Hope Nicholson has a knack for finding (or creating) properties with niche appeal and getting them out to their audience. She started out by bringing back the 1940s Canadian superhero Nelvana of the Northern Lights, raising almost CA$55,000 on Kickstarter to reprint the original comics. Then in 2014 she founded Bedside Press, which has published a variety of graphic novels, including the anthology The Secret Loves of Geek Girls and Trina Robbins’s A Bunch of Jews (and other stuff). Until recently, Bedside Press books were hard to find in stores, but that changes this year, as their books have been picked up for full distribution by PGC in Canada, Diamond in the U.S. and Turnaround UK in the UK.

Nicholson has five new titles scheduled for 2018, including the anthology Gothic Tales of Haunted Love, the all-ages graphic novel Window Horses, based on an animated film by Ann Marie Fleming, and Habibi, an anthology of romance comics and prose stories by Muslim women. We asked her to talk about what she does, how she does it, and what she has planned for the coming year.

What niche were you looking to fill in the market? Did you feel something was missing?

Bedside Press's beginning niche was to bring back lost comic books that weren't deemed to be market-friendly but were important historical works. These began with the 1940s Canadian comic books known informally as The Canadian Whites, which had previously never been reprinted. This continues to be a component of Bedside Press's publishing, and has included the 1980s independent comic book series Fashion In Action, and the upcoming reprint of the 1930s sex comic Sally the Sleuth. Over time, this expanded to also curating new works by creators established and up-and-coming, looking for themes that weren't showcased enough in comics industry. Like the reprints, these are deemed to be not market-friendly works, but through dedicated reach-outs to the right communities, the projects have built fanbases and homes. These include the non-fiction love anthology The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, and the Indigenous LGBT sci-fi anthology Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time.

What books have you published so far?

Enough Space for Everyone Else
A Bunch of Jews (and other stuff) by Trina Robbins & various artists
The Secret Loves of Geek Girls
Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time (prose)
The Secret Loves of Geek Girls: Redux

Fashion In Action
Nelvana of the Northern Lights
Brok Windsor
Wow Comics #01
Polka Dot Pirate

Gothic Tales of Haunted Love (January 2018)
Window Horses (January 2018)
Habibi (Spring 2018)
Work for a Million (Fall 2018)
Science! (Winter 2018)

How do you decide what the catalog will be? Do creators come to you, or do you seek them out?
It is a mix of both. Most of the time, I have an idea of a concept I'd like to make, and then I commission certain artists and writers to be involved. After that I often do an open call, since it's a great opportunity to find new creatives to work with!

But I've also taken on projects people have brought to me. A Bunch of Jews was brought to me by Trina Robbins, Fashion In Action was brought to me by John K Snyder III, Enough Space for Everyone Else was brought to me by J. N. Monk, Window Horses was brought to me by Ken Steacy, Habibi was brought to me by Hadeel al-Massari, Work for a Million was brought to me by Margaret Atwood, and Science! was brought to me by Ashley Robinson.

What does it mean to be a “publisher” in the world of small press comics right now? What functions do you perform: editing? Production? Marketing?
It really varies from publisher to publisher, depending on their strengths. For myself, the main part that I always hired freelancers for, aside from the creative, was production work: layouts and design. On occasion I now do my own layouts though I still need assistance, and I still never do my own design.

I also did all of my own restoration and editing for my first few projects, but often hire editors and restorations now. For marketing, that's something essential for me to do myself. I have hired freelance marketers on occasion, but it's never had strong results. I think really a publisher knows their own work better than anyone else, and it's a lot more useful for them to approach press and opportunities directly if they have that ability. 

How does being picked up for full distribution change your business? How were you handling distribution before this?
Previously the majority of my sales were direct to consumer, through Kickstarters, online sales, and conventions, with a handful of retailers who consistently bought stock (which I was very grateful for!) Being picked up for full distribution means that my books now have accessibility to all retailers across the world, which is a big difference. Now, the challenge will be learning new ways to reach them!

Where do you see your audience finding these books?
I'm hoping that I will be able to grow our company's presence in trade publications, and be able to reach a larger community of buyers and librarians. For the average consumer, presence in newspapers still seems to be very effective, and I'm lucky to be able to consistently get some print coverage for my works. I hope this increases with the new availability of my books. 

How has the publishing model changed since you first started publishing?
I think that there is starting to be some flexibility about distributors allowing access to small press publishers, where it used to be a very closed system. Consortium for example has picked up many small presses for distribution in the last few years. It's still not flexible enough for my liking though, I was turned down by about 5 distributors I had previously approached. You need to be the best of the best for a distributor to be interested in you and already have very substantial sales. It would be great to see an intermediary to bridge the gap between micropublishers who curate amazing material, and distributors who can provide retailer access to the content. Being a Kickstarter Thought Leader, and one of the first comic people to try Kickstarter when it came to Canada, I've also seen more campaigns run by established publishers in recent years, possibly because of people like me and Spike Trotman having good success using Kickstarter to create our publishing companies? I'd like to think so.

What are you excited about for 2018?

I'm excited to see Gothic Tales of Haunted Love out in the world. It's a book I'm proud of (though would I say otherwise if it wasn't? Probably not) and it will also be my first test subject in the wide world of international distribution! We'll see how the market responds, and I know there's a steep learning curve ahead of me transitioning from a non-distributed small press. It's also not yet announced, but my next Kickstarter funded book will be a noir pulp, that's an adaptation of a book called Work for a Million, by Eve Zaremba, which featured the first lesbian private eye in pulps, in the 1970s. I'm working closely with Eve and her wife on the project, and it will be my first solo-artist/writer team that I've been involved in creating. Window Horses is technically my first single creator book, but it was already largely done when it was brought to me. Window Horses is also under consideration for an Oscar nod, so if it was nominated that would be excellent news for my press!

See multiple book covers in the gallery below.