Comics publishing has hit a bit of a slowdown, as I’ve noted a few times, and Kickstarter seems to be picking up the slack for a lot of publishers. Comicker’s Dave Acampo wrote a piece looking at this, mostly about his own Kickstarter for Comicker, but he has some general observations and a pie chart of where the money goes, prepared by Comicker publisher Sean Williams:
The transparency is key here. The bulk of the cost goes to printing and shipping. To have art as a physical object, this is always going to be the way. But look at what’s next on that pie chart: creator royalties.
Handled right, you’re not funding a publisher. You’re buying a book that you connect with for some reason. You’re pre-ordering a book that you may not be able to find in a comic book shop. You’re paying the creators for their work. In the case of LOST ANGELS and THE CASEBOOK OF RABBIT BLACK on Comicker, the books are already available digitally in several forms, but we’re trying to turn them into physical objects for folks who want to read and support art in that way.
There’s been a bumper crop of Kickstarters of late. Rosy Press, the small press devoted to updating romance comics, is wrapping up a Kickstarter for a special print edition. At a $39,000 funding level, this campaign was languishing about about $10k below that until publisher Janelle Asselin made a Tumblr post that made it clear that this KS was a second funding round for the publisher:
We have less than a week left of the Kickstarter, so here’s some realness from me to you: because we’re going to print the week the KS ends, we are *ONLY* printing as many copies of the KS exclusive edition as are ordered. That means it is an exclusive edition that there will be NO MORE available of beyond what’s purchased through the Kickstarter. If you like that Kevin Wada cover, you should back the Kickstarter. We won’t even be selling them at conventions.
Some more realness: the money from the Kickstarter is going straight to Rosy Press to fund the KS Print edition. Any money raised above and beyond the cost of the print edition will go towards more Fresh Romance. If you love what Rosy Press is doing, it’s important that you support our Kickstarter. We cannot move forward without your support.
Almost overnight the campaign got funded, and is now well on its way to a happy finish.
UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments, the Kickstarter Juggernaut, Spike Trotman, helped spread the word about this KS in a blog post and this surely helped get this project funded.
2D Cloud, am ambitious experimental publisher in the art comix field, just wrapped up raising over $16k for books by Andrew Burkholder, Austin English and Sarah Ferrick and two anthologies. Not quite household names, but important ones to those in the know. Once again, this was a funding round:
We are aiming towards putting out 12 books a year by exciting, boundary-pushing authors. But to continue our upward trajectory we need support. We’re having a Kickstarter for our late winter / early spring titles. This book bundle is a small macro anthology, bringing together exciting authors with singular visions. And we’re offering these direct to our audience at a significant discount – $9 digital, $39 print. Bought separately at retail, these books would total $86.
The last 9 years has seen us pouring our hearts and entire beings into everything that we do. Every day, we wake up and bet the farm. Financially and emotionally. It’s exhausting, but we love it. We love the artists we work with, we love the books we produce, we love our readers. We don’t ever want to stop. The struggle is real. And the stakes keep growing.
If you value daring, exciting, boundary pushing work that continues some of the legacy you might have seen at a Sparkplug, Picturebox, Buenaventura – please consider supporting us by backing.
There is a lot of risk involved for us to continue putting out highly creative material. We’re a very small company. If what we are doing is important to you, please help us in getting the word out now and by becoming a backer.
Nice touch mentioning the publishers that didn’t make it. The danger is real.
The Queer Japan campaign for a documentary about is still unfunded with 31 hours and $5k to go. Hard to believe a program this important won’t get funded, but movies and documentaries traditionally have a hard time making their nut. I’m including it here because it’s from the MASSIVE team of Graham Kolbeins and Anne Ishii and has a lot of support from the comics community.
The Queer Japan Project is a multimedia documentary providing portraits of a diverse group of individuals from across the spectrum of gender and sexuality in Japan.
Artists, activists, community leaders, and everyday people will share an intimate look into the everyday triumphs and struggles of being a sexual minority in modern Japan. Through in-depth interviews and slice-of-life vignettes, Queer Japan will celebrate queer expression in Japan in many of its dazzling, prismatic varieties.
So far, director Graham Kolbeins and co-writer Anne Ishii (who are also collaborators atMASSIVE GOODS) have shot one week of interviews in Tokyo with artists like gay manga master Gengoroh Tagame, drag queen and renaissance woman Vivienne Sato, and controversial manko [pussy] artist Rokudenashiko. We also sat down with groundbreaking HIV activist, writer, and magazine editor Hiroshi Hasegawa, visual artist Nogi Sumiko, dancerAtsushi Matsuda of the renowned butoh group DAIRAKUDAKAN, and bar owner Masaki C. Matsumoto.
I’ve also mentioned the Soulcraft/Vines Kickstarter, which aims to bring a very long gestating project to print, is at $2300 of $10k about halfway through, despite having arguably the highest profile creators, including Paul Pope, Darick Robertson and Inaki Miranda.
Of course this only skims the surface of the new and ongoing comics-based Kickstarters going on right now, but you can see the pattern. The fundraising round is critical.
All the way back in 2012, Todd Allen asked “Is Kickstarter the #2 Graphic Novel Publisher?” and answered in the affirmative. This piece drew a very strong response from Steven Padnick at Tor.com who thought the idea was hooey.
None of which relates to the number he uses for DC Comics, which is the net income DC received from selling graphic novels at comic book stores. That doesn’t include the amount DC made selling single issue comic books in the comic book stores (of which they sell over fifty two, everymonth), or any sales in prose bookstores (who buy up all those copies of Watchmen), and totally ignores that for every dollar DC makes in publications, they make two in licensing.
So DC’s net income from selling graphic novels at comic book stores and Kickstarter’s total fundraising for comics projects are barely related. If Allen knew how many Kickstarter projects were actually published in a month, and what the average page rate was for each project, then compared that to how much new material DC Comics put out that same month, and their page rates, then we could actually compare. But he doesn’t have that information, so he can’t.
Are a lot of comics projects being funded through Kickstarter? Yes. Are they being published by, on, or for Kickstarter? No. Are projects funded through Kickstarter outselling DC Comics, or Image, or Dark Horse? No.
I’m pretty sure Allen’s take was on the right side of history here, even if Kickstarter is merely a “tool” and not an active publisher. Padnick’s response seems to be one of the typical ones from the publishing world that initially resisted Kickstarter’s crucial place in the publishing world.
As the above examples make clear, Kickstarter is an essential form of funding for an increasing number of small publishers. (And sometimes not so small, as the Fantagraphics kickstarter and aborted Archie Kickstarter show.)
And as Acampo wrote above, for funders Kickstarters are not so much about getting a product (although there is a shopping aspect to it) as supporting an idea or community. The Rosy Press fans rallying, or 2D Cloud and Retrofit readerships being educated enough to know they need to support these publishers at the pre-press stage, are clear examples. I know hiring people to do PR for Kickstarters is a thing now, but the community building ahead of a Kickstarter is even more important, and most importantly, can’t be faked.
For instance, here’s Wilde Life, a comic I never heard of by a creator I never heard of that just raised $77,000 or more than 300% of their goal. How and who? Ah, it’s a webcomic that’s been running for two years. And the art is quite attractive. People scoff at the power of exposure and web serialization but it’s a critical component of the ecosystem.
You could look at the indie comics world’s increasing reliance on crowdfunding as a rebuke to a retail system that doesn’t support challenging or truly independent work. Setting up basically a PR platform as the only middle man in a system that sees the creator become the distributor has both risks and rewards. Certainly, a few early Kickstarters have gotten hung up on just how much work it is, the Scary Godmother doll being a strong example. And some books have dragged on just as long as they would have with a publisher, Starstruck being an example.
Stepping outside the comics window for a bit, Kickstarter has become a key component of many industries. Board games seem to be one of the most popular category on Kickstarter, with six figure campaigns common. However Technology has the highest level of huge campaigns with what seems like the greatest cat potty ever currently riding high at $805,000. (Note: this litter box needs a lid. Sensible sifting doesn’t eliminate litter spray from overenthusiastic digging!)
Litter boxes have a well established distribution system in place already; indie board games don’t. Comics are somewhere in the middle. It’s very clear that without Kickstarter many of our most beloved indie publishers would be struggling even more than they do. But how many times can that reader dollar go around?
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.