Although Kickstarter becomes a bigger and bigger element in the comics publishing world, and 5 and 6-figure funding levels are common, that doesn’t mean everything is going to succeed. Even big names can still mess up. Take Bifrost an illustrated novel that will be written by Bill Willingham with many illustrations by Frank Cho. The names don’t get more reliable, and as the art shows, it looks great. And the concept is boffo, too
This is a story about Mary Fimbul, illegitimate daughter of a Valkyrie and a certain hammer-wielding god of the north. Mary’s tough and strong, can see ghosts, and also happens to be the only survivor of Ragnarok, the final battle that ended the gods and their rule over mankind. As the sole surviving descendant of the royal line, Mary now controls Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, which still connects our world to Asgard and the other nine worlds, even though they’ve been unlivable wastelands for untold millennia.
Well, that should have been a slam dunk, right?
Wrong, because this was one of those “give us $30,000 to pay for making the book and then we’ll find a publisher” Kickstarters. The original reward structure didn’t offer a copy of the book, but did include lots and lots of contact with Willingham and Cho, from a $100 phone call from Willingham to him butlering a dinner party cooked by Cho in his home for $10,000.
This was widely and quickly mocked everywhere, including an email to me that claimed “…this is the worst Kickstarter ever…”
Willingham and Cho quickly emended the rewards—for $125 you get a bunch of buttons and postcards AND a copy of the book whenever it comes out—Willingham has two or three publishers lined up for it, so that looks very likely. But that’s still high.
I haven’t seen an outcry against a name creator like this since Tony Harris asked for $60,000 to draw his dream project back when Kickstarter was but a tiny toddler learning to wobble.
On the one hand, it does seem reasonable for creators to get some kind of advance in order to eat while they create something. On the other hand, isn’t this what publishers and advances are supposed to do? Or WERE supposed to do. Willingham has a huge following and social media presence (a whole con devoted to your work is social media, right?) so you’d have thought a Kickstarter would have been a home run. You’d also think his fans and followers would want to support his work with Cho.
But that isn’t how crowdfunding works anymore, if it ever really did. One friend of mine who supports lot of projects described Kickstarter as “a whole comic-con in your living room.” It’s a place to buy cool stuff, whether it’s a phone call from Bill Willingham or a book by Bill Willingham and Frank Cho. Getting a copy of the finished project seems to be the minimum requirement for an investment.
When I first looked at the Kickstarter—before buying the book became an option—it had barely netted a few hundred dollars. Now it’s up to $7,485 of the $30,000 goal. Is it going to make it? Probably. I’m quite sympathetic to Cho’s dilemma—time is money where artists are concerned, and getting paid for your work is definitely a great incentive. But it’s also sad to think that the publishing industry has devolved to a point where a book by two proven talents of this calibre isn’t enough to pay a reasonable advance, either.
Either way, while this may not have been the worst Kickstarter of all times, it definitely was one of the more problematic out of the gate.
Be that as it may, it still looks like a lovely book!
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.