Interview With Toren Chenault, Writer & Editor of ‘A Cold, Dark Universe’ Anthology

Cover by Joanna Materek

Black Nerd Problems had the pleasure of chopping it up with Toren Chenault, Co-Founder of Black Hole Comics & Entertainment. If you’ve never heard of Black Hole before today, then you’re gonna want to remember that name because they aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Black Hole is all about diversity and uplifting creative voices. Many of the names attatched to their projects are up and comers, or people who have yet to find a foot in their respective fields. So many people are just one chance away from getting consistent work, and having a platform like Blackhole that’s dedicated to giving people that chance is just the type of thing we need in pretty much every creative field.

In addition to talking about Black Hole as a whole, Toren gave all the juicy details about BHC’s first comics anthology A Cold, Dark Universe which is live on Kickstarter right now.

Black Hole’s pillars

Origin Story

Black Nerd Problems: Can you tell me a little bit about what Black Hole Comics & Entertainment is and how it got started?

Toren Chenault: It’s funny because I’m not even sure what we are, haha. I used to say we were a media production company. Or maybe we’re a small press publisher? I don’t know and I don’t really think it matters. Because Black Hole is really just an idea, at its core.

The bones of it started when I worked at a comic shop with my friend Nick Couture. Our manager was a middle-aged white man who didn’t read comics and would leave early on Wednesdays to go bowling. No joke. He would constantly pass customers off to me because he had zero interest in reading any comics (he would literally tell customers this) or learning about why people loved them in the first place. It drove me insane.

I’m a pretty passionate person. When I get going about something, I don’t shut up. I used to talk to Nick about the apathy our manager had towards comics, towards stories in general. And just my frustrations with the comic industry in general. The lack of inclusivity, the messiness of the direct market, how John Stewart has never had a clean fade in his entire history, we talked about it all. And we just started talking about building something that was the polar opposite of our manager and the norm of comics. A platform that’s full of diverse people telling stories from multiple perspectives. And we wouldn’t just focus on comics. Short stories, creator interviews from people like Curt Pires and Lonnie Nadler (both great interviews, check them out!), contests, artist spotlights, comics. “Let’s do it all!” we thought. Obviously, there’s a realistic limit to how much we can actually do, but “no limits” is really the core of Black Hole. Along with our three pillars. Creativity. Innovation. Diversity. Building a truly inclusive space where people want to work. No shady business, all creator-owned work, just dope people making dope stuff.

Black Hole is all of my love for comics, my passion for helping others, and my anger towards apathetic people who continue to occupy our spaces simply because they can.

Lift Each Other Up

BNP: Tell me a little bit about your anthology A Cold, Dark Universe. How many stories will be featured?

TC: Sure. It’s an anthology that’s focusing heavily on science-fiction. My favorite genre and it goes well with the Black Hole brand. And the stories are all going to have a hopeful vibe to them. It was one of the first
things I wanted to do when we started Black Hole. The process of making an anthology always intrigued me. And I made the decision to really make one when I saw the one Lion Forge did to help the survivors of Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico Strong I believe it was called. It was a beautiful book filled with amazing art and complex stories.

Ours isn’t that big, it’s going to be 8 total stories in all. 112 pages, with the potential for more depending on how the campaign goes and if we hit some stretch goals or not.

BNP: Who are some of the creators contributing to the anthology?

TC: A lot of the people contributing are people who have worked with Black Hole before. Some of them I know personally, met while I was working at the shop. And they’ve either done art for us or have written a short story before. That’s Calvin Sanders, Candace Rugg, Alec Smith, KC Widdoes, Gabe Gonzalez, Kiana Kremer, Domonick “Pickle” Rocket, and of course Nick.

And the rest are people I found on social media and really just liked their art and their overall vibe. Luis Santamarina, Kasey Quevedo, Jarred Lujan, Christine Gutierrez, Elizabeth Malette, and Gabbie Scanlon and our letterer, Rob Jones.

For a lot of them, this is their first time being a part of an anthology or a Kickstarter. Felt I had to include everyone’s names here because they’re all doing great work on the project and each story is going to blow people away. I hate how comics is this cycle of just going broke making them, hoping to get noticed by a publisher or something. And your chances, in the past, have always been lower if you don’t fit into a certain box that comics publishers can sell. Probably can’t cuss on this, but F that.

I can’t throw 20k at a team for a graphic novel or even an ongoing series. But it’s pretty cool that I get to try and make a splash in comics with this team.

Interloper by Jarred Luján and Kasey Quevedo

BNP: Will the book be available physically? Or is it just digital?

TC: It’ll be both. We have a normal cover and a variant cover. The physical will be $20, the variant $25, and the digital will be $10. And the digital is offered in every tier once you go past $20.

Enjoying the Process

BNP: Talk about your editing process.

TC: I always loved working on group projects in school. Because I love bringing everyone’s ideas together to make one cohesive thing. Everyone has weaknesses and everyone has strengths. And I try to bring that
same energy when editing stories and working with people in comics.

There’s obviously the technical stuff an editor needs to be focused on. Grammar, spelling, all that. And I’m still learning the ropes of all that. But my editing process is pretty simple in that I try and understand
what someone is really trying to get at with their story. Almost anything can be fixed in terms of technical stuff, so I don’t care about that as much. I really try and bring out those themes in a person’s story. Helping the writer or artist get to the finish line but making sure I don’t let my personal
preference interfere. It’s their story, not mine.

I’m also a pretty chill person. Would much rather get worked up over social justice or helping marginalized communities. I try not to be a jerk or too strict with editing, making sure people know they have a true collaborative partner, not just an editor.

A Cold, Dark Universe by Toren Chenault and Christine Gutierrez

BNP: Running a Kickstarter is a lot of work. What are some things you’ve learned about what it takes to run a campaign leading up its debut?

TC: That I’m never doing an anthology again haha. But for real, research, research, research. There’s a lot of moving parts to a Kickstarter. Everyone says that, right? Everyone knows that. But you really don’t get it until you are setting one up. I was reading everything I could get my hands-on learning the ins and outs of running a campaign. Luckily, a lot of people have had success before me so I learned a lot by looking at what other pages did well. For most anthologies, but I think it’s important for minority creators, social media beforehand is important too. We don’t usually get the benefit of the doubt in the creative world, and definitely not comics. I think it’s important to build a base on social media before jumping into a
Kickstarter, especially as more and more people do one.

Figuring out page rates and the funding goal was probably the hardest for me though. I was asking people to be a part of this thing but didn’t really have a clue what the money situation was looking like at first. Now I know to get those numbers figured out right away. I’m terrible at math so I was damn near having panic attacks trying to solve that. Also, shipping is key. Figuring out how you’re going to get these things to folks without going broke is important. They say a lot of campaigns that failed to fulfill usually do so because of shipping. So, I learned the most about that type of stuff.

Preparation is key. Once again, something I knew but understand on a deeper level now. Starting on this stuff as early as you can is always a plus.

But there’s more learning to be done. Especially if we get funded and have to get this stuff to backers.

Character Designs from Rob Robotson: Occult Detective by Luis Santamarina

Long Term Goals

BNP: It seems like BHC has got a pretty solid foundation already. What are your long-term goals for the company?

TC: I have a lot of goals but if we’re getting specific, I do have some numbers in mind. Short stories will always be a thing we do. We did our first contest in May and got over 70 submissions. We’re starting off
2021 with one as well. My goal is to have at least five of these within the next couple of years.

Within the next three years I want at least 2 comics not by me from Black Hole. Probably going to be one-shots or mini-series. Within the next five years I want at least 2 graphic novels not by me from Black Hole. And I want our first short film out within the next five years as well.

After that, in five years hopefully we’re able to expand. An office space, full-time employees, multiple things in production, multiple streams and all that. Black Hole will be a hub of creativity, always producing content and art that pushes the boundaries. But most importantly, where people from all backgrounds will thrive.

BNP: Aside from the dope stories within, what is something you’d like audiences to get out of their experience
with A Cold, Dark Universe?

TC: You ever read a comic or a story and can just feel the heart in it? Like, you can tell this thing really means something to the creators who made it? Yeah, I want people to be able to have that experience reading this. Comics are a true labor of love. They take forever to make and are expensive as hell. There isn’t a lot of money in this stuff. So, I hope people see that passion in every panel.

But also, this year has sucked. As a Black man, certain parts of my life have been filled with racism and hatred. Especially when Trayvon Martin was killed. I was in high school and got into a fight with a classmate that said Trayvon deserved it. Anyways, that has all felt amplified this year. I’ve cried too much thinking about the state of things. From George Floyd to Chadwick Boseman’s death. And then throw COVID and our government’s ineptitude on top of it. People are hurting, there’s no doubt about it. There’s been days where I really just wanted to stop this, cancel it before it got too far. Comics haven’t felt too important some days, but I’m glad I kept pushing through.

The world is at a crucial turning point and honestly, this election will decide the course of a lot of things, whether people want to admit it or not. I want to help alleviate that stress for people. Maybe, A Cold, Dark Universe can be that thing that helps remind you that the world isn’t completely broken yet. That there is hope somewhere out there. And if it does that, I’d call the project a success.

BNP: What is BHC’s submission policy?

TC: It’s pretty laid back right now. Nothing too formal. I don’t have a ton of money to throw at creators right now and everything is pretty planned out for the next year or so, in terms of comics. But, I’m always looking to connect and network with people. Always up to listen to ideas people have for stuff and if it’s in the cards we can figure something out. I will be looking for people for a newer round of short stories though. Thinking later this year, cap the year off with like three brand new short stories for
people to enjoy. If people ever want to connect or pitch me their ideas for stuff they can DM me on Twitter. Don’t just hit me up like “Yeah, I got an idea for a 200-page graphic novel” I’m going to be like “Cool, maybe BOOM! Or Image will want it” haha. We’re growing, but not like that. Slow and steady wins the race.

The Hunters by Calvin Sanders and Domonick “Pickle” Rocket

What Success Looks Like

BNP: What does success look like for you in this space?

TC: Making comics and stories with dope creators. So far I’ve been able to do that, so in my mind it’s been successful from that front. I’m pretty anti-capitalist in terms of how I operate and how I think of Black Hole. The goal isn’t to dominate the space and become the next Marvel or DC. Most of the IP that will get created here will be my passion projects. Success for me is taking a chance on creators that haven’t, for some reason, had that break yet. And there’s always going to be creators like that so I think we can be around for a while. If you think you’re being overlooked in this crowded industry, come to Black Hole. And if we can’t work right at this moment, at least personally hit me up. I’ll always shout out indie creators trying to make a name for themselves.

Growth is huge for me. I want to grow as a writer, an editor, a publisher. And I want to help people grow too. And maybe someone who wrote a short for me ends up writing Teen Titans or with a huge Kickstarter that pulls in over 100k. That would be cool. I believe in being a good comics and creative
citizen (can’t take credit for that, my friend Zack Quaintance came up with it) and as long as I do that with Black Hole, I’ll feel like a success.

If you liked any of what you read in this interview, and you’d like to support these up and coming creators, and indie comics, consider checking out the Kickstarter for A Cold, Dark Universe. And if you like what you see there, go and check out the Black Hole site, where you can more comics and short stories not connected to the anthology.

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  • Morgan Hampton

    Staff Writer

    Morgan Hampton is a writer--OH MY GOD I CAN ACTUALLY SAY THAT NOW. *ahem* Excuse me, sorry for that outburst. As I was saying, Morgan Hampton is a writer currently living in San Francisco with an obsession for all things nerd (except Medieval stuff. Get outta here with that mess), and a passion to represent the underrepresented. He's an aspiring comic book writer so catch him in the funny pages some time before the apocalypse. He holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from SFSU so he's broke.

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