Comics and Graphic Novels

The artist before the publisher – The story of Apocryphus

In November 2015 two things made me feel a project like Apocryphus was justified. In 2015 a wave of pop culture events swooped the country following the previous year first edition of Comic Con Portugal. And personally, I was in a very good place having come out fresh and charged from “Trojan Horse Was A Unicorn” (THU) project and was juiced up and eager to create something new. Two decades had passed since I last published any kind of comics in Portugal and I felt a bit distanced from the comic market.

I started looking at what the comics market looked like in Portugal in 2015 and found that it was mostly composed by author driven stories published in a graphic novel format by half a dozen publishers and mostly distributed by a single distributor.

Another thing that was noticeable when talking with a few artists was that this situation left most of them highly demotivated to make these graphic novels since we have a very, very small market for this medium and as so, after the distributor share and the publisher share, the author is left with a barely noticeable slice of the cake.

Before I took the step to self publish for the first time, I was an artist (for almost 30 years) and I really wanted to create something more rewarding for the artist.

I started to figure ways to do that and come up with the idea of a project where the artist comes first.

In order to achieve that goal, the hefty slice taken by the distributor would have to stay with the artists. We (the authors) would have to distribute the book within our circle of connections and directly to the readers attending the events previously mentioned.

Even without a distribution the publishing aspect of the book had to be taken care of. This project without distribution had now a very different set of rules and without distribution I simply assumed that no publisher would be interested in picking it up and playing it by the rules I had created for it. It became a high risk gamble with little to no return for a publisher.

A page from the first Apocryphus Volume

There really was no option left but for me to publish it.

Now, for the book to be ready in the shortest amount of time it would be required to become an anthology, an agglomerate of stories created by several artists. That way the production time would be reduced considerably.

But now this means I need more authors to make this book a reality. My absence from the Portuguese market for so many years didn’t help. I was completely disconnected from anyone.

Before looking for the authors I stablished the rules for the anthology:

  • Every volume will have a different theme around which the stories will converge.
  • All the authors should produce work that they would be proud of since they also would have to put the book in the hands of the readers while facing them.
  • I will handle all the production aspect of the book and handle it’s expenses.
  • The participant authors will pay only the production cost of each book they take for them.
  • The difference between the production cost and the cover price will belong to each individual participant author.
  • There are no obligations to the author other than producing their best work.
A page from the second volume of Apocryphus

The authors matter needed to be addressed now, because without the remaining authors this project wouldn’t exist, or the first volume would be a sad book booklet with a single story written and drawn by me.

This made Facebook a precious tool. But not all the authors came from Facebook connections, for instance, Nuno Amaral Jorge is a prolific writer I met a few years back through a common friend and we both agreed on someday working on something together. I had a writer.

A  little over twenty-five years ago I helmed a short-lived comics magazine called “Art Nove”. In the short existence of that project I was lucky enough to meet tremendous people that became some of Portugal’s best comic book artists. One of such artists is Miguel Montenegro, a former Marvel Comics and Dynamite Entertainment artist that due to his interest in starting writing found in this project a platform for his own stories. Miguel wrote two of the stories for the first volume and split the art chores between him and Rui Gamito.

Another of those artists is Pedro Potier that without hesitation came to the rescue. Pedro is one of Art Nove’s original three. He created Doc Challenge a time spanning adventurer for the magazine and has a prolific career as an artist, game designer, teacher… A real inspiration to work with. Pedro also brought the talent of Mariana Flores along with him to color his pages.

As soon as I posted the add on Facebook looking for artists and writers for this project, I got a message from a fabulous portuguese artist I had met in that year’s edition of THU, saying that though he had never drawn comics he would love to do a cover for the book. That artist was Carlos Amaral and that message gave a whole new spin to the project in my mind, because the truth is I hadn’t thought about the cover and I saw that as an opportunity to showcase the great artists I knew that didn’t work in comics but were amazing by their own right.

From that add we were joined by the writer Inocência Dias and the writer/artist Phermad. For the overall design of the book, my good friend Pedro Daniel joined the ranks to take the aspect of the book to a whole new level.

As for the theme, I wanted to start with something easy to reach the broader public and thus chose Fantasy for the first volume of Apocryphus – Latin for “Not approved for public reading” that seemed appropriate to the limited distribution the project would have.

In September 2016 I was invited by Rogério Ribeiro to talk in a panel about comics for the event Fórum Fantástico where I presented the idea and talked publicly about the project for the first time.

The book came out in December 2016 and was placed in the hands of the readers during the third edition of Comic Con Portugal.

Apocryphus // Fantasy was well received by the public and was a good experience for the participant authors enough to wish to return for the next volume.

Right after that, I was again approached by Rogério Ribeiro, founder of Fórum Fantástico to inquire if I would be able to release the second volume in the next edition of the event. That would mean that we would have 3 months less to produce the book and after talking with the authors, we set the launch date to September 2017 and immediately started working towards that goal.

Apocryphus // Crime would be the second volume of the anthology.

A few years prior I was part of the Comic Geek Speak community, a very active community that surrounded the podcast with the same name. As a result, I became friends with many, many authors and collectors from all around the world and one of those authors was Keith Cunningham. Keith was trying to break into comics as a writer and challenged me to draw a story for an anthology he intended to create, where he would ask his artist friends to draw his stories and would draw the stories he couldn’t get an artist for. We collaborated in a couple stories and in January 2017 he asked if I would draw another one for him. Fearing that I would compromise either his story or the one I was supposed to draw for Apocryphus // Crime, I instead asked him to write crime themed story for Apocryphus and he’d publish the English version of that same story in his anthology Strange Places.

Pedro Potier returned, but this time brought along the writer/artist Patrícia Furtado to write and color his story.

Miguel Montenegro also returned to the second volume, as did Inocência Dias and Phermad.

Meanwhile, I had been approached by more authors that wanted to make part of this project and so we were joined by the artists Diana Andrade, Filipe Coelho and Daniel Lopes da Silva and the writer Sofia Freire.

The cover for the second volume was brought to life by the young artist Jacky Filipe.

Along came September 2017 and the interest by the public grew and more artists showed interest in joining the project. In that same event I announced the theme for the third volume would be Femme Power where the artists would be required to create stories with female protagonists.

With a theme and date set for the third volume, we marched on to production.

Along with all the authors from the previous volumes a few more joined in: Fernando Lucas, the third original member of Art Nove magazine where he created the fan-favorite character “The Kid”, made a return to comics in this volume, Mariana Flores returned from volume one to write and draw her own story, João Oliveira also joined to write a story and the writer Maria João Lima was paired with artist Ana Varela.

The beautiful cover for volume three was handled by artist extraordinaire Sara Leal which I had considered for the second volume but due to a beautiful coincidence ended up being available to paint this cover.

Fórum Fantástico was scheduled for October 2018 and that is when the third volume was released and the theme for the next installment of the anthology was announced: Sci-Fi. I was in the right place to invite some of the best Portuguese sci-fi writers to take the challenge of writing for comics.

Bruno Martins Soares, Pedro Cipriano, Carlos Silva and Rogério Ribeiro took up the challenge and joined the writers Keith Cunningham, André Mateus, Nuno Amaral Jorge and Sofia Freire on the scripting shores while on the artists side, Marvel and Boom Studios artist Jorge Coelho, Aires Melo, Paulo Montes and Gabriela Silva joined repeating artists Filipe Coelho, Diana Andrade, Daniel da Silva Lopes and myself. Fernando Lucas wrote and drew his own sci-fi story for this volume.

A common friend directed Filipe Augusto towards Apocryphus and upon seeing a piece he did of a destructed Lisbon in a post-apocalyptic environment, I knew I had found the perfect cover artist for Apocryphus // Sci-Fi. I asked him if he would do a wraparound cover like the old science fiction paperbacks, and the concept he presented went way beyond just that, working in so many different levels.

The Fourth installment of Apocryphus was published in partnership with Fórum Fantástico and was warmly received in this year’s event.

Also, in this year’s Fórum Fantástico Apocryphus // Femme Power had the tremendous honor of being awarded with the Adamastor Award thanks to extraordinary efforts of all the authors involved.

To me that award represents the validation of what this project was set to do from inception: Recognize the work of all the authors involved in the project, because without every single one of them, Apocryphus would have been a sad little book with just one story written and drawn by me.

November 2019 will see the launch of the first Apocryphus art exhibition. This exhibition will visit several FNAC stores throughout the country.

Apocryphus will return next year with the theme Monster and keeps growing in interest from both readership and participant authors and I’m very curious to see where this growth will take us.

By Miguel Jorge

Miguel Jorge entered the comics world in the nineties by editing and being one of the original artists of the comics magazine Art Nove and Crash! Illustrated several stories for Keith Cunnigham’s Strange Places and for the mini-series Tales of Discord written by director Paul Salamoff and was Featured in Dark Horse’s book Sakai Project: 30 Years of Usagi Yojimbo along with dozens of the world’s best comics artists. Is one of the artists in the anthology Flip edited by Jack Briglio and published by Markosia. Miguel Jorge will continue spearheading the Apocryphus project as long as the readership continues to grow, and more artists want to be featured in it.

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