Mark Andrew Smith on <i>Sullivan's Sluggers</i>, Kickstarter and the future of print distribution

Mark Andrew Smith certainly isn't heeding the advice on this sign from Sullivan's Sluggers, his upcoming baseball-horror graphic novel with James Stokoe. As we noticed last week, the writer is moving forward and scouting out new territory in comics distribution through Kickstarter.

After that post appeared, I was reminded that Sullivan's Sluggers was originally solicited a couple of years ago by Image Comics, so I asked Smith about that as well as his extremely successful use of Kickstarter. As I'm writing this, Smith and Stokoe's book has raised more than $40,000 in pledges. Their original goal was $6,000, and there are still 24 days to go.

Michael May: Sullivan's Sluggers was originally solicited through Image. What can you say about why it's not being published there now?

Mark Andrew Smith: We know how many copies of Sullivan’s Sluggers retailers ordered. We were going to end up working for four years to make the book (working for free) and end up losing a lot of money to do it. Sullivan’s Sluggers through Kickstarter made more business sense, and selling direct from the creators to the readers. So it was a matter of stay put and don’t rock the boat or take a risk for once and change everything.

We chose the second option and I wouldn’t go back, not in a million years.

I absolutely love Image as a publisher. They are the best publisher in the world. I love the people that work there and they’re the best at what they do, which is putting out great books. I believe strongly in the principles of their founders. So this was about comic shops ordering too conservatively because Diamond has a no-returns policy (if retailers order books that don’t sell, they’re stuck with the bill).

The Kickstarter model has room for publishers and also room for retailers. Comics are small right now and this is growth, and it helps the creators ,who should be at the top of the pyramid but are actually almost under it, to actually benefit and be rewarded for their labors.

Kickstarter books need to be published and printed by people who know what they’re doing and have a lot of experience with that. So I could see publishers charging a fee for production and publishing in the future for Kickstarter creators to streamline things for publishing so that book quality stays high and has consistency.

I think in the future this will be a normal thing. Kickstarter will be there to fund projects but also to be a creator-centered distribution system.

I’d like to see a summit of creator-owned publishers get together in a room and sign a deal that they’ll stand strong to so they can do business with creators using Kickstarter and that it’s not Diamond-exclusive.

Sullivan’s may be published at Image at some point. I need to talk with them. I hope I don’t cause them any trouble, and I believe in my heart that what I’m doing here is right. We have to take care of ourselves financially, and we shouldn’t take the financial hit for retailers not ordering enough for us to at least break even and do the book for four years for free (which is as horrible as it sounds to do everything for free).

I think that needs to be in the creator bill of rights that the creators should betaken care of first instead of last like it is in this distribution system. The creator to has the right to be the (or at least a) retailer and we’ll see more and more of that in the next few years.

The Sullivan's Sluggers campaign has obviously been very successful. What does that mean for your plans? Since all of the pledge amounts were going towards copies of the books, is it as simple as just increasing the print run? Or will you have to find other ways to use the extra money? Does that just translate into a larger payday for you and James (not that there's anything wrong with that)?

The more books people buy the cheaper it is to print because higher print runs cost less money. Our goal is to get Sullivan’s into the hands of as many readers as we can. This isn’t really a fundraiser to meet a goal as it is a creator centered distribution model direct from the creator to the reader.

The sky is the limit.

There should be money to be made at the end of everything. That’s how businesses work and it should be the standard in comics that we make art and we make money. But, the sad thing is that most folks these days throw their hands up and go “Hey, it’s comics!” like we’re supposed to work for free (because we’re artists and artists aren’t supposed to make money). They act like we’re supposed to give everything away for free without getting anything for it and that if you make money you don’t love the art side of it.

Marvel and DC are businesses and their entire point is to make money, so why shouldn’t people in the creator-owned world be able to benefit and make art and money? I think this is hilarious, one-dimensional thinking. I wouldn’t ask my worst enemy to work their job without pay.

Extra money will help us out and also go towards new projects and speeding things up. I personally would like to hit 100K so I could do comics full time for the year, which I think I deserve after nine years of making comic books for free and just giving it away. I cannot drive this home enough: it’s okay if your creators make money and enjoy a better quality of life so that you don’t have to donate to a health fund for them when they’re older because they’re so poor. You should take care of them now. It should be that way and I think with new distribution methods it will become that way.

Are you comfortable disclosing how many pledges were for digital copies vs. printed copies?

Two days in we have 74 backers for only the digital copies. But book backers get digital copies as well. We have 721 print-copy backers as of now, two days in. We have 27 days left, so those numbers will increase more and more.

Obviously, what happened with Sullivan's Sluggers isn't automatically repeatable by every other creative team, but what do you think this says about the future of Kickstarter as a distribution tool for independent creators?

Kickstarter is growing, and there’s a community right now that retweets and Facebook-shares and helps and promotes other people doing their comics. It’s beautiful. I have a fan base, but I don’t have a book out all the time to promote, so it makes sense throughout the year to help other people by promoting their work. Then when it’s my turn those people come through and are supportive of my endeavors. This year I’m going to take $300 and just make a point to only buy comics on Kickstarter because the projects are interesting and I want to support them.

Kickstarter is the other distribution outlet that’s the monopoly-buster and one that benefits creators first.

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