Just two months ago, a new comics crowdfunding platform came on the scene: Zoop, a ner service that offers a complete suite of services for people looking to get their comics projects out into the world. It’s the brainchild of Jordan Plosky and Eric Moss. The latter is best known as the mastermind behind BRZRKR, the hugely successful comics series from Keanu Reeves, Matt Kindt and Ron Garney.
I knew Plosky from the time he was heading up ComicBlitz, a digital comics platform, where he’d supplied a lot of interesting ideas and perspective. So I was curious to talk to him and find out how he got to Zoop, and why the world needed another crowdfunding platform.
It turns out, a lot of people seem to want what Zoop is offering. Since it launched, Zoop has successfully funded four projects, and has two running now, Cornerman by Ray-Anthony Height and Chris Robinson, and Remember Andy Xenon by Tom Pinchuk and Nikos Koutsis. Based on what I’ve been hearing, there is a lot more coming. So here’s the scoop on Zoop, in a conversation recorded last month.
MacDonald: So Jordan, when last we saw you, you were doing ComicBlitz, a digital comics app. Since then, where have you been, what have you been doing? How did you get from Blitz to Zoop?
Jordan Plosky: With ComicBlitz, we were fortunate enough to be acquired in November 2018 by a company called Cinedigm, a video distribution service. They were looking at us and all the IP that we had licensed and thinking wow, this will be a great offering for our fans. We can offer them digital comics on top of digital streaming, with OTT and AVOD and SVOD and that whole world. So they took comic books and looped it into their video offering. After the company was acquired, I was hired by them and worked for them for a while. We parted ways after the inclusion of comic books into their ecosystem. And since then, I’ve been a regular civilian doing day job things for day job companies.
But Zoop came around because of the pandemic, and really trying to stay focused on something, to have something positive to keep me motivated during really difficult times. I was having conversations with a lot of people I respected. One of them is my co-founder, Eric Moss, who came from IDW Publishing. He is also maybe better known now for being the project manager for the number one comics crowdfunding campaign of all time, the BRZRKR campaign with Keanu Reeves and Boom! Studios.
So the two of us were talking and he was thinking about becoming a Kickstarter consultant, and helping people as a project manager. With my background of building platforms, I was like, well, forget that, let’s just do the whole thing. We started digging into all the things that we saw as pain points, not just in crowdfunding, but in the comics industry as a whole. I think a lot of people have viewed COVID as an accelerant for things that were bound to happen anyway. But instead of happening 5-10 years down the line, a lot of changes happened this year, like DC leaving diamond Marvel leaving Diamond. Also DC slashing their publishing output by 25%, which means less work for freelancers, 25% less work at DC. So now those people are going to be looking at Boom or Dynamite or other places for work. And then some of those creators are going to be bumped out as well. So the common thing behind all of that was a lot of people going to and adapting to crowdfunding. And you probably know this, but your audience may not, the comics crowdfunding category is the largest growing category on Kickstarter, percentage wise. It is booming. It’s becoming more acceptable not only to creators, but also to fans to buy their content and to support their favorite artists and writers, and creators in general, on those platforms.
As great as those platforms are, they’re not perfect, they’re not the easiest to use, especially if you’re a creator. So we kind of dug into that and figured out what we thought might be a better offering for creators and people looking to do campaigns. We looked at what we would want as users and supporters. and in the user interface. And that’s what we brought to Zoop behind the scenes and forward facing to users,
MacDonald: I couldn’t disagree with any of what you just said. Absolutely, crowdfunding took off during the pandemic. It’s always been big, but it’s even bigger now. And what you said about the pandemic being the accelerant is also absolutely true. So many people learned new digital skills, comic shops that never had a website before suddenly sat down and coded their own website. I learned how to Zoom and livestream, like everyone. So we learned all of these things. But what did you see as the needs for crowdfunding?
Plosky: I had never thought about getting into crowdfunding, in all honesty. I had another idea for a business, and it was a completely different business model. But after talking to Eric, and seeing all of the holes in the models that are that are currently available, it just seemed like, oh my God, we could be solving so many pain points for creators, for publishers, even though Kickstarter and Indiegogo are great solutions. I think we’re expanding upon that and we’re growing that solution for creators.
MacDonald: You launched with a few projects such as Slow City Blues, which was funded for $44,000. So congrats on that! How did you find projects to launch with?
Plosky: Well, there was a series of events and just from my Rolodex, from Eric’s Rolodex, we had some creators that we could reach out to, and see if this was even something that could be validated by people who we thought would need this product. What’s cool is you have Slow City Blues, with a brand new writer, a brand new creator, Samuel Haine, and a penciller, Shawn Moll, who’s a great penciller but not a household name. These guys have never done crowdfunding before. But then you take a look at our third campaign, Resolution, and you have a team of Ron Marz, Andy Lanning and Rick Leonardi, who, between the three of them have 100 years of experience in comics. Ron has run multiple crowdfunding campaigns through Kickstarter.
The point I’m trying to make is we have some people who have never done a campaign before, because maybe they felt it was too much work or just too intimidating to even get that ball rolling. But then you have someone who understands and is ‘oh, man, I don’t want to have to do that again, but I like what crowdfunding does. I’m happy to pass all that work off to you guys.’ We’re servicing newer creators, and also more established creators and even crowdfunding veterans as well.
MacDonald: So you do offer a really complete suite of services and products, which is very innovative. Can you just walk us it through a little bit, at least from the supporter’s side of things. Like you don’t have to hit a certain goal, you could just go and kind of order the goal or reward that you want?
Plosky: So on other platforms, if you want to back a campaign, you can choose one tier. And if that campaign has 10, or 12, or 15 different tiers, you as a user are limited to selecting one. And then you have to wait for the after campaign, the add on campaigns through Backerkit or Crowd Ox, so that you could purchase anything else that you wanted during the original campaign. But the other thing is you might have to wait and see if that thing that you wanted is still available – sometimes those are limited tiers, and that other thing might not be available anymore, because it got sold out during the main campaign. So with Zoop, it’s more of a cart feature, the way that you would go on Amazon and say I need some of this or that. You throw it onto your cart, and you check out. So what that does is eliminate the need for a secondary campaign. As a user, it just makes a whole lot more sense. You see the things that you want, you’re used to just clicking on those things, putting them into your cart and checking out. And that’s the user interface on Zoop. You don’t have to see if something that you want is going to be still available in a month from now. We just think it’s streamlined, intuitive and easier to use.
MacDonald: Have you gotten any feedback from users about this system?
Plosky: Because it’s new and some people aren’t used to that yet when they go to a crowdfunding site, I think they’re used to the way that it has been done. So there is a little bit of educating the people who are coming to the platform. For example, we have our main rewards. And you have to purchase a main reward in order to unlock the add ons. The reason for that is because we have these creators who want you to have the book. And you might just come and say, hey, I want a sketch or I want to buy a page of original art. And that’s great. We appreciate the support. But the reason that we’re running this campaign is so we can go into production for a book. So you buy the book, and then you could purchase your piece of art, your sketch, your commission, whereas on Kickstarter that might just be bundled together in a tier. This way, it’s, hey, I’ll take the book, and then I’ll take that sketch. Whereas again, on Kickstarter, you’re more limited with [what you can buy].
MacDonald: For creators, what you do offer with your whole suite of services? I come to you with my project, what are you going to do for me?
Plosky: It starts off from the very beginning. So pre campaign strategy, figuring out what’s your budget, what your goal needs to be. If you have a certain number that you have in mind, we figure that out, we will give you some estimates on what printing is going to look like, depending on if you’re looking to do a single issue comic, a softcover, a hardcover, or some sort of prestige format book. We’ll get those estimates for you, we’ll estimate the fulfillment for you. So now we can work backwards towards what that financial goal needs to be. Then from there, we start putting together the assets, we’ll put together a pre campaign page for you so that people can sign up and be alerted for when the campaign goes live. Then when the campaign goes live, we are the campaign managers, we’re doing all the updates, we’re handling all the customer support, and doing marketing as well.
The majority of any crowdfunding campaign, though, is going to come from the creator’s already existing fan base. So it’s very important for them to be involved and to ignite their fan base as well. They can’t rely completely on us. But what we can do is promote the project through paid advertising through social media, through SEO. Email marketing has been working incredibly well for us. We have our head of marketing Brett Schenker to thank for that.
What’s cool about the fact that we’re hands on with the campaign is say with our second campaign with Des Taylor, Scarlet Couture, we’ve been able to add new items for sale throughout the campaign. When we started, he had 10 sketches for sale. They sold out within an hour, so we added more. And then the next week, we added another five, and it was just kind of like, alright, here comes a new drop of sketches. They just got scooped up and scooped up. So we’re able to pivot for the creators in ways that some of these other platforms can’t and it makes it more fun even for the users because as long as they’re following along on social media, they’ll know, oh, this new piece just came out, or this new tier reward or incentive is now available.
We’re doing a campaign with Bart Sears. And it’s a sketchbook, 144 pages of just Bart Sears sketches, gorgeous headshots that he loves to draw. Last night, before we even got to put up a social media post or an update about it, we posted a head sketch of Darth Maul, and it was gone immediately. We feel it’s more cool and interactive and exciting to have more things come out for these campaigns. It gives people a reason to come back to check out what’s going on, shick in to see if there’s something else that maybe they want. It’s been working out very well for us. And again, something that can’t be done on the other platforms where you’re kind of locked in.
MacDonald: I know there are a lot of places that handle fulfillment with campaigns, but the thing that you just mentioned is quite new and different. The fulfillment part like is what has always stopped me from doing crowdfunding, because I know I’ll never, ever mail it out. I hate to mail things
Plosky: And that’s a big thing, right? Because a lot of creators potentially get into a crowdfunding campaign. They’re successful. And as I’m sure you know, there’s a percentage of campaigns that just never get fulfilled.
MacDonald: Oh yes, I’ve heard some of the horror stories.
Plosky: I don’t personally know the reasons these happen, but I would assume that sometimes it just feels overwhelming. And a creator maybe doesn’t even know where to start. All of a sudden, now they have 1000 copies of the book in their apartment, or their garage or a storage unit. And it just seems so overwhelming to pack all these things up that they just don’t do it. Maybe they’re looking for someone to do it for them, and they don’t know even where to start looking. So once the campaign is funded through Zoop, we act as a client representative to third party vendors for printing, manufacturing, and fulfillment. We don’t do that in house, but we have the relationships with the companies that do. That’s one of the services, which means that you don’t need to spend time researching and sourcing and vetting and negotiating rates with total strangers, you just deal with us. We’ll deal with those printing and fulfillment companies on your behalf. And because we’re involved, hopefully, that gives more trust to the user that they are going to actually get their product. It’s not just on the creator, you have professionals who are handling that portion of things. And so hopefully, you can feel confident that if you put some money in, you are going to receive your product,
MacDonald: So you don’t have a warehouse? Do you do fulfillment after the fact? I know some people use Indiegogo as a sort of aftermarket ordering system.
Plosky: Future iterations of Zoop definitely have something in mind for aftermarket sales. I’ll leave it at that for now. To that point, that is one of the issues of crowdfunding, what happens after you crowdfund the book. That’s another hole that we’re looking to plug. We have our solution in mind. And once that rolls out, everybody will know.
MacDonald: I have actually been talking to some people, and a couple of pals actually mentioned they’re doing things with Zoop. I’m not gonna let the cat out of the bag, but it does sound like you guys have a lot of stuff coming.
Plosky: We have more projects than are what is announced on the site. We’re not a publisher, but we definitely need to plan ahead a few months. People have to know, these creators need to make themselves available in order to do this. Some people are gonna have to maybe turn down some freelance work, some work for hire, or just reevaluate their schedules in order to fit a crowdfunding campaign in. But the beauty of what we do is we save them all of this time. People describe crowdfunding as a full time job, especially during the campaign. So if we take that off your plate, you’re still free to maybe go do some covers for a publisher or do some interiors, and continue working on other things while this other revenue stream is working for you.
But yes, we’ve been having some interesting conversations, some really interesting names that have come my way, and some things that are closer than others. There was definitely one conversation that we had where I froze for a second. I was like, no, this is almost too much. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it right now. I don’t consider myself to be very easily intimidated, but when this name got thrown out to me, I was like, I’m not worthy. I love every second of it, but yeah, some of the names that are being thrown out are pretty insane. We’re doing our own networking and business development, but some of the inbound inquiries have just been mind blowing.
MacDonald: Kickstarter has proven its worth and, Indiegogo, obviously, has more mystery about it, but people make a lot of money on that platform, and it certainly funds a lot of campaigns. I think it’s interesting that, based on my conversations, people are really eager to find an alternative to both of those systems. It’s not that those two aren’t working, it’s just, like you say, you’re offering a different suite of services and a different approach.
Plosky: I think the word is turn-key. With Kickstarter, Indiegogo, they’re basically like your dad with a set of keys for a car. And they’re like, here you go, kid. Here’s the keys, go figure out how to drive, don’t get into any trouble. Whereas with us, we’re kind of like, Driver’s Ed and OnStar. It’s a cumbersome process to run your own crowdfunding campaign, and to crew up a team to support you. If you have a one stop shop for all of that, that literally takes months of time off your plate, and allows you to continue working on other stuff while you’re doing crowdfunding.
Hopefully that summarizes the benefits to the creators to come to Zoop. Plus, right now, we’re focused just on comics. So we’re not targeting, the film people, the music people, the product people. We’re not getting lost in all of that. When you go to Kickstarter, or Indiegogo, unless you’re one of the very few that gets marked with “projects we love,” you get lost in the shuffle. But with us because we have a very curated slate of projects, literally at this point, we are launching roughly one per week, you will always be featured on the homepage, you are going to be seen by anybody coming for any other campaigns.
MacDonald: Are they 30 day campaigns, 45 day campaigns?
Plosky: Typically, I think we try to start on Mondays and Tuesdays and figure out the best day to end so it’s give or take 30-ish days, depending on various things.
MacDonald: Hopefully this is unlikely, but what happens if it doesn’t hit the mark?
Plosky: If the campaign doesn’t make the goal? Then the campaign doesn’t make the goal. I mean, we’re not magicians. There has to be an audience, and a built in fan base. And to answer that question, that’s one of the reasons why we have to be selective of the campaigns that we run with, and that we’re starting with creators that have somewhat of an established background. We are not open yet to just anybody who wants to do a campaign. That is something that we hope to get to in the future, to just have an open source backend, and everybody can upload their own campaign and run it and not get all the services, but still be on the Zoop platform. But for right now we’re equally invested in each one of these campaigns. Because, so you and people reading this know, all of our fees are on the back end, which means that we’re basically commission only. So if a campaign doesn’t go, we are taking all that risk.
MacDonald: That is a risk. I was about to ask you that next question, whether your commission was all on the back end or not.
Plosky: Well, it’s a risk for us, but we find that creators appreciate that because there’s no upfront costs to them, and they know that we’re equally invested. That means that they don’t have to micromanage us the way that they would someone that they’re paying cash for their services, if that makes sense. They know that we’re invested and it takes even just that management portion of the whole team off their plate as well.
MacDonald: So when I was approached for this interview, I definitely wanted to catch up with you, since we hadn’t talked since the ComicBlitz days, but I definitely would love to talk to Eric at some point – what is Eric’s part of this partnership?
Plosky: We’re equal partners, and we have actually a third partner. The CEO is myself. Eric is our Chief Operating Officer, COO. And we have a chief technical officer, a CTO. The three of us are kind of the founders of Zoop. And as COO, Eric really is the one that has the crowdfunding pedigree and background. He is doing a lot of a lot of the client support, helping them with their p&l and budgets and finances and he’s the one going into the backend every day and putting these campaigns together and communicating with Brett, with new art assets with new updates that we could send out on social media and emails and the whole marketing side of things. He’s very, very involved on the day to day, with every one of these clients. We are we are a yin and yang in the best way possible. He’s a great partner.
MacDonald: So my other question is actually gonna circle back around to the beginning. Because, you know, we talked a lot about digital comics when you were doing ComicBlitz. Obviously over the course of the pandemic, digital comics have exploded again. Do you have any thoughts on the state of digital comics or where they’re at? Or even how does crowdfunding fit in with that?
Plosky: I love that question. Because we could probably talk about that for a really, really long time. I saw on ICv2 where digital comics had blown up to like $160 million this year, but basically, we’re still just talking about Comixology. I don’t think they really track anything else. But you take a look at the acquisition of Tapas, the acquisition of Radish, the acquisition of Wattpad. And although they’re not comics, it was all of these user generated content type platforms. Webtoon just founded a movie studio. I had a misconception about digital comics, even when I was running a digital comic company. Digital comics is so much more than just Comixology. It’s great that they got a boost during the pandemic, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens next year, if people are going to continue purchasing their comics through Comixology or head back to the shops. In terms of how it works with crowdfunding, just about every campaign has a PDF reward tier. It’s the most economical, easiest way to support any campaign.
MacDonald: Also space saving. I have to be honest, if I want to support a campaign, I have so many books, I just get that PDF, because unless it’s some beautiful, $50 book with gilded edges and a ribbon….of course I get that. I always need more books! But yes, being able to support a project and just get that PDF for the old iPad is very, very nice sometimes.
Plosky: Absolutely. I used to travel a whole lot for work. And that was my introduction into digital comics, Oh, it’s all here on my iPad, it’s all here on my phone. It just made so much sense. But in terms of digital, it’s really an interesting space, and there are people who are taking that Webtoon platform and figuring out what’s hitting over there and converting it to Kickstarter. There’s no reason that that can’t happen with Zoop, as well. And after a campaign is done, places like Gumroad, Patreon, or even Comixology are great places to continue to be able to sell that product in a digital format. So I think that there’s something there. It is weird to me that digital comics haven’t exploded the way film and TV and music have in terms of streaming. Somehow comics is like the last holdout for that type of model. But who knows? Maybe we’re not too far away from that after all.
MacDonald: Yeah, it is really kind of amazing that just comics, printed comics, have withstood every disruption so far. So, you know, I’m just sitting here thinking, as we’re talking. This is so new, and I’ve written a little about Zoop, but launching a crowdfunding platform from scratch. It’s kind of a lot of work, isn’t it? [laughs]
Plosky: It is! I think it took 11 months just to get it up and running. And granted, we’re a startup, the platform is not perfect. We’re continually iterating and cleaning it up and making it easier for people to use. It’ll never be done, if that makes sense. We’re always going to be working on it. Starting any business isn’t easy, but I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. If you have your first child, you’re like, oh my god, this is impossible, how do people have another child? Then you kind of forget about all the pain and agony and you’re like, oh, I kind of want to do this again. That’s where I’m at.
[You can follow Zoop on social media here. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.]