Interview conducted by Zoom on June 25, 2023 (edited for clarity and length)
Tofte: Could you say your name and what you do?
JC: My name is Jason Canty. For the past twenty-some years I've been helping comic book artists and anthro artists get their work to the public, either through the Internet or traditional publishing. In 2006, I started my own comic book company, Angry Viking Press.
Jason Canty and the Angry Viking Press booth on the set of Ted 2 (2015)
Tofte: Could you talk about how you first got into comics?
JC: Well, getting into comics — actually helping versus reading comics, those are two different things. I first started reading comics in the 80s, when I was a little kid. I'm 43 years old, so I'm quite ancient *laughs*. And I used to like reading Transformers, and I had some Superman, but I was mostly into non-mainstream things. I've been a fan of comics basically from the beginning and I'd read anything non-superhero, because most superhero comics at the time didn't interest me, outside of Archie's version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But that was full of anthro elements too. And I would tend to buy manga translations or American manga-style comics and anthro. I got into buying anthro comics because I've always been a fan of things that are different, and Fred Perry’s Gold Digger and a few of the characters in Ninja High School by Ben Dunn caught my eye.
Over time, during the 90s, when I was a teenager and going on the Internet, I befriended a bunch of artists, both professional and just other fan artists like myself, and I think that's how I got into helping people in comics. As my network grew, people seemed to see me as being reliable and trustworthy, and I just kept finding more and more artists to help. Fast forward to 2003, I told my friends that if I could not help them get into other small indie studios within three years, I would start a company. And keeping my word, in 2006 I started Angry Viking Press with three friends, two from college and one lifetime friend who also went to the same college as well. And I just decided to start Angry Viking Press to help artists get published, especially artists who could not find a way into the mainstream or other indie companies.
But back to anthro, even though it's starting to become more accepted now, anthro is still on the outside of things, so very few anthro artists have a chance to get their work into the print publishing circuit. And sometimes it's hard for them to know how to do it on their own. The Internet has made it easier for web comics, or web portfolios and stuff like Patreon. But if you want to do print, it's kind of hard to do it on your own, and not every artist — anthro or not — knows how to publish things or get other artists’ or writers’ help for things they don’t have.
And it's funny that someone like myself, who is autistic, was able to have more business sense and networking sense than other people who tend to be neurotypical. But they’re also artists, so, you know, sometimes it’s like herding cats.
Tofte: Yeah, I can see there's definitely a split there, because if you’re going to art school, you’re not going to business school, and vice versa, right?
JC: And I didn't go for business either, but I just knew that if I was taking on this challenge of helping people, I had to brush up seriously on certain things, and that's how I took it, I took it very seriously. And Angry Viking Press, it came with a lot of connections, but it can be very frustrating. You know, I've gotten a lot of opportunities that many people don't get even one percent of, but year after year, something on the outside would interfere with that. And when you're a person who likes to help other people, it's frustrating when you do everything right and it just fails, and these people have nowhere else to go and are looking at you as their only viable option, and something on the outside intentionally or accidentally sabotages your plans or just the situation isn’t right, or someone passes away. Some people used to call me the god of resourcefulness back in the day, but even if you make backup plans and have backups to your backup plans, some of those plans just don't work out.
Tofte: You mentioned starting to meet artists and helping to connect them to different presses. Could you talk a little bit more about that?
JC: Well, it goes back mostly to the 90s, and web hosting services like FurNation and talking to Fred Perry by email, *laughs* and he’d get frustrated that I would always figure out where his story was going before he would get to it. My artwork was more anthro-based even though I was more of a general sci-fi fan, but my characters were anthro aliens, and on early anime web hosting, I didn’t quite fit, so I put my artwork on VCL or FurNation, and other artists would like my work. Then I formed friendships and was introduced to other people that I was reading in Radio Comix or Antarctic Press, and we would share ideas and talk. It started out mostly as being online friends, and then I’d help by giving suggestions on things. And people at Antarctic Press would ask me from time to time, if they had a swimsuit issue or winter anthology and they didn't have enough artists to meet their publishing quota and fill out the pages, sometimes they’d just say, “Hey Jason, do you know any artists who could possibly work within this style?” And I said, “Yes, I do.” And then over time, some of the Japanese artists who were into kemono — which is basically furry, anthro, but it translates to “beast person” — they started hearing about me. Mike and Carol Curtis, who had worked with Antarctic Press on their comics Shanda the Panda and Katmandu, decided to start their own company, Shanda Fantasy Arts. And since I was going into college around ‘98 and learning Japanese, and they heard I'd helped other artists and knew Japanese, they asked for my help being an artist wrangler, so I started talking to Japanese artists and helping them navigate working with Shanda Fantasy Arts or Antarctic Press and Radio Comix, and that grew my connections within the Japanese furry community at the time. I befriended Ken Singshow, Yamaneko-ya, Tojyo, TRUMP — the artist, not Donald — Karabiner, Doctor Comet, and a few other kemono artists, and I would help them with rough translations to understand requirements that publishers were asking for. Or when Anthrocon and Further Confusion came around and I could travel on winter or summer break during college, I would go to those conventions and act as an impromptu translator. You might see a photo of me somewhere helping Doctor Comet from one of the early Further Confusions. It's somewhere on the Internet, but I haven't seen it in a while.
Jason Canty and Dr. Comet at an early Further Confusion
Tofte: What was it like going to cons and being a sort of guide and intermediary and translator?
JC: Well for me, since I was always raised to be a person to help if I happen to have the means and resources — the real difficulties have always been financial, and I wasn’t too financially stable most of my life and am still not in a stable position — well, trying to help people, you know, it's fun, but it's hard when you don't have much in the way of finances to do that, but it was enjoyable. Also, as a person who was very shy, that was kind of my early chance of getting out and socializing and improving my social skills. And since other Japanese artists I was helping at Further Confusion or Anthrocon tend to be reserved — and even more reserved once they’re surrounded by Americans — I found it enjoyable, and that strengthened my connections to them and being seen as reliable in helping them, and that grew my network within the Japanese furry community.
And again, like I said, once I started the company officially in 2006, a lot of the artists I had been helping since the mid 90s, anthro and anime and indie, moved over. Shawntae Howard had tried getting Extinctioners published through Vision Comics, but they only lasted for one issue with his book, and then he tried with Shanda Fantasy [Arts]. But then around the time he was starting to really pick up steam, Mike and Carol [Curtis, owners of SFA] were starting to close down. I had already been, by this time in 2007, in operation for about a year and a half, and he jumped on.
Front covers to Shawntae Howard’s Extinctioners issues 16 and 18 (2009)
And he wanted to bring over James Hardiman, and we were trying to do that. But the problem was that while furry fans and anthro fans love the comics and the work and the art — this is something I've learned since the 90s about how fans respond — they tend to like custom costumes, custom art, custom comics. But they aren't great at supporting artists who have a comic with their own long-term idea. Also, a lot of them grew up with things being on the Internet, and a lot of people said “Well, if it's on the Internet, it’s free.” Well, yes, but if you don't support the artists and their endeavors, they might not be able to keep doing the work. So when it came to print publishing of anthro books, while Jim and Shawntae had hoped that their fan base would be supportive of Angry Viking Press, unfortunately other than a few hardcore fans, much of their fan base wasn't as strong in actually buying the comics.
And a lot of furry fans back then, and still to some point now, don’t like to go into comic book shops and buy the books, but that's what keeps a comic book company going. They’re like, “Well, you can buy it off your website.” True, but unless we have 3000 fans buying a book every time it comes out, that won't support the company or the artists. Because I have to pay the artists, and since Jim and Shawntae did black-and-white, if I had to get color artists, I would have to approach someone else and pay them for that, or if you have an artist who doesn't letter, you have to pay for a letterist, and I would have to pay the print fees. And someone might say, “Well, such-and-such artist does well on their own.” Sure, because they don't have anyone else to deal with and their fan support is strong enough for that one person — maybe. But when it comes to a company, and you have more than one book, and you also have a small staff, you need stronger support to keep things going. That's why, even though I picked up a bunch of anthro artists from America, Sweden, France, and Japan, I knew that I couldn't be just an anthro company. I had to be an indie company, and that's why, while we have a lot of anthro artists, we still try to be a broader indie company so we can get a wider reaching audience to support us. And for a while it was working, but we still had to grow from self-publishing and self-distribution to mainstream distribution with Diamond, and that's when things got difficult.
Tofte: Could you talk a little bit more about how distribution works for an indie press?
JC: Now, distribution in America — it's changing, thanks to the pandemic and Diamond’s actions at the start of the pandemic — but for most of the late 80s up until the early 2000s, there was this one company called Diamond Comic Distributors. They were the monopoly that shipped comics around the US. And they just had better reach and better resources and they pushed the smaller distributors out at the end of the 80s and prevented other new distributors from lasting long. We did have a little success with Haven [Distributors] at the beginning, but unfortunately they were priced out by Diamond, so we had to move from Haven as they went out of business and tried to get into Diamond.
Now, when you're a publisher, you can publish on your own, and distribution — which is getting your work into the hands of your audience — you can either do direct distribution, which means you hope that your fans know of your existence somehow, be it by the Internet, telegram, or carrier pigeon. And then you could make a sale that way. Or you could have someone else do the legwork of bringing your work to stores, and that’s where a distributor like Diamond comes in. Since they were the only game in town for much of the past 30 years, and their management was more into mainstream American comic brands, indie and manga and anthro comics — especially anthro comics — had a hard time just getting picked up, especially if you were new. If you were already established, they were more accommodating. Angry Viking Press, since we were new at that time, they wanted us to jump through a lot of hoops, and they were flaming *laughs*.
So that rubbed some of our artists the wrong way, because they were wondering why they had to go through all this. And I said, “Well, because we're new, and you know, even though we have a good following on the Internet, we need a strong following in actual sales.” Because [Diamond Distributors] only makes money if we make money, and they take 51% of your sales to cover shipping costs and storage costs, so a huge chunk of your potential income is eaten directly by the distributor. If you do self-distribution, you’ve got to ship your books to a comic book shop or directly to your fans, but again, then it all totally depends on your fan support. You have higher returns, but if you have only 20 fans buying your books every once in a while, that's not enough to pay your team.
And I was often told I actually paid, for a small company, around Marvel rates for introductory artists, around $50 to $100 per page, and people were like, “Wow, you're paying that much?” Well, yeah, because you're worth that much. “Well, thank you, but you’re a small company, so how can you afford that?” I just work hard *laughs*, and that’s how I retained outside artists freelancers to do coloring or whatever. The freelancers were paid their worth. But again, if you’re not making enough sales, you can't keep them on staff long enough. That's the difficulty in distribution. If you don't have a strong enough fan support, it just makes it impossible to do print comics. Some people said, “Well, just do it online,” which we've tried, and you don’t have to pay the printing and shipping fees, but you have to pay web hosting fees and you also still have to pay the artists.
Tofte: That's a lot to juggle all at once.
JC: Yes it is. And yeah, there are a lot of complicated moving parts and payments you have to make, and you're really trying your best to do right by your artists. And that's another difficulty if you're a small publisher, getting enough support from your fan base for if something outside your control happens. We're a small company and we're not like Marvel or DC, which can swap an artist or writer out.
So, as a lot of people know now, James Hardiman is no longer with us. This is not a secret now, but he was having health problems and he wanted me to keep that secret. And that was also hard, because I was the public face of Jim at that time and people were like, “Where's Jim’s books?” but I couldn't tell why they weren’t coming out on time. Jim and his mom asked me to not say anything until after he passed away, because at the time they were still hoping he would make it through. But then he didn't, and we had Kickstarter at the time [when he was ill] and I got a lot of flack for not getting his books out. His was one of the first books Angry Viking Press was trying to publish, but then he realized he wasn't doing well and he told me to put some of the other books forward first. So that's what we tried doing.
Rear covers to James Hardiman’s Skunkworks Collection volumes 1 and 2 (2017)
And a lot of small companies, especially when you create your own company, you make sure creators still own their work. If I had a company-owned project and someone gets sick or passes away, I could just move someone off of it, because then the company owns the characters and the art, not the creator. And that’s what Marvel and DC and big companies like that do. But we’re creator-owned, so if someone gets sick or someone dies, that stops the book. And if you don't have the creator’s permission to continue the book, you just can't because it's not yours.
So if someone gets sick, the book stops for a while and you hope they get better, but you get fans yelling at you because they don't know what's going on behind the scenes and you can’t tell them or not everyone understands, “No, this person's no longer with us or has an arm problem or fell down the stairs or lost a family member and they need to take a couple months off.” And that slows things down.
Tofte: Could you talk a little about why you chose to make Angry Viking Press creator-owned instead of a corporate-owned?
JC: Well, as I mentioned at the start of our conversation, when I said in 2003 that if I couldn't help my artist friends find comic companies they could work with, I would start my own. And quite a few of them worked for big places, like Marcus Jones. He worked for Marvel, DC. And if you work for a big company, usually any new idea you make becomes property of the big company. And a lot of them did not want their property, their hard work owned by someone else. And especially if you're a small artist, if someone big picks you up, you may be the IP creator, but you're not the IP owner, so there would be interference from executives. And too many of the artist friends I knew experienced that, or they knew other artists that had experienced that. That was why I wanted to make Angry Viking Press creator-owned with just minor input from myself to say, “Look, these are the metrics we’ve seen this month, so maybe for next month, could you add this?” Other than little suggestions, we would be hands-off in the overall story, as long as they met the expectations of the audience that they were trying to reach. If they were trying to be PG-13, we would not let them have an X-rated scene the next month, and we would say, “No, you said you wanted this to be PG-13 or kid-friendly. This scene, while well drawn, might not fit the audience you were trying to establish.” We just give suggestions based on metrics reviews and try to keep the boat steady.
If the company owned the characters, it would still have to pay their artists. But if something happened, you could swap them out for another artist or writer, but then I would have to know the characters well enough. And while I did sometimes know the ins and outs of some of these creators’ characters as well or sometimes better than they did, and I would give them little insights that they didn't think of, I didn’t feel secure enough that I could transfer that information to another writer that I would have to hire. So that's another reason why I don't want to own someone else's work, because maybe I would understand your character, but if I had to hire a writer, would they understand your character?
Tofte: Could you talk a little about the projects that Angry Viking Press either has in the works now or that you're planning to work on?
JC: Well, we’re on hiatus right now, and that started shortly after my mom passed away, because that hit me hard. She died shortly after Jim [Hardiman], about a year after, and then other people just started passing away, and that made the hiatus longer and longer. But every time we kept trying to come back, or we got some new boon from Hollywood, something would happen.
But currently I'm trying to help one of my writers, Vember Judgment, with his Kickstarter project called Murinae. Basically, it's like Secret of NIMH but the mice are vampire mice, and it’s R-rated and adult because of violence, and they want to take over the human world.
Another person I'm helping is Akasaka Yoshiki, or Akasaka-san. He's a former Konami Games artist on games like Martial Champion — he’s actually the main character designer for that — and also worked a bit on the Super Nintendo Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters. He was the artist and movement creator for the final boss of the game, Karai, and that was the game that introduced a lot of people to her. She debuted a few months earlier in the Mirage Comics version of the series, but she didn’t appear at all in the cartoon or the Archie Comics series, so most people who didn’t buy the Mirage Comics “City of War” mini-series got their first interaction with Karai in the Super Nintendo game Akasaka-san worked on.
There are a lot of ideas he had working at Konami that he could not get to that he’s hoping to work on through us, but just like with my life for the past few years, we’d be trying and something hard would happen in his life. So we’ve had to keep pushing things back, but we're hoping this year to get working on a book of his, and a few of his friends from Konami and the anime industry want to help. Apparently, he knows the creator of Trigun, because they worked together a bit at Konami, and he might be able to get him to do some guest art — nothing major, but a couple guest pieces for that.
I’m also working with his friend MaxYA, who also worked at Konami, who would love to make a comic adaptation of one of the games he worked on called Gaiapolis. It’s a fantasy game, but he always wanted to expand on the story in comic format that couldn't quite be told in a 16-bit arcade game in the early 1990's. And some of the monster designers that work on Super Sentai, which is known as Power Rangers in America, want to work with us on some monster and horror comics. Shinkaida Tetsuyarou worked on the Sentai show Liveman, designing the female helper robot Colon/Koron, the final boss GigaVolt, and monsters for the video game Wild Arms, and I hope to work with them.
I've also tried to get Angry Viking Press books translated into Japanese and published directly in Japan, because while there are more comic buyers in America, there's actually more support in Japan. Ever since the 90s, the support of comic books has been going down in American comics, and it's hard to get a million-book seller nowadays. In America, a really hot comic nowadays sells 100,000 copies, and a pretty good one is 10,000, and just getting by is 3,000. Now in Japan, due to their culture of support for books, even though the manga community and the overall otaku community is pretty small in Japan — don't think everyone in Japan's an otaku! That's just an impression some of us get by looking at Japan — it’s pretty small, but their sense of support is so strong that they can have books get millions upon millions of copies distributed, and sometimes people buy multiple copies just to be supportive. And so those are some of the things we're doing right now. We teamed up with a distributor in Japan that helps foreign companies get translated and published in Japan. They’re called Waga Comix, and they're still small, but they’ve grown pretty quickly, bigger than they expected, especially during the pandemic.
Tofte: Could you highlight some of the comics that Angry Viking Press publishes that furry fans might be especially interested in?
Front cover for Ken Singshow’s Andorozon! issue 2 with art by Karabiner and back cover of issue 3 with art by Ken Singshow (2009)
JC: We have Andorozon! by Ken Singshow, but due to his personal life issues, we could only get to issue 3, but we still have them up. It's basically Don Bluth meets furry mecha. We also have Extinctioners by Shawntae Howard. He’s had some wrist problems, but he's still working on it, and he also has a Patreon. Diamond [Distributor’s] interference stopped us from moving forward for a time, because they wanted it in color and they wanted him to redraw the first 15 issues. I convinced Diamond to let us do just the first five, and we're hoping to get that back up soon, but he might be moving to another publisher. If he does, I'll let the fans know. Oh, and Sanny Folkesson’s anthro book Soft Metal, which we also try to keep getting him back to working on. We also had for a time Brian Burke’s Super Megatopia, but his personal situation changed, so we only have the first two issues, unfortunately. Like I said earlier, being a creator-owned company, it's hard to continue on if something happens to the creator or if they pass on, like James Hardiman. He was trying to move away from Skunkworks and into anthro superhero comics with his Caterwaul Inc., but then he passed away. I was able to make a collection of all his Skunkworks. Now, those are a bit adult, so you have to be 18 or older to buy them, and we still have digital rights. We promised Jim and his mom that we would do an initial run and then a bonus run of those print books, so we’re only permitted to do digital at this time, but she may let us do a print run again, because she still likes that Jim's fans appreciate his work. But at the same time, with him gone, it hurts her — and I understand, because with my mom gone and my friends who I wanted to help publish who are now gone, it kind of hurts to keep seeing their work out there when they’re no longer around to enjoy it. But she knew it brought her son joy *laughs* even though she knows it's quite adult, and it brought her son's fans joy. And so every once while she's like, “You know, Jay, maybe you might print them,” but then she's like, “No, I don't think so.” And she's still on the fence about trying to get Caterwaul Inc. out, because Jim only did a couple of pages before he passed on, and while there are a couple of artists we could work with to kind of mimic his style and we have the script for the first three issues — and nothing more, so we wouldn’t do more than those issues — for her, it doesn't feel right to have someone copy his style, because she can't share it with Jim.
Front cover for Brian and Stuart Burke’s Crushed: The Doomed Kitty (2008) with art by Jeff Axer and back cover for Sanny Folkesson’s Soft Metal (2010)
Akasaka-san also would like to get into anthro, but he's a bit shy because he feels more confident with anime-style characters, but he's done good anthro work for me, and if I can convince him, we'll see about him doing something with kitsune fox characters and maybe a couple of other, you know, cat girls, but cat girl ninjas.
Tofte: I know that a few of your artists are Black, and you're a Black creator and publisher. Could you talk a little bit about what that experience has been like in the industry? Any insights or challenges you’d like to share?
JC: The funny thing is, we're Black-owned and we have majority Black staff, so even though we’re called Angry Vikings, we're pretty much Black and Hispanic and a little bit Japanese, with a few white Americans here and there, and Sanny being white and Swedish. He's the only real viking we have on staff *laughs*. While many Black artists and creators have had difficulties prior to us, it wasn’t as difficult for me because, during the late 90s and early 2000s, since I was moving into indie and not into mainstream, not into superhero, there was less competition and also less critique about the fact that we were Black. It's, “Oh, you're just doing indie.” So since we're doing indie, race didn't come up. Shawntae, when he started with Vision [Comics], he was doing anthro and superhero, and he got a little flack for being Black, because for some reason everyone expects you to be Caucasian if you do superhero work. So we’ve had fewer racial barriers, and in the 2000s things started to get even better for minority creators, and most of the barriers, as I've been saying all this conversation, have been financial.
Tofte: Yeah, we've talked about just how hard it is to keep an indie press going, and the past 40 years are littered with furry comics that, you know, it was a struggle to sell and sustain. What would you say to people who are going to be reading this interview who want to support indie and furry and kemono comics?
JC: Like I said, post-90s and early 2000s, you might have the mindset that, if it's on the Internet, it's free and, yes, if you put something on the Internet for everyone to see, it's kind of free. But if you have a furry or kemono artist you like and they have a Patreon or SubscribeStar or something like that, do whatever you can to support it. Don't feel like you have to lift the world, but if you like that material and have a small artist, at least do what you can to support them and see that creator grow. If they’re OK with it, share their art on Twitter or Tumblr or the up-and-coming BlueSky, whatever social media, share it with their permission. Let people know of the artists that you like. And if they have a Patreon or a Ko-Fi account or just a PayPal account, drop a dollar or two here and there. If an artist decides to work with Angry Viking Press and we get a book out, talk about that book, buy that book, maybe try to buy two or three and let your friends know. It really is just about showing support and, when you’ve got an individual or small company, the fans really are the lifeblood of that work. And yes, you may like it and you may look at it online, but if you don't put the money down, that's where the real support comes from and it helps a small company like mine or the individual artist continue on. Because, you know, we live in the world where you have bills to pay. It’s not Star Trek yet. Hopefully we will be one day, where we can just do things for fun and for free, because we have our needs met. But since we don't have such a society, we need to go to work every day, or if our work is our art, we need it to bring in enough income to pay the bills. Now, you might not have the financial means to support them, and if you can't, don't feel like you have to, because if you can't, you can't. But if you can, then try.
Tofte: I think that's really good advice.
JC: And that's really all you can do: really just do what you can do.
Tofte: This has been fantastic. Thanks so much for chatting with me, Jason.
List of Angry Viking Press’s Titles (Current, Past, and In-Progress):
Andorozon! issues 1–3 — story and art by Ken Singshow
Andorozon: Pandora's Box — story by Ken Singshow, art and colors by José Alvarez
Babes of the Beach issue 1 — art by TRUMP, Team Shuffle, BOSSHI, and EZROC
Coco Gun Bun issues 1–2 — story by Chelsea Mitchel, art by Ron "Ronzo" Murphy
Crushed: the Doomed Kitty Adventures issues 1–2 and Remix issues 1–2 — Brian Burke, Stewart Burke, David “Dutch” Koppenhaver
The Demon Mages issues 1–2 — story and art by Jason Robinson
Dragonlast issues 1–3 — story and art by Satanosov
Ebony Furs issue 1 — art by Jason Canty, Max Blackrabbit, gNaw, Ken Singshow, Ron Murphy, Drake Fenwick, Dutch, Danny Valentini, Equus, Rail Ride, Fossil!, and Karabiner
Evil Diva TPB volumes 1–2 — story by Peter Menotti and Joe Cashman, art by Cassandra Wedeking and Severin Piehl
Extinctioners: Origins volumes 1–2 (redrawing/coloring of Extinctioners issues 1–15, originally published by Vision Comics and Shanda Fantasy Arts) — story and art by Shawntae Howard
Extinctioners issues 16–17 — story and art by Shawntae Howard
Extinctioners: Road to Extinction TPB — story and art by Shawntae Howard
Extinctioners: Arctic Blue issue 1 — story and art by Shawntae Howard
Happiness Is a Warm Gun issue 1 — story and art by Marcus Jones
Invasion of the Heroes issue 1 — stories and art by Jason Canty, Shawntae Howard, Brian Burke and Stewart Burke, Ken Singshow, and Jeff Axer
Misty The Mouse TPB — story and art by David “Dutch” Koppenhaver
Soft Metal issue 1 — story and art by Sanny Folkesson and Erick Melton
Speed Demonz issues 1–2 — story and art by Gabe Lamberty and Jay Moyano
SWIPE issue 1 — story and art by Park Cooper and Bryan Randall