You may have heard that Kickstarter has had some internal strife recently, which has included some recent firings of various people who have been involved in efforts to unionize the workforce there. Those workers, and the union they have been working with, filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the crowdfunding company of wrongfully terminating them.
As a company, Kickstarter has been helpful to the comics and publishing ecosystem, helping thousands of projects find both funding and an audience, raising over $15 million for comics last year alone. We here at ComicMix have raised over $150,000 on Kickstarter for various projects, contributed to other campaigns both personally and corporately, and helped others raise more for their projects. And right now, I’m writing a short story for a campaign that ends in less than three days, Pangaea:
Clearly, they’re an important platform for comics. But, as Slate reported, there have been in-house problems— and it started with a comic.
We here at ComicMix love the opportunities that crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter have given comics creators to get more of their out there. We wanted to highlight a project that hit Kickstarter today, Aer Head #1, by Mindy Indy. She’s worked primarily on her indy comics as well as having been legendary artist Kyle Baker’s assistant and working as a colorist with publishers like Papercutz. This is her first Kickstarter and has to reach a goal of $2,000.
Below is her press release detailing the project with pages from Aer Head #1 at the end. Please check it out and consider supporting this campaign!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AER HEAD Surfer Hero Comic Making Waves on Kickstarter
BROOKLYN, NY, September 2019
Independent cartoonist Mindy Indy has excitedly launched the debut of AER HEAD issue #1 on Kickstarter. Teen surfer and lifeguard Aer struggles to control his ESP, until he predicts a wave of flame will careen towards Earth. It’s X-Men at the beach! If you’re into surfing, manga/anime, or love endearing characters, quirky humor, and compelling sci-fi themes, catch the wave of AER HEAD now!
Mindy Indy has been working as a freelance cartoonist in Brooklyn for over 9 years. Originally from Michigan, she has always loved to draw and wants to inspire others like how manga and anime inspired her as a youth. AER HEAD delivers humor and a love triangle like Ranma ½ with action like Armageddon.
Aereo Zephyr, nicknamed Aer, loves surfing but doesn’t take himself seriously. He can sometimes see the future in his dreams but has no control of it. He wishes he could be like his friends who easily use their powers. Jade contacts Aer via telepathy from across the continent. Vee manipulates the wind for special aerial surf moves. Andy uses his plant powers for pranks. Aer grows from thinking of how he could use his power for himself to helping others like saving people from disasters. He gets his wish as he predicts a supernatural solar flare will wipe out all of New San Diego and possibly Earth. Can he use his lifeguard skills to save everyone in time?
If you pledge on Kickstarter now, you can get a digital or physical copy of AER HEAD issue #1, custom art, original page art, or even be drawn in the issue itself! Ride this indie comic wave before the campaign ends October 10th.
Earlier today A Wave Blue World, a graphic novel, anthology, and art book publisher run and operated by Tyler and Wendy Chin-Tanner, launched their latest Kickstarter. Organized and edited by Matt Miner and Eric Palicki who both previously published This Nightmare Kills Fascists through AWBW, this comics anthology moves away from horror and into optimistic speculative fiction; more Star Trek than Mad Max. This latest anthology, All We Ever Wanted: Stories of a Better World, has nearly reached 20% of it’s goal in just a few hours.
I got the chance to chat with Matt and Eric about this exciting new anthology, which you can read below as well as seeing an exclusive preview page from Maria Frohlich’s story “It Looked Like Our Dreams.”
After the success of This Nightmare Kills Fascists, what made you both decide to tell such a different kind of story with your new anthology?
Matt: Eric and I felt that we’re already living in the beginning stages of the nightmare dystopian future promised to us by movies and books, and we wanted to do something uplifting, inspiring. The stories are all filled with conflict and problems, but told against the backdrop of a better future. So, think more “San Junipero” Black Mirror and less “Shut up and Dance” Black Mirror.
Eric: While there are some positive, cathartic moments in TNKF, most of the stories –often without subtlety — hone in on what has become a depressing reality. It has gotten difficult to outdo the horror on the nightly news, so it felt appropriate to redirect our attention away from grounding ourselves in the moment and toward a better future.
It’s also nice to undermine readers’ expectations. Matt is primarily known as a horror writer, thanks to Toe Tag Riot, Critical Hit, Poser, and GWAR, and my last book, No Angel, also had a strong horror element. It’s nice to step out of our respective comfort zones.
Matt: It’s nice I’m known as a horror writer now instead of the guy who writes political stuff. You start your career with a series about animal liberationists and you’re branded that way for a long time.
Outside a few people including yourselves there are no repeat contributors in this volume. Why is that?
Matt: We simply have too many friends and colleagues we wanted to ask to be part of these anthology projects so we wanted to give more people a chance to contribute. Our next anthology, presumably in 2019, might have some repeating creators.
Eric: The number of creators who approached me about joining TNKF during the campaign or, later, about appearing in the follow-up has been heartening. After filling two books with people whose work I admire, I still haven’t managed to fit everyone in. As with This Nightmare Kills Fascists, a few of the spaces are going to brand new voices, which is one of the most rewarding parts of this gig, and most of the TNKF creators I’ve spoken to have been really cool about ceding their place in the new book to give unsung or underappreciated talent a platform.
Is there anything you learned from doing This Nightmare Kills Fascists that you’ll be repeating or not repeating here?
Matt: I learned to keep a better eye on organization. Putting together a huge book with dozens of creators is a massive undertaking and my spreadsheets tracking contacts, deadlines, money, etc are much more detailed this time around.
This book has also helped Eric and I further hone our editorial skills and better do what it takes to help people tell their best story.
Eric: Editing TNKF opened my eyes to those moments when it’s good to provide firm editorial guidance and when it’s better to step out of the way and let the creators do their own thing. I’d like to think I’ve developed a more targeted approach to editing the stories in this new book.
I also think the division of labor between us is better this time around, or at least more logical. Matt is much better at the organizational aspects of planning and tracking, for example, so I’m happy to leave that to him rather than stepping in and ultimately making a mess.
Check out the Kickstarter campaign here to learn more. Backing at the $20 level gets you the physical copy of the anthology. Ends .
So my last couple of columns have been a bit on the heavy side. This week I’m going back to telling all of you how I feel about specific comics. This week is a Kickstarter project, The Showdown Volume 2, by creator, writer and letterer Russ Lippitt, illustrator Ezequiel Pineda, colorist Nate Esteban, and editor Jessica Kubinec. Before I get into that though, I’d like to chat a little bit about the indie comics scene.
Indie comics and creator-owned comics are terms that are used pretty interchangeably. While The Walking Dead is one of the highest selling comics every single month and have two different TV series out, it’s not unheard of to see it mentioned as an indie comic. Often folks talk about the big two (Marvel and DC) finding indie talent to bring on board. Indie talent tends to refer to any comics put out by publishers that aren’t Marvel or DC. Image, Dark Horse, and IDW would all be considered comics publishers with indie talent more or less. The tier below that would be BOOM!, Dynamite, and Oni. From there would be Lion Forge, AfterShock and Titan. Then we get into Black Mask Studios, Scout and so forth. You get the idea. It’s kind of indie, but also not quite. Now self publishing comics, that’s where we get the real indie stuff!
Okay, full disclosure, I have self published some comics before so maybe I’m a little biased. Going to Zine Fests, MoCCA Fest, SPX, that’s where you see the real raw indie talent doing what they really want to do. Some of these books you see at those kind of shows are quick little stories, art books, playing around with the format, and so forth. Other self publishing indie type comics look more like what you’d find in any given comic shop like Unmasked or The Showdown Volume 2. Both of those examples are actually a bit more like comics collectives rather than straight up self publishing as The Showdown is part of Broken Icon Comics, but you get what I mean.
Speaking of The Showdown, I should get to talking about it. This volume is 110 fully colored page about a car race in hell. It’s a bit of Wacky Races meets Zenescope’s Grimm Tales of Terror. Basically, lots of bad dead people in vehicular abominations are racing around all the different levels of hell. We jump around following more than a few different groups of racers as they encounter zombies, Nazis, dragons, fire and ice. Some of the racers we follow are more likeable than others, which is the point.
I don’t want to give too much away, but it is filled with references to bands and songs, some of the jokes are teenage boy type jokes which is not a knock it’s just that’s the target demographic for some of it. There are also plenty of visual nods to things like Ridley Scott’s Legend and characters like Harley Quinn.
Where The Showdown excels is pacing. The story just keeps moving which helps make this 110 page graphic novel a real page turner. The setting is a familiar enough mash up that you don’t need a lot of explanation to jump right in. I haven’t read Volume 1 and it didn’t stop me from understanding the basic elements of the plot. Where The Showdown falls down is in the stakes. The story bounces around between a lot of different characters so it’s hard to build up a strong attachment to any one in particular. Add the lack of feeling like there are any real stakes and consequences with what happens to the winners and losers and what the ramifications of that will be makes for a bit of an aimless read. (In fairness, part of that may be because I have not read the first volume.)
The other sticking point for me was the artwork. I feel a stronger horror artist might be able to help carry the story better. Some of the elements in the story could have been more terrifying or grotesque and it would have elevated the story. By that same token, if Ezequil would have went harder in the other direction and made it more cartoony that would have changed the feel of the story and possibly enhanced it as well.
If you have an interest in Wacky Racers with a horror twist then you should check out Russ Lippitt’s Kickstarter. One of the best things about it is that the comics is already done, so once it’s funded it will definitely be coming out! That’s usually not the case when it comes to comics on Kickstarter, so no worrying about a creative team switch up or a book being a year or so late. If you’ve been pledging to comics on Kickstarter for years and years like I have you know what I’m talking about.
Thanks for reading my column this week and do me a favor and go support some indie comics. The self publishing kind of indie.
I know I’ve been talking a lot about Kickstarter projects lately. Some have reached their goal, like Unmasked Volume 2. Some still need your support, like The Meatspace Omnibus. This week, I’m discussing a Kickstarter project from Todd Matthy, who’s learned a lot since his last Kickstarter.
I met Todd some years ago and picked up his self-published comic, Wicked Game, drawn by co-creator Roderic Rodriguez back in 2014. Since then, I’ve seen Todd at many local conventions working on other self-published projects.
For the last couple of years his focus has been on Robots vs. Princesses, a comic with art by Nicolas Chapuis and letters by Sean Rinehart. It’s a very “what you see is what you get” kind of title. The premise is that there are princesses banning together against robots. Specifically, Princess Zara wants to find a baby dragon, but on her quest runs into a robot. Now she and the other surrounding princesses have to defend themselves against the encroaching robot army.
It’s a mash-up of fairy tale story telling with giant robot anime. Todd is particularly passionate about this project as he’s an elementary school teacher who wants more comics that are accessible to younger audiences while still being interesting to adults.
Todd Matthy got a write up for Robots vs. Princesses in Bleeding Cool back in 2015 and got praise from comics professionals like Mark Waid and Kristen Gudsnuk. After getting some pages done, alternate covers from artists including Sean Von Gorman, and getting another MoCCA Fest under his belt, Todd went to Kickstarter in May of 2016 to fund the four issues that make up Robots vs. Princesses. The goal was $18,362. Unfortunately, that campaign ended with $2,875 raised – which meant that it could not move forward.
However… that was not the end of Robots vs. Princesses.
Anyone who’s done a Kickstarter that’s come up short, or gotten a rejection from a publisher knows that it can be discouraging. And just because you do everything right doesn’t mean you’re going to get what you want. Over the past year, Todd has gone to more shows, has made more progress with the comic, started a newsletter to build his up his base, and reworked the rest of his strategy going forward.
On July 25th, Todd took to Kickstarter once again for Robots vs. Princesses. This time the goal is more modest. Instead of trying to fund all four issues, this campaign is just looking to fund the first issue. The goal is down to $2,500 for the first issue. Seeing as the first attempt made over $2,500 this was a good goal and a safe bet. That safe bet has paid off spectacularly with this Kickstarter already about 75% of its goal with over two weeks left.
Not every comic Kickstarter is a big success. Not every comic gets picked up right away. Todd Matthy could have easily packed it in and called it a day after not getting funded in his first attempt like countless other creators have in the past. He didn’t. He sucked it up, took the time to reorganize and roll out a different strategy and it’s working. Patience is something that is required for anyone that wants to break into comics and it’s a trait that Todd possesses. Go check out his Kickstarter and see what an elementary school teacher is doing to make a passion project come to life for young readers.
Tune in next week when I (hopefully) am able to shamelessly plug a project that I’ll be involved in. Same Bat time. Same Bat channel.
This week I want to touch on a topic I haven’t addressed yet: crowdfunding. It’s been around for years now and has been a consistently used means to help fund projects and inventions ever since. Shortly after crowdfunding began to gain popularity with sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, many in and around the comics community flocked to crowdfunding as a means to fund creator-owned projects. It mostly started with indie comic creators trying to break in, but as time went on more established creators used crowdfunding as a way to fund passion comic projects and small publishers used it to start funding projects to lower their financial risks. Lowering financial risks for publishers to try putting out new kinds of comics has also been a boon for diversity in comics.
Just to get this out of the way before I dive right in, yes, sometimes crowdfunding goes wrong. The overwhelming majority of projects move along just fine, but there are exceptions. Don’t let reports of those discourage you from considering supporting projects you love that sound feasible. As crowdfunding has become a larger and larger phenomenon, different sites have been requiring projects to provide more information including timelines on when to expect progress on the project in question and risks the project will face. Don’t be discouraged, but don’t not read the fine print either.
I started using Kickstarter in 2012. The first comic project I donated to was Giant Robot Warrior Maintenance Crew. The premise was what if a Voltron type team had pilots that were total divas and the real heroes were their maintenance crew repairing the giant robot warriors during combat. It was a successfully funded and after a while I got my copies of the comic as part of my pledge. Sometime later, Giant Robot Warrior Maintenance Crew would be available through Diamond. Ideas like that would not have gotten much traction prior to crowdfunding, at least enough to print physical copies.
Not only has crowdfunding helped with the diversity of ideas in comics, but with representation on the page and off the page. One of the first projects on Kickstarter I backed like that was Liberator by Matt Miner and Javier Sanchez Aranda, a groundbreaking comic about fighting to end animal cruelty at a high cost. This four issue limited comic series has diversity on the page with both its protagonists and off the page with talent like Javier Sanchez Aranda bringing the story to life with his illustrations. Liberator also broke new ground in comics by having 30% of its profits go to animal rescue efforts, a rare find in comics.
Crowdfunding, particularly Kickstarter in this case, was a crucial part of how Liberator happened. Not only were they able to get the word out in advance of this comic’s release through social media, it helped to get a small publisher, Black Mask Studios, to publish Liberator, making it a flagship title for the fledgling publisher at the time and a cornerstone of its shared universe. Without crowdfunding, we could have been deprived of this original, positive, and powerful comic.
Sites like Kickstarter have been helping women in comics too, both up and comers and established. Smut Peddler is a successful, multi volume series of adult themed comics made largely by women (all stories written and/or drawn by women to get the female perspective), and for women (and the forward thinking gentleman). Books like this often have a difficult time finding a publisher and even a printer because of the content and a place like Kickstarter greatly helps in making a project like Smut Peddler a reality. I would absolutely love to address why often we see publishers and printers having less of a moral dilemma in picking up and publishing a story about hate and extreme violence than they do about a story of love and sex, but I’d hate to derail my own conversation and really that topic is worth dedicating a whole column to.
Queer focused comics have been seeing a new Renaissance with crowdfunding campaigns too. Comics like Beyond, a queer fantasy anthology, have not only been published through Kickstarter funds, but were so successful that a sequel to Beyond is currently in the works. Even Flame Con, NYC’s first LGBTQ focused comic convention, is in part a result of a successful crowdfunding campaign. That’s not to say that the only reason these things happen are because of crowdfunding, but it’s certainly a huge help.
The queer comic on Kickstarter I most recently backed is titled The Other Side. It’s a queer paranormal romance comic anthology. You read that correctly. No, honestly you did. I wouldn’t joke about something like that.
The Other Side is a wonderful example of how far crowdfunding can take us. I could never imagine any large or medium sized publisher taking on a project like this. Even the tiny publishers. It’s such an interesting and unique idea and exactly the kind of idea that the comics industry needs to have coming out to show that in fact not every single idea has been done before. And hey, it’s another chance to get a comic with Fyodor Pavlov’s art in it.
The Kickstarter for The Other Side has been up for a couple of weeks and at the time I’m writing this has already made it to over $20,000 from nearly 700 backers with a goal of $23,000. By the time this column goes up there will be two weeks left to pledge. I strongly urge anyone with an interest in queer comics and seeing them continue to succeed in 2016 or knows someone who does to please pledge if they can or at very least spread the word.
I freely admit that I am 33 years of age and have never been drunk, high, or anything more than over-tired. But over the last 33 days I’ve experienced inebriation in all its stereotypical stages – if only by proxy – as I managed what I can now declare as a successful crowdfunding campaign.
No, I didn’t drink any alcohol, smoke, toke, or shoot any whim-wham-wozzle into my ding-a-ling. I merely held my breath for 33 days as I watched 155 people trickle in to support Unshaven Comics as we embarked on collecting together our first independently published graphic novel. I’m somewhere between hugging the toilet and declaring how I love you all.
Managing a Kickstarter is an absolute pain in the ass. In creating the campaign, it took the better part of every hour in my life not otherwise devoted to my full-time job, to being a husband and father, and to managing a freelance graphic design business. From sourcing the absolutely wonderful partners who filmed and edited our video, to lining up vendors for producing our would-be graphic novel, to locating all other extraneous artisans and stores who would supply the other pledge prizes, it was an undertaking that easily could have been a full time job unto itself. After our network of vendors was in place, it then took hours of meetings between we Unshaven lads to concoct our pledge goal and build the pledge packages to entice would-be backers. And then we had it all spot-checked by a network of successful campaign builders in an effort to ensure we weren’t doing it all wrong. And all of that was merely the work that needed to be done before we could launch. Did I mention this whole thing was a pain in the ass?
The next bit of fun, err, living torture, occurred over the course of the actual campaign. Somedays, backers came in droves. Other days I was essentially pan-handling on the side of Facebook, dancing for nickels. All because of the latent fear that without a steady rise in backing pledges, new traffic would surf in, do the mental math, and walk away – confident that we didn’t have the juice to meet our goals in time. These mounting daily fears compounded with the deluge of offers bandied at me from the ecosystem of businesses now built around crowdfunding campaign management. Each new business enticing me with their promises of success via public relations, targeted ad sales, or (I assume) the sacrificing of a virgin goat by vengeful locals in Papa New Guinea. How could it not work?
I’m happy to admit that I gave in to a pair of services. One worked immensely well. The other was absolute abject failure. While some I know here on ComicMix like to grind bad businesses into the dirt, I will take the high road. In other words, if you want me to sling mud or sing praises, find me man-to-man and I’ll spill my guts. To cut to the chase: PR doesn’t do diddley-squat for the indie comic creator. In contrast, a solid and honest e-mail campaign works wonders.
If I were to spin my experience out into a panel (and I’m fairly certain I could lead a riveting one on the con circuit now), I’d sum it up simply: Like anything else in the world today, the hope to become viral is a silly pipe dream you can’t count on. The Samurnauts has an immortal kung-fu monkey who pilots a giant robot and BuzzFeed didn’t come knocking at my door. Instead, like every book we move at comics conventions around the nation, it is down to real legwork. It’s the culmination of the pitch and the product. If you can’t convince someone that your project is cool in 30 seconds, you won’t do it over the course of a five-minute video. And if you’re lucky enough to sell your idea, you have to bring it home with a product (or series of products packaged into enticing rewards) at a price point that your target audience feels is a solid value for the money. It’s a balancing act that has as little to do with virality as Rob Liefield has to proper anatomy.
At the end of 33 days, I am utterly exhausted, punch-drunk from the emotional roller coaster ride that was our Kickstarter campaign. I’m left in awe of the real friends who pledged, shared, and truly supported us with their encouragement. I’m left bitter by the posers who talked the talk, but failed to walk the walk – false friends willing to eat the bread but weren’t around when I needed help sowing the seeds. I’m honored to work beside my brothers from other mothers… who checked in with my daily to ensure we were doing everything we could to succeed. I’m flabbergasted at the outpouring of love and support from our fanbase – who not only shared the campaign over 800 times over 33 days, but offered their own rewards to new backers. I’m weary at the long journey ahead, as Unshaven Comics will travel to Atlanta, Cincinnati, New York, and Kokomo all within eight weeks as we attempt to finish production on the actual book itself.
There’s nothing left to say, save perhaps for the battle cry that got us this far.
In case you’ve not been reading my articles religiously – and if you’re not, why aren’t you? – you know my li’l studio has launched our second Kickstarter campaign. The first time around, in 2011, we asked for a little cash to make a cosplay suit. We succeeded. It was a small goal, and it took every day of the campaign for us to eek out the victory. On Thursday evening, we launched again, asking for a lot more money, with a much bigger goal in mind. This time, we want to take over the world.
I kid, I kid. Actually, we’re just looking to be able to fund the printing of our very first graphic novel. With almost four years of work under our belts on the eventual collection, it was time we took the leap from floppy issues sold at comic conventions to big-boy-books.
And ever since launch, I personally feel like I’m losing years off my life with each successive day.
Why the consternation? Well, I’ve long held out from launching a crowd-funded campaign to cover the costs of being a business. When Kickstarter first became en vogue I’d associated it with funding fleets of fancy that otherwise wouldn’t be business-savvy. See: funding the creation of a suit of cosplay armor. But over time, crowd-funding has become the marketplace by which the indie creator is able to connect to the largest base of online business. Launch your book on ComiXology, and you are a pebble thrown into the ocean. Launch a Kickstarter, and for a short time you actually matter. And when your own ComicMix colleague successfully launches his own pet project, suddenly the notion of mattering for that short time feels like something worth being a part of. The shifting sands of the online economy successfully showed its evil greedy light to me. And now I’m right in the middle of it.
For months leading up to the launch, I built our campaign with a breezy confidence. “It’s a book about a Kung-Fu Monkey. Everyone will love it.” “We’ve been successfully selling individual issues of this for four years, and each year we sell more than the last. How could this not be an epic win?” “We’re gonna stuff 50 pages of bonus material in it, so old fans will come back, even if they own the issues already!” I have great friends who helped us make a video. I found a 3D artist to help make our first Samurnaut toy as a limited edition reward. I found great artists who agreed to make pin-ups for the book. It was all coming together with ease.
And then I sent out the preview to a few friends in-the-know. I expected nothing but a love-in for the work I’d completed.
The feedback I’d received a week to launch was critical but fair. I took every constructive criticism to heart, and did what I could to adjust as needed. I added as much art to the campaign as I could design. I tweaked, retweaked our video. I made a second video. I added add-on rewards. I noodled over stretch goals. I got sage advice from fellow successful Kickstarter compatriots about potential pitfalls. I read over two dozen blogs on running proper campaigns. I nervously scratched a bald patch through the middle of my beard. I grew a dozen new gray hairs. I think I passed a kidney stone.
And soon enough, the anxiety attacks began. It got so bad, I called my studio mate at 11:30 PM this past Wednesday when I hit the “Submit to Kickstarter” button, and it immediately told me I was ready to launch. “Tell me to hit the button”, I stammered. Matt – my Unshaven brother-from-another-mother moaned in the most banal tone he could muster… “Just f’n push the button.” But what if people don’t get what we’re doing? What if we’ve already sold to everyone who actually cares? What if we timed this out wrong? What if our video accidentally offends someone? What if people don’t actually like Kung-Fu Monkeys and Zombie-Cyborg Space Pirates?!
But we launched anyways. And we’ve have a slow-but-steady stream of backers support us every day since launch. I’ve seen over 100 shares on Facebook alone in the first day. It allowed me to breathe.
I know the next month will be a visceral roller-coaster ride as I monitor and market myself raw. But the plan has been in place for months. My friends here at ComicMix told me they have my back. My wife told me she’d tweet Neil Patrick Harris about it. My son actually said “Samurnauts Are Go!” for the first time. There’s nothing more I needed to hear, kiddos.
War is always a horror story. Terrible things are done and people kill one another in violent ways for what must have seemed very good reasons to them at the time. Sometimes, not always, the war is necessary. Opposing Hitler and the Nazis in WWII was necessary; wasting lives and dollars in Iraq was not.
The Civil War seemed necessary and inevitable. The United States was lurching towards the conflict since the country was founded. As Abraham Lincoln said in his “House Divided” speech on June 16, 1858 (a speech considered by many to have lost Lincoln the Senate election in Illinois that year), “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.” The issue would have to be settled and settled in blood, in war, with horror.
This past week we observed the 152nd Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the climatic battle between the forces of the North and the South. The war would go on until 1865 but at this point it became a war of attrition. The South was not going to win after Gettysburg. The killing, the horror, would go on.
The Battle of Gettysburg is also the setting for Tom Mandrake’s and my new project, Kros: Hallowed Ground. Coincidently, we launched our Kickstarter campaign on the eve of the anniversary. (You can find our Kickstarter right here)
Oh… and we added vampires.
You might ask yourself, “Why did you do that, John and Tom? Surely the events of that great battle are dramatic enough on their own.” They are, and don’t call me Shirley.
The difference is that we’re not telling the story of the Battle of Gettysburg; we are using the Battle as the setting and the backdrop for the story we are telling. The Battle of Gettysburg is a huge tale and has consumed many, many books from different authors in its telling. While you can tell the story from many different perspectives according to who you focus on, there is no one character of the battle that can be called the main protagonist or antagonist. That’s not ideal for graphic fiction; you want one central character around which the story revolves. That’s what we’ve done.
“But why vampires?” You are insistent on that, aren’t you?
I’ve long been interested in what I call narrative alloys – combining elements of one genre with another. Robert E. Howard created Conan and other sword-and sorcery works by combining historical fiction and what was referred to as “sword-and-sandal” with supernatural stories, especially monsters. When I created GrimJack, I smushed together sword-and sorcery with hard-boiled noir detective fiction. When creating Agents of the Empire in Star Wars, I combined James Bond with Star Wars.
In combining the Civil War with horror fiction, I’m hoping to underscore the horror that was the Civil War. Too often I’ve read fairly bloodless accounts that focus on dates and names, troop movements and the order of battle. I think your skin should crawl when you read about the Battle of Gettysburg. We give you two Battles of Gettysburg; one by day and one by night. The concept is that Civil War battles would call to vampires who, like carrion birds, descend on the battlefield when the cannons and the rifles fall silent. The vampires come to feed on the wounded. Imagine for yourself the horror you would feel if you were badly wounded and still lay upon the ground where you fell and then, in the dark, a monstrous creature comes to suck the remaining life out of you and you are helpless to stop them.
That makes my skin crawl and I’m betting it will do the same for you.
Our protagonist is a vampire hunter – a dampyr – named Kros. This time, however, he discovers that he cannot fight alone and soldiers from both the North and South must come together to fight a greater evil that may literally consume them and everyone they care about. I want the reader to see the Battle through new eyes and to feel it viscerally. Tom Mandrake will make that happen. He is doing the best work of his storied career; his art creeps me out sometimes and I know what’s coming!
Oh what an age we live in! Marvel banks billions at the box office. DC hits homerun after homerun on the silver screen. And Boom!, Avatar, IDW, and Image continue to stretch the boundaries of the original source medium like no one before them. Yet, it’s we, the lil’ indie folks that are living in the most golden of ages. Why? Because the marketplace has found a way to make us matter; to give us a national (if not international) fanbase all at the click of the mouse. And now, before any art is ever born (outside some sizzling promotional pieces) whole projects can be given birth at only the pitch level. Rao bless you, Crowdsourcing.
Of course… they say the Devil is in the details. Right? Back in 2011, when Unshaven Comics was nothing but a lowly anthology series and an educational graphic novel, we opted to use Kickstarter to fund a dream – the creation of a cosplay suit of armor for our Samurnauts series. We had high hopes that if we really stretched out our arms and begged every single person we knew, we could raise the necessary funds (A whopping $1100 to cover the design, materials, and labor to produce a very high quality suit by some great artisans, Malmey Studios). Well, after an agonizing month of hustling? We succeeded. And in funding the suit, and sending out the prizes? We were left in the hole. When the magnificent suit arrived, we couldn’t be happier. And the joy that our live model (both in the suit and in the book, natch) brought to the kids at various cons over the next 2-3 years? It was well worth the effort.
What tickles me to no end is that what we raised then is a mere pittance in comparison to what our compatriots are pulling down today. And to be honest? It scares the poop right outta my colon for our chances, now that we ourselves are considering returning to crowdfunded-fracas. Even funnier? When Unshaven Comics needs 250 people to vote for them, for free,we’re still having trouble. But I digress.
I look no further than my northernly neighbors Tom Stillwell or Gene Ha, and marvel at their recent successes. Stillwell’s Fangirl garnered over 300 backers, and tipped the scales at over $12,000 to help him produce his excellent story of a murder mystery taking place at the largest comic con in the nation. And hey, if that sounds like you want a copy, look no further for a pre-order. And ole’ Gene? Well, not that long ago, he was begging Unshaven Comics for tips on attending a comic con successfully (no lie! He wrote about it here). And now? He’s proven how much of a powerhouse he is, with his Mae graphic novel project boasting over 1,300 backers, and more money than I’d like to type out. Girl power, indeed.
It would appear perhaps these successes are a boon; that finding a fanbase is totally doable, and with the right moxey, the money needed to see our dreams become reality is just a little elbow grease away. But alas, that’s the kind of fluffy talk that sounds wonderful until you try it. Back in October, my Unshaven cohort, Kyle Gnepper, sought backing for his project Toolbox. It’s a strong concept, paired with a wonderful artist (and no, I’m not talking about me, or the other Unshaven guy). But with all his gumption, moxie, and lucky rabbits feet in tow, Kyle was only able to see close to half his needed goal. In the fallout, he’s been paying for the project anyways, a page at a time. His passion – no different than Tom’s, Gene’s, or any of the other successes we know – wasn’t the key to success.
As it were, name recognition matters. The time you debut your campaign matters. The time you promise it takes to bring the completed project to market matters. The price-points of your wares matters. I could go on. What was once a breezy and open marketplace is now its own economic ecosphere, held in place by unseen forces and unknown rules. Where promotion was once tethered to your facebook fan page, a few reddit groups, and maybe your dusty e-mail newsletter list… is now a fully-developed campaign where updates are a necessary evil, along with stretch goals, and swag far beyond the standard tee-shirt or sketch promise. Heck, in the successful campaign for Albert the Alien, I paid a handsome fee to ensure Unshaven Comics be drawn into the book. Why? Because my money was burning a hole in my pocket, and the guy running the show, Trevor Mueller, is too damned nice.
So, here I sit, with a litany of burning questions broiling in my draft folder for those smarter than myself (it’s a long list, trust me). Does Unshaven Comics actually have a shot at seeing several thousand dollars for a graphic novel of our Samurnauts series? If so, should we be launching it before all the material is done, to ensure we’re far enough away from the holidays so-as to attract wandering buyers? Do we go with IndieGoGo where failure is far harder to achieve (with a lower bar to victory), or go all-in with Kickstarter? Do we seek way-out-of-the-box merch tie-ins for bigger backers? Do we offer wacky and wild limited prizes? Do we call in every favor owed to us by known names in an attempt to garner attention from those who likely don’t know or care to know us? Do we plan a staged coup at a big-time comic con in hopes of being written about on CBR, Newsarama, Bleeding Cool, or Ain’t It Cool News?
The answers, my friend, are all yes. Stay tuned for my greatest leap of faith, perhaps ever, in comics.