Some Thoughts on Kickstarter Comic Campaigns

I’ve funded over two dozen comics projects on Kickstarter. While the vast majority of the projects I’ve help fund have been completed, I’ve seen a number of hiccups along the way. This post offers some unsolicited advice for folks who have been thinking about supporting projects there as well as some advice to folks running Kickstarter campaigns.

While the rhetoric of Kickstarter says that funding goes to help creators produce work that wouldn’t be produced otherwise, that’s not entirely true. Of course, any platform that promotes garbage about “voting with your dollars” is bound to attract some sketchy characters.  With comics projects, there are a few types of Kickstarter comic campaigns:

  1. Indie Creator Campaigns: In this type of campaign, the creator is the publisher. The comic couldn’t be published if not for Kickstarter funding. Sometimes, these campaigns are for side or special projects creators who work for major publishers. Sometimes, they’re for the creator’s main work. These projects fund individual issues, graphic novels, collections, print collections of web comics, etc. The vast majority of projects I’ve supported have been through these types of campaigns.
  2. Small Press Campaigns: In this type of campaign, the publisher seeks funding for a title, or often times, for all the titles that they will publish that year. Kilgore, Paper Rocket, Birdcage Bottom, and many other small presses run these types of campaigns.  
  3. WTF Campaigns: Now for the sketchy ones. Major publishers have started using Kickstarter campaigns for cash grabs. For example, Boom! Studios funded Keanu Reeve’s comic, BRZRKR, to the tune of $1,447,212 last year, and Scott Snyder and Tony Daniel raised $218,380 for a collector’s edition of the first issue of their Image series, Nocterra. I have never supported one of these types of campaigns.

As for my experiences…

  1. Kickstarter comics are almost always expensive, e.g., $13, including shipping, for a 24-page comic. At least with a comic in a shop, even an online one, you can peruse the work or read reviews before buying, but no one has seen a Kickstarter comics prior to the campaign being fulfilled. I realize color printing is expensive, but I also don’t think so many comics need to be in color. I actually prefer black and white comics myself.
  2. Shipping is often more expensive than if you ordered from an online shop. If you fund 10 x $10 comics, you’re paying $25-40 for shipping.
  3. Kickstarter comics are almost always a little late in arriving regardless of the timeline the creator set for the campaign. Some campaigns run incredibly late. Luckily, I haven’t had one go unfulfilled, yet.
  4. You’ll receive the digital copy long before the print version. This might kill your enthusiasm once you receive the print version.
  5. Often times, creators leave the digital version in two-page spreads. It makes reading the comic an unenjoyable experience. I wish they wouldn’t do that.
  6. Sometimes, creators take forever to get all the comics out to funders. For example, I am waiting on one comic where the creator started sending out copies to other funders two months ago. That’s unacceptable.
  7. Sometimes, creators send copies to comic shops before fulfilling orders from individuals. What’s the point of paying extra for shipping if I can go pick it up at a local comic shop sooner?
  8. Beyond the comic, these campaigns are often full of stuff that has little to do with comics. I get that if you’re a big fan of an already existing title or artist, then you might want the schwag, I don’t understand the ubiquity, however. I hope creators don’t feel pressured to offer stickers and buttons and “art prints” and all sorts of other stuff that which most folks won’t end up using or doing anything with. As someone who’s into making comics, I’d much rather get things like plain old photocopied zines (or even digital ones) about the creator’s process. You know, something with character designs, notes, bits of script, a look at pencils, whatever.
  9. Overpriced PDF versions are ridiculous. Creators need to realize that someone funding only the PDF either doesn’t have the money to offer more support or just isn’t that into the project. Charging more than $2-3 for an issue or a short graphic novel or $5-7 for a longer graphic novel in PDF just means you won’t get much of that passive support. I understand how much work goes into a comic, and I get that creators worry about people sharing the PDF, but just because someone funds only the PDF, it doesn’t mean that they are more likely to share it than if they fund both the digital and print version.

Overall, Kickstarting a comic is interesting but never really gets outside the buyer-seller paradigm. Despite the rhetoric about how funders are supporting the work and not buying a “product,” it’s not at all true. Other platforms exist where you can more directly support a creator’s ongoing work without much of a promise of a return, e.g., Patreon and Ko-fi. Even in those cases, creators worth their salt know that you need to offer people something meaningful or patrons won’t stay for long. For all the grandiose language aimed at supporters about how they can directly fund creators, there are a million how to guides about “monetizing your audience.” Let’s not pretend that Kickstarter backers or patrons are somehow getting outside consumerist relationships while creators are entirely embedded in them.

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