Category Archives: Crowdfunding

Creators Corner: Running a Successful Kickstarter Part 1: Getting Started

A product with no backer…yet

Congratulations! You–like me–are the proud producer of independent content, either because you didn’t produce something that interested Big Pubs, you’re too new as a producer of content (and need experience before you can get experience), or because you could get big publishers’ interest but prefer having complete creative control instead of having an editor murder your darlings, as they say.

And, by the way, no judgement on whatever your reasons are for producing independent content: in my case, my self-published comic Rebirth of the Gangster sparked some interest from publishers but not enough to get them interested in backing my project, partly because I was so new. In fact, if I’d trimmed Rebirth of the Gangster from a proposed 500ish page series to a 150ish page graphic novel, Dark Horse would’ve been interested. Because I have a day job (teaching, sometimes teaching comics in the classroom, as I’ve written about), I refused to neuter my story that way. My influences refused to compromise, so dammit, why would I? So, again, no judgement, because–like me–you probably have many reasons for entering the self-publishing game.

I’ll say it again: congratulations! But you still have a long way to go to get your product made and distributed on a larger level.

Now that you’ve decided to rely on yourself to publish this content, you need to figure out how to finance the whole thing, how to crowdfund something to get it out to an even bigger crowd. Having run a successful Kickstarter campaign myself a little under a year ago, I know the stresses of this process, along with the joys when someone donates even $1 to your cause. Throughout that journey, I had a lot of hills and valleys, but I learned a lot and could avoid some of those deep depressions if I were to run another Kickstarter.

And maybe more importantly, by sharing my reflections on that journey, I can help you create a Kickstarter that’s even more successful than mine was. After all, I was so successful, because I relied on the advice of others, so it only seems fair to pay it forward, a style of thinking heavily encouraged by all crowdfunding sites.

cropped kickstarter successful project graph

Research

And that advice of others was the first place I started. Because as any writer will tell you, research is the fun part of the job and the real reason we do this! In all seriousness, though, it’s indispensable, even if it’s occasionally boring. The first step in research was to look at Kickstarter’s requirements, including what is not OK to post on the site or offer as rewards (like a % stake of the profits on your projects–Kickstarter isn’t Wall Street people). One of the most important things to look at, though, are Kickstarter’s fees, both their general fee and their payment processing fee. Don’t ask me how those two things are separate, or why they don’t bundle them together, because I’m a writer, not a mathematician darnit! However, even if you don’t understand the logic behind some of these fees, you need to take them into account. Otherwise, you might set a goal without considering those fees, have the Kickstarter tax man come and skim a little off the top, and be left with not enough money to publish your comic, produce your movie, record songs, etc… Here’s a quick breakdown of how fees affected my total earnings once the campaign was complete.

cropped kickstarter fees and made money

cropped kickstarter suggestions for rewards

The next step in your research: sift through the many campaigns to look at the successful ones, especially focusing on the most successful ones. You want to mine 24 karat gold, not 2 karat gold. Yeah, they’re both gold, but one is definitely going to attract more eyes. When looking at other campaigns, I looked at

  • How a campaign presented the project, the creator(s), costs in a transparent way, and the timeline. Trust and sympathy are key in Kickstarter campaigns, so if they don’t find a hook to latch onto your product, if they don’t like you, if they don’t know how you’re going to use their money, or if they don’t see an end date in sight for this project, they’ll do the Kickstarter equivalent of swiping left.
  • How a campaign used a video to present their product in a clear, concise and engaging way. We live in a visual culture, so if you don’t have a strong video, many people won’t even read your gold standard writing mentioned in the first bullet point.
  • Most popular rewards, along with the best breakdown of reward price (How many rewards should you have? How much do you jump prices between rewards? How many limited offer rewards do you have?)
  • How others advertised their Kickstarter. One of the best pieces of advice: build a fanbase before running your campaign. I had about 500 Twitter followers, along with support of family and friends, which was a good start, but if I could go back in time, I’d focus a little more on connecting with fans earlier and finding fans earlier.

Congrats again!  You’ve finished the research, and now you just have to create your campaign, cajole others into supporting it, create the thing, and deliver those rewards!  That should be a breeze, right?  Well, don’t worry, because I’ll cover those steps in upcoming segments.

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Mark Allard-Will and Elaine Will talk Årkade

Meet Mark Allard-Will and Elaine Will, creators of the retro-inspired comic Årkade, which debuts this year at Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The team is campaigning on GoFundMe, and I had the opportunity to talk to them about the campaign and the comic.

Graphic Policy: Hi! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Could you please tell us a little about yourselves?

Mark Allard-Will: No, thank you, Madison. It’s a real pleasure to be interviewed by you Crowdfund_Team_PNGand for Graphic Policy. My name is Mark Allard-Will and I am a Writer, specialising and focussing on Comic Books, Graphic Novels, etc. Although I now call Canada home and call myself a Canadian, I’m British born and raised. My previous project, and most successful project to-date, was Saskatch-A-Man; a Canadiana comedy comic book that focussed on the Province I live in, Saskatchewan.

Elaine Will: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Madison! I’m Elaine Will and I’m a cartoonist and illustrator also residing in Saskatchewan, Canada. My main claim to fame is the graphic novel Look Straight Ahead, a story about mental illness which was a 2012 Xeric Award winner, from the very last grant cycle (a fact I’m pretty proud of!) The book was very well received and can still be read online on my website blog.e2w-illustration.com (I admit, the site is in desperate need of a revamp – soon, I swear!)

GP: Your comic Årkade is currently up on GoFundMe. Can you describe the project?

MAW: Sure can. Årkade, in a nutshell, is a metafiction comic book that fuses styles and genres; which, for us, is the old ham-fisted American and British produced Viking movies where the cast knowingly misused Middle English and late ‘80s, early ‘90s family adventure movies. Our medium to fuse the two is defunct Video Games (albeit fictional Video Games of our creation). This story is a one-shot, it’ll be perfect-bound like a graphic novel and we’ll be adding some goodies in there too, like a Pin-up/Tribute Art Gallery that features some Artwork by a diverse range of Canadian Cartoonists, Artists and even an American Comic Book Artist.Crowdfund_Story

So, the GoFundMe page acts just as any other Crowdfunding page would and does, people who help us pay off our printing bill by backing the project can get preorders of the physical Book, digital download and a plethora of other goodies, including some advertising opportunities, limited signed and numbered sketch cards and the chance to receive some art of yourself drawn as an Årkade character.  

EW: What Mark said – one thing I’ll add is that I wanted to do a comic that incorporated glitch art (as I have yet to see that – although, it may exist now) and asked Mark to write a story which might allow me to indulge in that.

GP: What were some of the movie and game influences for Årkade? What inspired the AxeMan character?

MAW: For me, when I writing the script, I absolutely wanted to throw some homage to, what in my mind is the pinnacle of adventure metafiction movies, The Neverending Story; and that’s certainly where the fiction-to-“reality” crossover and the race against impending doom narratives of Årkade take their base from. I think for many of us whom grew up before story-driven video gaming, we have a certain love affair held out for the old side-scrollers and Arcade house games and certainly a big motivator for how I envisioned the video game world of the Vikings was a Sega Genesis titled called Golden Axe.

EW: I was born in ’85 and pretty much only played side-scrolling platform games growing up – I was given a SNES for my 7th birthday with Super Mario World as the pack-in game. A couple of years later I got a Sega Genesis as well, because I was a rather spoiled only child. In fact, I never really grew into a next-gen gamer…at some point I just couldn’t keep up and I still enjoyed the old games enough I didn’t feel a need to upgrade. I definitely know that I’m missing out on some great modern games and I really want to find the time to play a few soon.

Sorry to go off on a bit of a tangent there – there’s a little bit of pixel art in the comic that’s definitely inspired by the graphics of the old 2D sidescrollers. I actually usually point to Sonic the Hedgehog as my biggest artistic inspiration, as it was the original comics published by Archie that instilled the desire in me to become a cartoonist!

GP: This isn’t the first comic you have done together, how has your storytelling evolved as your comics have progressed?

MAW: Well, I think that’s a really neat part of working together and furthering together as we do; as we’ve moved on to different projects together, Elaine will give me some ideas of what she’d like to see in the visuals of the World, etc, and I’ll see if I can make it work in plot development and later in scripting. We’re definitely very good at bouncing ideas off of each other, which I think helps to flesh out something really exciting.

EW: I think we definitely make a good team. Mark’s scripts are so easy for me to visualize. Due to his background in film, he’s able to nail down what he wants to see drawn in each panel and describes that in great detail, so much of the work is already done for me before I ever sit down to do thumbnails.

GP: Though there have been other comic adaptations of video games, Årkade is unique in that it incorporates the side-view angles and pixelated graphics of a side-scroll video game. What were the challenges of adapting the medium for print while staying faithful to the style?

Pixel_Panel2EW: When designing the pixel art I went so far as to make sure the character sprites didn’t contain more than 16 colours – the standard for a single “palette line” in a 16-bit game. Depending on the console, there could also be anywhere from 64-256 colours on screen at one time, so I stuck pretty firmly to that in the pixel art as well.

For the rest of the artwork I went for a pretty cartoony cel-shaded style.

GP: Elaine, Årkade is different from your other projects Look Straight Ahead and Dustship Glory. How do these different genres allow you to explore different forms of storytelling in comics?

EW: I decided to go for a much more straightforward storytelling style for Årkade. One of the hallmarks of my style is tilted, oddly-shaped or jagged panels corresponding to moments of tension in the story. I think I sometimes have a tendency to create odd page layouts or differently shaped panels just for the sake of it, and not always when it serves the story. So, I wanted to draw a comic that didn’t have any of that for once and then slowly start to bring it back in later on (you see a bit of it towards the end of Årkade, once the game world starts to fall apart).

GP: As an artist, what is your favorite part of telling different types of stories?

EW: I suppose, trying to figure out the best art and storytelling style to set the mood! And the challenges that presents. It can be frustrating sometimes, of course, when I’m sitting down to draw a new story and realize it’s full of things I don’t really know how to draw…but this always ends up being beneficial later on, even if I don’t realize it at the time. I think the horses in Årkade are pretty sweet looking, and that’s because I had plenty of practice drawing them in Dustship Glory! ;)

GP: Mark, were there challenges in capturing the spirit of a video game in a print medium?

MAW: That’s a really great question. For me personally, not so much; it’s introduced very early on in the story and falls in to place as AxeMan reminiscing about the days gone by when he and his game cartridge were played with routinely and beloved by players and continues with a Jay and Silent Bob-esque retro game collector and restorer in our modern timeline. Despite the story being metafiction (where you have at least some free reign to ham things up), the only real challenge was to make sure I didn’t get too quirky on any one particular element in those dynamics.  

GP: Nostalgia is kind of “in vogue” right now, with the return of 1980s and 1990s fashion and the popularity of movie and television show reboots. What role does nostalgia play in the comic? Was there a game or movie you were feeling particularly nostalgic for when developing the story?

MAW: Definitely. For me, it was movies such as Neverending Story, The Goonies, The Last Action Hero and ET. In terms of games, beyond the aforementioned Golden Axe, I’d have to say the Sonic The Hedgehog games and a great Sega Genesis title called Wiz ‘n’ Liz.

EW: As I mentioned above, Sonic the Hedgehog has always been a big influence (particularly the art direction of Sonic CD, as it’s just so different from the rest of the classic series and has a really interesting “technology bonded with nature” thing going on). I think that we were also inspired by the movie Wreck-It Ralph, its existentialist themes and the wonderful feeling of nostalgia it created from an entirely fictional arcade game – in fact, I usually Elevator Pitch Årkade as “Wreck-It Ralph With Vikings.”

GP: What are you most excited for readers to see in this comic?

MAW: For me, I’m really excited for readers to see my quirky, fun writing take on new legs outside of Canadiana into something that’s fun for all ages. I’m also really hoping this will just be a nice big blast of nostalgia for people too.

EW: Everything! We really gave it our all for this one and I think lots of folks will love it – not just for the nostalgia factor, but because I think it’s a really fun story.

GP: Congrats on being able to debut Årkade at Toronto Comic Arts Festival! Where will this comic be available after TCAF?

MAW: Thank you. After the show, the comic will be available in stores across Canada and from our online webstore, we’ll be updating people of the exact purchase link on our Social Media platforms when it goes live. The best place for people to keep up-to-date is on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CuckoosNestPress

GP: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I didn’t ask you about?

MAW: Just to say a huge thanks for having us and putting us up on Graphic Policy and to say a huge thank you to all the backers and sharers of the crowdfunding page, it really does mean a lot to us.

EW: Yes, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview with us and for featuring us on Graphic Policy! The crowdfunding campaign is up until April 9th.

GP: Thank you so much for your time!

EW: Cheers! :)

Listen to Shelly Bond Discuss Femme Magnifique on Demand

On demand: iTunes ¦ Sound Cloud ¦ Stitcher ¦ Listed on podcastdirectory.com

Comic-book stories celebrate women who crack ceilings, take names, and change the game. That’s Femme Magnifique, the comic anthology that salutes 30 female trailblazers of yesterday and today currently being Kickstarted featuring a who’s who of comic creators. That’s at least 30 stories from over 50 creators.

From astronauts and abolitionists to computer coders and crack journalists, these fearless women have paved the way for equal rights in science, politics and the arts. What better way to celebrate their achievements than in Femme Magnifique, a book that can live on in teenage bedrooms, corporate boardrooms and libraries around the world?

Joining Graphic Policy Radio to discuss this comic project is the legendary Shelly Bond who will be editing the stories featured.

Shelly Bond has been driven to edit, crush deadlines and innovate since 1988. To date she has edited 950+ comic books and graphic novels by international superstars and novices. One of the most respected and admired editors among her peers, Bond previously served as VP-Executive Editor of DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint. She wields red pens and tap shoes with equal aplomb.

Shelly Bond Discusses Femme Magnifique LIVE this Monday

femme-magnifique-1Comic-book stories celebrate women who crack ceilings, take names, and change the game. That’s Femme Magnifique, the comic anthology that salutes 30 female trailblazers of yesterday and today currently being Kickstarted featuring a who’s who of comic creators. That’s at least 30 stories from over 50 creators.

From astronauts and abolitionists to computer coders and crack journalists, these fearless women have paved the way for equal rights in science, politics and the arts. What better way to celebrate their achievements than in Femme Magnifique, a book that can live on in teenage bedrooms, corporate boardrooms and libraries around the world?

Joining Graphic Policy Radio to discuss this comic project is the legendary Shelly Bond who will be editing the stories featured.

The show airs LIVE this Monday at 10pm ET.

Shelly Bond has been driven to edit, crush deadlines and innovate since 1988. To date she has edited 950+ comic books and graphic novels by international superstars and novices. One of the most respected and admired editors among her peers, Bond previously served as VP-Executive Editor of DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint. She wields red pens and tap shoes with equal aplomb.

Join us Monday and Tweet us questions @graphicpolicy.

Listen to the show when it airs LIVE this Monday.

Game Review: Blades In The Dark

bitd-logoBlades in the Dark by John Harper is a tabletop games set in a fictional post-post-apocalypse, gaslight fantasy London-Venice-Prague mashup called Doskvol. The world essentially ended long ago with the destruction of the gates of death, land masses breaking apart to form the massive island nations of the Shattered Isles. No one has seen the sun clearly in ages. The dead never seem to find peace. The seas are a black ink full of horrors but the blood of those horrors is needed to power massive lightning barriers around cities that try to keep out the dead. The governments and their agencies are corrupt. More often than not, gangs and shadowy secret societies rule the streets. In all of this, you play as a crew of upstart scoundrels new to the scene of the criminal underworld.

The setting of Blades is definitely an interesting one. A new normal has been established after the world as people knew it stopped existing. Technology and magic sit comfortably side by side, often needing each other to pull off the largest and most flashy of feats. Most importantly, I feel, is that you as a PC are not considered to be the hero in any capacity. Very few people within the setting could be considered heroes. Within the first paragraph of the manual, you are told that you are playing a scoundrel and part of a gang committing criminal acts. In a world of tabletop games in the heritage of Dungeons & Dragons that consistently frame you as heroes despite the fact that you rarely do more than leave death and destruction in your wake, Blades is refreshing. As a player, it also encourages you to explore some of the darker sides of humanity through its use of mechanics as they relate to fiction. And in Blades, fiction is king.

blades-in-the-dark-1Blades uses a d6-based pool system for rolling, based on skills and the situation. That may sound off-putting to someone who has dealt with games like Shadowrun and Vampire: the Masquerade with massive handfuls of dice to deal with what should be simple tasks. No one wants to slowly tally up 27d10s or 46d6s anymore. Blades is closer to a happy marriage between Burning Wheel and Apocalypse World: the acting player and GM work out what will fictionally happen then find the skills that best fit that. Other players can choose to help in the same way. You can gain more dice for your roll by, very literally, pushing yourself and getting stressed out or making a deal with the devil and taking a negative to gamble on a chance of doing better. You can attempt something even if the stats sheet says you have no idea what you’re doing or flashback to having planned for your current situation.

Once the dirty deeds are done, your crew has a chance to take stock and deal with payouts, heat from the Bluecoats (the beat cops of the Blades universe) and other gangs, attempt to de-stress by indulging in your vices, and generally deal with a life of crime. Then you work together and decide what you want to do next and how, using the engagement roll to drop yourselves in media res to do it all again.

The mechanics are modular and progressive, moving smoothly from one to the next. Doing certain actions on the job leads to stress which can lead to either indulging in vices or not dealing with that stress and gaining traumas and complications which then can gain you experience to allow you to do more while on a job and more likely than not will cause stress. And so the cycle continues.

blades-in-the-dark-2From the other side of the screen, things are far less extensive than most games would demand of you. There are no dice to roll by default. A GM can choose to roll dice for decision making if they wish and that’s it. Even though there are times when it makes the most sense, like when choosing entanglements as the result of a score, you can instead just cherry pick from the listed table. The only thing that is absolutely demanded of the GM, aside from facilitating and guiding the game, is tracking factions within the world. If you’ve played or especially GMed Stars Without Number, you may have just recoiled at that. In Blades, this is much less arduous of a process and doesn’t involve spreadsheets unless you want it to. You don’t need to decide what’s happening with a gang until the players are or might end up interacting with them. For instance, a gang may have no ties to and never interact with the various consulates of countries. You don’t need to decide what high-powered political games they’ve been playing until the gang decides to kill, kidnap, steal from, or smuggle out a foreign dignitary. And trust me, kidnapping a foreign dignitary will probably be one of the less far fetched ideas you get from a crew.

Looking at just the mechanics of Blades, it sounds like it should be an endless grinding slog that burns through characters like paper a la Advanced D&D. In practice, it’s a very real feeling trek through the murky waters of criminality in an enclosed fictional setting where it’s hard for a PC to simply die and stay dead but easy to hyper-complicate their lives and make things interesting.

With how planning a score and the engagement rolls are set up, it takes a lot of the tedium and arguing out of a plan. You simply pick a type of plan, fill in the single detail for that type, the GM answers a few questions based on the fiction that fill out a dice pool that someone rolls. Based on that, you are dropped into the situation. Nothing more than that is needed to start.

Your characters can act towards their goals in pretty much any way they see fit and applicable. A Cutter (a character archetype all about dealing with problems physically and usually permanently), a Spider (the ever-plotting brains of the outfit), and a Whisper (your probably friendly gang occultist) can all deal with the same challenge in wildly different ways. Or the exact same way. Their chances of success may change but the choice is always there. That’s something that seems to come up constantly when playing Blades: there’s always a choice to move down one path or another.

Speaking of choice, one big one that was made in development of that game is that the focus would be on the characters and their interpersonal and tangential relationships. A large part of the game can be spent in the downtime phase, where PCs recover after missions, pursue their vices and personal goals, and maneuver themselves to set up for the next score. Alternately, your group might focus more on the action or find some other aspect of play that they latch on to. Here a few examples of actual play to give you an idea of how the game flows:

Since Blades was partly funded through Kickstarter, there are a lot of stretch goals that will be fulfilled over time. One of the first is an alternate setting for the base game, U’duasha. There’s also multiple hacks there were stretch goals. Harper himself will be penning a cyberpunk hack called Null Vector. There’s Stras Acimovic and John LeBoeuf-Little’s Scum and Villainy, for a mix of Star Wars-style rogues and Firefly/Serenity. Adam Koebel’s Womb of Night takes a more psychedelic metal approach with the Sword’s Warp Riders album as a touchstone. Sean Nittner chose to be a little more true to the source with Blades Against Darkness, where you play as vigilantes. One look at the Google+ community for the game will show you even more hacks of the game that have been in development since before its release. There’s Fallout-inspired Gamma World, a mashup of HGTV and Lovecraftian horror in Mortally Bankrupt, the American South crime drama of Copperhead County, and many more. A full list will be available on bladesinthedark.com when it launches.

This is definitely a game I would recommend picking up, even if you think your group might be put off by the idea of it at first. If you have a group that’s most interested in weaving a story together, this is definitely one to try pitching to them. You can buy the game via BackerKit or DriveThruRPG and take a look at the downloadable materials here. The digital version is available now with print version due out this spring.

Note: I am also one of those people writing a hack of Blades and John Harper is one of my backers on Patreon for it. However, he didn’t ask me to write this review. I just really love Blades and what it accomplishes with regards to gameplay, storytelling, and table dynamics. Consider this me spreading the word.

Monolith’s Next Board Game is Based on Batman

Monolith, the French game publisher, has teased its next tabletop project: Batman: The Board Game. The company who has successfully Kickstarted games such as Conan and Mythic Battles: Pantheon, showed off a teaser on its Facebook page.

Little is actually known, but the picture shared is of the company’s booth at the International Games Festival in Cannes where a prototype will be demoed.

The art of the Joker art is by the artist Jock, but not sure on the Batman and Catwoman art. The image also says “Coming on Kickstarter.”

The company raised $3.3 million for their Conan game and $2.7 million for Mythic Battles (of which I was a backer). The company has said this won’t launch until after Mythic Battles is delivered which isn’t listed until December 2017. Expect this game in 2018.

New Publisher Offers Readers the Chance to Buy Comics for Local Libraries

Heroes of Homeroom C is one week into their Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign and they have reached the 25% funded mark! That means almost $4,000 of their stated $15,000 CDN goal (approx. $11,500 USD) has already been raised. The book, by Aristocrats Comics, is set to be the first of many such comic books from the newly-formed publishing company that promotes ethnic diversity in both its characters and its creators.

Heroes of Homeroom C tells the story of Albert and Nicola Hathaway, twin 12-year-old African-American superheroes who lose their powers and are sent back to public school to try and have a “normal life.”  But even seventh grade can’t stop our heroes from getting wrapped up in action and excitement.

Created by Aristocrats publisher Anthony Ruttgaizer, a Toronto-based writer of mixed Caribbean and European descent, with art by Carlos Granda, a native of Colombia, Heroes of Homeroom C is a 74-page, all-original graphic novel. Funds raised via the Kickstarter campaign will go towards printing and shipping the book, the crowdfunding website’s processing fees and paying the art team of Granda and letterer/colorist Fred C. Stresing for their hard work.

For $65 CDN (approx. $50 USD), “backers” will receive a copy of Heroes of Homeroom C for themselves while TWO copies will be donated to local libraries in their name. At the end of the campaign, supporters will have the chance to choose a library to receive this gift.

Kickstarter’s “all-or-nothing” funding model means that Aristocrats Comics MUST raise their stated goal of $15,000 CDN by March 2nd or they will receive nothing.

heroes-of-homeroom-c

Dark Beach Creators Open Up

OneSheet_NEWTo paraphrase Big Daddy Kane, “Making comics ain’t easy.” It takes a tireless creative engine on top of a relentless marketing machine. Many of the people we discuss only need to have one or the other. Some people need to be both to realize their dreams.

Michael Ruiz-Unger and Tucker Tota are that rare kind, capable of pushing their dreams into reality without the benefit of an establish publisher or marketing agency getting them out there. They turned to Kickstarter to get the first issue of their book Dark Breach made and are about to conclude a new Kickstarter for the second issue. In fact, you should take moment to check out the incredible art their new book is sporting here.

In an effort to enlighten us about an experience most of have (so far) only dreamed of, these writers are taking a moment to tell us about their book and the experience of making their dream a reality.

Graphic Policy: Do us a favor and tell us a little bit about Dark Beach and what people will love about it?

Michael Ruiz-Unger: Dark Beach is a story about a crime scene photographer who lives in a future world where Earth has drifted away from the Sun. Gordo, our main character, gets mixed up in a murder conspiracy that is fueled by his obsession with the Old Sun.

GP: How did you originally come up with this idea?

MRU: It was a mesh of ideas that collided together over a week or two during a heavy New York City winter. I had rented out a shitty apartment, which had only one window and a tiny heater. It felt like the sun didn’t exist. At the same time, I was reading about 1940’s crime scene photographer WeeGee. Everything about him was fascinating to me (the photos and the police radio he had in his car). The two ideas just seemed perfect together.

GP: How long were you working with it before it was ready to be set in motion?

MRU: It took about three years before I actually started cranking the wheels. I wrote a quick treatment for it with a friend, then Tucker and I rounded it off and made it comic book ready. I would say, as a film director, that being frustrated at not having the budget to film something of this magnitude really pushed me to make it into a comic.

GP: What percentage of the book is finished before you begin designing a Kickstarter?

MRU: I would say the book is about 99% done. The rest are little things we find here and there that get changed. We want to make sure that it is absolutely perfect before sending off to our printers. We also want it done because we only want to focus on the Kickstarter and push it as much as we can. You can’t just throw it up and let it go. You have to promote the hell out of it.

GP: You’ve finished your second successful Kickstarter. What is it about Dark Beach that you think really connects with people in a way gets them to invest before they have ever even read it?

Tucker Tota: A lot of that credit goes to the comics community. There aren’t many art forms where people are taking chances on indie creators. There is more than enough great content coming from the big publishers, so it’s really amazing that readers are willing to look to Kickstarter for new and original stories. That said, I think Dark Beach is an indie comic but feels like something you could pick up at your comic shop, mostly because we made sure to work with great artists and use high quality printing. We also spend a lot of time on our design and marketing, so it feels as professional as the big guys.

GP: When undertaking an endeavor like this for the first time, you learn so many “unknown unknowns”. What did you learn while making issue one that allowed you to be better prepared  issue two?

TT: The very first steps, finding your art team, figuring out how to tell your story in panels and pages, getting all that figured out for issue #1 made making #2 way easier. But we’re still learning and as we work on issue #3 I think we’re finally getting really comfortable with the process and telling the story as best we can.

GP: What did you find to be the best way to get people involved in the project?

TT: I think you’d have to ask Sebastian and Ray why they continue to work with us, but I think we all work together really well and I’m super happy to have found them. We have a group chat as a team and we constantly share ideas for the story so it feels like everyone is contributing and it’s not just us telling them what to do. We also send each other comics or movies we’ve been digging, so it’s a very positive and friendly experience.

GP: When you first started working on Dark Beach, did you create a proposal and shop it around? Who did you send it to?

MRU: We created a two-page sample, which we sent with a synopsis and an entire outline of the story and sent it to all the publishers. After months waiting for a response we realized what a giant waste of time that was. Those publishers don’t want to read a 10-page word document. So we said screw it, lets do this issue ourselves. Around that time we noticed how big Kickstarter was getting and how it was morphing into a place to not only jump-start your project but also sell finished products. I think we made the right move. The response has been great and even Guillermo del Toro pitched in to the Kickstarter.

GP: What made you decide to self-publish?

TT: If a big publisher had wanted to publish our book we probably would have taken the offer. But doing it ourselves has been a really great experience too. Interacting with the audience that we’re building from scratch is so rewarding and meaningful to us. And having full creative control over the project is priceless. It’s very encouraging to know that we don’t need someone to give us permission to make a comic.

GP: What were your backgrounds in writing/illustration that you felt comfortable taking on such a large endeavor?

TT: Mike has been making films for a long time and I write songs for my band Bad Wave, so story-telling is something we’ve been doing for a while. We definitely felt like outsiders when starting this comic, but really once you learn the technical aspects of telling a story through pages and panels, it’s all the same thing really. Characters, plots, settings, it’s all about a compelling story, the format is secondary.

GP: What’s your plan for distributing the book?

MRU: We plan on continuing the distribution ourselves. It’s tough when you only have one book out. People think you’re a one-time deal, that you don’t have it in you to make a whole series, but that’s not the case with us. We’re going the whole way. Surprisingly, some comic book stores that we’ve encountered don’t really care to feature independent comics books. To me, the most interesting stuff was in the indie section! Like when I found Justin Madson’s Breathers series. That was a game changer for me, not what the factories were pumping out weekly. But I get it, people have to make money. Also, we’re on Comixology!

GP: If you were approached by a publisher who wanted to pick up the book and get it out there for you, what would you be looking for before agreeing to that?

TT: I would want to know what we’re getting in exchange for giving up our intellectual property. If they can get our story out to a much larger audience, more than we could on our own, we would certainly consider that. But giving up the rights to something you create is a big deal to us, so it would have to be worth it.

Having read the first two issues, be assured Dark Beach is an awesome read that manages to thrive outside of any one particular genre. Their Kickstarter is ending in a few days so jump on board and be a part of making great, new comics!

Patrick Healy is a writer and artist, making pins and taking names. Check out his latest Kickstarter here!

The Comics Are All Right: Break the Marketing Mold

sink-1While many are discussing the spiral death of the comic industry excuses as to the cause seem to vary depending on the position the person is in. Store owners often blame publishers for putting out too much, not marketing enough, incorrect pricing, lackluster product, a broken preordering system, and more. Indie creators focus on an antiquated distribution system, a market too focused on a few publishers, fans unwilling to take a chance. Fans blame stores for not reading their minds and ordering what they want, publishers for the product, creators who fight with fans.

In reality, it’s not one thing, it’s many that lead to the ups and downs of the comic industry.

But, there are some who are bucking the system. Creators who are talking directly to fans. Publishers who are going around the current distribution system. Stores who are finding customers and building their own communities.

There are roughly 284,163,264 individuals interested in comics according to Facebook demographics. That’s a large group of folks to advertise directly to. Stores, like Third Eye Comics in Maryland, are doing just that with engaging advertising to get folks to come to their store. Three years since I first covered Third Eye’s fantastic ad program they’re still going strong, so it must be working for them, right?

When I started these columns, I didn’t just want to highlight problems of the industry, I wanted to spotlight those who are doing things that go around the system and pave their own path like Third Eye Comics.

A prime example of this entrepreneurial attitude is ComixTribe headed up by Tyler James who recently spoke to us about Kickstarter and the things the publisher is doing there. The publisher definitely is blazing their own path working within and outside of the current system to create their own corner of comicdom and doing so by building a community.

Their latest project to break the mold is Sink. The series by writer John Lees, artist Alex Cormack, letterer Colin Bell has done its own thing to build its audience.

First: A series of emails to the ComixTribe list teased the new series

Second: After a series of teasers the comic’s first issue was given away for FREE to the dedicated email list. ComixTribe often gives away free first issues to incentivize individuals to join their list.

Third: A limited amount of print copies were released primarily at conventions.

Fourth: A Kickstarter has been launched to fund an offset printing for the comic before it’s released to mass markets later this year.

330 individuals, and $3,300 above the goal raised as of this article being published, the Kickstarter and marketing plan is a success.

But, the email list could have been it to build a promotion. ComixTribe has gone an extra step with what I see as a rarity this day, a physical mailing. It feels like far to few publishers and creators take advantage of a cheap communication platform like email, but to see one send out a physical mailing is impressive, to say the least.

comixtribe-1 comixtribe-2

You think this is would be a pretty big outlay right? Some Google search has each postcard pegged at about 30 cents a piece. A 5,000 person mailing would cost about $1,500. With the postcards just hitting mailboxes, the return on investment most likely hasn’t been seen… yet, but the project is already above its goal.

If 5,000 individuals seems like too few individuals for your $1,500 investment, that same amount of money on Facebook gets you about 63,000,000 views of individuals who said they are interested in comics. If 1% of 1% of those views take action, that’s 630 new Kickstarter pledges, almost double the current amount of individuals pledged for this project.

With ComixTribe, what we’re seeing is a new type of marketing being used, one that bucks the press release, blog, individual, shop, dynamic that’s dominated the industry. And by doing this sort of hard work, ComixTribe is building their own community, one that will follow them through ups and downs and the market and most importantly, they can talk to directly.

ComixTribe might be a small publisher, but their ideas are pretty big, and they’re showing the industry you don’t have to beholden to the current paradigm, you can create your own and find success.

Andre Frattino and Jesse Lee talk Simon Says: Nazi Hunter

simon-saysSimon Says: Nazi Hunter tells the story of Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor-turned Nazi Hunter. The comic is on Kickstarter, where creative team Andre Frattino and Jesse Lee are hoping to fund the printing and production of the first issue and expand the comic into a graphic novel-length story. We chatted with them about their project, and what we can learn from this politically relevant story.

Graphic Policy: Hi! Firstly, thank you for taking the time to chat with us about your Kickstarter for Simon Says: Nazi Hunter. Would you like to introduce the creative team and tell us a little about yourselves?

Andre Frattino: Hi, I’m Andre Frattino, and I’m the writer of Simon Says: Nazi Hunter.

Jesse Lee: Hello! My name is Jesse Lee and I’m the artist for Simon Says. I’m a recent graduate who’s working on starting my professional career as an artist. Right now, I sling coffee at a local cafe. I like coffee. Like… a lot.

GP: Simon Says is live on Kickstarter right now. Could you describe the project?

AF: Simon Says is a comic inspired by famed Nazi Hunter, Simon Wiesenthal. Wiesenthal was an Austrian of Jewish descent, who survived the war when the Nazi put him to work as an artist painting swastikas on train cars. Through hardship and torture, he survived, but unfortunately, most of his family did not. Wiesenthal spent the rest of his life devoted to hunting down Nazis who escaped prosecution after the war. Some called him the “Jewish James Bond” and I think that nickname fits the idea of our comic nicely.

JL: It’s a story about vengeance and justice, loss, and absolution. It’s about how one man decided to take a stand against individuals responsible for the genocide of millions. 

GP: Based on the Kickstarter previews, the art and storytelling vibe really well. How did this creative team come together?

AF: I’ve been mulling over this idea for years, and initially had in mind to illustrate it myself. However, I wasn’t convinced my style fit the level of precision and detail a project of this magnitude demands. Jesse and I had met a few years ago and discussed the idea of a collaboration. With his style, it felt like a no-brainer to get him on it, and I was very fortunate that he said “yes.”

JL: Actually, it was completely by chance. I met Andre working a night shift at the cafe. He was sitting by himself with his laptop and there wasn’t anybody else inside. I saw him drawing on a tablet and I asked him if he was working on anything. After chatting a bit, he tells me he works for SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) and that he also writes and produces comics. He gave me his card and I gave him my Tumblr to look at my art. Fast forward a few months later, Andre contacts me about a project he’s working on and asked if I would be interested in being his artist. Believe it or not, I wasn’t the first artist to work on this project. Andre had another guy working with him, but for reasons unknown, he left and Andre asked me to hop on the project. The rest is history.

GP: You mentioned that Simon Says is influenced by noir and pulp fiction and films like Schindler’s List and Inglorious Bastards. Were there any comics that had an influence on Simon Says?

AF: If I had to choose a couple that mostly influenced my storytelling, it would have to be Art Spiegelman’s MAUS and Frank Miller’s Sin City. Spiegelman had a very forward and frank way of putting his story. There was no glitz and glamour to his storytelling. He told it as it needed to be told. From Miller’s Sin City, I think the biggest influence is in Simon’s inner monologuing, which Sin City’s Frank did such a great job of doing.

JL: For me, I’d have to say Art Spiegelman’s Maus. I’ve always had it set in the back of my head while working on the pages. It’s raw, emotional, and dauntingly haunting. With an atrocity such as the Holocaust, everyone has the sensibility to empathize with an event so devastating and tragic. But, when you’re witnessing the horrors through the eyes of somebody who’s actually been through it, your senses are on an entirely different scale. 

GP: What would you say your biggest comic influences are as creators, and what sets your story apart from others?

AF: Quite by accident, most of my previous works are heavy handed in their pull from history. I think that I excel in storytelling that is grounded in historical roots and tries to educate while entertaining. I think that comics have a relatively untapped talent at that. Some of the best comics I know are based in reality (with a bit of a spin) and don’t rely on capes and masks. Don’t get me wrong, I love superheroes, but I think it’s something that’s widely overdone, and there’s too much great material in our own world that doesn’t get utilized.

JL: Too many to list but these guys really know how to lay the ink down and they’re just some that come to mind: John Paul Leon, Borislav Mitkov, Marcos Mateu-Mestre, Andrew Mar, and Jorge Zaffino. Aside from there not ever being a comic about Simon Wiesenthal, this project stands out among a saturated market of superheroes and muscle heads. While I thoroughly enjoy mainstream comics, this is a story about a hero without a skin-tight suit.

GP: This comic is based on the life of Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter. Could you tell us a little about Simon’s story and how this impacted you as creators and how it has guided the direction of your project?

AF: Simon’s story, like everyone who survived the Holocaust, is a story of immense sorrow and heartache. It’s absolute hell on Earth, and anyone who hasn’t lived it (including, obviously, myself), could never seek to imagine what it was actually like. All we can say with certainty is that it changed people. In Simon’s case, it transformed him into a crusader for justice, as it did many who decided to take up the role of Nazi Hunter. This story aims to spark the recognition of those heroes in the next generation and the next generation. The farther we grow from the generation that actually experienced the war, the more likely people will forget, or start seeing it as “an unfortunate part of history.” I’m not talking about Jewish descendants, I’m talking about EVERYONE. We can’t let society forget that people who suffered didn’t fade into obscurity afterwards, they fought.

JL: I really admire the fact that Simon didn’t just seek revenge, he sought justice. He never killed any of the Nazi war criminals he captured. Instead, he made sure they stood trial for their crimes. That speaks volumes of his character and his code. Essentially, he was a real-life Bruce Wayne. It’s cool to know that you get to work on a story of a man who is pretty much Batman!

GP: Comics have always been decidedly political, and Simon Says is no exception. Was its development reactionary to current politics?

AF: Like I said, I actually came up with this idea back in 2008. I think that the current political environment is frighteningly coincidental, but also frighteningly similar to what happened to Simon Wiesenthal and millions of people. Part of me wonders how I held onto this project for so long and how RIGHT NOW, became the time we acted on it. Jesse and I have actually been collaborating since early last year, so the timing…it’s scary, but it makes our project 100x more potent and necessary.

JL: As much as I’d love to say we planned this all around the current state of affairs, this project was in development a significant time before any of the chaos here in the U.S. started breaking out. That’s not to say that it isn’t any less pertinent. I find this project incredibly relevant as it connects readers personally to a victim of Xenophobia, which is so prevalent in our country today. We can’t ever forget the past and the lessons it’s entailed. Hopefully, this project can remind us of that. 

GP: This Kickstarter is for the production of issue one, and it’s clear that this is a passion project. What led you to develop Simon Wiesenthal’s story?

AF: I quite honestly cannot tell you. I rack my brain trying to remember how I learned about Simon Wiesenthal. I know it happened sometime in 2008, but I can’t remember how. I have been fascinated by World War II and the Holocaust since I was in high school, since I read Elie Wiesel’s Night. How could there be a scarier series of crimes and events against humanity by a people who claimed to be pure and superior? Only to transform themselves into the monsters of legend?

JL: I’ll let Andre answer that one!

GP: That being said, what do you hope readers take away from Simon Says?

AF: To quote Simon Wiesenthal: “For your benefit, learn from our tragedy. It is not written law that the next victims must be Jews.”

JL: History must not repeat itself. It’s like Simon’s famous quote, “For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.”

GP: Is there anything else you would like to discuss that I didn’t ask?

AF: Roughly 500,000 Holocaust survivors are still alive today. Most of that number lives below the poverty line. We want to exceed our fundraising goal of $5,000, and if we do, we’ll donate a portion of that excess to charities that support and care for survivors who still need help. I never knew him, but I honestly believe that’s something Simon Wiesenthal would’ve wanted us to do.

JL: Thanks for your questions! You guys rock!

GP: Again, thank you so much for your time!

This project is up for funding on Kickstarter until February 28.

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