The Sugar Ninjas Story
“Like their ancient warrior-assassin counterparts, the SUGAR NINJAS have lived and worked virtually unnoticed by their male peers in the comics community, waiting patiently for just the right moment…TO MAKE THEIR MARK!”
–Bob “Ana May” Pendarvis
Sequential Art Professor Bob Pendarvis first thought of publishing an all-girls comics and sequential art anthology as a way to showcase the talents of the sometimes underrated female artists/writers in his classes. Before the first books premiered, Bob parted ways with the comics-based program he’d originally conceived 19 years earlier, so he decided to change the format to allow any interested female artist/storytellers to submit material.
Sugar Ninjas was not the first name chosen for the anthology. During the year leading up to the premiere of the first volume, the name Sugar & Spice was used as a place holder. This was a reference to Bob’s editorial desire to give the girls as much freedom as possible when submitting work. This would allow some girls to express their inner girly-girl and create adorable comics and artwork with an emphasis on pretty dresses, cute kittens, and mermaids. It would also allow other girls to go in the opposite direction, producing “mature” and not-so-family-friendly work that might include violence, 4-letter words, partial nudity, and controversial subject matter in general. It was eventually decided that there should actually be both a Sugar book and Spice book, two separate-but-equal halves that together would comprise each volume of the anthology.
Actually, Bob had wanted to publish such an anthology many years before, but he was stymied over how to deal with the issue of payments and the expenses involved with such a project. He eventually decided that since the main goal of the book is to promote the girls and their work, the book should be priced to sell. Using lulu.com, a print-on-demand service, Bob realized the books could be priced online at printing costs only. This eliminates any worries about who is profiting from sales. Bob, while serving as editor and publisher, makes NO money from any sales online, the same as each contributor. Every contributor (and Bob) can order copies at price and sell them at a higher rate, thus making money. Bob suggests that girls personalize books with signatures and sketches, giving potential buyers extra incentive to purchase from them instead of online.
Before the publication of volume one, and the premiere of the accompanying website, one of the contributors, Tiffany “Muffin” Woicikowfski, created an online journal designed to help provide a place for different girls to ask questions and suggest ideas for the upcoming books. Early on, Tiffany referred to girls either being Sugar Ninjas or Spicy Pirates, depending on which book they planned to submit work to. Reading this, with the project’s new motto almost instantly appearing in his head, Bob knew that Tiffany had accidentally hit upon a much better name for the whole project. Shortly afterward, he decided the newly-titled Sugar Ninjas books would be called Sweet and Spicy, retaining the idea of the family-friendly and “mature readers” separate formats. A thankful shout-out to Tiffany for putting the idea of a “sugar ninja” in his head!
While casting about for possible recruits, Bob acquired a volunteer assistant, Zelda Ravenel, whose technical expertise and experience proved invaluable. Simply put, if not for Zelda, volume one might never have been produced. She not only helped Bob with the production of the books themselves, she was also responsible for the first incarnation of the Sugar Ninjas website. On top of that, her support helped keep Bob focused on getting his own work done. For all this and more, Bob happily tips his invisible top hat in her direction. Zelda herself was assisted at times by the always enthusiastic Zeda Chan. The rainbow cake she baked to prematurely celebrate the completion of volume one (three months too early, as it turned out) is featured on the back cover of volume one--and was as tasty as it was colorful!
The Sugar Ninjas girls themselves are a diverse bunch. Some of them have been professional creators for some time now, while others are just beginning to find their way as artists and storytellers. Some of the girls are heavily influenced by manga, while others have no interest in manga at all. The Sugar Ninjas think it’s very important to make sure that girls feel free to celebrate their femininity, but also feel welcome to make gender a non-issue, and just focus on creating interesting stories and art without the heavy hand of editorial interference.
Both the Sweet and Spicy books have contact information for all the contributing creators, allowing potential clients to use the Sugar Ninjas as a valuable resource. In addition, Bob’s current assistant, Gally Articola, (volunteering her graphic design experience to work on the books and the site since Sugar Ninjas volume two) has rebuilt the website from scratch, following Bob’s ideas (as well as contributing several of her own). Naturally, Gally’s efforts call for yet another tip of Bob’s invisible top hat, as the improved website should foster a greater sense of community than before, with regular updates, a forum, and more content in general.
One more thing… while we are very “pro-girl”, we are by no means “anti-boy”. Bob had a great time teaching guys, too, and doesn’t want anyone thinking he failed to notice how talented they were. The Sugar Ninjas exists to promote the idea that girls can be just as creative as boys, making gender irrelevant (while simultaneously providing a space for girly-girls who have been somewhat embarrassed or hesitant to let their pink flag fly). The comics industry has been a notorious boys-only, “no girls allowed” club for most of its existence. Even today, the average mainstream Marvel or DC Comics comic book is much more likely to have been written and/or drawn by men, not women. There are all sorts of reasons and excuses for this situation, but it is an undeniable fact. The Sugar Ninjas hope to help create a greater appreciation for the potential of using more female creators, greatly expanding the potential number of new readers.