• Everything But Imaginary #403: Kicking Things Into Gear

    Thereís been an awful lot of talk lately about digital comics, and how devices like the iPad are changing the industry. For good or ill, changes are happening, and not small ones. But there are definite changes happening in the physical space as well, and again, itís the digital world thatís bringing those changes about. All of which is my roundabout way of saying I think Kickstarter is kind of interesting.

    Kickstarter, which bills itself as ďa new way to fund and follow creativity,Ē is a rather innovative way to try to produce a project on your own. In the past, any comic book creator that had an idea for a book had two routes: convince a publisher to release it (which, depending on the era and the publisher, had with it all kinds of tricky pitfalls of ownership), or raise the funds to produce and distribute the comic book yourself. In fact, the only thing thatís different now is that creators have the option to release the book digitally. Or, as an alternative, they can use print-on-demand services like KaBlam to produce it, which reduces the production costs if youíre selling through a website, but if your goal is to put the book in a comic book shop, youíre going to have to order enough copies to distribute to the stores with out-of-pocket costs, taking a pretty big hit anyway.

    The way Kickstarter works, a creator can go straight to the fans and ask them to help fund the project. Typically a creator will set a goal and a deadline Ė for example, raising $10,000 in a month. Then theyíll offer certain incentives to people who donate. Again, for example, anyone who donates $25 or more will get a signed copy of the graphic novel, $50 or more will get you a signed copy with an original sketch, $100 or more would get you a credit in the book itself, $500 or more can snag you a page of original art from the book, and so on. Some of the most outrageously high thresholds will even have the creator travel to your city to do a signing, public speaking gig, or other such event. The creator, of course, can establish these incentives as pretty much whatever they want, which gives prospective backers of the project a lot to choose from. (I am using comic books as an example here because, yíknow, comic book column. But people have also been using Kickstarter to fund everything from prose books to webshows to feature films.)

    Like a lot of internet projects, admittedly, it sounds a little silly at first blush. I mean Ė why would you give money to a creator you may never have heard of, just because he promises to send you a copy when it comes out? Then again, why would you sign up for a social networking service where you canít send messages any longer than 140 characters, or for that matter, a website where you can keep tabs on everyone youíre related to, work with, went to school with, or know even in the most casual fashion, even just from interacting on other websites? Itís not like any of those could ever become multi-billion dollar enterprises, are they?

    In fact, Kickstarter is growing so fast that some number-cruncher at Publisherís Weekly recently wrote an article stating that, if you put together all the Kickstarter-funded projects being released in May, it would rank as the third largest independent comic book publisher, edging out Image, Boom, and Dynamite. (Of course, this is in the number of different titles being solicited, not in the number of copies being sold, but still, thatís an interesting statistic.) And if thatís not enough to convince you that itís legitimate, Penny Arcade made fun of it. Thatís the 21st century equivalent of being mocked by early MAD Magazine.

    The thing about Kickstarter, though, is all in how you use it and how you market yourself. If youíre a big name already, chances are you wonít need it. Even if youíre a big name in one field, you may be able to get your existing fans to support your efforts going into another field Ė Scott Kurtz of PVP and Kris Straub of Starslip and Chainsaw Suit went this route recently, rallying the fans of their webcomics to support their effort to get a webshow off the ground. They hit their $50,000 in just four days.

    But letís say you donít have a webcomic fanbase of thousands. How do you get people to support your product? Christian Beranek, writer of such comics as Dracula Vs. King Arthur and several projects for Zenescope entertainment, has a campaign currently running for his upcoming graphic novella, Unhappy White Girls. Beranek is known for work in the horror field, so this sort of slice-of-life drama can be seen as a departure. A Kickstarter campaign is a good way to fund a departure, so Beranek has taken to the social media Ė Facebook, Twitter, and the like. Heís put together a trailer showing existing artwork and has promised backers access to behind-the-scenes and work-in-progress updates that are of great interest to some fans (particularly fans that may be interested in doing a similar project of their own). John Gallagher has already published his Buzzboy series in comic book form, now heís using Kickstarter to produce a three-volume graphic novel set featuring his work -- along with Jamar Nicholasís Leon: Protector of the Playground and Gallagher and Rich Faberís Roboy Red. Their incentives go from PDFs of the books to signed books, all the way up to being drawn into the books as a character. (All six of these available spots have been snatched up already.)

    And the truth is, Kickstarter has already worked for a lot of people. Kody Chamberlain used it last year for his Image comic Sweets Ė not to pay for actually producing the book, but for the marketing of it, and Sweets was a very well-received critical darling. Ex Machina artist Tony Harris already had a publisher for his project, Roundeye For Love, but he used Kickstarter to raise more than the $10,000 he needed to finish producing it. Granted, these guys had a bit of a head start, using an existing fan base, but theyíve proven it can be done. Something Iíve been thinking about a lot as I write about eBook publishing for my novels is the idea that this kind of publishing allows you to bypass the editorial process. To be fair, sometimes editors can be great. They can fix projects in trouble, they can take projects that are good and make them better. But sometimes, a bad editor will just get in the way or may simply not be the audience you want for your project. Going the Kickstarter route gets you past that.

    Finding the fans to help you do it? Well, thatís up to you.

    Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other Peopleís Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. Heís also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petitís Evercast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page, and check out his new experiment in serial fiction at Tales of the Curtain.