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Interview: Anna Warren Cebrian, Owner of Illusive Comics and Producer of The Shadow of Oz Tarot Deck

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Anna Warren Cebrian has her work cut out for her. Accompanied by Mark Anthony Masterson, the writer of Dorothy , the two are creating a Tarot Deck based upon the classic Frank Baum tale. Anna also runs Illusive Comics & Games,  one of the largest comic book stores in the Silicon Valley, CA. She is also a mother and wife. Anna took a few moments away from manning their Kickstarter to discuss her project, The Shadow of Oz, with The Geek Girl Project.
GGP: What is it about the world of Frank Baum’s Oz that calls to you?
Anna Warren Cebrian: I love that the lead character is female and many of the key characters are female. Many of my favorite books growing up were written around the turn of the century and also had strong female leads. Wonderful role models for a little girl.
As a publisher of an Oz story, we have had the wonderful opportunity to meet much of the die hard Oz fans at Winkie Con and the Annual Wizard of Oz Convention. Their passion is both astonishing and inspiring. Making good friends with Oz creator Eric Shanower and organizer David Maxine and writers Eric and Laura Gjovaag, who are all leaders in this community, has made these folks that much more dear to us.
GGP: Why did you decide to create a Tarot Deck?
 
Anna Warren Cebrian: Mark and I have different stories about the origin of the idea. I guess my take is more literal, and his is more artistic, as it should be. Back in October, we were discussing a Kickstarter for the next volume of Dorothy, when we tossed about the idea of creating a Tarot Deck as a Reward Level. We realized that this was a great idea, since Baum’s books lend themselves so easily to an Oz Tarot Deck, but it was too big to not be its own project. Mark discussed the idea with his wife, and she was over the moon with the potential of the idea. She thought we should contact J.H. Williams III and see if he’d create the whole deck (which we did do, but he’s rather busy).  When we realized that other artists might come on board, I started contacting them, and that they said “Yes, that sounds really interesting” confirmed our opinions that this was a unique and great idea. 
 
Also, I have a Tarot deck that belonged to my deceased Uncle that is very dear to me. I considered how this Tarot deck could become something equally dear to Oz fans, and that means a lot to me. This also seemed an excellent Warm Up for Mark before we get back to Dorothy.
 
GGP: What elements of the Oz story do you think lend to a Tarot deck?
Anna Warren Cebrian: This question is best put to Mark, who is the Mastermind behind the translation of Baum’s writing to our Tarot Deck, but… it has diverse, imaginative, visually interesting characters, Some striking visual correspondences, such as the Magician being the Wizard, Strength  equaling The Lion and/or and Dorothy, and  The High Priestess being Glinda the Good.
The Wizard of Oz is a tale of discovery. Dorothy’s journey is the reader’s journey. Oz has everything, the tarot has everything, imagination has everything – happiness, sorrow, abundance, poverty, fulfillment, denial. You can discover what it is you have inside yourself, just like Dorothy and her friends did, through the medium of the cards and images.
GGP: What is it like working with Dorothy comic writer Mark Anthony Masterson?
 
That is not an easy question to answer. We have a 20-year long illogical past together. We met at Whittier College, were members of the same LARP group called AOKP, (which is more a Fraternity than anything), were roommates off and on, friends, business partners in our previous publishing company Illusive Arts Entertainment, (with Greg Mannino and my now ex-husband Ray Boersig), and now are in business with just each other, with the support of our spouses.
Our relationship as business and creative partners has evolved over the years. Especially since the demise of Illusive Arts. That company exploded with the demise of my marriage to Ray, and the extended hiatus of our precious project Dorothy, which was really painful for both of us, because that project is something truly special. I guess that made us both gun-shy of starting again on new projects.
During the hiatus, Mark was hard to get ahold of and really depressed about the end of Illusive Arts. I, in the meantime, remarried, I had a son, who has been Special Needs since Day 1, and I have become the owner of a successful comic book store. So I learned a lot more about this industry and how to get through extremely stressful conditions to get things to Work.
Mark finally let me coax him out of his cave about a year and a half ago, and we are being really gentle with each other’s ideas and creative processes.  In Illusive Arts, I merely ran the company and was occasional Editor. This time Mark will go over his ideas with me and solicit feedback.
As far as our comic projects, of which we have many in the works, he knows that I am a huge fan of his work and I like to be left in the dark as much as possible, so when I see the writing and art paired together, I get to just geek out and squee.
 
GGP: You have some pretty big names working on the project (Ben Templesmith, Chandra Free). How did you recruit your artists?
 
Anna Warren Cebrian: I sent semi-pitiful emails asking them to be a part of it. Honesty works.
It also helps that I have met most of them either through signings at my shop, Illusive Comics & Games, or at Diamond Comics Retailer Summits and Conventions. Some are just friends. A few were people Mark really has admired for a long time, and we were (and still are) ecstatic any of them agreed to be a part of the project.
 
GGP: What does each artist bring to the table?
 
Anna Warren Cebrian: At first, Mark and I made up a list of Who Would We LOVE To Work With. Some people, like Ben Templesmith, Darick Robertson, Trina Robbins and Steve Leialoha agreed rather quickly.  Once I was done having my mind boggled, we thought about the style of art those artists have, the flavor of art we want the deck to have, and who can fit in that genre. Many artists were too busy, understandably, but they’ve all been very kind. Some even agreed to work with us on other projects in the future, once they have more time in their schedules.
We did not ask several artist friends that we know would say yes, because, while we adore them and their art, it wouldn’t mesh with what we are envisioning.
 
GGP: How did you gather such an illustrious group?
 
Anna Warren Cebrian: I had a relationship with some of the artists, and others we had to hunt down a bit. Ron Richards at Image and Atom Freeman at Valiant both helped me contact some of the artists. It helps to have been in this industry for a few years as a Retailer and know people. It also helps to be honest, patient, persistent and have an excellent project.
GGP: What is it like to own the largest comic book and game stores in Sillicon Valley, CA?
Anna Warren Cebrian: It’s exhausting, wonderful, scary, delightful, and nerve-wracking. The shop, which was formerly Brian’s Books, has a long and proud history in Santa Clara. I have a lot of customers who have been coming to this story for decades. I feel like I became owner of a Historical Home, in a way. My customers are devoted. They were amazingly supportive of me taking over the shop and they appear to like all the changes and remodels we’ve made over the last 7 years.
To find out that my shop is one of the largest (meaning wide selection and strong sales) in the Bay Area, and even one of the best in the country, was shocking. I feel like I work really hard and have a lot to still accomplish to be on the level of people like Joe Ferrara, Joe Fields, Carr D’Angelo and so many others.
There are a lot of struggles, though. I am a part-time Stay-At-Home-Mom because my 4-year old has Autism and receives a lot of therapy, that my husband or I have to be present for. He was also born extremely pre-mature and so, from Day One, I had to figure out how to become a telecommuting business owner of a growing business in a field where only about 4% of the owners are women. I had no role models to figure this out from. I don’t own an e-business, I have no partners, and we have a massive amount of new inventory coming in every week. I feel like my staff, which is the strongest now that it has ever been, is truly the key to the success of the shop. And my customers have been completely understanding and supportive.
When I bought the shop, my goal was for it to become the Cheers of comic book stores. I know I’ve accomplished that. My gamers and comic book regulars know they are welcome to come by every day of the week to hang out and geek out (and some do!).  I have insisted on an environment that is easy going, sarcastic and silly, welcoming and well-organized.   We also run about one charity event every single month, because it is very important to me to support and give back to our local community and to give my customers a chance to do the same.
GGP: How do you feel your experiences as a woman and comic fan have helped you with your business and projects?
 
Anna Warren Cebrian: I will tell you a secret— I am not really a comic book reader. I devour novels, but rarely comics. My staff laugh when they see me reading a comic (currently my favorites are Sex Criminals and The Walking Dead).  I approach all decisions about my company from a business point of view. However, my staff are all avid comic book readers and they all know they are required to give me their honest feedback and opinions. It leads to some fun arguments, but we are succeeding, so evidently this mix works for my shop.
My customers, women and men, appreciate my point of view and how I run my shop. Other Moms like to see a fellow woman, that happens to be a Mom, in this place that they, their spouses or kids hang out at so much. They know I’ll have a safe environment there.  But I learned Business acumen at my father’s knee, so I think I approach things with both a yin and yang point of view.
I’m very outgoing and I love to network. I don’t know if that has to do with me being a woman, but maybe more people are open to being contacted by me because I am a woman.  I seem to know someone in almost every part of the Earth and Industry. I like connecting people to things they love and making friendships happen.
The most frustrating struggle, though, is the sexism that is definitely still in this industry. I see it and deal with it often. I’ve met a lot of male retailers and Industry people who tell me they see this ill treatment and it disgusts them. I just don’t understand why they don’t speak up about it. The women who have recently come foreword with their stories about being maltreated, who are then getting horrible feedback from people that weren’t even there, and probably have never been in a situation like that, infuriates me. Things won’t change in this industry until more Men speak up (it’s sad, but true) and women keep are not treated as Booth Babes or Owner’s Wives.
This hasn’t happened for over a year, but new customers will think that one of my staff are my husband and I am just visiting them, or, at best, co-own the shop.  And, rarely does this happen in my shop, but once in a while a patron will come in and it’s like The Big Bang Theory, “There’s women in here?!” I really don’t like how people compare me and my shop to BBT, because that show doesn’t reflect reality. The reality is that more and more women are attending Cons, going to comic book stores, and getting in on the creative side of publishing. But there are still too few comic shop owners, publishers and executives that are women and I’m not sure why that “glass panel” needs to be there. This isn’t a corporate world. There is no boss standing above us. We can and should fight harder to be in this industry on equal footing.
I love being inspired by fellow women in this industry. Nancy McCann, former retailer is someone I have looked up to. I recently met Kelly Sue DeConnick at Image Expo— she was completely inspiring in her honesty and strength. It’s lovely to be a fan of someone, meet them and find out they are Just As Amazing as you hoped.
 
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