Interview with Iron Circus Comics Founder C. Spike Trotman

By: Michele Kirichanskaya
Feb 10, 2023

C. Spike Trotman was born in DC, raised in MD, and lives in IL. An artist and writer, she founded Iron Circus Comics in 2007, which has since grown to become the region’s largest comics publisher. Her notable work includes the webcomic “Templar, Arizona,” the Smut Peddler series of erotic comic anthologies, and Poorcraft, a graphic novel guide to frugal living. A Kickstarter early adopter, she pioneered the widely-adopted bonus model that’s since completely reshaped the pay system of the small press, jump-starting the current renaissance of alt-comics anthologies. Iron Circus is also the first comics publisher of note to fully incorporate crowdfunding into its business model, inventing one of the single most effective uses of new media in comics publishing today.

Iron Circus’ latest anthology, Failure to Launch, is live on Backerkit now.

I had the opportunity to interview Spike, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself? 

Hi, I’m Spike! I was born in DC, raised in MD, and live in IL. I was in Maryland’s “Gifted and Talented” program in middle school, and ever since, nobody’s been able to tell me nuthin’. I absolutely got high on my own supply with that one, decided I was special, and took it from there.

I was in what I like to think of as the first big wave of webcomics, the most maligned and hopeless wave, the pre-Paypal, pre-Webtoon, pre-Tapas, pre-everything kids who mostly just flailed around, and experimented, and hoped something would work out, eventually. For me, the thing that worked out was Iron Circus Comics. With a little help from my friends, I’ve since grown a self-publishing imprint into the biggest comics publisher in the Midwest, with multiple Eisner nominations and wins to its name, a multi-million-dollar crowdfunding footprint, and a brand-new animation wing, Iron Circus Animation, responsible for the Lackadaisy animated short, dropping in March!

How would you describe what you do professionally and creatively?

I make comics and cartoons. I think they’re pretty good.

As the founder of Iron Circus Comics, how would you describe your company? 

We actually have a motto and mission statement that does the job pretty well, in my opinion: “Strange and Amazing.” It’s something I once saw a banner that hung on a circus freak show tent, and it’s exactly what I strive to bring into the world. WEIRD stuff. Stuff not everybody else is out there doing.

What drew you to storytelling, particularly to the medium of comics and erotic fiction?

I’ve always been Team “Erotica Is A Legitimate Genre.” I just felt that, like msot attempts at storytelling in ALL genres, not just erotica, most of it was either poorly done, didn’t really appeal to me personally, or both! And I always knew specifically what I wanted to see in media wasn’t going to get shown unless I did it myself. Which is where stuff like “Iris & Angel” and “Yes, Roya” comes from, along with the Smut Peddler series.

And I just love comics. They’re my favorite medium, ever. Like a lot of people my age, it’s probably because I grew up during the last hurrah of the newspaper comic, reading Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side and Bloom County in the Sunday Washington Post. Those guys set a high bar.

What are some of your favorite elements of storytelling? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or difficult?

The stuff that comes easiest to me are cute little vignettes, homeless little scenes that I want to see play out on the page for no good reason. Stuff I just think would be fun to see. Stuff like, “What if this character saw a bunch of baby ducks trapped in a storm drain?” “What are they like with their mom?” “What would they do as part of a crew aboard a spaceship?” I have a whole file of single-sentence prompts like that, prompts I won’t allow myself to include in anything I make unless I can find a way to slot them into the comic so they actually move the story forward instead of dwelling on how pwecious I think everyone I’ve made up is.  

As someone who has worked on their own comics, including Yes, Roya, how would you describe your creative process?

There has to be a gap I see, and need to fill, in my own entertainment. Almost all homegrown Iron Circus stuff starts off that way; my work, the anthologies, the books I commission the authorship of (Like the Poorcraft Cookbook). And when I’m writing and drawing it, an actual valuable part of the experience is the time I spend AWAY from the script or page. After I finish drawing a page or scripting five or ten pages? I need to walk away for at least half a day, come back later, and reread it with fresh eyes. I always, ALWAYS catch something I’m not happy with, doing that, so I swear by the method.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

As a kid, I loved “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.” I mean, to an unreasonable degree. I was very into Auntie Entity because back then, there wasn’t a lot of media with a Black woman unquestionably in charge of things. She had real power, was competent, set the rules and enforced them. And even though she “lost” in the end, she wasn’t punished or killed for being in charge. She just drove off into the sunset. You kinda knew she was gonna be fine, that that wasn’t the end of her. She lost this round, but she wasn’t out of the fight.

I LOVED THAT. Major role model vibes.

As someone who has had their hand in a number of acclaimed titles, what usually draws your eye professionally and creatively?

I have a bunch of hurdles work has to get over, and the first is the art. If I’m not feeling the art, then my interest ends there; the way I see it, art is what draws the eye first, and if I can’t get into the art, there’s no point in checking out anything else. Then, I check out the quality of the writing AND lettering (yes, lettering matters! It’s about legibility and aesthetics!). It’s only after those two hurdles are cleared that I take a look at any paperwork the creator sent along. That’s probably backwards, but that’s how I do things.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I’m a helluva home cook. My homemade mapo tofu, from-scratch Japanese curry, and kimchi are to die for.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

Why YES, I AM available to write for your television show!

What advice might you have to give for aspiring creatives?

Hold onto your IP with a white-knuckle grip, don’t sign over anything, no matter how pretty a story someone’s telling you. The new money coming into comics right now how brought a whole new wave of predatory exploiters with it. They don’t care about you, they care about what they can take from you. And sell to someone else. They’re leeches and carpetbaggers; don’t ever let them think they’re doing you a favor.

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

Up down up down left right left right B A start.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books(comics included)/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Ooo, an easy question!

Kyle Smeallie is an unappreciated gem. I love his work. Check out his webcomic, Softies!

The same goes for Jon Allen’s Ohio Is For Sale comics. We publish two volumes of it, The Lonesome Era and Julian in Purgatory. Dude should be famous, honestly.

Kendra Wells’ Real Hero Shit is tearin’ up social media, and for good reason! Grab it and read it!

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