Thanks to the popularity of Kickstarter, readers have the opportunity to support unusual story ideas and lesser-known creative teams, adding diversity to the comic book industry while empowering fans.
This week, two creators best known for their inking work are hoping readers will direct that power toward The Switch, a graphic novel that puts a new twist on the idea of supervillains and superheroes. Telling the story of how the villain Electricia "cheats" on her friends by secretly trying out life as a hero, The Switch is giving Keith Champagne and Tom Nguyen the ability to control the story and build its publication from the ground up.
Champagne, who's written books for DC and a variety of other publishers, and artist Nguyen, a veteran of comic books at DC and Marvel, are reuniting on The Switch after having paired up on other projects in the past. The two are pulling together an impressive list of well-known writers and artists for incentives on the The Switch Kickstarter.
Newsarama talked with Champagne to find our more about the story, the list of creators helping out, and why he felt Kickstarter was the right place for the book.
Newsarama: Keith, this is a really different take on a superhero story. How would you describe the premise?
Keith Champagne: The story started out, for me, around the theme that we outgrow our friends. I got to thinking, and it's just how my mind works, you know, what if you're a supervillain, and one day you pick your head up, you look around at your fellow supervillains, and you're like, "I don't have anything in common with these people anymore. Why am I here? What am I doing with my life?"
That was the genesis of the idea.
So our main character is a villain, Electricia, who maybe met the wrong guy when she was younger and got kind of sucked up into this life. But now she's having a crisis of conscience. And she's looking around and wondering, "what did I do? How do I get out of this? How do I make it better?"
Her big idea is, she starts cheating on her supervillain friends by creating a superhero identity. And she starts to fight crime, just a little bit at a time. And it starts to snowball. And she really loves it. It's kind of awakening something inside of her that's been dead for a long time.
But it gets very dangerous very quickly, because she runs back into her old friends in her new identity.
Nrama: You mentioned that she got caught up with the wrong guy. Is she a bad person?
Champagne: I think she is a bad person, actually. The backstory for her is that, at one point, she wasn't a bad person, but her father died when she was young, and she was drifting after that and met the wrong guy. And she just kind of went along with this guy, looking for a place to belong. And she got into this lifestyle, with these powers that she started using for evil.
She's done a lot of bad things. And for a long time, it didn't bother her that she was doing these bad things.
But as she's getting older, and she's looking around at her life, she's realizing that this isn't the person that her father would have wanted her to be. And she can't really ignore that little nagging voice in the back of her head anymore saying, you've really messed up your life and you need to do something to fix it right now or it's going to be too late.
That's the basic sketch of the character.
Nrama: It's interesting that you did a Kickstarter for this with a superhero story. What's the advantage of doing a Kickstarter instead of pitching it somewhere? Was your idea that you wanted to do this your own way?
Champagne: Yeah, part of it was that I wanted to do this my own way. I feel like all my best writing work has been where I've just been left alone and write whatever I want to write, whether it was the Green Lantern Corps stuff or the Joker: Year One book that I wrote. But when you get a lot of fingers in the pie, it's hard to make that into a tasty pie.
I guess number two, I'm just a superhero guy. I like that you can take almost any theme and throw it into a superhero story, and find ways to make it work.
I think one of the big problems with comics these days is, there's no theme running through a lot of them. Like, cool stuff will happen every issue, but it doesn't really mean anything. It doesn't add any significant value to the story.
So I wanted to do a superhero comic that feel true to what I want to write, and we kicked it off!
Nrama: And of course you say "we" because you're working with Tom Nguyen. How did you guys get together for this project, and why did you feel like he was the right artist for this story?
Champagne: Tom has been in the comic book industry just about as long as I have — over 20 years — doing a lot of inking over Doug Mahnke specifically. But he's also a terrific artist on his own.
I've worked with Tom a few times on different projects. And we've gotten to be really good friends over the years. We did Ghostbusters for IDW… we did the Black Belt Hamsters for Dyanmite — we just clicked, in terms of personality and in terms of creativity.
We've been talking for a couple years now about doing something else together, and we threw ideas back and forth to each other, trying to find an idea that we both liked. So I threw this one at him awhile back. And this one clicked for both of us.
He's a great artist of the female figure. And with a female main character, that's what you want.
He's also a great storyteller. I think he's an untapped talent who hasn't been given a lot of chances to show what he can really do. My hope is that after we're done with this book, he'll be too popular to work with me anymore.
Nrama: What are some of the incentive people get for helping out with the publication of The Switch?
Champagne: We have a lot of the usual incentives — you get copies of the book, T-shirts, posters, bookmarks… you know, and different versions of the book, like the Director's Cut, Artist's Edition.
Where we really went above and beyond was we enlisted a lot of our friends to help us out with this Kickstarter campaign and got a lot of A-list artists to donate their time and energy and talent, to give out sketch rewards at different levels of the campaign. There are so many guys — everyone from Jerry Ordway to Pasqual Ferry… Bill Morrison, Leonard Kirk, Khoi Pham, Don Kramer, Doug Mahnke, Pat Gleason — it goes on and on. I would really encourage people to check out the Kickstarter page to see the full list of names.
Today, right off the bat, some of the incentive rewards kind of got snapped up pretty quickly, but as soon as one artist gets taken down, we put another guy in his place, giving people — hopefully — a reason to keep checking back.
And when we hit the stretch, we've got plans for things to go all kinds of crazy, but I can't really talk about that yet.
Nrama: How long does your Kickstarter continue?
Champagne: It goes for 30 days. We've just started, and it's been crazy. I have the Kickstarter app on my phone, and my phone has been blowing up all day long. It's been a great day.