Like all great protests, Resist! started humbly. A one-off outgrowth of free Brooklyn-based comics newspaper Smoke Signal, the project was conceived on Election Night and snowballed quickly, thanks in part to its wildly (un)popular subject matter and the issue’s guest editors. Publisher Gabe Fowler, who’s also the proprietor of Desert Island comics shop in Williamsburg, had one choice for the role: legendary comics advocate and New Yorker art editor Francoise Mouly. With the addition of author Nadja Spiegelman, this team would helm an special edition of the paper in the wake of Donald Trump’s seemingly unthinkable win.
The proposed run of 30,000 issues soon ballooned to nearly twice that number as more than 1,000 submissions flooded in from artists around the world. The resulting 40-page tabloid paper will be distributed for free on Inauguration Day in D.C. and at events around the country. In the lead up to January 20, we caught up with Fowler—still rushing to manage some last minute logistics—to discuss the newspaper protest. Read on, and check out our exclusive gallery of Resist! outtakes.
What’s the history behind Smoke Signal?
It started as a pretty grassroots publishing project out of my comics store, Desert Island. I just wanted to make a free publication of experimental comics and art. I sought contributions from independent artists. It’s something that’s available for free from my store. It’s been fun, but it’s been a pretty niche publishing project to try to get experimental comics in front of people’s eyeballs through my modest little store.
Is this the first themed issue along these lines?
I’ve never had any themes whatsoever. I’ve kind of resisted that idea. I wanted it to interesting and worth reading—that was the only criteria. I figured if I had a theme in the past, it would prevent people from submitting whatever random work they’ve recently done. I wanted it to be more of a wild zone for artists to do whatever they wanted. But that changed with the recent election, because I was personally distraught with the results and realized that I wanted to do something, if only to deal with my own emotions.
What was the primary motivation behind Resist? Was it an attempt to encourage activism or group catharsis?
I don’t know if my thoughts were even that clear. The newspaper project is the project I’m always working on, so it can function as a funnel for my interests. I was watching the election with a friend who was equally shocked as the night wore on, and I started talking about this that night. She said, “Maybe it should be an all-woman issue.” That was a great idea. The gender issue was really at the front of this election. There was an opportunity that was missed to have our first female president. My immediate reaction to my friend was how to I, as the male editor and publisher of Smoke Signal, get myself out of the way of that.
It was a time to have a woman as the first guest editor. My first and best thought was the seemingly impossible dream of the legendary Francoise Mouly, who started RAW Magazine in 1980 and is the art director of The New Yorker. She’s the most powerful woman in comics and is pretty much the Patti Smith of comics. She changed independent comics in an industry dominated by men. I emailed and asked her, and she said, “This is obviously something we should do. I don’t have the time. I’m going to ask my daughter Nadja to tell me not to do it. But if I can get her on-board, maybe we can both do it together.” So that was a big maybe, but Naja loved the idea and said she would help, so I had not one, but two editors. From that moment on, we have been kicking ass on this thing.
Do you see this as the beginning of something larger? We’ve got at least four more years of Trump to deal with.
This has gone from being a themed issue of Smoke Signals to being its own thing, Resist! Art Spiegelman named it, and once that happened, I realized that working with Francoise, every step of the way, my answer is “Yes.” That has been my attitude this entire project. I’m lucky to be working with someone of her magnitude, and I want to learn from her and do it her way. The project has evolved day to day, based on her brilliant idea and it probably wouldn’t be available nationally if it weren’t for her. I wish we could have printed 30 million copies of this thing, but that’s just impossible. I think what we’ve achieved is pretty impressive. It’s grown a life of its own because the people of America are pissed that Trump is president. A majority of them didn’t vote for him.
So we could be seeing more of these.
We got so many submissions, we could do 10 of these as far as sheer content. But we don’t know the answer. There have been some ideas about things we can do. My immediate concern is that people want copies of this and we haven’t printed enough. We’ve made what I thought as an ungodly quantity, and they’re already gone. So, we’re considering the idea of reprinting, but at a certain point, we’re going to run out of money. We’re already at a break-even point. Maybe when we have a moment, when the dust settles with phase one, we can figure out what to do.
Find our exclusive gallery of Resist! outtakes here.