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Captain Marvel: From Damsel in Distress to Full-Fledged Icon

It took Captain Marvel nearly a half-century to finally find her place as a proper feminist, leader, and an idol, but she finally got where she belonged.

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It can be difficult to write a spotlight on a comic book character with such a long and rich history as Captain Marvel. Politics, editors, and writers change with the times, and so some characters also develop with them. Carol Danvers has been around since the late 60s, but while her initial creation started with good intentions as a feminist icon, it took nearly half a decade — and a lot of suffering — for her to finally find her voice.

Captain Marvel's midriff was eventually covered up

Her first costume as a superhero (Ms. Marvel #1, 1977)

Danvers first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (1968) as an officer in the Air Force — a supporting character to the original Captain Marvel, Mar-Vell. It took a decade, but after what can be best described as ‘comic book science,’ an event fused a portion of Captain Marvel’s DNA onto Carol Danvers. This resulted in a drastic change to her physiology, granting her super strength, endurance, and a ‘seventh sense.’  These new abilities gave her the opportunity to headline her own series in 1977, aptly labeled Ms. Marvel. By today’s standards the use of a feminine descriptor is no longer in fashion, but back then it helped codify her as a feminist superhero. She was still a powerhouse in her own name, fighting off threats single-handedly, but she could never muster the confidence hiding deep within her.

In the 80s, the character took a major step and got a new look by creating her iconic black costume, adorned with that legendary crimson sash. This was incredibly important because it didn’t make her look like an off-brand copy of Captain Marvel, but let her stand out on her own. It was a unique costume, it wasn’t based on other heroes, and it didn’t perfectly colour-coordinate with other members of the Avengers. She became her own person, and while there are obvious implications with the over-sexualisation of her new look, comic book culture didn’t consider it a big enough issue at the time.

Captain Marvel's second costume doesn't cover much

That iconic red sash (Ms. Marvel #20, 1978)

This Danvers was clearly designed to stand out on her own, had the qualities of a great character, but throughout the 80s she suffered a series of events that cemented her as the clichéd damsel in distress. In what was supposed to be a milestone issue, David Michelinie hemmed the now infamous Avengers #200.

In that arc, Carol Danvers is kidnapped and taken to an alternate dimension by Marcus, the son of an Avengers villain, where he brainwashes, seduces, and impregnates her. She then returns to Earth and gives birth to what turns out to be the same Marcus that impregnated her, and he starts to age at an alarming rate. When a device that’s keeping Marcus on Earth is damaged, his only option is to return to his home dimension. He doesn’t just go solo, however, and also takes the powerful feminist icon Avenger with him.  Ms. Marvel’s teammates strangely don’t argue, believing that she is in love with this being, and they let her leave.

So, Ms. Marvel is gone, and the Avengers continue being heroes. There are obvious, serious discussions to be had here, as this incredible feminist icon — who shares the same name as her company — is taken away without her consent or any backlash from the people she believed to be her allies. This infamous story is a low point in Marvel history, and many writers at that time looked on what happened with disdain.

Luckily, Chris Claremont, the famed writer of the 80s and 90s X-Men, saw the Marcus disaster for what it was, and a year later redeemed her. Still, Ms. Marvel’s suffering didn’t end there. In quick succession of story arcs written by Claremont, the mutant Rogue drains Danvers’ abilities and memories, putting her into a comatose state, before Professor Xavier, leader of the X-Men, eventually restores them. Obviously enraged by her treatment of the Marcus incident, she breaks rank with Avengers and joins the X-Men, helping them in their cause for equality. Ms. Marvel has all the capabilities of a strong leader and a fighter to face any threat that comes her way, yet was in a constant state of suffering, needing to have traumatic events to move on.

Captain Marvel's sash will return

Her new identity as Binary (Uncanny X-Men #164, 1982)

Claremont’s new direction sent Ms. Marvel out on a series of space adventures. On one of these quests, she gets another major update — and all it took was another kidnapping and forced experimentation by insectoid aliens called The Brood. The torture endured here result in another physiological change: she essentially gains the abilities of a star, which allows her to fire photon blasts and fly, and renames herself Binary. Though the methods to achieve this transformation were inhumane, the upgrade ultimately was for the better. Binary continued to save the day with the X-Men and other Mutant teams up to the 1990s. She was tough, and was more than a simple side character. The stories written in those years are regarded highly by the fans, even if they only happened by the character originally playing out the role of a damsel in distress.

Throughout the 90s, Danvers’ popularity waned, though she made sporadic appearances in other series. Her Binary powers diminished, and she reverted to her human-looking form. She changed her name again, this time to Warbird, and thankfully, no torture was required for this newest identity. Still, no hero can survive the horrors she endured, and Carol Danvers turned to alcohol. Her addiction and erratic behaviour resulted in the Avengers kicking her out of the team, though with the help of Tony Stark, she did get the better of her addiction, and was allowed to continue her heroics. The Warbird name didn’t stick, however, so she brought the name Ms. Marvel out of retirement.

In 2007 the character finally came back into the spotlight. Ms. Marvel proved herself a valuable team member during the Civil War crossover event, and Tony Stark made her team leader in Mighty Avengers. In the following years she proved herself countless times, commanding gods and renegades against numerous threats. She suffered as much as the other heroes, and her growth stemmed from her self-doubt — not merely from events. She had a need to prove to herself that she was good enough to lead a team, or at least to simply be better than the day before.

Captain Marvel's new and improved look

The issue that started it all (Captain Marvel #1, 2012)

It might have taken another half decade, but 2012 saw then-obscure writer Kelly Sue DeConnick revitalize Carol Danvers. She now no longer uses the codename Ms. Marvel, and rightfully has adopted Captain Marvel. She also no longer sports the black boot outfit and lavish locks, and instead wears a blue, yellow, and red uniform akin to a flightsuit (along with rocking a stellar mohawk). Luckily for the fans, the new look did keep the red sash, but removing the gender-specific moniker and giving her a less revealing costume took the character away from the gender stereotypes of many comic book superheroes. Captain Marvel was no longer identified simply by her gender, but by her actions. Her self-conscious attitude seemed to disappear, and she had no problem-fighting in the big leagues. She grew as a character, and it didn’t take excessive torture to push her on — just a good writing team. Because of this growth, Danvers became an idol and feminist icon to many young woman in-universe and fans alike.

One fan, in particular, was a teenage Muslim girl named Kamala Khan, a character created in 2013. She loves superheroes, and writes fan-fiction, but most importantly, she is an all-out Carol Danvers fangirl. When Khan discovers her own powers, she knows she can make a difference by following in her hero’s footsteps, and so she adopts the name Ms. Marvel, as well as the lightning bolt of the infamous costume, in honour of the all good Captain Marvel does for the world. They both have the determination to fight the good fight, and save the innocent, and when they finally meet face-to-face, Carol Danvers gives her the seal of approval, which can make any fans day.

Captain MArvel's protege

The newest Ms. Marvel (Ms. Marvel #1, 2013)

The 2010s were pivotal for Carol Danvers. Despite everything that she went through — all that weight on her soul due to the series of tortures she endured — the one thing that matters is what she was meant to be: a feminist icon for Marvel. Her military experience as fighter pilot was brought to the forefront, her accomplishments and strengths were acknowledged, and she showed far less fear. Even if there were some times that her character took a turn for the worse, she no longer was looking for that voice deep inside her to call out.

Captain Marvel is one of Marvel’s earliest and longest-lasting creations, and though it may have taken a while, she has finally found her place in the world. She’s a leader, a fighter, and an idol. She still has the same doubts as anyone, but always seems to get back up on her own. She evolves and grows like her companions, and her story arcs are treated the same way as anyone else. Most importantly, it didn’t take excessive suffering to make it happen. Volume 1 of her 2014 relaunch is called “Higher, Further, Faster,” and it could not be a better title.

David Harris has lived in Montreal his whole life. He thoroughly enjoys discussing most subjects including the arts, technology, and good food. Being a fan of superheroes since he was young, it's surprising he only starting really getting into comics in CEGEP. He shows a great appreciation for good stories and dialogue, which suits his passions perfectly: television, movies, and graphic novels. As much as he loves the indie publishers, deep down he has always been a fan of the big two.

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A Cataclysmic Event: ‘No Man’s Land’ is The Double-Edged Sword of The Batman Mythos

Just like the story of the fictional Gotham City, No Man’s Land has always felt cut off from the rest of the Batman fandom…

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No Man’s Land

Over 20 Years After Gotham Endured its Most Insufferable Time

Hush, Knightfall, The Killing Joke, Year One, The Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight Returns. Whenever anyone gets into a topic regarding Batman’s history of comics the same titles always get thrown around with unmistakable reasoning. All of these stories are phenomenal chapters of the dark knight’s legacy that fundamentally influenced and reforged the character of Bruce Wayne along with his world of allies and rogues time and time again. They changed the way in which audiences view not only Batman’s mythology but how other comic books unfold overarching plots focusing on both their lineup of complex interpretable heroes and villains.

Batman’s overwhelmingly large critically acclaimed catalog will forever be deemed as must-reads and well-known tales to those who have never even cracked open a comic book, however, there is one anomaly that is well-deserving of a place on the grand pedestal. It oddly never gets the acknowledgment it should have within the conversations of the Batman fandom, but it is still critically important to the caped crusader’s ever-expanding modern mythos.

It is truly ironic that Batman: No Man’s Land is arguably one of the most impactful pieces of media the world’s greatest detective has ever been featured in when accounting for his own history of storytelling. The saga always appears as the comic series that not many people seem to have even partially read, yet its creative influence on comic book culture still lurks from the turn of the century. Just like the story of the fictional Gotham City in the source material comic book, No Man’s Land has always felt cut off from the rest of the Batman fandom despite its neverending appeal to DC’s mainstay creators who forged the modern image of the billionaire who built their house.

With a sparse amount of collected releases and little to no spotlight from its parent company or fandom, Batman: No Man’s Land is arguably one of the most underappreciated stories of Gotham City, yet one of the most impactful.

No Man’s Land is a massive crossover event written by ten different writers through DC’s lineup of late 90s Bat-family comics. This included Detective Comics, Batman, Azreal, Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, and a few miscellaneous issues from other DC characters. The eighty issue run started in 1998 and ended in the year 2000, however, the series has since been published as seven individual books under the Batman banner being Cataclysm, Road to No Man’s Land Volumes One and Two, and of course No Man’s Land Volumes One through Four.

Without spoilers, the story of Batman: No Man’s Land is focused on a massive self-centered crime war taking place on an isolated Gotham City after the dark knight’s home is struck by multiple natural disasters that cut the central island off from the mainland. Cataclysm is the first chapter in the No Man’s Land saga that depicts the destruction of Gotham by earthquakes. It is arguably the one part of the series that readers can skip as the story is easy to understand without any deep background knowledge of the situation.

The followup chapter Road to No Man’s Land is the real beginning of the consequential aftermath showing how the city fell into chaos as all of Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison’s inmates are left free of regulation. Bruce Wayne pleads the government for help but is initially denied any resources as the United States declares Gotham as the first-ever location in the USA to be exempted from their protected territory, leaving the Bat empty-handed and forced to adapt to a new breed of crime-fighting to save his home. While the government threw in the towel on the most crime-infested city in the world, The Gotham City Police Department lead by Commissioner James Gordon attempts to defend its remaining turf as they begin to embrace the unstoppable crisis.

GCPD Map of No Man’s Land

No Man’s Land is the climax, falling action, and resolution of the story arc. It depicts a numerical day count to show how Gotham’s situation has not improved one bit despite the number of months that have passed since the gangs began carving up territory. As the counter slowly rises each issue, the situation further unfolds and resolves through a miracle uncommunicative collaborative effort between the GCPD, abandoned civilians, and the Bat-family.

If this all sounds familiar to you, it likely should. No Man’s Land was the core inspiration for the highest regarded Batman media outside of the comic books- stories that many fans judge the defender of Gotham by today. Batman Arkham City, Gotham, The New 52, and The Dark Knight Rises all borrow several plot elements and character setups from the introduction and rising action volumes of the comic series.

While it did not introduce many new characters the crossover did see the debut of the third Batgirl Cassandra Cain, a new relationship between Harvey Dent and Reena Montoya that would ooze into the first volume of Gotham Central, and most importantly character development for those introduced in the DC Animated Universe that were transitioning into the comics at the time such as the Joker’s sidekick lover Harley Quinn and Lex Luthor’s bodyguard Mercy Graves.

From a cast perspective, No Man’s Land further evolved Batman lore by extensively developing the relationships between specific rivalries and allies- Batman and Gordon most noticeably establish a more so friendly relationship rather than a “just coworkers” status. The core story itself is where the original comics thrive the most due to how it created a manipulative groundwork for other future narratives in the Batman franchise, but it also indisputably began establishing the character interactions we find in the mythos’ modern comics. Perhaps it might have even arguably developed Gotham City into its own character as the location itself draws a deeper persona amidst the chaos at hand during its most desperate hours.

No Man’s Land: Legends of The Dark Knight

Batman: No Man’s Land turned 20 recently and the only piece of media DC published that somewhat celebrated the original comics was the final season of FOX’s crime drama prequel series Gotham– a setup that was more than likely coincidental as the show’s story had always been building up to becoming a “no man’s land” warzone atmosphere. Gotham seasons four and five adapted several aspects from the books, but as expected the show mostly stuck to its own original plot despite heavily featuring numerous callbacks and references to the source material.

Typically DC usually puts out a new collected edition for an important comic book’s anniversary- if not maybe even a social media post at the very least- but No Man’s Land received surprisingly no recognition at all last year. As mentioned before, the latest release of this series was last published as seven separate volumes in 2011. There is currently no box-set or omnibus available for a reader’s convenience but the older publications are still in print and can be obtained at local comic book shops, online stores that sell graphic novels, or even digitally on DC Universe’s streaming service.

The No Man’s Land saga of the Batman mythos is like a double-edged sword. It is a fan-favorite for some, but an undiscovered gem for the vast majority. It passed by in a long string of storylines, yet its significance still has sunk deep into Bruce Wayne’s world no matter the form it is being adapted into. To the creators behind the scenes who continue to construct new features in the dark knight’s eighty-year legacy, it is a crucial precursor for the work that proceeded it despite the low impact it may have had on those who consumed it. The staggering length and price may push audiences away, but for those interested who have the means of seeing it through, it is well worth reading through the story of a dark island that inspired visionaries like Christopher Nolan and Bruno Heller’s interpretations of Batman’s home turf.

Will No Man’s Land ever resurface in a new compact collected edition? As said for all pieces of unpopular yet desired Batman media, “the world may seem dark…”

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‘Read Only Memories’ Comic is Well Worth Reading

Based on the hit game of the same name.

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Read Only Memories IDW Comic Review

Gritty detective stories set in the future have been a source of great creativity in a variety of media forms since the days of Blade Runner. Read Only Memories, the new title from IDW, is no exception to that. It takes classic tropes of both genres and mixes them with a new style.

Lexi Rivers

Santa Cruz, California. 2067. Lexi Rivers is a private investigator who takes on a case from a newly sapient robot. She’s tough but not in that ubiquitous “badass” way female characters are often slotted into.

From moment one, she is interesting and engaging. Lexi starts by posing as a reporter to interrogate a target. Initially, her goal is to determine if the woman is faithful to her partner or not. It’s a classic detective case.

In many ways, Lexi’s a classic detective. She takes rough, morally questionable jobs to make ends meet. Lexi has feelings for a woman who’s probably too good for her. She sneaks favors from friends to make something out of nothing.

Lexi is a detective through and through.

The Story

Read Only Memories

After leaving one case behind, she encounters Hedy, a robot in search of its missing loved one. The story then deftly carries the reader through different locations and people. This is how the story introduces you to the futuristic world and defines Lexi’s life with as little exposition as possible.

Sina Grace, the writer, is extremely effective at doing just that.

Fortunately, a running internal monologue is a huge part of the detective genre. It gives the storyteller a means to get out important information and key details without seeming out of place. Realistically, Read Only Memories has a lot of details to pick up on in the early going.

It’s a big world filled with numerous moving parts. Thankfully, the story gives you what you need to understand. You’re not confused by what’s going on because some of it’s familiar from other stories. Read Only Memories successfully takes those familiar parts and does something interesting with them.

Visual Style

Read Only Memories

Realistically, it can be hard to set the tone of a futuristic detective story without feeling derivative. Stefano Simeone, the artist, has chosen a style that conveys the futuristic vibe well.

Quite smartly, Stefano uses a color palette that sets it apart from the standard detective genre but creates a futuristic feel. Mostly, it’s wonderful shades of pink, blue, and purple. The look is unique and fantastic.

Read Only Memories: What’s Next

Remember, this is only the first issue. In the end, it leaves you in that classic detective story moment. You realize that the simple case is a lot more complicated. Issue two should build nicely from there.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that issue one isn’t burdened by gratuitous or unnecessary violence. Lexi does get her clock cleaned by a gang member who doesn’t like her sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. But that’s it.

Yet another classic detective moment.

There will certainly be more action in future issues but this is a smart way to start. It puts the focus on the narrative and not the violence. If it starts with an action-packed issue, then that is what readers will expect throughout the series.

Reading along as Lexi unravels the mystery presented by Hedy will be amazing. Truthfully, the true test of this story will be in its resolution. Preferably, the journey should be enjoyable but a mystery’s conclusion has to be satisfactory to be worth it.

The rest of the series will be more than worth the read if issue one of Read Only Memories is any indication.

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Comics Editor Allison O’Toole Talks Kickstarter for Wayward Kindred

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Wayward Kindred is raising funds with Kickstarter.

If you enjoyed the Wayward Sisters anthology from TO Comix Press, they have a Kickstarter for its spiritual successor, Wayward Kindred. After holding an open call for submissions earlier this year, Wayward Kindred is pressing forward with its goal to tell a wide range of stories about monsters and families. Previews of the anthology include a cursed skeleton uncle, half-vampire teens, siblings transformed into wolves by their aunt, and sentient insects teaching their language to a human child. It looks like a fascinating mix of different stories and art styles funneled through the captivating vision of monsters.

After editing the award-winning Wayward Sisters, Allison O’Toole is back to edit Wayward Kindred. A freelance comics editor, she’s worked on a growing list of comics, including Jason Loo’s The Pitiful Human-Lizard, Sam Beck’s Verse, and other TO Comix Press publications like volumes of The Toronto Comics Anthology. With a few days left to raise funds, O’Toole was able to speak with Goomba Stomp via email about the Kickstarter for Wayward Kindred and her work in editing comics.

GS: How would you describe your role as a comics editor? Is it a lot of project management and big picture development with some oversight over language?

Allison O’Toole: That does cover a lot of it! The editor has her hands on every stage of the comic, from the pitch all the way to the lettering, so you’re doing the expected editing tasks at each stage—requesting changes for clarity and storytelling, that sort of thing. But you’re also building schedules and chasing after people to get things in on time. Depending on the publisher, you may also be helping out with other administrative tasks and promotion.

Could you talk about your path to becoming a comics editor? What drew you to editing comics versus other career paths with them? (Like writing, drawing, lettering, etc.)

I started out in comics review, and moved into editing when I realized that it combined my creative impulses with my administrative experience. I love to collaborate with creators and to help them create the best comic they can, so editing seemed like the best fit for my interests and skillset!

How did you end up working with TO Comix Press?

When the publisher, Steven Andrews, was looking for assistant editors for Volume 3 of the Toronto Comics Anthology, I was actively looking for more work experience in editing! Part of the mandate at TO Comix Press is to support creators who are early in their careers, so I was able to come on and learn a lot from that experience, so after assistant editing two anthologies, Steven let me lead my own project: Wayward Sisters. It went well, so now we’re working on that project’s spiritual sequel. 

Did the idea for Wayward Kindred come directly from Wayward Sisters, like the name suggests? Or did it originate somewhere else, followed by the realization that it could fit with Wayward Sisters?

I love monsters, so it was inevitable that I’d want to do more anthologies about them. I definitely want to suggest a connection between the two books, but they’re very different! The concept for this one came specifically from reading Nagabe’s gorgeous manga, The Girl from the Other Side, which I was reading while working on Sisters, so I decided that it would make a good follow up, rather than doing a traditional sequel. 

Could you walk us through the process behind developing an anthology like Wayward Kindred?

Well, to keep it short, once you’ve got an idea, coming up with a budget is the next step—that dictates how many stories and creators you can take on. Then you make a timeline. Even for short comics, we try to allow 2-3 weeks for each stage of the process, so you can build back from your target launch date (for us, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May). You then can open up for submissions, decide on the line up that would make the strongest book, and get started! Some folks like to do crowdfunding at the beginning of the process, but we like to get that in once we have some gorgeous art to show off. Once the art is all in and edited, you send the proof to the printer, and then fulfill the Kickstarter!

You can learn more about the TO Comix Press method for running anthologies in the articles at our website.

Did you end up pairing unattached writers and artists for Wayward Kindred, like the submissions page said would happen if you received pitches from incomplete creative teams? If so, how did you approach matching artists to writers?

We always accept unpaired pitches at TO Comix Press! It’s part of helping creators with fewer print credits find a place to get published. We go through all of the artist submissions and try to decide which portfolios would bring out the best in the pitched story. Often that means looking for similar stories in the artist’s portfolio, but this is a sense that comes from experience looking and reading many, many comics. Reading comics is the best way to get started in making them!

What have you enjoyed most about editing Wayward Kindred?

It’s always so exciting to see stories come together, especially after months of working with creators. We’re getting letters in now, and I can imagine how the readers are going to feel when they have the stories in front of them, and that’s always a thrill for me.

TO Comix Press has previously held Kickstarter campaigns for other publishing projects. How do you approach crowdfunding for a publication?

We’ve got an article about this on the TO Comix website as well! We’ve found that Twitter is always a major source of income for our Kickstarters, so we do everything we can to get folks talking about the campaign on Twitter. 

What draws you to monsters as characters and a source of storytelling?

I’m interested in monsters’ versatility as metaphor. They can stand in for any taboo you can think of, for any kind of outcast figure, for any kind of cultural anxiety—there are so many rich opportunities for storytelling! 

Wayward Kindred is a spiritual successor to Wayward Sisters.
“Forked” by Seungwoo Baek, Grayson Lee, Cam Lopez and Nikki Powers

Do you have any favorite monsters? Like werewolves, dragons, etc.?

Werewolves are my favourite, I just think they’re very cool. For more specific monster stories, I love Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, an early example of a sympathetic monster. I enjoy scary monsters, but I love a sad monster the most—that’s probably part of why I love werewolves, too. 

You’re also editing AFTERLIFT for comiXology. What is it like editing for a company like comiXology versus a publisher like TO Comix Press?

Editing a series has fewer moving parts than an anthology, so I like that. In an anthology, you’re editing many more pages, and wrangling many more creators, which can get a bit chaotic. A series is nice because you have a smaller team (on AFTERLIFT, it’s a team of only 4!), so it’s easier to keep track of. Then again, a series usually has a more rigid release schedule, which adds pressure, so they both have their pros and cons. 

Do you have advice for anyone interested in editing comics? 

If you want to edit, I’d say the same thing I say to any creators getting their start: networking is key! If you can’t meet people in person, then join Facebook groups, or forums online, find other folks who are hoping to learn as they go alongside you, and your careers can also grow together. 

If you’re looking to edit and you don’t have a portfolio with comics experience (or editorial experience in a different medium), publishing reviews on a blog is a great way to show folks that you know and understand comics. You can also show that you can keep things on a schedule if you publish reviews on a regular basis. I got my early editorial experience editing at pop culture websites, which wasn’t exactly the same as editing comics, but got me started on scheduling and keeping on top of writers. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say about Wayward Kindred?

I’m so excited about this anthology, and I hope that the readers love it as much as we do!

Thanks again for taking the time to chat. Good luck with Wayward Kindred and your other projects!

Wayward Kindred recently met its Kickstarter goal, but there are a few days left to raise more funds and pre-order a copy. The anthology is available to backers for a minimum of $15 as a digital download. Higher reward tiers include a physical copy and prints.

TO Comix Press advocates for transparency, and they have shared reports explaining how funds were used for a selection of their previous publications: Wayward Sisters, Shout Out, Yonge At Heart, and Toronto Comics: Volume 3.

Wayward Kindred is scheduled for release in May 2020.

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