, you could have got this for like a hundred bucks. Like, but like, you know, we we’re able to do this thing. And that’s what we want everything to, to be like. And, uh, we’re working on it.

Jessica Abel: You’re inventing the world that you wanna live in.

Josh O’Neill: Right. That’s what we’re trying to do. And it, you know, some things work better than others and some things are struggles and some things are easy, but, uh, but we’re trying to invent the world we wanna live in and we’re trying to invent the people we want to live in it with us to, to be part of it.

Listener questions

Jessica Abel: Well, I think that’s a great place to leave this. We have a couple questions, um, which are basically all one question. Susan and Leone, both ask, do you publish comics and how do I submit to you essentially?

Josh O’Neill: Well, I mean, what I, what I often tell people is we are at this point extremely tiny, we have an extremely over full slate of projects. And so I don’t think we’ve ever accepted a submission thus far, but I hope that’s not gonna be true forever because, uh, we have big plan- you know, this is part of our whole staff up operation has been like, we wanna do more books.

Um, and we want to try more things. Uh, so we’re always taking submissions. You can send us stuff at info@beehivebooks.com. We, we love looking at the work of artists and illustrators. And I mean, we are a graphic arts company. Uh, so we don’t accept like novels or short stories or unless they have a strong graphic component of some kind,

Jessica Abel: But the whole range of, and this is just to be clear for these people who haven’t necessarily seen books yet. It goes all the way from comics to illustrated prose. That’s the kind of,

Josh O’Neill: Yes, and

and

Jessica Abel: And

Josh O’Neill: Design projects. And, uh, they just need to have sort of a visual, a visual aspect of them that is at, at their core.

Jessica Abel: Ronald Wimberly was on the show and we talked about LAAB a lot and that is basically it prose publication, but with lots of comics and illustration in it, and it’s very much a design object too.

Josh O’Neill: Yeah, it’s 50/50. It’s, it’s very much like a, a, a design object is I think the right word. And it’s just a sort of thing that you reckon with, and it’s full of art and prose and language and design, and you sort of figure out how to, how to pick your way through it. And that, that’s been a really fun project working. I mean, Ron is one of our main collaborators at Beehive and working with him has been a genuine privilege and like an ongoing adventure.

Jessica Abel: I think that’s a good way of putting it working with Ron is an adventure.

Josh O’Neill: Oh my God, it’s always an adventure and there’s, there’s, there’s upsides and downsides, but he’s, he’s a genius. I mean, like I said about Maëlle, I’m just like, what? How? Like, what kind of quantum physics is like going on inside of your brain? Like, I don’t, I, I’m trying to follow like, exactly the like synapses that are firing, but it’s so much more high powered than mine is.

Jessica Abel: Yeah. I’ve I’ve, I’ve felt that feeling. Don’t worry.

Josh O’Neill: Yeah, I think, uh, yeah, that’s a feeling a lot of people get around Ron, but, uh, he’s also just one of my best friends and one of the, one of the sweetest people on, on the planet.

and, uh, um, and a true, like comrade in arms of Beehive. I mean, we have, we have a lot of big plans with Ron that we’re, we’re trying in the process of, of trying to figure out, um, and they, some of them might involve him, like taking sort of a bigger, a bigger role here.

But we also have a million other projects with Ron just in individual things. LAAB is ongoing. I think the next Kickstarter we’re gonna, we’re gonna do is actually for Ron’s book GratNin, which will probably be before the end of this year.

Jessica Abel: So for those of you who didn’t catch that episode, it’s on our Crowdcast channel.

Josh O’Neill: I, I watched it. It was great.

Jessica Abel: Yeah. Um, one last question here from Jen, uh, “Josh, a group of us affiliated with a small comic school are researching opening a small press for the school and its artists. Do you have advice recommendations as we begin this journey?”

Josh O’Neill: Ooh, that’s a good question. This, this is something I really struggled with when we were starting, like what resources are there for like a small press publisher? And I didn’t really find almost any, honestly. My b- best resource was just reaching out to people who were doing the stuff that I wanted to do. Uh, me, I met a lot of the at comics festivals, a lot of them, I sort of blind emailed and just asking people for advice.

I mean, one of the best things about the comics industry, like the comics industry is the best and the worst in, in a lot of ways. Like there’s a lot of great things about it and a lot of not so great things about it. One of the absolute best things about it is just that it’s so open and it’s, so there’s something kind of egalitarian about it.

Um, and that people all go to these conventions and festivals so you can meet almost anybody working in comics on any level at any time. And, uh, a big thing for me was when I met, uh, Dennis Kitchen of, of kitchen sink press, he, I met him cuz he contributed to our Little Nemo anthology and he really became like a mentor for me cuz he had done everything that I was trying to do in times, you know, a thousand,

Jessica Abel: Yeah, he’s a pioneer in the small press space in comics.

Josh O’Neill: And I think he liked what we were trying to do. And he became, I mean, he’s one of my closest friends. Uh, I, I go and up and visit him, uh, in Massachusetts all the time.

And especially in the early days, he was like a full on mentor. I remember the first time I ever talked to him on the phone, I was just explaining, he was asking a lot of questions about our business. And I was saying, I’m trying to figure this stuff out. And he sort of made himself available, uh, and said, why don’t we have like a regular little publishing symposium? You can call me like twice a month, we’ll set a date. And, uh, you can ask me any questions that you have, which is a mind bogglingly, uh, generous offer.

Jessica Abel: But maybe the way to translate that, to what to do now is to look around for these, for this group, to look around people in their community, other people who are publishing, other people that, who they know might have a small publisher and maybe get a little mastermind group together to exchange ideas.

Josh O’Neill: Yeah. And, and like ask for advice from people. I mean, uh, in my experience people in comics are really, really willing to share their experience and skills and, uh, there’s a very com- communitarian aspect to how people approach things, especially at the sort of small press like indie comics level.

And so, yeah, I wish I could point you to better, to better resources, but if you find good resources out there, please let me know. Cause I would love to read them also.

Jessica Abel: Well, if somebody sends me some resources, I will add them to the show notes for the show and we have them. Alright, well, I’m gonna wrap this up so we can move on with their afternoons, but thank you so much for doing this, Josh. It was a pleasure and honor, and so interesting to learn about how this all works on the inside.

Josh O’Neill: Oh, Jess, this was such a pleasure. I always love talking to you and, uh, it’s such a nice community of people you have here. Um, this is lovely to be a part of this.

Jessica Abel: Awesome. Um, how can people find you?

Josh O’Neill: Um, you can find Beehive on, uh, on Twitter @beehivebks, uh, Instagram @beehivebooks. Um, you can email us at info@beehivebooks or me at josh@beehivebooks. Um, dot com. Everything is .com. Uh, yeah, I don’t know.

Jessica Abel: That sounds Perfect.

Josh O’Neill: Come knock on our door at 4440 Ludlow Street.

Jessica Abel: Just open door. I love it.

outro

Thank you so much for joining us today for the Autonomous Creative.

Our show is produced by Matt Madden, our production coordinator is Lousine Boyakhandjyan, and our production assistant is Rhiannon Sunday. Music is by Matt Madden, and I’m your host, Jessica Abel.

You can find all our takeaways as well as any links and extras we mentioned today plus transcripts, in the show notes. Find everything you need at acpod.show.

If you enjoyed this episode, I hope you’ll subscribe. And it would help us immensely if you would take a second and pop over to apple podcasts and leave us a rating and review. It just takes a few seconds, but it’s actually a huge help to us and to our guests to get this podcast suggested to new listeners.

We appreciate your help so much. And we’ll see you next time on the Autonomous Creative.

arrow-marker-curved-down

Next Podcast Episodes