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Travelling to the Stars: An Interview with Nicole Marie Burton of Ad Astra Comix

GuestBloggerBy Kodi Maier

At this point it seems almost inevitable: in any debate about the demand for more – for better – representation of minorities in comics, some #Gamergate nerd dudebro will disrupt the conversation, demanding, “If you care so much, then why don’t you go make your own?” Rather than furthering the conversation about representation within comics, these nerd gatekeepers only work to protect the sanctity of the male fantasy narratives that currently dominate comics by silencing those individuals yearning to see themselves in their favourite medium. While many people who are excluded by this gatekeeping don’t necessarily believe we have the time or the creative skills needed to “go make [our] own,” those who do are worth noticing and celebrating. Among this group are Nicole Marie Burton and Hugh Goldring of Ad Astra Comix. Ad Astra Comix does it all, from publishing, creating, and reviewing comics to creating and holding educational workshops, all with the purpose of amplifying the voices of the structurally oppressed and giving them a space to create their own triumphs. Ad Astra’s latest project, Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back, is a raw, intimate, vibrant exploration of the restrictive gender norms Indian women endure, and was successfully funded via Kickstarter this past October. I was lucky enough to catch Nicole online while she was between projects and ask her a few questions about Ad Astra Comix.

KM: First of all, congratulations on successfully funding Drawing the Line! Will the book still be available for those who missed the Kickstarter?

NMB: Thanks! Drawing the Line is slated to come out in late October/early November. The retail price of the book is $20, but we are hoping to encourage group orders with a 40% discount on 5-9 copies, 50% on ten or more copies.

KM: Where will it be available?

NMB: For Americans, the best place to pick up a copy of Drawing the Line is through our American distributor, AK Press. Canadian and European readers can pick up a copy from our very basic online store.

KM: Tell me a bit more about Ad Astra – how did you get started?

NMB: I began the business as a blog in 2011/2012, taking a critical approach to what I called “political comics” — everything from comics journalism to editorial cartoons — largely looking at how effective comics were in delivering a social justice education. In 2013, I launched the business as a small distro by hosting Matt Bors from Portland Oregon, who helped me assemble a political comics panel at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival that year. Since then, the business has transitioned almost completely into producing others’ work (like Drawing the Line) and our original work (like DOGS and Talk is Cheap).

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KM: I know Ad Astra is Latin for “To the Stars.” How did you come up with the name?

NMB: Ad Astra Per Aspera (to the stars with hope) is the state motto of Kansas, one of my two home states (the other is Illinois, where Hugh and I are presently stopped). I picked it because of my affinity for the state.

KM: What are your short and long term goals for Ad Astra?

NMB: I have one full-time co-owner in the business, and we’ve had a handful of interns/ volunteers. So essentially, our short-term goal is just to make *this work* sustainable! We’re sitting on about 4 or 5 publishing projects (the first of which is Drawing the Line), and want to see those projects succeed, despite very little people-power and very modest financial earnings. (We do well when we attend events, but in order to be sustainable, we need to expand our reach. Our long-term goal is to grow the business into a cooperative for folks interested in using comics to talk about social justice. But first things first. :0)

KM: That’s a packed schedule! With all of these projects going on, what would make you say, “Yes! I’ve made it! This is exactly what I set out to do!”?

NMB: We are busy and the only things limiting us are time and money. In addition to Drawing the Line we have a number of other projects, including “Talk is Cheap” — a new political comic illustrated by myself and written by my partner, Hugh Goldring. “EXTRACTION! Comix Reportage,” our next full-length publishing project, is an anthology of comics about Canadian mining companies and their impact on different communities in Canada, India, and Guatemala. It originally printed in Montreal with only 500 copies in 2007, and we’re doing an updated 2nd edition with plans for a much broader reach! “WAR IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD” will be our next publishing project after “EXTRACTION!” and is going to be a re-print of this incredible graphic memoir by Seth Tobocman, a radical comic artist based in New York City. Seth grew up hanging out with Harvey Pekar in Cleveland, but then went on to become an artist in NYC with radical politics. In 1979, he co-founded World War 3 Illustrated, the english-speaking world’s longest running anthology of radical comics. “War in the Neighborhood,” which first came out in the 1990s, looks at Seth’s involvement in the tenants’ rights/squatters movement in the Lower East Side in the late 80s/early 90s. The book is a masterful work of both form and content, and the politics draw striking parallels to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. We are really looking forward to bringing this re-print to a whole new generation of radicals who can benefit from these lessons of movements passed. Finally, we have Indigenous Comix Month. We have spent the last two Aprils highlighting and promoting different indigenous comics writers and artists, looking to amplify the stories and issues they speak about in their work.

KM: You announced on your website that you’re taking Ad Astra on tour! Where are you going and how long will you be away?
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NMB: We are actually planning to tour from December until April, hitting up the American Midwest, Southwest, West Coast, and Pacific Northwest. We will then be driving back across Canada [to Toronto].

KM: Besides broadening your reach and growing a larger fan base, do you have any other hopes for the tour? Are you planning to attend comic conventions or tour bookstores or some other venue?

NMB: When we’re on tour, we will be focusing on small-scale gatherings… not planning on any comic conventions at the moment, as they are usually an over-priced gong-show for many. Because our offerings have a lot to do with politics (and by extension, discussion), we find smaller, quieter venues are somewhat preferred in many ways.

KM: Are there any areas that you’re particularly excited to visit?

NMB: Hugh and I are excited to see Atlanta (where we have a publisher friend), New Orleans (where we’ll be spending New Year’s) and Las Vegas, Nevada (where I visited years ago as part of a Pastors for Peace convoy.) We’ll be hiking and camping all over the southwest and doing our best to soak up the history everywhere we go.

KM: What’s the best way for people to find a tour schedule?

NMB: Our tour schedule is still somewhat flexible, though we have largely settled on a route. After Christmas, we’re headed to Atlanta, and will go to New Orleans from there for New Year’s. Then we’ll be back in Atlanta in early January for an event we think will be on January 5th. Then we’ll drive across the midwest (not sure if we’ll do Kansas or Texas) and begin our camping and hiking adventure before making our way through Nevada to California. From California we’ll head up the coast to Vancouver, stopping along the way. If people along that route (or within a reasonable deviation from it) want us to come to their town / hamlet / mountaintop monastery for ninja monks, we’d love to! We’re open to booking events anywhere along the route!

KM: Thanks so much Nicole!

NMB: Thank you!

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