THE KICKSTAND: Why Kickstarter? Plus, Dixon & Nolan's "Joe Frankenstein"

Alexis Fajardo was two books into his series "Kid Beowulf," with a third in the works, when his publisher, Bowler Hat Comics, folded. After looking at his options, he has turned to Kickstarter to fund volume 3. I was curious about how working through Kickstarter compares to working with a small press, so I asked Lex to talk about his experience:

CBR News: Let's start with an introduction to the book: What's the basic concept, and where did the idea come from?

Alexis Fajardo: "Kid Beowulf and the Rise of El Cid" is the third book in the Kid Beowulf series, which is the ongoing story of 12-year-old twin brothers Beowulf and Grendel and their adventures across distant lands and mythologies. The idea for the series came from my love of all those old epics and my love for classic comics (like "Asterix" and "Tintin") and creating a mash-up of the two. In the third book, Beowulf and Grendel find themselves in Spain at a very tumultuous time in that country's history, where the land is split between the powers of Spanish Christians and Muslim Moors. Out of this place comes a young knight named Rodrigo Diaz who has to navigate this world and through his actions become a hero for both sides, becoming El Cid in the process.

Why did you choose Bowler Hat Comics, and what was that experience like?

The very first edition of "Kid Beowulf" was self-published at a time when I was still trying to figure out my style in both visual and narrative form. I pitched that early version to publishers mostly on the concept because I knew my artwork wasn't strong enough at that point on its own. I was really looking for someone to give me and the series a chance, and that's what Bowler Hat did. They were a brand-new imprint and Bo Johnson, the publisher, got what I was trying to do. I signed with Bowler Hat to do the first trilogy (and ideally the whole series). I redid the entire first book with brand new artwork and a refined storyline and we relaunched the series in 2008 with "Kid Beowulf and the Blood-Bound Oath." I followed that up in 2010 with "Kid Beowulf and the Song of Roland" and then started production on book three, "Kid Beowulf and the Rise of El Cid."  It was a great learning experience for both of us and Bowler Hat was able to get Kid Beowulf to a wider and national (albeit still small), audience. The series is still growing, but it would have taken much longer for me to do that on my own as a self-publisher.

It only got frustrating when I felt the audience should be much bigger -- and really, what author doesn't think that? But Bowler Hat didn't have the infrastructure to handle that push or quite frankly the recession either. Their parent company, Ink&Paper Group, folded last year and took the imprint with it, right in the middle of production of my third book. I knew the risks of signing with a small publisher, but Bo and I were dedicated to building something, so I wanted to go for it.

How many copies of the first two volumes did you sell? Are they still available in print?

I believe the print run for book one was 2,000 copies and book two was 1,500, so the print runs were pretty small. When Bowler Hat folded, I bought back all the rights and the remaining stock of the books (between the two, I have around 700 copies left). I'm trying to carry over the distribution too: The books are available on Amazon and other places via Partners West. It's tough, though; it's me and my garage -- I never intended to be a self-publisher, but I want to keep the books out there while I can.

When did you decide to make the first two volumes available as e-books, and what was that process like?

Shortly after I bought back the rights I converted the first two books into e-book format. I used Graphicly to get them into iTunes, Kindle and Nook and they're also available through iVerse, in issue and full graphic novel form. Both Graphicly and iVerse are really easy to work with and helpful to small, indie creators like myself. The e-books are also fun because I can experiment with color (the original books are BW), so I've done free, full-color eight-page previews of the books and then offer the full books with a single color on black. I would eventually like to do to the books in full color, similar to "Bone."
What do you hope to accomplish with this Kickstarter?

Truth be told, Kickstarter is a last resort. I originally wanted to find a new, permanent home for the series, and I've been pitching it to publishers since my old one folded. There have been a few who are interested, they like the series and can see its potential, but picking up the series at book three isn't ideal for them. I've had friends and colleagues who have used Kickstarter to great success and I desperately wanted the book that I've been working on for the last two years to see the light of day. It's really important for me as a creator to get that first trilogy out there -- both my fans and I have waited long enough for it. It's still really early, but I'm encouraged by the response the Kickstarter has gotten so far.

Do you plan to self-publish from here on, or are you seeking another publisher?

I've self-published before and I know just how difficult it is to do and to sustain. At the end of the day, I don't want to spend my time filling orders; I want to write and draw these stories. I will continue to pitch the series to publishers and try and find a solid place for Kid Beowulf to land.

What did you learn from preparing the Kickstarter campaign?

Thankfully, lots of people have already gone before me and I've done my best to learn as much as I could from them. The Kickstarter community is really helpful and generous with their time and insight -- everyone truly wants their fellow artists to succeed. Having backed projects in the past (and in some cases still not receiving what I backed), it was really important to me that I don't go into this without having completed the book first.  There are some projects where it can't be done that way (film, animation, music), but aside from time and effort, the up front costs of a comic book are minimal. I didn't want to ask people for money for something that wasn't already completed, and aside from some editing, it is. Doing a Kickstarter made me stretch to get the work done first and focus on the campaign second.  

Why did you choose Kickstarter rather than IndieGoGo or another platform? 
When it comes down to it, I chose Kickstarter mainly because of name recognition, a proven track record and the ease of the transaction for the end user (the Amazon connection).  I only learned of IndieGoGo a few months ago and I've had friends who have used that too -- the idea that you get whatever the final tally end up being is nice and comforting.  Kickstarter's "all or nothing" approach makes the campaign that much more nerve-wracking but it also lends a sense of urgency to the project that I don't think IndieGoGo has. I'm not gonna lie though, it would totally suck if I got super-close to my goal only to watch it get whisked away at the end! 
What will you do if you don't raise the funds you need?

You mean after all the crying? I don't know, I think I would honestly have to take a real hard look at this "Kid Beowulf" project I've been working on the last ten years and re-evaluate it. I love telling these stories and I want to keep doing it, but no artist wants to work in a vacuum. In a way, this Kickstarter is a grand experiment to see if "Kid Beowulf" can resonate with people the way I know it can -- I think they just need to know it exists and I'm hoping that through the sheer force of the mighty dollar, this Kickstarter can help me prove that to the gatekeepers of the publishing world.  I do have other stories I want to tell, but this one is near and dear to my heart, and I want to continue my delusions of grandeur. 

Now let's check out some recent campaigns, starting across the aisle at IndieGoGo before circling back to a couple of promising projects from Kickstarter..

What's the big idea? It's a series of graphic novels about a 17-year-old who finds out he is a descendant of Baron von Frankenstein -- and Frankenstein's monster is protecting him from the Bride of Frankenstein.

Moving force: Graham Nolan and Chuck Dixon, who have some serious comics chops; among other things, they created the Batman villain Bane.

Selling point: "Comics have really changed in the last 20 years. They've gotten darker and humorless. We want our project to reflect a time when comics were not only exciting, but fun to read. JOE FRANKENSTEIN is an all ages graphic novel in the same vein that Harry Potter was an all ages book. Kids and adults can read it and enjoy it on different levels."

Premiums: Cleverly named but kinda pricey: $15 for the digital edition, $30 for a hard copy (not even signed). They will name a character after you for $400, and for $3,000 they will visit your comics store.

This caught my eye: IDW is publishing and distributing the book but not paying the creators an advance or a page rate; that's what the IndieGoGo campaign is for.

Goal: $55,000.

Deadline: November 22.

The Wardenclyffe Horror

What's the big idea? Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla team up in a Lovecraftian horror story set in 1908.

Moving force: David Winchester, who has a day job in the wind industry but really wants to be a graphic novelist; Christoher Avery, an anthropologist and writer; and artist Robert Rath.

Selling point: Twain x Tesla. 'Nuff said.

Premiums: The digital edition will set you back $10; the print version is $24, and they throw in a PDF as well. (Why doesn't everyone do this?) Starting at $30, there are limited-edition prints of the principals in various combinations. For $160, the writers will help you with a project, and for $250, Rath will draw your portrait.

This caught my eye: The early adopter reward is $1,000, which guarantees the pledger not only this book but every graphic novel produced by Winchester's company, Caffeineforge LLC.

Goal: $9,800.

Deadline: November 15.

School Bites: Independent Studies!

What's the big idea? A print edition of Holly Golightly's teen-friendly webcomic about a girl at vampire school. This subject could go dark or funny; Golightly is going with funny.

Moving force: Holly Golightly, who has been a pre-K teacher, fashion designer, and children's entertainer, as well as an artist for Archie comics -- she drew "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" in the 2000s.

Selling point: "Unlike many Adventure or Vampire series or movies, School Bites does not dip into the 'we must Save or Destroy the world!' dramatics. It relies on personal experiences of the characters dealing with being different, coping with coming of age, being ageless, friendship and matters of the heart."

Premiums: A digital copy is $10, digital plus paperback is $20. This is based on a free webcomic, but the Kickstarter editions will have added content. A book with a sketch is $50. For $450, you can be drawn into the story; the top package is $2,000, for which the pledger becomes a supporting character and gets original artwork of the pages on which he or she appears.

This caught my eye: Golightly puts a couple of interesting spins on the standard myth: The vampires supplement their diet with sweets, which helps temper their thirst for blood, and she has a whole society made up of different vampire clans with different skin colors and other characteristics.

Goal: $10,000

Deadline: November 26.

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