THE KICKSTAND: Special Ops, Battling Sax & Some Free Advice

Every week there are between 120 and 135 comics projects on Kickstarter, and I look over a lot of them to put together this column. From that perspective, here are three suggestions for anyone who is considering crowdsourcing:

  • Art will make or break your project. Comics are a visual medium to begin with, and the way Kickstarter displays projects favors comics that look good at first glance. Amateurish art stands out, and it's a deal-breaker for a lot of people. So make sure you have good art, even if that means hiring, and paying, someone else to draw the comic for you.
  • Do something original. If you're thinking of making a comic that puts a new spin on the superhero genre, or anything where a teenage boy suddenly finds he has special powers and a mission he must fulfill, go lie down for a while and meditate on whether the world needs another comic like that. And maybe it does -- plenty of superhero comics get funded on Kickstarter -- but it better be damn good.
  • Do the video right, or don't do it at all. Is there a hum that's as loud as your voice? Does it go in and out of focus? If it's irritating to watch, the video is probably not a good sales tool.

Readers, feel free to share your biggest Kickstarter irritations in the forum. And take a look at Vera Greentea's post on the Kickstarter Blog for some further advice on running a comics Kickstarter.

Now, on to this week's picks.

What's the Big Idea? A series of 12 comics that tell the story of a Special Ops unit in Afghanistan, told from the point of view of a combat photographer. It's fiction but with a firm basis in reality.

Moving force: Jose Torres-Cooban, a former combat photographer himself: He served in the Special Missions platoon of the 55th Signal Company and was deployed to Afghanistan. Torres is also the creator of several previous comics, including "The Hunger" for Markosia and "Heirs of Eternity" for Image. Hood is a former Marvel and DC artist.

Selling Point: It's a compelling idea that has a lot of appeal to both comics readers and military buffs. The story is fiction, but the authors are actual Special Ops combat veterans. The term "tilt-shift" refers to a camera lens that allows the photographer to focus tightly on just one part of a scene, and it's also a metaphor for the whole comic: "TILT-SHIFT forces perspective on the large topic of the Global War on Terror by focusing on those fighting on the front lines."

Also, the art is fantastic.

Premiums: This is a well-thought-out package, which is just as well because the creators are in it for the long haul: They want to fund 12 single-issue comics, at $10,000 each, with an additional $3,000 for trades collecting issues 1-6 and 7-12. They get buy-in with a bi-weekly e-mail newsletter, available to anyone who pledges as little as $1, that not only follows the progress of the comic but also includes links to the latest real-life war photos. That's a great way to keep the audience interested, especially as this book will probably draw in readers just because of the subject matter. Also, starting at the $5 level the premiums include postcards of selected combat photos. In terms of the actual comic, a PDF is $5, a signed copy if the first issue is $10, which is on the pricey side. They also offer a package of PDFs of the first six issues for $15, which isn't bad. $40 is the entry level for sketches, and higher incentives include a "shooter's cap" signed by the creators, an abstract drawing of the pledger by caricaturist Chris Chua, sketches by other artists, a portfolio review by real military photographers, and a visit from the creators.

This caught my eye: The Updates page features a number of striking combat photographs, as well as a fascinating timeline.

Goal: $10,000 for the first issue.

Deadline to pledge: September 28.

What's the Big Idea? The sax as martial arts weapon? Real musicians may cringe, but the idea of a jazz musician wielding his instrument against bad guys has a certain gut appeal. The story is told as an interactive digital graphic novel with music and multiple storylines.

Moving force: Philip Bradbury, a young composer whose work has been performed by several different ensembles in his native Louisiana.

Selling Point: If sax-fighting doesn't grab you, check out the video to hear some of Bradbury's music; the comic comes with its own soundtrack.

Premiums: Bradbury isn't asking a lot. You can get access to the full digital comic for a dollar, although it's not clear how that works -- whether it's a webcomic, an app or a PDF. The rewards go up from there, with the top level being $50 to be drawn into the comic with a speaking part.

This caught my eye: The strong interactive element: "In addition to a great story about a traveling martial artist/jazz saxophonist, this unprecedented endeavor will include smooth fade in/out screen transitions, items to be clicked on and "collected" for an achievement system, a save option, music tailored for each panel, pseudo animation, minigames, extra scenes, and multiple endings."

Goal: $500.

Deadline to pledge: October 22.

What's the Big Idea? An introduction to Korean food, not just the dishes but their history and the proper way to eat them.

Moving force: Daniel Gray, whose chief qualification seems to be as a foodie. Gray was adopted from Korea and returned there as an adult to find his birth family. He started a restaurant review blog and now, seven years later, runs O'ngo Food Communications, which provides classes and culinary tours of Korea. Gray created a comic a few years ago for the Korea Food Foundation; this comic will build on that foundation but will be completely redrawn. Gray, who has appeared on The Kimchi Chronicles and other food shows, is working with comic artist Heejeong Song and consultant Jia Choi, who has a PhD in food culture.

Selling Point: "The comic will talk about common Korean foods like kimchi and bulgogi but also explore some of Korea's more bizarre foods such as various Korean street foods, live octopus, and even military stew (budae chiggae)." The book will be in color and will cover 30 different dishes.

Premiums: A $5 pledge earns the donor a thank you in a special video at the Seoul Eats website, which is a nice touch. The 120-page comic, in PDF or iBooks format, is available for $10. At $25 there's a nice T-shirt, and if you happen to be in Korea, $88 will get you a Night Dining Tour. The premium for a $5,000 pledge (admittedly a long shot) is a four-day culinary vacation that includes classes, tours, and accommodations. It's not clear that the comic is included.

This caught my eye: The narrator for the comic, Jia, will explain how to cut food properly with scissors.

Goal: $1,500.

Deadline to pledge: September 20.

What's the Big Idea? Think of a retro version of MAD Magazine that parodies TV shows from the 1980s and 1990s (just like MAD did in the 1980s and 1990s, come to think of it). The magazine even has a mascot, Strange Kid, who looks like he has a touch of Alfred E. Neuman's DNA.

Moving force: Rondal Scott III, who runs Strange Kids Club, a geek-news website that provides much of the inspiration for the magazine.

Selling Point: This is an anthology, and all of the contributors seem to work for publications like "Barf Comics," "Sweat Soda," and "Nightmare Pro Wrestling," so their credentials are in order. The roster includes Drew Rausch ("Sullengrey," "Eldritch") and John Rozum ("Xombi," "Midnight, Mass," and the Scooby Doo and Dexter's Lab comics)

Premiums: They start out a little pricey: A simple "Thank you" will set you back $3, and $5 buys access to the production blog. On the other hand, the $8 pledge is a good value: Digital copies of the first two issues of Strange Kids Comics plus the print edition of the third. Higher pledges include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles print and a Teen Wolf mini-poster. The reward for a $65 pledge includes a Strange Kids Club Member Pack, which kind of fits the theme.

This caught my eye: The cover art by Jason Edmiston.

Goal: $2,500.

Deadline to pledge: September 16.

What's the Big Idea? An all-ages parody of noir mysteries, starring a cute, lisping teddy bear.

Moving force: Alex Zalben, who wrote the "Thor and The Warriors Four" comics for Marvel and also writes for MTV Geek and hosts Nerdist's "Comic Book Live," is the writer on the project. The artist is Josh Kenfield, who drew "Scrooge and Santa" and has contributed to "Axe Cop" and "Bearmageddon."

Selling Point: The first Detective Honeybear story is online, and the creators clearly are having a lot of fun with their hard-boiled yet cuddly character. The art seals the deal; Kenfield mingles a cartoony style with strong blacks and whites that evoke detective movies from the 1940s.

Premiums: A "thank you" is $5, and an actual copy of the 24-page print comic, in full color, is $10. At $15 they throw in a PDF. This is the reverse of the usual order, in which the digital comic is relatively cheap and the print comic costs more. For $30, pledgers can skip the comic and just get a Detective Honeybear T-shirt. For $35, they get the print and digital comics AND Zalben tells will tell the pledger his or her llama name. For $125, Zalben will record an outgoing voicemail message in Detective Honeybear's voice, and for $400 he will give the pledger a six-part course in writing sketch comedy.

This caught my eye: Zalben's other credits include a Hulk comic for Taco Bell.

Goal: $4,873.

Deadline to pledge: September 20.

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