The concept is simple. Need $3,000 to fund a comic? Just ask your potential readers to cover those costs up front.
Kickstarter, a one-year-old website based in Brooklyn, allows anyone with a creative idea to ask the public to back the endeavor. Used by filmmakers, journalists, inventors and explorers, Kickstarter is now allowing comic book creators to fund their projects by going to straight to the people who benefit from them.
It's an idea that is working for several comic book creators, and if the site catches on, it has the potential to influence how independent comics are funded and published in the future.
Sound too good to be true?
That's what artist Mitch Gerads thought before he and Scott Dillon, writer and co-owner of Popgunpulp Comics, decided to give Kickstarter a try for their space adventure series, Johnny Recon. The two set a goal of raising $2,000, with a deadline of March 17th.
"It just sounded too smooth, but Scott and I were kind of struggling to print our second issue the way we wanted to, and so we decided to give it a shot," Gerads said. "The rest is history. Awesome, awesome history."
They ended up raising more than $3,000.
Word of their success spread, and Steve Bryant, the creator of the 1930's adventure series Athena Voltaire, decided to give it a try. Although the Eisner-nominated series already had an established fan base, Bryant said the opportunity to earn the money up front was too enticing to pass up.
"Most independent comics work is paid on the back end, if the book even turns a profit at all," Bryant explained. "This leads to creators producing their book in their downtime and scrambling to make the deadlines.
"With Kickstarter, I can pay myself and [co-creator] Jason Millet both a page rate," he said. "Nothing extravagant, but enough so that we can each allot the time to work on Athena Voltaire to the exclusion of everything else — and that makes a big difference. Any creator would gladly take one eight-hour block of time over eight one-hour blocks to work on a book."
Bryant listed the comic with a $7,000 goal and a deadline of May 25th to raise the money. The comic has already attracted more than 100 backers and $7,340. If enough is raised, Bryant plans to not only publish the two issues he originally planned, but an additional Athena Voltaire one-shot.
How does it work?
On Kickstarter, a creator sets up a Kickstarter page to raise a set dollar amount for a specific goal, like publishing an issue or a mini-series. People donate as little or as much as they want, using a credit card and Amazon's secure payment system, and their card isn't charged until the deadline and goal are met.
In exchange for pledging money, fans get incentives. For example, Gerads and Dillon offered $10-level supporters a signed comic with an exclusive cover, while one $500-level supporter got the chance to design an alien race that will appear in Johnny Recon.
"The biggest hurdle with Kickstarter is trying to inform your customer not only about your product, but you also have to explain Kickstarter to them," Gerads said. "Face it – we're all afraid of new concepts on the internet that we have to send money to. Scott and I always tried to boil it down to its core essence. For example, Kickstarter was our way for people to pre-order Johnny Recon #2. We tried to keep it that simple. We also stressed that all the money is handled by Amazon.com, which helped with that 'trust' factor."
While most comics on Kickstarter are looking for help getting published, different creators approach the website in different ways. For example, Kody Chamberlain decided to utilize the website to cover marketing costs for his comic. Sweets, which will be released through Image Comics in July, will be published whether or not he gets Kickstarter funding.
"If your Kickstarter goal isn't met, the project isn't funded. For some creators, that might mean the book never comes out. But in my case, Sweets was going to be published no matter what," Chamberlain said, explaining that he already has enough money saved to fund the project. "I'm working five months with no income. That's not easy to do. But my savings are enough to cover the bills. The piece of the puzzle I was missing was marketing and promotion funds — things like posters, flyers, conventions, banner ads, etc. That was out of my budget, so I used Kickstarter to fill in the gaps."
So far, it looks like Chamberlain will have the money to market Sweets successfully. "I hit my goal of $3,000 in under 36 hours," he said. With four days to go until his deadline, he's up to $3,973.
Advice on using Kickstarter
Creators who have used Kickstarter successfully said it has to be approached as a professional endeavor, or supporters won't take the project seriously.
"Kickstarter is a phenomenal tool, but like all tools, you have to know how to use it effectively," Gerads said. "You have to remain professional at all times. Sell, but don't be pushy. Most of all, even though your project is on the site, you have to get out there and point people to it ... effectively."
Bryant said it's also important to offer incentives that seem worth the money. "I don't expect anyone to fund my labor-of-love based on a sob story," Bryant said. "That's why it was important that our Kickstarter campaign provided value in terms of the incentives. No PBS tote bags here!"
Chamberlain pointed out the importance of creating a professional Kickstarter page that communicates why the project is different enough to support.
"If anyone is looking to create a Kickstarter project for a new comic, my
advice would be to tap into what makes your book unique and spend extra
time crafting a solid Kickstarter page," Chamberlain added. "Make sure your video and audio are clean and you offer some genuine content, not just a sales pitch. That's the most common problem I see, many Kickstarter pages have no substance.
Content is king. My secret weapon is that I included lots of behind the scenes video and artwork, and theonly place to see it was on Kickstarter. That was intentional and it seems to have worked for the project."
The creators were all positive about their experience using Kickstarter, and while the small atmosphere at the site has its plusses, they hope other comic book creators take advantage it.
"Looking beyond my own personal experience with it," Bryant said, "I hope Kickstarter will make it possible for a lot of creators to return to their own labor-of-love projects."
Besides, as Dillon pointed out, it's not just about the money. One of the benefits of using Kickstarter is receiving a level of encouragement and incentive that's hard to find elsewhere. "The site has an incredibly welcoming and helpful community that recognizes hard work and creative talent," he said. "I don’t think either of us could have foreseen the level of artistic inspiration the process would instill in both of us. Each backer that pledged to support us helped us believe a little bit more that all of the hard work was worth it.
"At the end of the day," Dillon said, "I’m really pleased that we went through Kickstarter. And I would encourage anyone considering it to take the leap of faith. It’s worth it."