Walking through Artists Alley at this year’s Emerald City Comicon, it became readily apparent that there are all kinds of comics that remain unknown to fandom at large. That said, the people who work on these projects have their followers, and they are loyal. It may be impractical for those fans to fly out to Seattle to buy wares from these creators, but thanks to crowd funding website Kickstarter, support for many of these folks is just a click away.
At the Topatoco booth, two of Kickstarter’s most successful creators were seated next to one another, greeting fans who sought them out. Between the pair, they have raised over $825 thousand for two projects — and one is still ongoing! They hold records for their efforts on the site as well.
The first is writer Ryan North (BOOM!’s “Adventure Time” and Dinosaur Comics whose project — at first glance — doesn’t sound like the most commercial of ventures. He went to Kickstarter with a choose-your-own-adventure Shakespeare book called “To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure.” He had a $20 thousand goal for funding, but by the time his Kickstarter completed, he became the most-funded publishing project ever with $580,905 (consisting of 15,352 backers).
The second “entrepreneur” is writer-artist Aaron Diaz, whose project involved an oversized printing of his webcomic “Dresden Codak.” With a goal of $30 thousand for “The Tomorrow Girl: Dresden Codak Volume 1,” this Kickstarter was into the six-figure range by the second day. They have recently become the fourth most-funded comic project, and there is still over 20 days left!
With all this success, one might imagine a flashy booth announcing their presence. Instead, convention-goers will simply find two people doing what it takes to succeed; by that, I mean working. Between the drawing, signing, and numerous discussions on dinosaurs, this pair has achieved what many independent creators strive for — freedom. CBR News sat down with North and Diaz to find out more about their Kickstarter experiences…
CBR News: To begin with, what made you want to do a Kickstarter project?
Ryan North: It was really a practical reason. I wanted to have all of the endings of my book illustrated, but I couldn’t afford to do that myself and pay the artists a fair rate. Kickstarter was a good platform for something like that, where the project can scale to how much interest there is in it. It lets you do something you couldn’t otherwise do.
Aaron Diaz: This is a book I’ve been planning for a really long time. My main distributor is Topatoco and I could’ve just put the money up front and printed a book, but this is something where I knew that if I got enough people behind it, I could make it a really nice book. My comics are really oversized and gigantic, and I wasn’t sure if I could make the kind of book I wanted to that would actually facilitate the size, so Kickstarter seemed pretty natural.
Aaron, did you know Ryan beforehand? And were you motivated by his success?
Diaz: Yeah, I definitely got really excited by what he was doing and I modeled a lot of what I was going to do based on what Ryan was doing, and just seeing what worked and what didn’t work with the other Kickstarters. Seeing my friends make what they want, the way they want to make it, it’s a really inspiring thing — moreso than the money or anything like that, but just the idea that we can make our projects work. We’re all doing really different things, and it’s really nice to see them all succeed.
What was the most daunting part of the Kickstarter project?
North: “Daunting” isn’t a word I would use. It was actually a lot of fun. I mean, it’s daunting if you think, “Wow! Now I have fifteen thousand tiny little bosses who want their book in May.”
It’s more like, I want to keep these people happy. I think of them more as friends than bosses.
Diaz: For me, it was just making sure everything was approved. Because of the way Kickstarter approves things, you don’t actually know when it’s going to be ready, so I couldn’t give a set date and readers were really anxious. And a lot of the preproduction was kind of hectic, but once it launched, the biggest thing was hoping I had enough stretch goals, because it was way more successful than I thought it would be.
Has it changed your viewpoint of the comics industry changed as a result of you project?
North: Yeah, I think it shows that if you can engage your audience in a direct way with something they’re interested in, you can go crazy places with that. I feel like the benefit of something like Kickstarter is that you can reach your audience and build something collaboratively with them. The Hamlet book wouldn’t be the crazy awesome book that it’s going to be if it wasn’t for all the folks giving their support and saying “How good can we make this?” and “How far can we go?”
In a standard preorder system, you don’t get that. You say, “This is the book. We’re going to make it. Order it if you want.”
With Kickstarter, it’s like “We’re all in this together. We’re going to make this as cool as we can.”
What was the most surprising part of doing a Kickstarter project? Aside from the money, of course…
North: [Laughs] It’s the result — the impact. I mean, the goal we had was $20,000 and I felt pretty confident we could reach that. And then I stretched those expectations to $100,000 and I felt that, “Maybe in a month, if we’re lucky, we can get up to there.”
And then we did the initial goal within three-and-a-half hours and we passed $100K in the first day. I think saying I was “surprised” kind of undersells what that felt like. It was shocking, incredibly flattering, and something that is super-huge in your life.
Diaz: Yeah, it was the money. My most optimistic projection was a hundred thousand for the month, and we broke that after the first night. It was absolutely crazy. I really had no idea that this level of support would come.
Has it changed external perceptions of you with regards to publishers or other entertainment entities?
North: It’s interesting. When I first came up with the idea of the book, I went to an agent and said, “Hey, why don’t we sell this book?”
And he said, “Honestly? This is kind of a hard sell and I’m not sure it’s going to work. I’ll do my best though.”
So I said, “You know what? I’m just going to go the Kickstarter route.”
And after seeing totals for the first day, I got an e-mail from the guy saying, “Wow! I would not have gotten you this much money. This is great. Keep it up!”
I mean, the neat thing with Kickstarter is that I’ve sold the book to people I’ve reached through Kickstarter. And that changes something like Amazon, which normally publishers look at as this behemoth who undercuts their sales. With Kickstarter, I’ve already reached my audience, and then when Amazon sells it down the road, it’s not like they’re cannibalizing customers. It’s new customers I wouldn’t have otherwise reached.
Diaz: I’m getting a lot of calls from less-than-reputable people. I mean, people see the success and think, “Whoa. How can I get in on this?”
So I’ve gotten a lot of strange requests. One was offering to print and ship my books, and I thought, “That’s weird. If you had read the description of my project, I have someone to do that — I’m working with Make That Thing which is what Topatoco does.
Has this changed your future plans in terms of work? Is the thought now, “Hey, maybe I’ll just do one Kickstarter project a year?”
North: Well, I did promise with the Kickstarter that I’d write a sequel if we reached 100K, so it has definitely changed my writing plans. I have to write a sequel — actually, I should say I get to write a sequel. I really haven’t thought much past that. My focus is getting this book done. But I really enjoyed the Kickstarter experience and I’d probably do one again.
Diaz: I’ve actually been making a living from webcomics for over five years now without a book. So with a book, I am now hoping to make a living and also afford health insurance — that’s the big thing. I’ll probably be able to afford a car too… one day. Basically, I’ll be able to live like a human being. And make more comics — as many as I can — and make more books!