For independent comics publishers, breaking into the mainstream book market is all but impossible. Bookstores normally don't purchase their stock, and they return unsold merchandise. So independent publishers would have to pay up front for the large print run required, and then hope their creation sells.
It's a hurdle that's too high for most indie creators.
Yet writer/artist Billy Tucci is hoping his fans can help him jump that hurdle through a new campaign on Kickstarter that's particularly appropriate for the Christmas season. And he believes he has the type of hardcover graphic novel that can "crossover" into a mainstream bookstore with success, bringing a whole new audience to the magic of comic books.
A Child Is Born, a graphic novel Tucci has been self-publishing through his Apostle Arts imprint, has sold out two years in a row after relatively small print runs each year (around 13,000). In fact, this year's hardcover edition was sold out to comic book stores faster than Tucci could even promote it.The Kickstarter edition of the book will be updated with new pages of story and art for release to wide trade and Christian distribution in fall 2013 — if Tucci can get his fans to help out now.
Featuring the work of Tucci with colorist Paul Mounts, A Child is Born is based on the Biblical Gospels of Matthew and Luke. With Tucci's meticulous detail to accuracy in the depiction of clothing, colors and settings, the book tells the story of Mary's pregnancy, Christ's birth and a visit by three Magi.
As Tucci revealed in a Newsarama interview last fall, he was first moved to tell the story of Christ's birth after his wife survived a year-and-a-half battle with breast cancer. He felt that his love for this story would "show on every page."
The writer/artist has also donated most of the proceeds to charity, teaming with World Vision last year, and giving copies to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts this year as well as other charities.
For the Kickstarter campaign, Tucci is also bowing to his political opposition, offering an exclusive signed special edition lithograph that features the artist's depiction of President Barack Obama. Tucci was vocal about his support of Gov. Mitt Romney during the recent presidential campaign, so he's giving away the presidential portrait in a package he calls "Billy Tucci Eats Crow."Newsarama talked to Tucci to find out what the response has been to the project and what prompted him to turn toward a Kickstarter campaign to take the project mainstream.
Newsarama: Billy, what has the response been to this book since it was first released last year to a limited audience of readers?
Billy Tucci: It was just incredible! When we first announced it, there was some pushback, though. I’m really not sure why. Perhaps because comics is primarily a secular industry, but some people really, really hated the idea of a Christmas comic.But once the book hit the stands, and people saw just how much work we put into it, and that it was a quality project, things really turned around. Books sold out the day they came in, and we couldn’t keep up with the reorders — so much so that it was Diamond’s No. 1 retailer ranked reordered book for the month of January 2012. I guess readers believe it’s a nice all-ages Christmas present.
It’s a really good feeling to have people you’ve never met before come up to you and thank you for doing a comic book. I’ve had that a few times from veterans and their families after The Lost Battalion came out, but nothing like this.
We’ve been so blessed with our sales that we’re donating thousands of copies for Hurricane Sandy relief and other charities. Seems the right thing to do being how bad off so many families are these days.
Nrama: What got you thinking about taking it to a wider audience through Kickstarter?
Tucci: I’ve received many emails from people telling me that they bought the book for non-comic fans and they loved it. It's as if people have been waiting for a book like this.This truly was my “dream project,” but I also see this comic as something of an ambassador for the industry. We’ve garnered lots of attention from the national media, who championed it as a comic book for those who've never purchased one. We've even garnered a Five Dove Rating for all ages from the Dove Foundation, and have been showcased in Christian- and faith-based magazines and websites. Churches call us all the time for books.
Nrama: For those of us who might talk to non comics readers about this book, how would you describe what sets this apart from TV specials and such about the Christmas story?
Tucci: I believe the most obvious aspect that separates it from others would be the science behind the “Star of Bethlehem.” I owe a huge debt of thanks to Mr. Rick Larson (http://www.bethlehemstar.net/), who made an amazing video determining exactly what the star was that the Magi followed. I am so appreciative of Rick’s blessing to use his research in the book.
I also tried to be as true to the New Testament narratives as well regarding the story, and use them to dispel some misconceptions regarding the birth of Jesus that have become so commonplace.For instance, if you look at any TV specials and commercial nativity scenes, you’ll see the magi visiting the holy family alongside goats and donkeys in the manger, on the night of Christ’s birth. But actually, through Rick’s Bethlehem Star research and the words of Matthew and Luke, you’ll realize that they didn’t reach Mary, Joseph and Jesus until months later, when they had actually moved into a home.
Nrama: It's not surprising that you made sure those details were accurate, because you've been known for awhile for doing research. What other research did you bring to the book?
Tucci: This book has been a labor of love for me for over a decade, so I’ve been working, researching the subject forever. If you look at the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and read the passages pertaining to the birth of Jesus, you’ll see it’s not very much about it at all. But, what great story elements those few words hold! You’ve got awe, fear, doubt, guilt, adventure, jealousy, joy, faith, hate and love all rolled into a few paragraphs. It truly is the “Greatest Story Ever Told.”
That said, I’ve also read dozens of books, interviewed scholars of the Nativity Narratives, and delved into ancient Judean art, dress and architecture to try and get a real feel for the time period. It really was a lot of fun.
Nrama: As you developed the artwork for this story, what type of media did you use? What are the tools of the trade you utilized to create this gorgeous work?
Tucci: Like Sgt. Rock, the story and people of A Child Is Born really inspired my illustration and writing to new levels. It's like I had an artistic epiphany a few years ago. I haven't found such a catalyst to aspire upward and push myself since Shi: The Way Of The Warrior back in 1995.If you look closely, you’ll see that there are also no inks in the book. That was done to give it a more kinetic look, more personal if you will. There’s no black line around the characters, but rather they blend in more naturally with their surroundings.
But the credit for the artwork really must go to colorist Paul Mounts for this book. Paul took the book to a whole other place, he turned every panel scratched out by a cartoonist into a work of art. Paul’s an artist of the first order and his digital paintings inspired me to push myself more and more.
Nrama: The Kickstarter page also offers donors a preview of a project called Blessed Are They. Is that another graphic novel like this one?
Tucci: Blessed Are They will be an Easter book, which focuses on the Beatitudes and Christ’s "Sermon on the Mount," but more on that next year.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to add about the project?
Tucci: I just want to thank everyone for all of their incredible support to the book and my family this past year. Merry Christmas, God Bless and thank you all so much for making my dream come true!
Interested fans can access the Kickstarter campaign for the bookstore distribution of A Child is Born at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/apostlearts/apostle-arts-presentsa-child-is-born-redux-2013.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!