August 9, 2012
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

Taking on a different part of the internet’s Kickstarter kerfuffle, we’ll start with this.  The end result of Kickstarter is that cool cartoonists whose work we personally admire (and possibly some other people too) are getting money to do projects that they really want to do.  How neat is that?  We approve of people getting money to make great comics 100%.  Money + comics is like mocha + nutella, two great tastes that taste great together but are rarely seen in proximity for unknown reasons.

For graphic novelists, the thing that I feel that Kickstarter is particularly useful for is continual fan maintenance.  Because, guys, graphic novels take forever to draw, and then they take forever to get through production and be printed in China and published, and by the time you’re done with that, two years have gone by where you haven’t done anything else and everyone who liked your work before forgot who you were.  Possibly.

But!  With Kickstarter, you can do a high-end art book, or even publish the first chapter of your graphic novel as a mini-comic, and publish it right between the time you started a graphic novel and the time you’re planning to finish and all your fans who are also fans of the internet will be like, ‘THAT girl, I remember her, let me buy her amazing wares, also I am excited about this upcoming book she talks about and shall remember to buy that in the future as well.’  Awesomeness victory!

The thing I see on Kickstarter that I am confused by is the only-published-through-Kickstarter graphic novel.

Sometimes there pops up a project on Kickstarter where an author’s like, ‘okay, I’m publishing an original graphic novel, it’s 200 pages long and it will take me two more years to complete after this point and you should all support it!’  And sometimes I’m like, ‘huh, that looks like something that we wouldn’t publish at all because the zombies are exploding whilst having sex,’ and sometimes I’m like, ‘huh, we didn’t get this charming and interesting project in our submissions inbox.’

And for that second category of projects, I wonder, why not?  I mean, I know that publishers are terribly frightening and occasionally mean, but sometimes it’s just like, ‘Kickstarter creator, didn’t you at least want to check to see if someone would flat out GIVE you $20,000.00 to publish that book and then you wouldn’t have to worry about printing or mailing your graphic novel to 1,500 people?’

The format of Kickstarter seems to heavily weight the promotion and availability of the book to the front end, rather than the back end — something I find problematic for these books that people say, ‘we’ll have this done in two years — or a year — or even eight months.’  Because what happens when your book is available — and then a school in Kansas wants to use it in their class and needs 40 copies . . . and then the New York Public Library system wants to carry it and needs 80 copies . . . and then BoingBoing reviews it and a few hundred people want to order the book?  (We are not even hypothesizing the scenario where in the two years you spend finishing your Kickstarter graphic novel you become a semi-regular NPR commentator and some alt weeklies pick up a weekly comic strip by you and then everyone wants your book.)  Unless you have a distribution system set up (and this is a complicated thing), most of these people are just not going to be able to get copies of your book.

That may be 100% fine with you — and publishing for your established fanbase is a perfectly reasonable business model.  But from the perspective of a publisher whose purpose is to bring great graphic novels to the general public — so graphic novelists can make new fans, and find new readers — well, it’s a shame that a lot of the Kickstarter books won’t be able to do that.

4 Comments on “ Publishing vs. Kickstarter ”

  • CJ Joughin | August 9th, 2012 3:06 pm

    I think for a lot of self-publishers and comic artists that look to go through Kickstarter, many of us aren’t even aware that there are publishing houses willing to take submissions. In the past I’d generally worked under the assumption that you had to wait for a publisher to notice you and that whatever you sent out would likely be junked. Even if that’s not the case, I think there’s a little bit of that worry.

    Also, there’s the fear of losing our book by handing it over to someone else. With Kickstarter and self-publishing in general you have complete creative freedom over your story and, well, at least in the past the mainstream comics industry has had a pretty poor reputation when it comes to creators maintaining rights over their creations. Again, I know this isn’t 100% of the case and more and more there are publishing houses popping up, like you all at First Second, that are a lot more conscientious about this, but I think just like I mentioned before, people just aren’t aware that there are even options.

  • Tyler James | August 9th, 2012 3:14 pm

    You raise some interesting questions and points. I think Kickstarter is an incredible maximizer when used properly. Having just about completed my first successful campaign ( I can tell you that the real value of Kickstarter is it allows some really great products to be created with the support of a fraction of the amount of people it would take to go through traditional channels.

    You asked “Why not bring it to an established publisher to see if they’ll just give you $20,000, first?” Well, a few reasons…

    First, there are very few of those people out there, and comics and graphic novel publishers really don’t work that way. And especially not for new talent, or folks with smaller audiences.

    Second, I think Kickstarter shows that it’s a lot easier to get a little “yes” (in the form of $5, $25, and $50 pledges) on Kickstarter, than a BIG yes from a publisher willing to take a large financial risk on you.

    But you’re right…I think Kickstarter should be used to actually “Kickstart” something. Distributing a hardcover graphic novel through the traditional channels is difficult…and risky if your orders aren’t high enough. But this Kickstarter success will allow me to do a large enough print run to satisfy every backers rewards, but to also take books to the direct market.

    Backers get it first, of course, but I hope that I’ll be able to get and keep enough of these in circulation down the line so that people can discover the book for years to come.

  • Steve Lieber | August 9th, 2012 6:42 pm

    Thanks for these insights. My curiosity is killing me and I have to ask: The cartoonists who made you say “we didn’t get this charming and interesting project in our submissions inbox.” Did you follow up by contacting them and inviting them to pitch a project? Could you have offered to publish the current book? (This recently happened with the Kickstarter for a game, Divekick, so the developers cancelled the fundraising and went with the publisher.)

Your Comments are Welcome!