One monster has a crocodilian jaw with jagged fangs. Another resembles an enormous shark with glowing eyes, floating inches beneath a fishing boat. A third, with a jet-black, skeletal head atop a mermaidlike body, twists about itself as it emerges from the depths. All of these beasts live in the pages of “Monsters of the Deep,” a new zine featuring aquatic monsters ranging from whimsical and cartoonish to sinister and Lovecraftian.
The zine is the first from the newly formed Nessie Press, which several MICA students, Hana Castanedo, Conor Cowgill, Jon Marchione, and Jean-Luc Gallic, founded in order to promote comics and graphic art.
Gallic met Castanedo, Cowgill, and Marchione when they were residents in the hall where he was an RA. They began critiquing each other’s work and helping with their own self-publishing projects. In November of last year, they decided they wanted to start printing zines as a small press.
“I remember one night,” Gallic says, “we were sitting around, drinking beers and talking about zines and comics. We wanted to see more good comics being produced, so we thought, ‘why not? Let’s put ourselves out there and make something together.’”
At first glance, one might wonder why the seemingly antiquated form of a printed zine is even necessary. In 2014 anyone can start a Tumblr and immediately distribute their work around the world.
“Having artwork online is good and all,” Marchione says. “But being able to have a tangible object you can hold in your hand has always drawn me to print media. I feel it leaves an impression on people now more than ever because of the proliferation of media online. I can scroll past novels’ worth of information on my Tumblr, but if you actually give me a novel, I’m confronted with object in the real world and it’s a little harder to just scroll past.”
“I have a love-hate relationship with Tumblr,” Gallic says. “There are a lot of good artists out there, but I don’t take it as seriously as I do a physical copy that I can actually hold. There’s something about pixels that just isn’t the same.”
Not only did they feel that print provided a greater impact, they also thought it would be a better way to bring together a wide variety of artists under a single cover with a coherent theme behind all of the illustrations. They began tossing around ideas and eventually decided on aquatic monsters—perhaps an inevitable choice for a press named after the Loch Ness Monster.
“We just sort of chose the name because we thought it sounded good,” Marchione says. “It wasn’t until a bit later that it became a theme for us. We were trying to come up with an idea for our first zine and knew we were all really fascinated by myths and lore. And then it sort of clicked that we already decided on the name Nessie Press for our group, why don’t we run with that for our first zine and do scary sea creatures? People would love that. Those are my favorite illustrations, the creepy looking, real sea animals. And sometimes they’re even scarier than the mythical stuff because you know they’re out there.”
With a vision for the first zine in mind, Nessie Press put out an open call for artists, and instituted a policy that anyone who submitted would be a part of the zine.
“We had seen other publications online do this sort of open call, where they pool art submissions from anyone who is interested,” Marchione says. “I was really intrigued by that because it brings together artists who have had a lot of experiences with those who maybe haven’t yet had a chance to get their stuff published.”
In the end, they ended up dropping one artist after he failed to submit his work in the right format.
“We didn’t want to limit the scope of our artists to Baltimore,” he continues. “South America, Australia, we even have someone from the Middle East. Palestine, I think. What was great was that anyone who was interested in the project could spread the word themselves and get others involved.”
Each of the four founding members has pieces featured in the zine, as do 67 other artists from around the world, including multiple MICA alumni including Erin Lux, Kate MacDonald, and Alex Innocenti.
Once they had their submissions, they began designing the layout of the zine. The physical form of the zine itself was hugely important to the group as they were putting together “Monsters.” It was also more expensive than they had expected, due to the number of submissions, so Nessie Press turned to Kickstarter in order to fund the printing and shipping of a bulkier version of “Monsters,” exceeding their $1,500 goal by $414.
In July, they began printing the zine (the covers at Baltimore Print Studio, the interior at Copy Cat Printing) and plan on sending it to the Kickstarter donors, artists, and comic book shops next week. It is bound with a trifold cover that divides the piece into two sections. One half is filled with the real monsters that Marchione says deserve the more fearsome reputation. Giant squid, sharp-fanged sharks, and jellyfish with fibrous and venomous tentacles that reach down to the ocean floor are just a few of the monsters hiding within the pages of the zine and beneath the waves of our oceans. The other section pays homage to the aquatic beasts of myth, pulling monsters from stories told around the globe.
For instance, Tom Kilian, a MICA alumnus, offered a drawing of Sedna, Inuit goddess of the sea who, according to legend, was drowned and had her fingers chopped off by her father. Kilian’s illustration depicts her underwater, staring up at something beyond our view. The stumps on her fingerless hands almost seem to be dissolving, with bubbles streaming upward. The whole thing has a simplistic beauty that at first appears innocent but is much more sinister as Sedna’s fate becomes apparent.
Nessie Press’ founders are already thinking about how to push these narrative elements of their art in future projects.
“We’ve considered expanding to more text-focused printing,” Marchione says, “but right now we’re mostly interested in illustration and comics. None of us are writers of any sort. I guess if you make comics, you’re a writer in your own way, but none of us have any knowledge of that sort. If we do go in that direction, we’ll have to bring in more artists who also have experience writing.”
“We’d also like to move towards printing our own stuff on our own equipment,” he continues. “Next semester, Jean-Luc and I are getting an apartment together and if everything goes as planned, we’d like to set up an area in that space where we can do our own screen printing.”
Marchione and Gallic admit that, as college students who only recently moved to the city, they have a lot to learn about Baltimore and the greater arts community. There hope is that by working with more local artists at Nessie Press, they can find their place and get more people excited about illustration and, hopefully, working on their own stuff.
“It’s important that people understand that they don’t have to go to a traditional publishing company to get your work out there. It’s really easy to do what we’re doing and make stuff on your own,” Marchione says. “I remember the excitement the first time I made a little folding book of illustrations. That’s what really drew me to this stuff, seeing my own work printed and bound and being able to say, ‘look, I made this.’”