"I went into this not using everything that I saw in comics as an example of what to do," said Rowser, who is mindful to treat artists and collaborators as people, offering fair rates, royalties, and pay structures, as well as long, flexible timelines. "People get burnt out of comics and that is awful to think of. That really breaks my heart and unless there are changes, that's going to continue to happen. I was like, 'Well, if I can't do it right, then I'm not going to do it.' I'm not gonna revert to being super capitalist. I'll figure out other ways or do other things."
While technically a publisher, Rowser feels that the title doesn't fully encompass what she aims to do.
"I feel like I'm a patron of these cartoonists, creators, and of comics," said Rowser. "I want to do what I can to help because I know not only will this change this person who I'm a big fan of, whose work I think needs to be seen, but the impact that their work will have on other people could be so far reaching that it could be an inspiration for changing the community itself."
What's important to Rowser is that the work she's seeing by Black and Brown femme and nonbinary artists and writers continues to exist. "These people are dope and I want people to know that," she said.
CREATIVE AND DISABLED
It's work Rowser loves, and work she does while living with chronic pain. In particular, chronic migraines, stomach issues, anxiety, and depression.
"I would literally be gagging in front of my computer as I was writing the [Wash Day Diaries] script," she admitted. The screen would also get blurry as her body signaled it was past time to take a break. "It's just a slow realization of like, 'Okay girl, this chronic thing that you've had going on may not go away. You can't act like you have the same abilities as everybody else.' That's been another journey that I've been going through the last two years."
Recognizing that she is disabled has changed how Rowser manages Black Josei Press projects, for herself and those she works with.
"I care more about the creator’s mental and physical health more than the comic," she said. "So I really take my time and make sure they have enough time to work and don’t feel overwhelmed and it is a good experience for them. We have the control to do that and so I just want to take advantage of that."
Rowser also acknowledges she had to reframe her idea of productivity.
"I used to think it was just capitalist work-type things, like I have to complete a task, that is me being productive. But no—'productive' can also mean taking time to myself to read. That is productive for my self-care," she said. Napping because of a migraine is productive. Journaling for reflection is productive. There is no such thing as being lazy when it's productive to make time to rest.
"I needed to balance more of the self-care things that were productive for my mental and physical health because they were way out of whack for years," said Rowser.
She's also taken up punch needling to nurture her creativity beyond writing stories. "My fiancé is making sure that this will never be something I sell. I don't want to turn this into a business. It is purely a hobby," said Rowser with a laugh.
HOW IT'S GOING: AWARD-WINNING AND NOMINATED AF
Black Josei Press is a catalyst that came to be because of Rowser's agency and the agency she wants for Black and Brown women and non-binary folks. In addition to Wash Day peaking the interest of a mainstream publisher, Ode to Keisha garnered two Broken Frontier Awards in 2021, and Arrive in My Hands was nominated for three Ignatz awards in 2022.
"My desire is not just to read my own comics. I want more to exist and I want to raise up creators who are already out there," said Rowser. "I can't help it. I want the comics community to be better and I felt like I had the skills because of previous work, experience, and the passion to do it."
The venture is also another way for Rowser to continue practicing the community organizing that's always felt natural to her, and necessary.
"I really want people who don't read comics to see that there are comics about everything and there can be comics that they are interested in. I especially want that for Black and Brown women and non-binary folks and queer folks and all the marginalized community," she said. "If I'm going to exist in this space, I want to be comfortable here and I want more people to feel comfortable."
Follow Rowser and Black Josei Press on Instagram and Twitter at @JamilaRowser @BlackJoseiPress. Wash Day Diaries is published by Chronicle Books and available from a variety of online sellers, or ordered through your local comics shop or bookstore. Ode to Keisha, The Saddest Angriest Black Girl In Town, Real Realm, and Wobbledy 3000 are available for purchase through the Black Josei Press website, and Arrive in My Hands is available for purchase from the Black Josei Press Gumroad page.