Kick It New School: a quick look at kickstarter for cartoonists

Categories:  Features, Interviews

NewBoxBrown-194x300Once my darling ex-cartoonist friend Anders made a Kickstarter page to fund his first album I had to take a second look at this Kickstarter thing.  As I write this, his request has been up for one day and already he’s half-way to his goal.  That’s $400 just out of the blue, which completely blows my mind.  Could it be that Anders is very popular and has many rich friends?  Well, not exactly.

Kickstarter is an internet infant, having only been around since April 2009.  If its existence is news to you, I suggest that you read this excellent Publisher’s Weekly article from Terri Heard that illuminates some of the service’s history.  Most interesting to me was that its origins lay in the effort to keep Arrested Development on the air.  Oh, how I wish it had succeeded!

This month’s Wired Magazine also featured Kickstarter in its award-winning Start section.  It reminded me of specific Kickstarter success stories like the Calvin & Hobbes documentary Dear Mr. Watterson which is still openly accepting donations and generating mad cash.  In fact, it’s almost doubled its goal amount through Kickstarter donations.

I’ve lived a number of impulse purchase success stories, including the time I bought an orange coat I totally didn’t need but always receive compliments for wearing.  Basically, I’ve been a big fan of this model even before it existed.  The fact that it’s here now is so remarkable and unbelievable, I hardly appreciated it was real until someone I know well got involved.

Then I remembered an old friend from far away, Box Brown, had already made the Kickstarter system work for him.  Boxy makes the webcomic Bellen! and self-published minis until he won the Xeric to print his graphic novel Love is a Peculiar Type of Thing.  He recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign that earned him $3,279 to print issues one and two of a new comic series Everything Dies.  We talked over email regarding his experience as a Kickstarter success story.

How long was your Kickstarter page active?

39 Days.

How long after posting it did you reach your goal?

Um, I’m not sure. I think had about 10 days left when I reached $2500. Maybe less. I ended up getting close to $3300. So, people just kept on donating even after I reached my goal.

Was this the first time you used Kickstarter?

Yes, it was.

How difficult has it been/will it be to get the right rewards to the right donors?

For the most part it wasn’t difficult. I thought it would be much worse. There were a few hiccups though: just a few people never got me their addresses! I thought there would be more and luckily the three people who did not send me their addresses were family friends, so I was able to hand them their copies. At least two of the envelopes completely fell apart before they reached their destination. One poor guy just received an empty envelope! But, it’s been fairly smooth sailing otherwise.

How soon after your Kickstarter closed did you receive the funds?

It takes a few weeks. It’s a few days for Amazon to set up and verify your bank account and then it takes two more weeks to transfer the funds. They transfer the cash directly to your checking account which ruled!

Did you think the percentage Kickstarter claimed for their services was worth-while?

For me it was totally worth the cost, it really gets transferred to the donors, kinda. You just have to factor that in to your goal.

How did you learn about Kickstarter?

I think the first one I saw was Jamie Tanner’s Kickstarter. I was totally blown away! But, then I saw Spike’s and the Tiny Kitten Teeth one gaining HUGE success and I thought, I think I could do that too.  Also, the Everything Dies project was really coming together in my mind and Kickstarter seemed like a good fit for it.

Everyone at the lowest levels of donation will receive books 1 or 1+2. This means you’ve pre-sold about 110 copies of your book! That’s awesome. Still, how does this compare to your usual sales? How many copies do you usually print in one run? AND how will do you intend to reach your potential audience for books 1+2 (by which I mean, people who did not participate in the Kickstarter fundraiser)?

Well, it was interesting. Having sold pre-sold all those copies was great. But, it also meant that my “base” had already bought books! These are the people who are great true fans and will usually be super happy to fork over a couple of bucks for books when they come out. So, the first week of actual sales was super slow (or at least it felt that way). Either way though unloading over 100 copies right away felt great for me. It usually takes a month or two to reach that goal (If I’m lucky!). I printed 500 copies of each book for the first run but they seem to be moving. We’ve still got the whole con season to go pretty much! I’ve been selling a few copies here and there on my online store but have been moving more books than usual at the few comic shops that carry my work. The audience for Bellen! and Everything Dies may not generally overlap unfortunately, but it seems to do much better with the analog comics crowd. I also have an ad up at The Comics Reporter.

I had a big book release party/Art Show here in Philly at a comic shop called Brave New Worlds. and books seem to be selling well. They’ve got a great set up there where the customers have to walk through the little art gallery to get the shop and I think that’s helped sales. I’ve already had to replenish their supply.

How does this compare to winning the Xeric? Is there more or less expectation, do you think? Did you ask for enough in your Kickstarter to help cover promotion of these books?

Xeric comes with more prestige for sure. There are plenty of people who will be interested in your book just because it’s a Xeric Book. Kickstarter doesn’t have that appeal. In fact, there are certain people in the business who have made Kickstarter controversial. I don’t know why. As far as promotion goes, I’ve spent money on it, but it really seems that the best promotion is free from places like The Daily Cross Hatch, other blogs and even the local media here in Philly. One thing I have spent money on is sending out promotional copies to lots of different places.

- – -

Just one statement confused me in Boxy’s response:
In fact, there are certain people in the business who have made Kickstarter controversial.

I’ve never known cartoonists to pooh-pooh free money and a built-in audience, but if there are legitimate arguments against using Kickstarter to help fund your next creative pursuit, I’d love to hear them.  Like with any self-publishing venture, if you rely on Kickstarter or your mom or your savings account or whatever, you should be committed to (and comfortable with) self-promotion or you’ll never move a single book.  Kickstarter could be a great resource for the right person, but many other cartoonists benefit from a publisher’s promotional arm or distribution ring.  You should stage a plan of attack, maybe if no one will publish your book, go for the more prestigious Xeric, failing that try for a modest Kickstarter fund, failing that rely on ol’ number one — you!

Additionally, depending on your level of success on Kickstarter, you should prepare yourself to make good on your claim.  Say someone will be written into your book?  Make sure that’s really something you’re comfortable with.  In looking at the high-rollers, it seems that the vanity tiers pay very well, but not everyone’s work lends itself to that kind of patronage.  Just remember that these supporters are investors as well, and you’ll want to make them happy with a prompt return so far as that is possible given your proposal.  The internet’s full of love, as Kickstarter has shown, but it gets pretty spiteful against those who flake on purchase orders and commissions.

I don’t know the statistics for failed comics projects, but here are some Kickstarter success stories:

One Night Stand

Everything Dies #1-2

SketchyCon: A Worldwide Conference of Dr. Sketchy’s Directors

And here’s a few comics-related projects you can still get behind:

Superhero Web Series

Dear Mr. Watterson

Johnny Recon Vol. 1 No. 2

James Kochalka + Pixeljam = Glorkian Warrior

FIXIT magazine for comics and art

Comix Journalism: Send Ted Rall Back to Afghanistan to Get the Real Story

Reading With Pictures: Getting Comics into Schools and Getting Schools into Comics

Good luck!

- Sarah Morean

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