The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is using the funding site Kickstarter to raise money to publish a Transmetropolitan art book. Transmetropolitan, for those who may not be familiar with it, was a Vertigo series that starred Spider Jerusalem, a gonzo journalist in a depraved future, who, along with his assistants and a three-eyed cat, battled corrupt politicians, crazy cults and castrated police officers. Written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Darick Robertson, the book was published from 1997 to 2002.
Both creators are participating in the new art book, with Robertson providing a cover and Ellis a foreword. In addition, the book will include artwork by Cliff Chiang, Cully Hamner, Milo Manara, Jeff Lemire, Sam Kieth and many more.
Susan Auġér, the project manager for the art book, and Charles Brownstein, executive director of the CBLDF, were kind enough to answer my questions about the project.
JK: Where did the initial idea to do a benefit book come from?
Susan: A fan approached Darick Robertson's table at Emerald City Comic Con, the best comics convention out there to meet and greet with creators. Darick agreed that it was a good idea, and the plan took shape shortly after that. You could say it was the perfect jumping off point: a book suggested by a fan, populated by many fans, produced for the fans.
Charles: Shortly after Darick appeared to benefit the CBLDF at WonderCon last year, we sparked up a correspondence with Susan, who had been organizing a project involving a variety of great pieces inspired by Darick and Warren's iconic series. She did the legwork to get approval from DC Comics to make this book happen as a benefit for CBLDF, and we're thrilled to be a part of it. There's some great stuff coming through, and we're gonna be thrilled to see it, to spread the word, and to do some good for people in comics with the funds that come from it.
JK: What made you decide to use Kickstarter to raise the funds to publish it?
Susan: I'll tell you the truth, JK, this book makes people nervous. Kickstarter has been the ideal partner for proving to naysayers that the book can be done without censorship, it can be done with nudity and vulgarity, and still be a beautiful art object that fans will want to purchase.
JK: I saw on the Kickstarter site that there aren't plans to sell the book at retail. Besides contributing through Kickstarter, how else will people be able to eventually buy the book?
Susan: There are no plans to carry it elsewhere. This book is exclusively a fund-raising tool for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
Charles: Right now Kickstarter is the only way folks can get their hands on the project. Quite simply, if it doesn't work through Kickstarter, it's not likely to occur. The CBLDF's funds are very tight, and not only don't we have the capacity to underwrite a project like this, it's not why people donate money to us. Our funds need to go to the program work that our donors support, and to the low-cost, high-return fund raising we do on our website and at conventions to pay for that work and our general overhead. We hope that people who want to see this project will contribute to the Kickstarter effort, because that will provide the seed cash to make the project happen so that it can do good for CBLDF. Right now there is no mechanism besides this Kickstarter drive to make this book happen because it's the most feasible and program-responsible way to make this project a reality.
JK: Have you started to receive any art pieces yet? What can fans expect to see in the book, in terms of what the contributors are sending in to you?
Susan: Every time I open my email, it's a shock. As for what fans should expect, I can only tell them to be prepared for a book that is nothing like the previous volumes.
JK: You've got an impressive line-up of artists contributing to the book. How did you go about recruiting them?
Susan: The community of artists that makes comics the visually rich universe we love are a very generous group of people. They made the invitation process easy by supporting each other, speaking highly of one another, and passing the word along. Considering the hours of effort it take to produce a single page, and then to produce a book's worth of pages to make a living, I cannot adequately say how grateful I am that they donated their time. It is worth mentioning here that DC Comics, IDW and Dark Horse have been incredibly generous with their time and resources.
JK: It's been eight years since Transmetropolitan ended. What is it about the series that still gets fans excited and still inspires artists to contribute to a book like this?
Charles: With Transmetropolitan, Warren and Darick created a singular world and set of characters to embellish a world view that resonates with concerns that are at once contemporary and timeless. The visual dynamic was a credible day after the day after tomorrow, and the politics, characterization, and tech were simultaneously the stuff we covet and fear. Within all of that, they tapped into the universal human ideal of speaking truth to power by using a charismatic protagonist who spat on social mores -- most of which were corrupt anyhow. I personally found the series was kind of like breathing an asthma inhaler after suffocating on the news environment of the Bush years, and I think it serves the same function today. It did what science fiction is supposed to do -- it looked at our world through a prism of what can be, and it did it well, and it looked really cool as it did its job. Who wouldn't want to pay tribute to that?
JK: Is there anything else about the project that I haven't asked about or isn't on the Kickstarter site that you'd want to make sure people know?
Susan: Thanks for asking that, JK. I would like to make sure that people know they do not have to buy the book to support it. They can go to the Kickstarter page for our project at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1329794677/the-transmetropolitan-art-book and donate $1 or $5, and that would help. I'm concerned that a few people out there might not understand Kickstarter, based on what they had to say about Mr. Tony Harris and his project.
Fans of the series already know Tony Harris contributed covers to the original Transmetropolitan run, and a pin-up to the Tales of Human Waste volume (with collaborator Jim Royal, may he rest in peace). I feel it necessary to say that if fans don't like someone's project, then they do not have to pledge to it. As a community we shouldn't discourage art for discouragement's sake. There's plenty of discouragement out there for the comics medium. Kickstarter is a great resource with a review process that is stringent and attentive, overseen by an excellent staff who shepherd projects from start to finish. Let's please continue to support creator-owned efforts by funding projects like these. Mr Harris' project can be found here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/26140676/roundeye-for-love; the link for the Transmetropolitan charity art book is http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1329794677/the-transmetropolitan-art-book
If you're looking for a great holiday gift, Mr Harris illustrated a beautiful print with a poem by Neil Gaiman and it benefits the CBLDF through their eBay store at http://shop.ebay.com/cbldf/m.html, along with other cool gifts.