Each year, the PW Star Watch program, a partnership between Publishers Weekly and Frankfurter Buchmesse, celebrates a group of publishing professionals in the U.S. and Canada who are doing innovative and important work, challenging the status quo, or bringing new perspectives to the industry.

For our series looking back at past honorees, we spoke to 2015 PW Star Watch honoree C. Spike Trotman, cartoonist and founder/publisher of Iron Circus Comics. In 2015, Iron Circus was a small, indie publisher with Trotman doing much of the work herself, relying on crowdfunding to help support projects, and focusing on publishing work by underrepresented creators.

A lot has happened in the last five years. Iron Circus has expanded to include more editors, a publicist, a print tech, and proofreader to help manage the workload. The company has hosted 25 successful Kickstarter campaigns (in 2017, Trotman even garnered the title of Kickstarter Thought Leader), and Iron Circus has even become a multi-media company with the creation of their first animated series.

The idea to make Tracy Butler’s popular Lackadaisy webcomic into an animated series “Voltroned everything” said Trotman. Iron Circus and Butler partnered with animator Fable Siegel whose credits include Titmouse, Starburns and Hazbin Hotel with an eye for developing Lackadaisy into an animated series for adults. The Kickstarter campaign, which was launched earlier this year, raised over $330,000 with almost 6,000 backers.

This spring, the pandemic has greatly impacted the publishing industry as a whole and, specifically, the comic industry. Publishers Weekly wrote about how it is impacting retailers in April. “Because of COVID-19, we are seeing boxes of brand-new books returned without being opened,” said Trotman who was reminded of the 1990s when Marvel declared bankruptcy and invoices to publishers were not paid and, thus, publishers could not pay creators. “[The industry] can’t help but change.”

Though Iron Circus has seen a change in sales during the pandemic, in May, Trotman was fortunate to publish a much-anticipated book - Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ryan Estrada with artwork by Ko Hyung-Ju, the true story of how a South Korean woman defied censorship in the authoritarian regime through reading. The Publishers Weekly starred review said of the book, "The messages of hope are universal, as are the poignant reminders that change can happen when people are willing to speak up.”

With Iron Circus starting the promotion for the book as early as ALA 2019, garnering a lot of early buzz and support from their distributor, Banned Book Club has come out of the gate as a #1 new release, was a Junior Library Guild selection, received a number of starred reviews, and is selling well.

As much as things have changed, many things stay the same. Trotman continues to scout new creators, she notes, she “goes through hashtags and looks for people who have good sequential work” and saves a link to their work in a file for future reference. Though she realizes that she still needs to be somewhat selective, Trotman sees the future of Iron Circus as publishing 20 books a year and expanding the multi-media side of the business to include more animation and possibly games.

To nominate yourself or a colleague, please visit the PW website and submit materials by July 15.