Fantagraphics Kickstarter a Huge Success — But Should Be Seen as an Argument Against OGNs?

As of this evening’s writing, the Fantagraphics Kickstarter to fund their spring books has three days left to go, and they’ve raised over $200,000 on an original goal of $150,000. That’s quite a success.

Fantagraphics logo

I haven’t talked about it before because I’m of mixed minds on it. I don’t like the idea of publishers turning to crowdfunding, because in general, funding is one of the few functions comic publishers provide that makes them worth choosing instead of self-publishing. On the other hand, this particular company was thrown for a loop when co-founder Kim Thompson passed away earlier this year. While a company should have “key officer” plans on how to keep operating without certain personnel, an event like that can understandably require extraordinary measures.

On the third hand, this isn’t the first time Fantagraphics has needed to raise funds to keep the business going. On the fourth hand, in a letter to the Comics Reporter, Robert Boyd made some good points about how, in this case, Kickstarter is really just a convenient mechanism for allowing customers to pre-pay for subscriptions. Both Tom and Robert express some solid concerns and conclusions excellently there. (Similarly, Matt Wilson compares the effort to an NPR pledge drive.) In another post, Tom summed up the ambivalence well:

I think Fantagraphics’ deserved reputation provides a lot of assurances against many of the worries I tend to have about publisher-involved crowd-funders. I know that they are a virtuous company in terms of the money they make and how they spend that money…. People are paid modestly. Health insurance is provided. I know that they’re a company that has years of displayed skill when it comes to putting together excellent books, that they can bring them to the marketplace, and they can handle a hit book if they get one…. in other words, I think there’s a big difference when Fantagraphics wants to do this as opposed to a person I’ve never heard of before, maybe someone on a first book, doing it.

Anyway, if I was in Seattle, I might have paid for the Kickstarter reward of learning “how to critique/edit comics” in a workshop with Gary Groth, Eric Reynolds and a digital Dan Nadel. Or one of the dinner packages, because those sound like fun encounters and demonstrate a high level of creativity in selecting rewards. It’s worth investing in those kinds of unique experiences, if you live in the right place.

Another notable response (if a bit of a head-scratcher) was retailer Brian Hibbs taking the opportunity to rail against original graphic novels, the format that has kept me reading comics long into adulthood.

Original Graphic Novels (OGNs) are a shitty business model.

It is shitty for creators, it is shitty for stores and it is shitty for publishers. Especially in the face of a marketplace that is not only rock-solid non-returnable, but that has evolved a mechanism to draw significant numbers of repeat customers in for regular, scheduled and most importantly paid, weekly visits.

… you want as many revenue streams as are physically possible — you want to serialize, you want to sell it digitally, you want a regular hardcover, you want a paperback, you want a deluxe hardcover, you want a fancy version in a slipcase, and if you can possibly sell variants of any of those permutations (say, signed, or sketched) for upmarket prices, you probably want to do that as well.

Of course, there are realistically very few projects that can actually thrive in five or six different formats, but you absolutely want to have more than just one format, and when you find the ones that can triple- and quadruple-dip you should pursue them with vigor because it’s an honest transaction in the marketplace.

I guess. I would consider the transactions more “honest” if publishers said at the beginning when and how they’d be collecting serialized work, but few do. So as a customer, I often find myself having to buy something I liked reading more than once, which isn’t a choice I’d willingly make if I had all the information up front. I know old-fashioned comic retailers really rely on the habitual buyer coming in and dropping too much money weekly, but I don’t want to be that kind of customer any more, and I appreciate publishers that allow me to buy a format I prefer.

What Hibbs isn’t saying in this piece is another major reason comic shop owners are against book-format comics — they’re easier to buy elsewhere at much better prices.

5 Responses to “Fantagraphics Kickstarter a Huge Success — But Should Be Seen as an Argument Against OGNs?”

  1. kiwijohn Says:

    Hi Joanna,
    Just to throw my two cents worth into the debate – several small wargames companies have been using a ‘pledge’ system for their games for many years now (way before Kickstarter and the like appeared). GMT games for instance has a “P500″ system where a game will not be published until 500 pledges (and credit card numbers are received – but customers are free to withdraw a pledge right up until actual charging time) and when they’re ready to ship they charge the credit cards. It should be noted that the pledged funds are not used to produce the games though, which is another difference from Kickstarter. Perhaps Fantagraphics could use a similar business model?


  2. Retailer roundtable: Are graphic novels a “sh*tty* business model? — The Beat Says:

    […] comics there are the more print comics have been selling) and I read Johanna Draper Carlson’s recent analysis of the piece, but then I thought. “Waitaminnit, I’m just a big GN reader and not a […]

  3. Brian Hibbs Says:

    “What Hibbs isn’t saying in this piece is another major reason comic shop owners are against book-format comics — they’re easier to buy elsewhere at much better prices. ”

    I guess?

    I don’t know, this is honestly not any real consideration for me, at lest — and we’re over 60% books — passion and communication and selection and all of the bits of a “quality shopping experience” really appear to me to be much more important for the average consumer here, at least.


  4. Johanna Says:

    Your store is exceptional, though. (And I hope one day to be able to visit it.) Most of my shopping experience over the years has instead been me knowing much more about what’s available than the shop owner. I’m lucky now to shop somewhere knowledgeable, but too often “passion” translates as off-putting, particularly if you’re looking for something beyond the latest superhero event or if you’re reading something the clerk doesn’t like or understand. I don’t want to be negative, though — my point was that the OGN format suits my needs and wants as a customer, and I hope that approach continues.

  5. Next Castle Comic Returns to Original Graphic Novel Format » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] find it intriguing that, at a time when some comic shop retailers are arguing that OGNs are horrible for their market, Marvel has decided against serializing this volume. One would presume that if the […]




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