Interview with Zack Soto of Study Group Comics

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Zack Soto's Study Group Comics operates sort of like a regular small-press publishing house. Soto is exceptional at finding new talent and presenting their work beautifully. But unlike many other publishers, Soto is not beholden to any single format. The material he's released through Study Group is sometimes in standard comic book form, sometimes anthologies or thicker graphic novels. Often he'll release things exclusively to the web. Looking at the range of material Soto has released, or will soon be releasing, it's clear that though he loves print as a medium, he's not beholden to it. His latest batch of material — including work from noted creators Sam Alden and Farel Dalrymple, among others — is diverse and often gorgeous. We spoke to him about the ethos and origins of Study Group.

What's the story behind the name Study Group? What does it mean for you?

It was initially taken from a drunken voicemail a friend left on my answering machine, but since then, I have found it to be an apt enough name. I like to think that Study Group is a super cool, sometimes experimental, always entertaining, bubbling cauldron of comics.

Why did you decide to start Study Group? Did you see a hole in comics publishing that you wanted to fill?

I did. I have a pretty broad scope of comics and art that I'm into, but I sometimes flatter myself into thinking that the kind of things that I highlight wouldn't necessarily find homes elsewhere, or at least that the specific combinations of work and kinds of work are unique to Study Group. 

 Would you say that there is a "mission statement" for Study Group?

I really just want to put out cool comics for more people to see! It's a simple goal, but I'm a simple man. A simpleton, if you will. Wait, uh. Let me take that one back.

What about an aesthetic similarity between creators you publish?

Generally speaking, the kind of work I enjoy is all over the map. I love weird abstract stuff as much as I love cool adventure comics or cerebral sci-fi epics. That said, I think that my favorite artists, both SG artists and generally speaking, have a strong element of "the hand" in their work. I wanna see the drawing. I also think that I focus on readability and storytelling as an artist, and the kinds of comics I like to publish have the same kinds of focus. Farel Dalrymple and Sam Alden are both just relentlessly narrative artists who really draw the hell out of their comics.  

Do you put together a publishing schedule for all of these at once?

Well, it comes in waves. The webcomics thing is cool, because it's at the point where people can take breaks and come back between chapters or stories, and there's almost always something else running. I am always finding new stuff for the online thing. Sometimes people come to me, sometimes I try to plant the idea in the heads of artists I love.

It's been nice to take a few of the comics from the web to print. IWAH, my comic The Secret Voice, and now Haunter are all making that transition. When it makes sense or the timing is right to do so, it's a really cool thing. Honestly, I love doing the webcomics, I love having lots of little deadlines to keep me moving, I love the opportunity to get things in front of people's eyeballs, but when it comes down to it, the print object is where it's at for me. These comics, printed in vibrant colors on newsprint or whatever, it doesn't get better than that. 

Study Group is also very diverse genre-wise. Do you gravitate toward a particular genre in your day-to-day comics reading?

I work at a couple great comics shops, so I have a lot of opportunity to at least browse through pretty much everything that's getting put out. From weird little hand made zines to the latest version of She Hulk or whatever. I really enjoy a lot of European comics, and manga. Strange little books with nothing but morphing characters, sorta underground stuff, super heroes, crime comics, etc. 

When you started making comics did you ever anticipate also starting a publishing house? Is there anything difficult about running Study Group that you weren't expecting?

Actually, it's always been a bit of a dream for me. Study Group is definitely bigger than I ever would have hoped, as tiny as it is in the scheme of things (very, very tiny). The only real difficulties are just not having enough energy to feel like I'm operating art full potential, and the biggest cliche every artist-turned-publisher always says: "I'm almost too busy to draw comics!" That's a cliche for a reason. It's real stuff.

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