THE KICKSTAND: Dara Naraghi talks "Persia Blues"

Most comics creators who use Kickstarter are trying to get the funds to complete or print a book, but writer Dara Naraghi already has a contract with NBM to publish his graphic novel "Persia Blues"; he has turned to Kickstarter, noy to raise money to publish his project, but in order to raise $3,000 to pay artist Brent Bowman. I thought this was an interesting use of Kickstarter, so I asked Naraghi a few questions about the campaign and the thinking that went behind it:

CBR News: Why did you decide to do a Kickstarter campaign, when the book is already under contract?

Dara Naraghi: The main reason is I wanted to compensate my artist properly for all the time and hard work he's put into the project. As I mentioned in both the Kickstarter video and text, our publisher NBM has been great to work with and is even giving us a small advance. But the truth is, it's just not enough. And this is not a knock against NBM -- far from it. Heck, most indie publishers pay very little, or nothing at all. It's just the reality of print publishing, and especially indie graphic novel publishing. The market just doesn't support a book like ours to a degree where a publisher can justify paying out thousands of dollars as an advance.  So I turned to Kickstarter, as a means of making things right with my collaborator.

Why did you choose Kickstarter rather than IndieGoGo or another platform?

I did a lot of research, and specifically compared and contrasted IndieGoGo with Kickstarter. While there were aspects of the former's business model that I really liked (for example, they don't use an "all-or-nothing" funding model), in the end I decided to go with the latter because of two factors: their name recognition and payment system. A lot of folks in and out of comics have heard of Kickstarter, so you don't have to spend a lot of time explaining their mechanics and can instead concentrate on telling the story of your project. But more importantly, since I'm going outside the traditional comic book market and targeting a lot of my campaign at general book readers, and the Iranian community here and abroad, I needed a payment system that was ubiquitous and trusted by the public. Amazon solves both those problems. Most people already have an Amazon account, or can easily set one up in whatever country they're in, and have trust in the safety and security of the Amazon payment system.

Was it your idea, and if so, how did NBM publisher Terry Nantier react when you presented it?

Yes, the Kickstarter project was my idea. I must admit, I was a bit nervous when first presenting it to Terry, because I didn't want him to think we were being ungrateful for the advance, or anything along those lines. But to his credit, not only did he completely understand our reasoning, he also got behind us and fully supported it. NBM is even pitching in a number of free books to help us make the most of the fundraising opportunity. Plus, they see this as good early publicity for the book, getting our names and artwork out there and building good relationships with readers.

This is your first Kickstarter. What have you learned, and what do you wish you had known when it started?
The biggest lesson has been just how much work is involved in running a Kickstarter campaign. It's not like I didn't know or anticipate it, because I did a ton of research and prep work, but you don't realize just how much until you're in the middle of it. Sort of like giving birth to a child, I suppose; no matter how much you may think you know about the process, it's a whole different experience once the water breaks. For me, creating the video was very time consuming and stressful, because I'd never done anything like it before, and I'm not one for public speaking. Just setting up the project, figuring out the reward levels and incentives, picking out art, formatting the page, etc. takes an enormous amount of effort, and there's a lot of guessing and second-guessing. And that's all just setup. Once the campaign goes live, there's a ton more work to do in terms of writing press releases, getting in touch with friends and family and colleagues to help spread the word, talking to media outlets, etc. And of course, in the back of my mind, I'm always thinking, "I'd rather be writing than doing this."
On the plus side, I think I did a lot of things right. I kept a detailed list of media contacts from my previous projects and interviews. I targeted a wide range of potential backers, including reaching out to many non-comic readers and the Iranian-American community. I included retailer-specific incentive packages, and then contacted a whole host of retailers to make them aware of it. Suffice it to say, my background as a project manager came in real handy!

You are working on this book for short money; why do you think it is important to pay the artist more?

There are a lot of factors involved, some of which are personal or just unique to my situation (for one thing, I'm fortunate to have a good day job that allows me to pursue writing on the side). But mainly, it comes down to having respect for the work artists do. I'm friends with a lot of artists, and know through them just how time-consuming and involved the process of drawing comics is. Sequential art is not for the faint of heart. There's a lot of work that goes into composing a page of art, from anatomy and perspective, to storytelling and pacing and the right camera angles. Plus, they're more limited in when and where they can work. As a writer, I can be working out plot details and bits of dialogue in the back of my head while sitting in a boring meeting, or mowing the lawn. I can type up my script on my lunch break, or waiting at the airport, or anywhere else I take my laptop. But as an artist, Brent doesn't have that much flexibility. Sure, he can do roughs or sketch out ideas here and there, but the bulk of his work has to be done at home, sitting at his drawing table, surrounded by his art supplies and references. For those reasons, and several more, I just feel that the right thing to do in our situation is to make sure the artist gets compensated first. I'm sure other creative teams have different approaches; your mileage may vary, as they say.

What will happen if the Kickstarter doesn't meet its goal?

I'll probably go through a gamut of emotions, from disappointment to anger to disillusionment to exhaustion, but then I'll get over it and carry on. We're committed to the book coming out one way or another, and if it means I dip into my personal savings and Brent doesn't get compensated as fairly, I suppose that's the way it'll have to be. But I'd like to think it's not going to come to that. Cautious optimism is the name of the game right now.

As of this writing, Naraghi is just over halfway toward meeting his Kickstarter goal; the last day to pledge is December 20.

Let's take a quick look at some other interesting comics projects that have popped up on Kickstarter recently.

What's the big idea? A graphic novel featuring the latest adventure of the Colonial-era superspy The Black Coat, whose adventures began in the four-issue series "A Call to Arms" in 2006. The graphic novel will be published by Ape Entertainment.

Moving force: Ben Lichius, who has been the writer of all the "Black Coat" comics and writes Ape's "Rise of the Guardians" and "Temple Run" comics. He is also an art director for video games.

Selling point: Swashbuckling action in a superbly drawn historical setting, with a supernatural twist: "The new book promises lots of twists and turns, backstabbing, sword fights, New York in flames, new mysterious monsters... and, oh yeah, George Washington!"

Premiums: A PDF is $10, the hard copy is $15. There's a nice extra at the $25 level: Print and digital copies, plus a special sketchbook created just for Kickstarter backers. Sketch cards, pinups, and copies of the earlier collections kick in at the higher levels. A page of original art from the book is $150, and cameo appearances start at $200. For $5,000, one lucky pledger can have lunch with the creators at the Colonial-era Fraunces Tavern in New York, and pick up a big bundle of Black Coat books and other goodies in person.

This caught my eye: The creators actually did a new printing of the first issue of their "A Call to Arms" story arc for this Kickstarter; apparently the original is sold out, although it is available to read online at the Black Coat site.

Goal: $16,500.

Deadline: January 5.

What's the big idea? Star-crossed lovers in a post-apocalyptic world discover a plot that could destroy everything they hold dear. This four-issue series tells the story of Ann, whose family runs the town that has all the fertile land, and Paul, whose family controls the water. They meet when an outside attack forces their families to set aside their mutual animus and grudgingly work together.

Moving force: Writer Joey Groah, whose background includes television and comics writing. The artist is Ryan Cody, whose credits include a story in "Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures."

Selling point: It's all there in the title: "Romeo and Juliet Meet Mad Max." Hasn't the apocalypse thing been done before? "Well yeah, but this time it's all 'farm machinery' and Steinbeck. The parts of Steinbeck you liked," responds Groah on the Kickstarter site.

Premiums: This is an unusually interesting set of premiums. The digital edition is $10, print is $20, for all four issues. The comics are in full color, but the creators are doing a special black and white run of just 40 sets of the four issues as a premium for a $35 pledge. And they are offering proofing copies as well, for $40. Higher-level premiums include an original sketch by artist Gannon Beck for $50 and a script critique by writer and editor Paul Allor for $60. Original pages from the book start at $100. There are no cameos, but for $100 you can name a character. The top premiums have nothing to do with the comic per se: Groah was an extra in the movie "Toy Soldiers," and for $150, he will send you a copy of the movie and talk to you about it over Skype. And for $500, his team will produce a Kickstarter video or web ad for the pledger.

This caught my eye: Groah's other work includes a documentary on the World Beard and Moustache Championships.

Goal: $7,000.

Deadline: December 14.

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