On Monday, Archie Comics launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking $350,000 to fund three new series: New takes on “Jughead” and “Betty and Veronica,” plus “Life with Kevin,” a new series starring supporting cast member Kevin Keller; each meant to follow in the contemporary spirit of “Archie” #1 by Mark Waid and Fiona Staples, set to debut in July.
The campaign — which, as of this article’s publication, has received more than $27,000 in pledges — attracted excitement for the creative talent involved (Chip Zdarsky on “Jughead,” Adam Hughes on “Betty and Veronica” and Dan Parent & J. Bone on “Life with Kevin”), but also a recurring wave of criticism. Fans and professionals alike expressed their confusion over the idea that a major publisher with decades of history would use a crowdfunding platform, while others questioned exactly what the $350,000 would fund (Archie later clarified that it was for the first six issues of each series). People swiftly took to social media, expressing questions and concerns, while vocal retailers shared their unhappiness with the prospect of potentially being cut out of the equation as the publisher sells directly to its readership via the campaign’s incentives.
In CBR’s initiial interview with Archie Comics CEO and Publisher Jon Goldwater on the “New Riverdale” campaign, he addressed why the publisher went with Kickstarter. In this follow-up discussion, he expands in-depth as to what convinced the publisher to pursue crowdfunding, along with responding to unhappy retailers and providing insight into the campaign’s backer incentives (which have shifted since launch on Monday) and the timing of the Kickstarter, which began before “Archie” #1 has arrived in stores.
Jon, a lot of questions and concerns have been raised following the launch of Archie’s Kickstarter — we already talked a bit about why Archie went the Kickstarter route, but let’s dig in a bit deeper. Was a Kickstarter always the primary plan for launching these three new titles? Were more conventional methods discussed, and if so, what was the turning point in opting for crowdfunding?
Jon Goldwater: We explored all options. The plan always was to do these books. However, when the chance arose to be a presence at Wal-Mart and Target we couldn’t turn that down — and that made us pivot in a major way, financially and in terms of manpower. So, these titles that we’re so excited about had to be put on a slower track, to speak generally. At that point, we realized we needed some kind of outside funding if we wanted the books to come out faster — in time to really maximize the opportunity presented by the great “Archie” #1 numbers, and to truly “relaunch” the two other most important books in Archie history. “Jughead” and “Betty & Veronica”, in a timely manner that signals — “This is a new beginning!”
But let me be 100 percent clear: these books are coming out. If we don’t get funded, that will be disappointing, and I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t think about losing or defeat. But we will power through and make these books. It’ll just take a beat, and we won’t be able to create this movement or wave of comics over the next year and change.
So, once we realized funding was needed we explored more traditional options, but because of elements in relation to the company I can’t really change for the time being, those options weren’t as open to us as I’d like. Then we stepped back and thought, what’s the best way to get this done, get attention for the company and our creators, celebrate our 75th anniversary and really jazz our audience? That’s when Kickstarter came up. We had an amazingly productive meeting with them at their offices and bounced around some ideas and came up with the campaign you see.
And I think that was the turning point — the chance to try something new in publishing, to take a risk and see if this is something that could work for us. If it doesn’t — that’s fine. But no one can fault us for trying. I take very seriously what we’re doing — asking our fans for money. It’s not something we do lightly, and I believe the product we’re offering as an end result and the many rewards fans can choose from are so freakin’ cool.
But do I get it when people disagree, or pushback on something like this? I completely get it. If people don’t want to support the Kickstarter for whatever reason, that’s fine and it’s their call. Our hope is that we can, as we tweak and move and update this campaign, make a compelling case to support #NewRiverdale. But like I said, the books will come out, in some form, eventually. [Editor’s note: Archie Comics declined further comment on “elements in relation to the company I can’t really change for the time being.”]
An update to the Kickstarter stated that the $350,000 will go to “significantly” covering the cost for six issues each of “Jughead,” “Betty and Veronica” and “Life with Kevin.” Does that mean if the goal is exceeded, potentially even more issues will be funded?
Most definitely. If, fingers crossed, we see a higher number than we asked for — totally.
Given those numbers, is it fair to say these are significantly more costly series than typical Archie monthlies?
It’s apples and oranges, but yes — the books we create for the direct market, like “Afterlife with Archie,” “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” our Dark Circle books and now our #NewRiverdale titles cost a significant amount more to produce each month. Two to three times as much, I’d say.
Also curious about the timing of the Kickstarter: Why launch it now, before readers have gotten a true taste of the New Riverdale in “Archie” #1 — or before an artist has been signed on the new “Jughead” series? Or more specifically, before final sales numbers of “Archie” #1 were in, likely giving more of an insight into how big the potential audience is for these three new series?
That’s a good question. I think the vibe and energy surrounding “Archie” #1 was so huge, so positive that we not only wanted to let fans know ‘Yes, more is coming!’ but also tap into that series to make sure fans got cool, “Archie” #1-related rewards. So, logistically, we had to know who wanted, say, a Kickstarter variant, before we set the print run for the book. That’s the boring angle. From a philosophy standpoint, we want to build on “Archie” #1’s success as quickly and confidently as possible.
Negative reaction has circulated online from at few retailers unhappy with Archie going the Kickstarter route. How would you respond to retailers who may feel left out of the equation here?
First, I want to say that our lines of communication are always, always open to the comic shop retailers. Archie, in the last six years, has made huge inroads into that market. We value the Direct Market. These projects, if funded, will be geared toward the DM. They’re not going to Wal-Mart or Target — that deal is about our mass market and digest books, which are created for that market. We put Chip Zdarsky on “Jughead” to appeal to the Direct Market reader.
As for the retailers you mention — I’d say thank you for the feedback, we’re listening. And we want to talk more! We have a dedicated contact for our retailer friends and we will reach out to those retailers directly soon. We are open to criticism, feedback and having a conversation. This Kickstarter is new ground for us and a learning experience. But like I said before, we’re not scared of being first or trying new things. We will learn as we go and take any and all feedback into account.
Another question, as raised on Twitter by Kurt Busiek, concerned the issue of royalties dependent on the success of the Kickstarter. Is there a system in place for talent to be rewarded commensurate with the performance of the campaign?
I believe our PR guy Alex Segura answered this question, to Kurt directly, via Twitter, but I’ll reiterate: There is an incentive system in place for creators of these books. We don’t discuss contracts, compensation or the like in the press or in public forums, but in my time here, I’ve made great strides to right the wrongs of my predecessors. A big one was the treatment of creators — who are such an important part of everything we do here.
And like your previous question — if Kurt wants to question us about whether we compensate creators, they know how to reach us. We’re happy to answer these kind of questions generally.
There’s been scrutiny of the “little guy” narrative that Archie has used when discussing the Kickstarter. Is there any regret at this point in portraying the company that way?
No, because we clearly state that we’re not Marvel or DC. That’s the only comparison we’ve made. And we are the “little guy” when compared to them. Are we little if you compare us to smaller publishers? No, but it’s all about context and the comparison you’re making. Do I get why some people might balk at that? Sure. But I think we’ve made every effort to clarify that comparison, so I don’t regret it.
Would like to hear some insight into the process of coming up with the rewards for backers — for instance, even considering the nature of a Kickstarter, $10 for a physical copy of the new “Jughead” or “Betty and Veronica” #1 is a bit steep for a comic that would like be around $4. $75 is a bit much to ask for a year-long subscription to a comic, even with the added physical copies of the new #1s. What went into devising the different incentives?
We did a lot of brainstorming internally, with the idea that we’d offer cool rewards that, if purchased, would also help the overall campaign. I get what you mean in relation to cover price vs. what we’re asking. The idea is that the extra money is going to fund the books tied to the campaign. Is the price to steep? I can see how some people think so. Which is why the option to not contribute exists. On the flipside, we think that a lot of these rewards — and the rewards we’re continually brainstorming and adding to the campaign on a daily basis – are neat and enticing, so I guess it’s a matter of taste, and that’s what this whole thing is about.
Getting back to your question — we brainstormed internally, came up with a rough draft of rewards and got feedback from our friends at Kickstarter, revised and went live. Since then, as you’ve probably seen, in just 24 hours we’ve added a number of new rewards based on fan feedback. As of this interview, we’re planning on adding another batch of rewards. So, it’s a fluid process that I think is more about being nimble and responsive and trying to be accommodating in order to succeed. But yes, we understand if someone thinks they can’t meet the pricing because the reward doesn’t match their perceived value — that’s the crux of the whole thing: you contribute if you think it’s worth your money.
On very specific notes: Are all three of the new series planned to be monthly? Also, why is there no physical copy options for “Life with Kevin”?
In an ideal world these books would be monthly, yes. We would strive to have them out as regularly as possible.
In terms of Kevin, we know we want a print component, we’re just not sure what it is yet. It’s no secret the most recent “Kevin Keller” comic series did not sell well in comic shops. So it’s a matter of deciding what format works best for comic shops, digitally and beyond. But because it’s not determined, we don’t want to offer rewards on it in print until we finalize the format.
Crowdfunding efforts often attract scrutiny — how much of this resulting dialogue did Archie expect ? And is Archie generally pleased with the reaction thus far? What has the company learned already in the first 24 hours or so of this campaign?
I think we expected some level of pushback, certainly. But we’re all adults and understand that whenever you ask for something, you open yourself up to criticism. I think you’ll see from our responsiveness on social media to Kickstarter to even doing this interview that we are being genuine and transparent. We want to have a dialogue and we understand that not everyone jumped on board and funded us on day 1. Is this Kickstarter for everyone? No, of course not. But if you’re a fan of these characters and want to see them written and drawn by the best in the business, you’ll back it. We think the reward and end result will be amazing, otherwise we wouldn’t take this risk. Archie isn’t scared to go out on a limb and try new things — it’s what we’ve built a reputation on over the last six years and we’re not going to back off it anytime soon.
The “Help Archie Comics Build a New Riverdale” Kickstarter will be live until June 10.