Writer David Pepose (Spencer and Locke) launched his first Kickstarter campaign yesterday, for a new comic called The O.Z., which is essentially a combination of the world from The Wizard of Oz and the subject matter of The Hurt Locker.
At launch, the book had a $6,000 goal. Within two hours, it met that goal. By the end of the first day, it had hit $14,000. At the time of this writing the next day, it was at $18,000…and counting. The O.Z. — on which Pepose is joined by artist Ruben Rojas, colorist Whitney Cogar, and letter D.C. Hopkins — is a giant success of an indie comic.
And at the end of its first night on the platform, Pepose took some time out to chat with The Beat about the book, how he laid the groundwork for the success, and what he’s learning about crowdfunding indie comics.
ZACK QUAINTANCE: One thing I always enjoy is hearing you excitedly talk about your comics…so, can I start by asking you to tell me about your new Kickstarter comic, The O.Z.?
DAVID PEPOSE: Definitely. The O.Z. is like what if The Hurt Locker took place in The Wizard of Oz — we’re reimagining Dorothy Gale killing the Wicked Witch of the West as something akin to a botched regime change, and when Dorothy returned home to Kansas, she inadvertently left Oz in a horrific power vacuum that would spiral into brutal civil war.
Our story picks up a generation later with Dorothy’s granddaughter and namesake, a disillusioned Iraq war veteran who is suddenly dropped into the war-torn land of Oz. Forced to confront her past, this new Dorothy will have to enlist her grandmother’s former friends if she hopes to survive the Occupied Zone… or as the locals call it, The O.Z.
QUAINTANCE: We’ve talked quite a bit in the past about the amount of Calvin and Hobbes you read for your Watterson homage comic, Spencer and Locke. With the new book covering some classic pop culture territory as well, what was your research process like for this one?
PEPOSE: You know, it’s funny — for Spencer & Locke, it felt like I was excavating Bill Watterson’s classic strips, to dig deep and uncover the quintessential bits of Calvin and Hobbes to homage. For The O.Z., it was almost the opposite — it was like sifting for gold amongst the continuity mines. Whereas Calvin and Hobbes had 10 years of history — which can feel like dancing on the head of a pin after a couple of miniseries — the land of Oz has literally 20 novels’ worth of mythology, even as the general populace really only knows the Judy Garland film.
For me, I had actually read the Baum novels for a term paper in my Adolescent Literature class in college — I had written a paper describing Oz as a prototypical superhero universe like Marvel, with different locales and peoples and power sets, but decades before Stan and Jack ever came up with the Fantastic Four. So for The O.Z., it was a matter of focusing on the core iconic dynamic of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion, but being able to cherry-pick Easter eggs that still felt universal enough to be understood by a newcomer.
Ultimately, my watchword for both series has always been “accessibility” — in this case, to keep things focused on the core characters while using the greater Oz mythology to expand the settings and scale of the series. But we do have a few people in the mix from outside the first Oz novel — particularly Jack Pumpkinhead, whose distinctive visuals I’ve always loved.
QUAINTANCE: You built an impressive, cryptic engagement campaign leading up to launch. How did your audience and the rest of social media react when you revealed the actual title and concept for The O.Z.?
PEPOSE: With both of us having worked in the journalism scene — both comics and otherwise — we both know the value of a good reveal. The long buildup for me was a way to let readers know that we had something coming down the pike, but to keep them guessing just enough that they’d still be surprised when we revealed the true title and high concept.
And boy, did the audience react in a major way. (Laughs) Completely massive — I’ve never seen anything like it, I certainly didn’t expect it for my campaign. But it was so encouraging and so validating — I think people who are familiar with my work trust me enough to not write dark material just for the sake of shock value, so the idea of a thoughtful but action-packed take on the land of Oz, that really seems to have resonated with our audience.
QUAINTANCE: This is your first Kickstarter comic, and having just done my own, I found that the first few days were educational, to say the least. What were some things you learned about crowdfunding comics during the rollout for this book?
PEPOSE: The biggest thing is that we’re all in this together — if you’ve got a Kickstarter running, you should be asking your friends to give you shoutouts. You should also be shouting out other Kickstarter campaigns, to signal-boost them. I think there’s this misconception that stems from the Direct Market a bit — this idea that if someone else succeeds, that means there’s a scarcity of funding or attention towards your work.
I don’t think that’s the case on Kickstarter — a rising tide really does float all boats, at least at this juncture. You might think, for example, that Scott Snyder launching his campaign on the same day as us might be a bad thing — but it really was the best windfall we could have had, because Scott brought so many new people to the platform who then discovered our book.
Also, don’t be afraid to constantly be promoting your work in every way you can — if someone is going to get annoyed with you enough to mute or block you or cancel their pledge (?), they weren’t going to back you in the first place. You’ve only got a limited amount of time, you want to make sure that you make every day count.
QUAINTANCE: Finally, it’s been a while since we checked in with you. Anything else on the horizon you can reveal or tease right now? From what I understand, you’ve got some exciting things in the works…
I do! I’ve got another series coming out from a traditional comics publisher early next year — it’s been a surprisingly spiritual book, one that’s kind of reflected my own relationship with my religion as a Jewish person. We’re also getting artwork together on Grand Theft Astro, and I’m chiseling away on the script for Spencer & Locke 3 now.
Meanwhile, I’ve got a bunch of anthology stories on the horizon that I’m really excited about — ranging from slice-of-life to crime to horror. I’m actually working on a superhero one-shot right now with my Spencer & Locke partner-in-crime Jorge Santiago, Jr., and I can’t wait for the world to see that one. But beyond that, what’s next for me after this Kickstarter campaign?
I’m going to sleep for a week. (Laughs)