Hundreds of Kickstarter comics and graphic novels later, the site has emerged as the go-to source for self-publishing funding. By offering creators the opportunity for crowd-sourced, up-front cash, Kickstarter has attracted a slew of the top names in comics and even some already-established comic publishers.
For All-Star Western co-writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, the Kickstarter site has been the backbone of the creative output from the pair's publishing company, PaperFilms. The co-writers are on their sixth Kickstarter campaign, launching this month for a 72-page graphic novel called Denver.
The sci-fi story is about Max Flynn, a border patrol enforcer in a post-disaster world. And because it's on Kickstarter, the comic is able to offer extras to its readers — including a soundtrack to accompany the comic, recorded by musician Hans Karl.
Newsarama talked to Palmiotti and Gray about the graphic novel, and got a preview of the comic's art and music.
Newsarama: Jimmy and Justin, be honest … did you ever think, five or 10 years ago, that something like Kickstarter would work so well for the publication of graphic novels?
Jimmy Palmiotti: I always had in the back of my head the idea that one day I would find a rich person to invest in my work and then I could do anything I wanted.
Justin Gray: A digital age patron of the arts! I like that. Makes me think of Alan Squire in Petrified Forest.
Palmiotti: Getting a thousand people interested in something we create and supporting it is even better because it is a community. But, no…never did I think something like this would work so well, and to be honest, I cannot believe that more people aren’t giving it a try, but I also understand why, because of the crazy amount of work it takes.
Gray: If you showed me the model and how it works maybe I would have said yes only because I think any time you’re able to connect directly with an audience and offer them not only what they want but also exclusive merchandise you’re going to have a strong base of supporters.
Nrama: What do you think it is about the Kickstarter concept that works for comics and graphic novels in particular?
Palmiotti: Comics are a visual medium, so honestly, you can look right away at the Kickstarter art and decide if you like it or not…and if still on the fence, look at the story and so on. I make decisions like this every Wednesday at the comic shop.
Gray: For me it is developing relationships with readers in a way that’s more personal. We’re not sending a book into a market dominated by a single genre, instead we’re finding like minded readers and hopefully fulfilling a need that isn't being met elsewhere. Content is king and our goal each time is to deliver the best possible stories and art, but that’s not good enough. I’m all in on digital. I buy digital comics and digital books almost exclusively. I can’t justify taking up the physical space or using that much paper if I don’t have to. I moved last month and in that move I discovered I have in more than fifteen very large cardboard boxes full of novels and non-fiction books. They’re heavy and they’re not even my comics. I went through every box and settled on keeping enough to fill three. These were novels that were either sentimental of things I wanted to hand to my daughter someday. My long winded point being that Jimmy and I not only want to deliver great content we want to deliver a great physical product that warrants a place on your shelf. The paper and the printing are absolutely crucial in trying to reach that goal.
Nrama: How is the process different, creating a comic/OGN in the traditional sales structure versus creating it by utilizing Kickstarter?
Palmiotti: With Kickstarter, you are casting a hook to see if you can catch the attention of people interested in investing in your project. If you have enough interest, your project is funded. With traditional comic creation, you are usually working for a company on their characters and if not, you are part of a process where a book is solicited and you are paid for your work. For example if your book is at Image where it's a OGN , you have to put it together and that takes money and time…and then see if they will carry it, and if you get to that stage, its still a gamble, but you do retain the rights. Honestly, Kickstarter is an easier process for me with lower risk and 10 times the work.
Gray: You have to do almost everything by hand because it is essentially running a small business. Again the best thing about that is direct communication with your audience and fan base.
Nrama: Let's talk about the story in Denver. People seem to be fascinated with post-Apocalyptic stories these days — what makes Denver unique? And how would describe the main character, Max Flynn?
Palmiotti: I like to think that the nature of the setting and world building are secondary to the story of the main character, so as far as unique, I am not so sure the actual roots of the story are distinctive as much as the character is interacting with the world around them. This is not a story about how we got to this place, it is a story set in the place. I think Denver stands out because of the honesty of the story and the beautiful storytelling by Pier Brito.
Gray: It has its themes of loss both on a massive scale and a personal one. The visual elements so masterfully rendered by Pier can take you to this strange world, but the people populating it are very human, very flawed and in Max you have a man that is simultaneously complex and simple. He has a code unique to the situation he lives in.
Nrama: What's the biggest threat to Max as your story takes place?
Palmiotti: The threats keep coming for max. Everything from his job, to his wife and family and finally to the health of the city he inhabits. Max is a man in a pretty bad situation
Nrama: What inspired you guys to work with Hans Karl on a soundtrack for the book?
Palmiotti: We were looking to do something different and when I write I listen to all kinds of soundtracks. I met Hans a few times at the Long Beach con and we spoke online about his soundtrack work for films and it seemed like a natural fit. He really did an amazing job on this and we added a track by Libby and Carrie Johnson of 22 Brides that adds some more flavor to the experience.
Nrama: Have you guys heard the music? Can you describe it?
Palmiotti: I think it has the spirit of Vangelis mixed in with the intensity of Hans Zimmer. If you go to the Kickstarter page, the mini-film we made has one of his soundtrack tracks that you can listen to.
Gray: Very atmospheric, taught, exciting and moody. As a failed musician I’m in awe and admittedly jealous of artists like Hans who can score a soundtrack. Part of the fun with Kickstarters is putting together the trailers. I also love the idea of having Denver set to music. The process helps the frustrated filmmaker in me.
Nrama: What drew you to Pier Brito's art?
Palmiotti: Very European, very moody and excellent world building and storytelling. It looks like nothing coming out in the mainstream today and that's a big attraction for me. I am all about something new and exciting and Pier delivers. He is also fearless and it shows in the work.
Gray: You’ll notice our Kickstarters vary in styles that are suited to the content. While Denver and Forager both have science fiction elements they are wildly different. Forager needed to have a bright and whimsical style and a color palate that was influenced by Japanese comics without being a manga hack. Denver, although it is the last American city above water, you’ll notice the way Pier handles the muted colors in some of the scenes that it feels like a haunted place. I think the American comic scene has been dominated over the years by house styles and situations where you have a wildly influential artist that spawns a generation of similar artists. We continue to look at each product from a visually diverse position.
Nrama: How does Pier's art affect the story? What do his visuals add to the story of Denver?
Palmiotti: When you partner up with an artist on a project, you try to guide the story towards those artists’ strengths. Knowing who the artist will be on a book changes everything for me. We sat on this story for a while till we found the right artist. When we met him, we knew we found our guy. Pier being able to illustrate and color his own work helped, but it was his world building skills that blew me away. We pushed him to draw things we only imagined and he came through on every page.
Gray: We haven’t worked with anyone like Pier and that is exciting and inspirational. On top of that he’s an incredible person, generous and excitable and you can see he loves what he’s doing. The process has to be organic if you’re going to convey your passion to the reader. Pier’s interpretation of Denver gives it an otherworldly feeling that pushed us to look at the story differently.
Nrama: What else do you want to tell fans about Denver?
Palmiotti: Denver is our sixth Kickstarter and we are very proud of what we are offering. You can buy a digital version and support the book for as little as $5 and know that everything we offer is only found in this Kickstarter. Format, prints and all. Last I want to thank all those that continue to support our projects.
Gray: These books are literally a labor of love and we’re constantly striving and collaborating with talented people to deliver a read worth your time. Now we’re adding audio and its pretty sweet. If you like taught thrillers with unexpected twists and turns set against the landscape of dazzling visuals then please check out Denver. And as Jimmy said we thank those of you that support us each and every time. You are appreciated.