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Buffalo’s Band of Bards’ New Worker-Owned Co-Op Opens Opportunities for Comic Creators

(EDITOR’S NOTES— Punk music, DIY culture and comics have long held a symbiotic relationship. The Buffalo music scene is filled with musicians who are brilliant visual artists, published cartoonists, zine creators, game designers and comic shop owners. As such, we were thrilled to speak with Tim Stolinski, chief financial officer, president, and co-founder of the Buffalo-based Band of Bards, an independent publisher of comics, graphic novels and prose. Recently, Band of Bards joined forces with publisher Dauntless Stories to become a worker-owned cooperative — the first-of-its-kind in the comics industry. Tim was kind enough to speak with 1120 Press about the move and what it all means. Please see our story below.)


1120 PRESS: Congratulations on officially joining forces with Dauntless Stories and becoming a cooperative. How does it feel now that Band of Bards has taken this from idea to reality?


TIM STOLINSKI: Thank you! We spent about a full year working on this. Cooperation Buffalo was a huge help in guiding us through the whole process and offering great advice. I’m really proud that we have taken this step and that our ownership group reflects our mission of advancing authentic representation, inclusion, and diversity in comics. Like in most creative industries there’s an imbalance of power between larger publishers and creators. I hope more people see the worker cooperative as a model for correcting those problems and making the industry more equitable for everyone involved. 


1120: Can you take us behind the scenes, so to speak, in terms of why this move was made and the thought behind it? What was it about Dauntless Stories that made them the right publisher to join forces with and what does this actually mean in terms of the business as it moves forward as opposed to doing business previously? 


TS: Dauntless and BoB formed within months of each other. In a sense we’ve been growing up together and have been friends with Marcus Jimenez and Brent Fisher for about that entire time. They’ve been collaborators on past projects and share our values, so it was natural to look for a more formal way to work together. While the two companies remain autonomous in day-to-day operations, we have combined our bargaining power and market access. Much like the music industry, there are a ton of middlemen trying to take their piece of you. So, the more our small pubs can combine their powers the better we can negotiate and find ways to make our publishing sustainable. 


Prior to founding Band of Bards, Chris and I did a ton of market research. As we looked into dozens of publishers, one question stood out: “what would a worker- owned publisher look like?”  Early in 2023, I started looking into the co-op model. The U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives was a huge resource, and their co-op registry helped me find Cooperation Buffalo. We spent months meeting with Mike Zak from CB. His mentorship and advice helped us fully understand the co-op model, feel confident it was the right choice for BoB, and get the necessary organizational and legal documents in order.


1120: What will this mean for creators? 


TS: This move makes us a creator-owned publisher. That should give creators a lot more confidence when looking for a publisher who shares their passion for the medium, for telling amazing stories, and that they won’t be done dirty. Sadly, there are a ton of horror stories of creators getting the shaft with predatory contracts. More crossover with music!


We’ll also be looking to add more creators as worker-owners in the near future. BoB publishes creator-owned comics, but we have a long list of original IPs that we’d like to develop as well. Having in-house creatives dedicated to that work will be a huge step.


1120: How would you characterize the state of the industry, and will you be better positioned to meet/overcome whatever challenges that currently exist in the industry now that you are a cooperative? 


TS: Comics are awesome, the comic industry is stupid as fuck. For about 40 years, Diamond Comic Distributors had a monopoly on distribution. This is why comics retreated from newsstands and grocery stores. Entrenched in the ‘Direct Market’ (comic shops), insanely insular, resistant to change, and seemingly intent to die rather than adapt. The comic book man from The Simpsons is sadly way too accurate and common among local comic shop (LCS) owners. Demographically speaking, middle-aged cishet white dudes hold many purse strings. Now that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to what we’re doing, but they take more convincing than, say, an LGBTQ+ or woman-owned LCS. 

During COVID there was a massive jolt to comic and graphic novel sales across the board. People got stimulus checks and wanted entertainment to enjoy at home. This past year that bubble popped. I think COVID actually delayed a reckoning that was coming. Many readers and LCS owners seem to undervalue the medium. Cover prices of $4.99 are becoming more common, but there’s still resistance. Frankly speaking, a 24-page comic at $4.99 still doesn’t return enough to sustain a publisher unless you’re selling tens of thousands of copies.  We see ourselves more like an indie punk label than a traditional publisher, so we price our books at a premium, print on higher quality paper, and focus on giving readers more pages for their dollar. It’s an uphill battle, but one more reason why greater organizing, cooperation, and consolidating bargaining power is needed for a small press to survive and thrive. In the end, dinosaurs will die.


1120: We're curious too since we are a Buffalo publication: how you would characterize the state of the comics community in Buffalo? 


TS: There are tons of amazing comic creators and LCSs in Buffalo. I hope we can help bring more attention and awareness to that. We’re currently planning an event called Buffalo Indie Lit Expo, with the goal to gather the full spectrum of the local creative scene in one place. A celebration of the impressive art scene is needed. More collaboration and organizing to lift up everyone. Shit’s too hard to go it alone or to keep events hyper-focused on one subset of art. It becomes too easy to fall into the trap of feeling unappreciated when you don’t share the sandbox. That kind of attitude is a death wish. 


1120: Moving forward, what else does Band of Bards have planned for 2024?


TS: Con season is now upon us! We keep it local when it comes to comic cons. The travel expenses and table fees make it incredibly hard to go far & wide. We’ll be heading to Pittsburgh at the end of May, Nickel City Comic Con is at the end of June, and then we have Flower City (Rochester) in September. In between, we like to find small shows to be at and let people know we exist.


I mentioned BILE above. We’re aiming for September 28 for that show. We have two more Kickstarter campaigns planned. AMONGST THE STARS, a sci-fi/romance anthology, launches June 1 and wraps at the end of June. Our last KS of 2024 will be for our series, MAGNI THE MIGHTY, a really rich adaptation of post-Ragnarok Norse mythology.

Also, staying in business. Always an annual goal.


1120: Thank you again for speaking with us. Is there anything you want to add that we haven't touched on?


TS: Thank you for the chance to share our message! If anyone is interested in the Kickstarter for AMONGST THE STARS they can check out the pre-launch page here. Sign up to get a notification on launch and that link will keep working during the campaign too. I believe comics are the greatest storytelling medium we have. Sharing our stories is how we build empathy, how we understand how someone else lives. It’s the most fundamental part of being human. So go to your LCS and find your new favorite story!

 


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(Please consider supporting 1120 Press HERE so that we may continue to fulfill our mission of ensuring Buffalo’s musicians, artists and DIY creators are seen. Thank you.)

 

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