Comic Fans Need Patience: Thoughts on Lengthy Kickstarters & Incomplete First Issues

Kickstarter logo

I’ve been pondering the question of how long comic readers should be asked to wait when it comes to independent work.

What started this off was Lea Hernandez’s Kickstarter for The Garlicks, which ends tomorrow. Since it’s only about a third of the way towards the goal of $40,000, it looks like it isn’t going to make it.

(Update: Be sure to read Lea’s comments below, where she explains more about her effort. And Alex, who’s also run a long-term Kickstarter, has a good list of why some projects don’t succeed in the comments.)

Kickstarter logo

I’m part of the reason why. While I love her work and will buy her next book, I didn’t contribute, because the project is set up to support her while she creates it. That means she’s promising rewards to deliver a year from now (May 2013), and that’s too far away for me to commit to.

I am more comfortable funding a project where the work already exists, one where the creator needs print costs. This doesn’t apply to Lea’s case, but one of the reasons why is that, if rewards deliver within a couple of months, I’m protected if something happens and I don’t get what’s promised. Within 3-6 months, I have the ability to do a credit card chargeback in the worst case, if the provider flakes out. On a more personal level, it’s more rewarding to get a book or other rewards within a couple of months, as though it was similar to a preorder. Otherwise, it feels like throwing money into the wind.

Of course, if you have the resources to be charitable and make donations, supporting favorite artists without concern for what you get in return, then this isn’t a worry for you. But at that point, Kickstarter reminds me of a popularity contest.

I would advise those planning Kickstarters to note that something in the range of $4-8,000 is more likely to be achieved than asking for multiple tens of thousands of dollars. Sure, there are plenty of success stories, but they’ve been run by people with huge followings and a long-term track record of delivering products of known quality. Also, anthologies, which have a much bigger crew of contributors working to get the word out. A Kickstarter is, on many levels, a measurement of trust, and if you don’t have enough dedicated followers and a solid, substantial track record of doing what you say you will, you may not succeed.

Along similar lines, I got another email recently from a guy who seemed nice and funny who funded the first issue of his comic series through Kickstarter but wouldn’t be able to do another until he sold enough digital and print copies to cover costs. The problem was that the first issue, while intriguing in its setup, didn’t provide anything close to a complete story. Readers are asked to have faith that they’ll eventually see another issue, which may or may not finish the story.

There’s a problem of momentum here. It’s hard enough, with so many options and so much competition out there, to get a customer’s attention once. Expecting them to come back at some future undetermined time is foolhardy. I know the economics are tough for young creators, but I don’t understand why anyone would release just part of a story for their first issue these days. Put out a complete work, so readers get a good idea of what you’re capable of.


  • I wish this article had appeared a bit sooner, because there are points brought up that would’ve been excellent to address at the Kickstarter page for THE GARLICKS.

    But allow me to try here.

    While the books won’t be shipped until May 2013, all non-book incentives will be shipped by August-September. The date I felt best to give was the date the LAST incentive, the book itself, would be shipped.
    I considered adding that info to each reward level copy, but I felt I was inching into tl;dr as it was.

    It does say in the “story” on THE GARLICKS’ front page that “I’ll be serializing THE GARLICKS, three color pages a week, over the next year as a webcomic at”
    I’m not disappearing down a hole for a year, hopefully to emerge with backer’s trust intact.

    As for supporting me for a year: well, yes. I’m not asking for backing for JUST that. The amount covers production AND printing AND fees AND taxes AND the cost of incentives AND postage.
    There’s a breakdown of where the money goes on the front page. A later update details where my money I earn monthly (in the form of a page rate, not a lump sum) will be spent. It’s a modest and responsible budget that ensures THE GARLICKS doesn’t go off-track because I’ve under-funded and have to stop working on it to take other work or a job in case of an emergency.

    Also on the front page, I mention that the money is to be put in a protected account that is ONLY drawn on when tasks are finished or bills must be paid. I worked this out with a respected financial adviser, Liz Schiller (former president of Friends of Lulu), to ensure that money would be spent ONLY when it was time.

    Take a look at tech Kickstarters (which have already spend money outside of Kickstarter on development)or other comics Kickstarters and tell me how many break it down that well. Only one, that I’ve seen.
    (Also, I see Kickstarters promising delivery by dates impossible to achieve, given their timeline for development and manufacturing, plus the time it takes to get the funding from KS/Amazon to bank, which is 2-3 weeks after the campaign ends.)

    $40,000 IS a large amount, but given my plan, the costs of executing it, and my desire to execute it smoothly and as a good experience for my backers, it was the only responsible and intelligent amount to shoot for.

    Thanks for the space, Johanna, and for raising some good questions.

  • Alex de Campi

    As someone who both pledged for Lea’s kickstarter and who ran a lengthy kickstarter of my own, I have opinions. I can understand Johanna’s reluctance to take a year-long risk on a project, but for many of us there is NO other way to get a book made.

    It’s all very well to say, oh, just go and do the art first, but when a writer is trying to fund an ambitious graphic novel that is JUST. NOT. POSSIBLE. Believe me. My original artist, getting even 22 pages of sample art out of him was like pulling teeth. And the only reason I was able to attract the artists to replace him was because I had money on the table to pay them. As well disposed as they individually might have been to me or to the script, I do not think I could have convinced a single one to do it for free, on spec.

    I tried to ameliorate the quite valid worries of people such as Johanna with my kickstarter by offering a money-back guarantee, and also serialising the chapters as they were finished. Thanks to a lot of artist drama, I don’t have the first serialised chunk done yet, but overall our print date is still on schedule.

    Some creators are in a position that their spouse has a job and so the family is provided for financially and in terms of healthcare… and some do not. I can greatly understand Lea’s desire to be able to work at this book as her “job”, rather than having to come home from a job, take care of the kids and mmmaybe getting half a page drawn after all of them are asleep, if she isn’t too exhausted. There used to be a publishing industry who would have taken care of that for her by giving her an advance, but now there is only Kickstarter.

  • Charles Ranier

    I was watching the KS and the updates and debating it until she broke it down to how it was going to pay her rent and food and all that and paying herself $125 a page. There’s other fundraising websites that do that.

    Also Kickstarter specifically says in its guidelines that projects are not to raise money to “fund my life.” Admittedly she’d be creating a comic during it, but gee, I’d like to raise 40k to take a year off the day job and create too, and I just don’t see people lining up to do that (even if I had name recognition like she does).

    A lower dollar goal to cover actual post production on a book that just needs a lift up to get to press would have coasted to victory. The way this was set up, I’m disappointed but not very surprised.

  • Very interesting post and I agree with your points. I was much more willing to Kickstart worthy-sounding projects when I started using the site a year ago. 20+ projects later, I am learning to be more careful in my approach.

    Part of the problem, though, is that there will always be a risk involved in backing a project. I backed one project for the pdf of a comic and the creator later decided to focus on the physical book and get the pdf out later. Nothing I can do about that but fume.

    Going forward, I am trying to balance support for creators I think deserve it along with my desire to not put money into a project that may never see fruition or which will be produced a long ways down the road.

    Anything creators can do to ensure that the KS is complete on time, in a short timeframe, and as promised will go a long way toward getting me to support their continuing projects and the projects of other creators.

  • Jeremy Whitley

    To be honest, I find Kickstarter to be a bit vexing. The prevailing reasons why I do not contribute to many projects are

    1)Inundation – There are too many! Even if I cut it down to the ones I would buy if they were in stores, I would still be in over my head

    2)Indignation – I’ll be the first to admit that being successful at comics is hard. My book won awards and is nominated for more and I still have a full time job. I would love to help fund everyone’s dream projects, but I’m still working on funding my own. Up until recently everything I put out was self published and self funded. Granted, part of the reason that is possible is that I have an amazing artist who is willing to commit to splitting profit and sharing the dream with me. We did it though, we made it work even when it required digging in our own pockets. Now I have a publisher.

    Here’s my thing, I don’t want to stop anybody from helping anyone else and I’m always happy to help people by sharing the connections and tricks I’ve learned. However, there’s a clear scale when it comes to publishing in which asking generally requires giving. I own my property and therefore I do not get a page rate but I keep my rights. If I expected regular pay, I would expect to give up some rights to my investors. Kickstarter investors are not investors, they donors, giving you a hand up. If your project is wildly successful they still get prize X that they were initially promised.
    I’m all for making donations that match the costs of printing. What you get is likely to reflect what was given. However, when we get into cost of living and so on, it gets messier. Maybe I’m a bit of a sadist, but stay up late nights and work during my breaks and lunches in hopes of making my comic successful and asking someone to take all the risk for me with only marginal reward just seems too easy to me. But of course, that’s just me.

  • Just thought I’d add that I was by no means suggesting that artists shouldn’t be paid something approximating a living wage for all the work they do (as a writer myself, that would be a terrible position to take!).

    It’s just that Kickstarter specifically is meant to kickstart going concerns, a little boost so entrepreneurs can start a sustainable business. I think AGH’s feelings clarify that point — even if the goals of Kickstarter projects can be flexible, users mainly see it as a pre-order site, not a donation hub.

    Publishing is obviously different from tech projects, but business plans can still be in place. For instance, I might Kickstart a new magazine, with the funds covering all the production and creative costs of my first issue, but then the money that comes in from sales on that first issue will ostensibly fund the continuation. For a book it may be that you Kickstart one edition, which gets you started, and now you can turn that sales revenue into later editions and other books as you build your career.

    How to parse all this with earning a living wage? I think the short answer is that you can’t. The life of an artist is one of constantly hustling new projects. A filmmaker friend of mine spent most of last year shoring up financing for something that fell through, so now he’s freelance editing (his version of grunt work) to pay the rent until the next thing materializes. I personally prefer a steady job, and the tradeoff is that I produce a new major creative thing every 6 years instead of every 6 months. But if you go the “only earn money from art” route, Kickstarter can be a viable way to fund some of the dozen or so projects you have going at any given time.

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