by M.K. Reed
And a repetition of the disclaimer from Part 1 for skippers: before anyone gets offended: No one is a bad person for using Kickstarter. It’s a tool in our toolbox for these tough economic times, and it has genuinely helped a lot of creators get their work into print who otherwise might not have been able to do that. For groups working on a project together, even better! As mechanism for fundraising or pre-sales, when the money’s put in the right hands, we can all feel nice about it. Good for you if you’ve been able to make it work, I am genuinely happy for your success.
For artists, (and I mostly mean indie artists) Kickstarter is a blessing and a curse. The upsides for creators have been praised by plenty of others: hey, free money! The downsides mostly boil down to stunting your artistic growth and releasing a substandard product into an overcrowded marketplace. That’s not a practice limited to Kickstarter by any means, but it’s greatly enabled by risk-free money.
Firstly, for book production, or whatever it is that’s being produced, let us assume that one has actually produced material worthy of being published by any small press who would like to do so. Kickstarter give you the means to produce your work, but leaves the execution up to you. If it’s your first time working with a printer, there’s a pretty good chance you don’t know what you’re doing, in which case, your end product will likely suffer; it will not look as good as it possibly can, as a more experienced designer would avoid beginning’s mistakes. This creation ought to go out and compete in the marketplace. If it looks cruddy, it won’t sell. And what might have been good as a handmade mini will look awful as an epic graphic novel with 20 pages of extras section complete with character development sketches and secret back stories.
Any publisher worth their salt will have their designer put your book together correctly, put an isbn on it, get it properly distributed through whatever channels they can, ensure that it looks fantastic as a product, and do at least minimum of promotion in whatever avenues they can get. As an established producer of quality material with a previous reputation, they have better access than an individual. They might have a devoted person on staff who spends all day corresponding with media outlets, or a marketing budget, or a warehouse for storing books so they aren’t taking up all your closet space while you wait for orders to roll in, but at the very least, you get a second set of experienced eyes watch over you, and a small stamp of quality assurance when someone else puts out your book. You also aren’t burdened by repetitive tasks like order fulfillment, and can go on to create your next masterpiece. It takes a lot of effort to self-publish, and as an individual, you might not be ready for it.
But what if quality-wise, you’re not ready for publication? Well, you have the money, it’s a no-risk situation, let’s go for it! Regardless of if you’re actually ready to, even if the material is extremely niche, or a little wonky looking or plot-holey or really cliched, the gal who drew it is so nice, we really all want to support her. Never mind that another two years of struggling with her art will force her to make some breakthroughs that will greatly improve it. When you spend a few years paying your dues, you get better. You learn what not to do, what to be wary of, and how to conduct your business. Failure leads to growth, and then to success. Getting everything you ever wanted is not always the best thing that can happen to you, and can ruin a budding talent.
Friends don’t want to hurt you, and they’ll just say it’s nice to spare your feelings, or hit the like button, which is neither a helpful criticism or compliment. An editor will gently tear your work apart and help you rebuild it into the best work you’re capable of. They’ll encourage you to do the things you do best, and point out where you sparkle. An endless feedback loop of accolades delivered with an instant cash prize can stunt a young artist and prevent them from reaching their fullest potential, either as an artist or storyteller. This is bad for comics, even if we all feel good for the guy that got some money.
For the niche projects, it’s great that you can draw portraits of every Pokemon in an even more adorable way than their original IP manufacturer did, but if that becomes your only output, where is the motivation to create anything unique? (I pick on Pokemon as an example only because its very theme song is its own commercial that commands you to consume its entire line of product.) If you can’t create anything unique, at best you can hope to draw licensed characters for giant international corporations, and pray that they give you a fair deal for your work. It’s a decent way to earn a paycheck, but not entirely stable, and you can work a lifetime without building a body of work that you own if you’re a bad negotiator. And it’s a field that stagnating before our very eyes, as conglomerates dictate who are heroes are, what they wear, and how they’ll do their jobs. Going on your own with other people’s IP, you’ll get sued as soon as you try to make a dollar.
Part of building a career as an artist is figuring out how to sustain yourself on the money you make from your book and/or merchandise sales. Part of that meant storing up your nuts for winter, or dollars for your next printing. Learning good business practices is part of that, and how to build a back catalogue of work, and how to make money off of it. Sometimes working for the Big Two will be a part of that, and you can do what you love and earn a paycheck, and if you negotiate with them well you’ll even get to do something of your own you love.
But Kickstarter lets you to skip some crucial steps on that path, and there’s no training ground for artists under their system. Digital comics have made it easier and harder to make a living at the same time- it’s difficult to charge for content, regardless of whether you’re as talented as Jordan Crane and your gorgeous work of sequential art is debased by being referred to as “content.” The medium has more depth and breadth than it ever has, but we’ve been dealt a blow to our nurturing system, with fewer outlets for creators to work with a mentor who understands how to help them craft a good story. We don’t need Kickstarters, we need ten more Anne Koyamas.