Candle Light Press showcases local works

Twenty years after its creation, Iowa City’s Candle Light Press puts out some of the unique works in the Hawkeye State.

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Candle Light Press showcases local works

Candle Light Press books are seen at Prairie Lights in Iowa City on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Wyatt Dlouhy/The Daily Iowan)

Candle Light Press books are seen at Prairie Lights in Iowa City on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Wyatt Dlouhy/The Daily Iowan)

WYATT DLOUHY

Candle Light Press books are seen at Prairie Lights in Iowa City on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Wyatt Dlouhy/The Daily Iowan)

WYATT DLOUHY

WYATT DLOUHY

Candle Light Press books are seen at Prairie Lights in Iowa City on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Wyatt Dlouhy/The Daily Iowan)

Austin J. Yerington, Arts Reporter

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In the center of Prairie Lights, there is a display of books. These are a wide range of stories, such as remixed cookbooks from the 17th century and graphic novels chronicling a boy’s journey from childhood to adulthood with an imaginary friend that happens to be a large frog. Above these books is a midsize sign that has hung there for 10 years advertising Iowa City’s Candle Light Press.

Candle Light is a local business that helps publish local and independent comics and books.

“If you get a stage for yourself, do the weirdest thing you can think of,” said John Ira Thomas, Candle Light‘s’ writer and creator. “I [as a child] literally thought I didn’t have the capacity for it. I thought comics fell out of the hands of the gods.”

Candle Light has been in business for more than 20 years, with its humble beginnings coming from the Zine (small circulated self-published works) comics surge in Iowa City in the late-90s, but it has found a way to survive. Candle Lights has one secret to its longevity.

“We have always prioritized survival over one big deal,” Thomas said. “We go for longevity over some big spike that may more may not come.”

This sense of caution came from the early stages of the business’ creation. Candle Light was founded in a time when Iowa City was a bustling town of indie comics, but that era has long been gone, Thomas said.

Because of this, the publisher has relied on doing things his own way when it comes to creating titles. By focusing on works that follow unique and sometimes alternative creative choices, they have found a successful niche, Thomas said.

Though the press has traditionally worked with comics, it has recently put out some titles that are jumping genres, such as satirical magazines and even a cookbook.

“I love that my first book was with a small press intimate community like this, because it’s set a great tone for my publishing career ever since,” said Julia Skinner, a Candle Light member and writer of Modernizing Markham.

RELATED: Free Comic Book Day to hit Iowa City this weekend 

In Skinner’s book, she took the recipes and ideas of 17th-century writer Gervase Markham, who wrote many books about how to run a household, and brought it into the modern world. With a press that mostly focuses on comics and graphic novels, Candle Light was excited to take on a different title such as Modernizing Markham, Thomas said.

“[Candle Light] is a really nice group of folks, and everyone seemed excited about the project,” Skinner said. “There’s a really nice community among the creators [the press] supports.”

Illustrator Will Grant has been a member of Candle Light since he was a teenager in the late-90s. Even now, with a career in graphic design in Minnesota, he is involved in many of the press’ titles. He sees the self-published comic life as something more rewarding than selling for the mass market.

“It’s hard to make a living with self-published comics, but that’s OK,” Grant said. “It takes the pressure off trying to appeal to a big audience. We love what we do, and it is a labor of love for sure.”

With all of the members having a day job in a vast variety of fields, it’s easy to see that Candle Light is made of two things: creativity and passion.

“I think we are very careful about making stuff that make us feel good as creators,” illustrator and Candle Light member Carter Allen said. “And also makes people feel good if they pick it up and read it.”