Guest columnist Joe Kontor of ComicKick reveals the ever-growing world of crowd funded comics, financed by the people and made for the people.
In the last few years crowd funding sites have become a popular outlet for comic creators, both neophytes and industry veterans, to raise funds for all kinds of original projects. So how does crowd funding work? Rather than pitching a project to a major publisher, the creators are pitching directly to the public. In exchange for money upfront the creators promise to deliver rewards based on how much money the person pitches in. The idea is rather than getting money from one source, which then controls rights of the published material, the creator retains complete control of their own creation. Once the expensive costs of completing the comic and publishing are covered, the creators are then free to either self distribute or take the finished book to a publisher.
Pitch in a dollar and you get a shout out on Twitter. Ten bucks and you can get a hard copy of the completed graphic novel. Ad space in the book, original art, even get drawn into the book itself as a background or lead character. The only limit to the kinds of perks offered is the project runner’s imagination. Dollar by dollar, little by little the project becomes a reality. In a way it’s democratizing art far more than just picking up a book off a shelf.
Last year Kickstarter, the most popular of these kinds of sites, raised $9,242,233 for 592 successfully funded projects. Despite it’s popularity, launching a project on Kickstarter is no guarantee of success. Only 48% of the projects in the “Comics” category met their target goal. When a project fails to meet their goal, no money is collected from those who pledged, no rewards are given, and the artist goes back to the drawing board.
Looking at the list of active projects on these sites, you really don’t have to look long for a name you recognize. Jimmy Palmiotti, Gail Simone, Chuck Dixon, and Mike Ploog are just a handful of established industry veterans who have had projects on one crowd funding site or another. Creators aren’t the only ones to go the crowd funding route, publishers are getting into the act. Last year Top Cow Productions was able to give away the first five issues of their Cyber Force relaunch through a Kickstarter fundraiser. They raised over $117K to ensure that any person could walk into a comic shop and pick up these issues for free.
However most of the projects you’ll find are from unknown talent who if they fail to raise the necessary funds will never see their passion projects see the light of day. In the last year Jesse Grillo successfully funded four different comic book projects through Kickstarter for his company Bleeding Ink Productions. “There is no way Bleeding Ink Productions would be around if it wasn’t for Kickstarter and the people that support our work,” he says. “I really feel like crowd funding sites like Kickstarter are going to create a serious change in the way the independent creator funds and markets their projects. Kickstarter is the platform that is helping to turn people’s dreams into reality and without it, the creation of Bleeding Ink Productions and the comics it produces would never be possible.” One of the projects Jesse funded last year was his horror graphic novel Sensory Distortion. In December it was announced that Sensory Distortion was picked up for distribution and retitled The Trip by Action Lab Entertainment for it’s new mature reader line called Action Lab: Danger Zone.
One of the more interesting projects on Kickstarter right now is an attempt to revive a long lost but still beloved title called The Justice Machine. From 1981 to 1992 The Justice Machine was published in a handful of mini and ongoing series across five different publishers. Writer Mark Ellis, who started writing the series with Innovation Comics’ 1989 miniseries The New Justice Machine, is looking to launch a new original graphic novel called The Justice Machine: Object of Power.
Object of Power was initially conceived as a miniseries but was delayed multiple times due to financial issues with the publisher. Ellis decided to take his completed artwork for the series and raise the funds himself to finish the lettering and get it ready for the printer and publish it as a complete graphic novel. He has to raise $12,000 by March 17th or else the project doesn’t go forward. We’ve all read epic stories of superheroes escaping the grave through magic or time travel but rarely can we see heroes of old return through the real life magic of fan generosity.
It’s easy to see the concept and spirit of crowd funding sites take a permanent place in comic culture. We’re passionate and vocal about this medium and spread the word about what we love and hate on Facebook and Twitter as quickly as we read the books. But now we have the chance to truly decide what kinds of books get published in the future. Not by recommending what we’ve read but through discovering and encouraging new creators with unique voices.
If you have never perused the Comics section of a crowd funding page please do so immediately. You never know when you might discover your next favorite book that might never be published without your help.
Joe Kontor has been reading comics since before he could technically read. In April 2012 he started the Facebook page ComicKick as a place to spread the word and get people excited about comic book related projects on crowd funding sites. He also runs HorrorKick, a similar page for horror projects. He currently resides in Lincoln, NE where he reads comics, watches horror movies, and drinks coffee.
It’s been a rough first month of 2011 for comics in general, with good and not-so-good news turning heads throughout the industry as the times continue to change. There’s been some adjusting locally too.
Top Cow Productions, a partner studio of Image Comics, announced during my week of computer meltdown that a reorganization has taken place. The LA-based publisher will consolidate its resources to more closely rely and coordinate with Image’s central office in Berkeley. From the press release: “Image Central will work more closely with Top Cow to coordinate production, marketing and sales efforts in much the same way it already does for the other Image partners.” Publisher Filip Sablik stressed that Top Cow would retain their editorial freedom. Heidi MacDonald’s The Beat looked into this further here and here.
While the hope is that Top Cow will be able to benefit from some of the successes Image has seen recently, such as The Walking Dead‘s continual rise in popularity thanks to the AMC TV show and new hits like Chew and Morning Glories, it doesn’t mean good times for everyone. Unfortunately some people from Top Cow were let go to eliminate new redundancies from the closer partnership, such as PR and Marketing Coordinator Christine Dinh, Director of Sales and Marketing Atom Freeman and Editor/Designer Phil Smith. Freeman, an award-winning retailer who co-owns the comics shop Brave New World Comics in Newhall, was hired as Direct Market Liason last summer and promoted to Director of Sales and Marketing this past October. No word yet on what’s next for Dinh and Smith, although at least Smith is helping with the transition. Sablik has stated that now other layoffs are planned. At Image Comics, PR and Marketing Coordinator Betsy Gomez has been replaced by Sarah deLaine.
Top Cow President Matt Hawkins bluntly told The Beat, “There’s going to be more consolidation (like Image and Top Cow) and some people won’t be around in a couple years”.
Just prior to that news, Top Cow announced they had signed artist Jeremy Haun (Detective Comics) to an exclusive contract. Haun, who has worked on Top Cow’s Alibi and Berserker, has been assigned to The Darkness with writer Phil Hester, one of Top Cow’s biggest properties. The book was a massive seller in the ’90s where it had a record-selling 11 variant covers for a single issue. Haun will also have the ability to develop new original properties. On his site, he explained that the contract goes into effect February 2011 (so, tomorrow). In explaining the reasons for his decision, after being a freelance artist for years, he said, “The major ones where working as a regular artist on a continuing series and almost more importantly, being able to develop my own concepts.” As he points out, Haun has written Narcoleptic Sunday for Oni Press and a story in Image’s award-winning Comic Book Tattoo anthology based on the music of Tori Amos, so he does have some writer chops. And more original creator-owned comics is always a good thing in my book.
Top Cow Productions started in 1992 as the studio for Image Comics co-founder and partner Marc Silvestri. Throughout the decade, they grew a line of successful fantasy comics like The Darkness, Witchblade and others guided by Silvestri’s distinct art style that defined the look of the publisher for many readers. The publisher has struggled to shake that perception over the last ten years, and have been pushing their attention to more creator-owned books such as the new thriller Echoes by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal, and the upcoming supernatural noir Netherworld by co-writers Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin, and artist Tony Shasteen. Hill and Levin have both worked for Top Cow in the past, last collaborating together on Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box. MTV’s Geek News has a preview of Netherworlds.