There is plenty of talk in the comics community these days of creator-owned work and how it should be championed and supported in the marketplace, but supporting independently produced material once it's made is far different from getting it made to begin with.
One of the most publicized recent examples of the pitfalls of the Do It Yourself ethic came from "Ex Machina" artist Tony Harris. In early December, Harris announced his intent to self-finance an original graphic novel called "ROUNDEYE: For Love" via the popular art fundraising site Kickstarter by asking for contributors to kick in cash adding up to $60,000. It didn't work the first time around, though. Harris had to relaunch the project several times, finally hitting -- and then exceeding -- an asked for mark of $10,000 this week, but along the way several more unique opportunities arose that look to make "ROUNDEYE" a reality at last.
With the Kickstarter page entering its final phase, CBR News caught up with Harris to find out why the book means so much to him, what barriers he had to break through to make the fundraising effort work, how promoting the initial 60K figure led to a better, more manageable publishing option and what lies ahead for the graphic novel as well as the long-delayed "War Heroes" series with Mark Millar.
CBR News: First, tell us about the story of "ROUNDEYE: For Love" -- what is this book about?
Tony Harris: A mysterious , hulking white man known only as Roundeye stumbles out of the jungle, and into the arms of a woman (Tulip) who is forbidden to all who know her. She is the wife of Roundeye's soon to be Master, Yoshitsuni, a fierce Samurai who controls the region with an iron fist and little mercy. Their cursed love affair produces a child that damns them both to fates they can't possibly imagine, ripping them apart and flinging their helpless souls to the farthest corners of the planet. Roundeye is left for dead, and his Tulip banished to a brothel by her vengeful husband.
Yoshi, praying in his temple is approached by a Shinto underworld demon who offers him "Sight" -- an ability to "see" his opponents every move in battle before they make it, transforming Yoshi into an invincible and horrible man. His price? He must blind himself in return for the Dragon's Claw, which contains its eye protected inside its balled up fist. Yoshi, blinded, and able to see clearer than ever before, amasses a blind Army of Samurai that ride the land wielding the Dragon's Claw as their standard, unstoppable and terrible.
Roundeye is found by a retired swordsmith on the verge of death and nurses the hulk back to health at the cost of his arm, which the Smith has replaced with an artificial limb. He gifts Roundeye the last sword he created before retiring, and sends Roundeye on a path to regain a love lost, twisting and turning on a blood-soaked road to the ultimate battle against Yoshitsuni's unstoppable army, with the hope of reuniting with his Tulip.
When and where did the idea for "ROUNDEYE" come to you and why is it such an important story for you?
Harris: Wow. Not sure really. At least ten years. At least that. I started working on the very first ideas for the book when I still maintained a full studio with other working artists outside of my home, which was about ten to twelve years ago. That was the end of about a 13-year period of working outside the home, and through working with so many artists, as our roster changed a bit through the years, I developed quite a few creator-owned properties that are either on the back-burner, waiting their turn, in development, published or being produced currently. If you look at a lot of the various illustrations I have posted on the Internet (or on the Kickstarter page) there are various dates going back a ways. I remember recently staring to draw new pages of "ROUNDEYE: For Love," and the first two were dated 2005 -- and the next four or six pages were 2010!
"ROUNDEYE: For Love" is important for one reason. My Stacie. My wife. This is everything that she loves about me and my art and who I was when she fell in love with me all those years ago wrapped into a story about an impossible love -- a love that thrives and perseveres after overcoming a mountain of obstacles. And this tribute, this gift to Stacie, is all me. I am writing (first time solo), penciling (sans photo ref), inking and coloring the entire graphic novel.
Your results with Kickstarter thus far have been impressive, though it did take a few times for you to hit on the right formula, it seems. Give us a bit of a timeline of what's happened here. When did you first start up on Kickstarter and how has the response been? And what can you tell us about some of these deep pockets ($1000, $2000, $3000) challenges you've set?
Harris: Well, I originally started "ROUNDEYE" on Kickstarter in late November, I think. And I was overly ambitious. I set the goal for funding waaay too high. I got a lot of attention, and pledges, but it was clear that I wasn't going to hit the goal. So I canceled the funding early and re-listed, cutting the funding in half. I asked all the original backers to re-up their pledges, which they did, and we were off and running. During that time, I found out that IDW, via Joe Pruett, were producing a new high end anthology. [They] invited me to produce "ROUNDEYE" for them, in a serialized format, to be collected later in a graphic novel and offered me a certain amount of cash to produce it. So, it was clear to me again that I was not going to hit the goal on Kickstarter. BUT with this new funding from IDW, my needs financially were lower. After the funding period ended, unsuccessfully, I re-listed one final time, set an appropriate goal and hit the ground running.
Inside of a day or two, it blew up. In a week, even more. By the time we were halfway through the funding period, which is a short 15 days, we were almost to what was pledged the second time around.
I guess third time's the charm because on January 28 (My birthday! What a great present!!), we hit our goal, and people continue to pledge as we speak. As for the rewards, goals, etc., I consulted a lot of other pros, fans, collectors and such to figure out what was reasonable, and we have hit all the larger reward pledges except the $3000! Amazing. The outpouring of support has been incredible -- especially from retailers stepping up for the larger pledge amounts.
You've already hit your requested pledge total of $10k, and you're pressing beyond. Will this cover travel costs, etc.?
Harris: Nope. The book will receive the funding we set through Kickstarter, and it can continue to rise until it ends with no ceiling, but the money only covers a bare-bones, low-end page rate for producing the art. Travel and promotion is covered by the retailers that ponied up cash and conventions who invite me out as a guest. And of course IDW will cover printing of the serialized story until its conclusion, then collect it in a hardcover. Unless we hit big money on Kickstarter this week, then I will produce it independently.
You noted earlier that this is your first solo writing gig -- as you were mapping this out, did you call on past collaborators for advice?
Harris: No. I struggled for a long time to try and figure out what "my" voice was as a writer. And to be honest, I have no idea what that "voice" sounds like. I thought I could go back and read "Obergeist," "Liberty File," etc. and find me in there and say for sure, "Yep. That right there? That's me." But it's not that simple. I co-created and co-plotted a lot of stuff as well as contributing a lot of ideas, scenes, or just lines of dialogue over the years, keeping to my strength (which I always felt was as an idea man).
Eventually, I guess you just have to jump in with both feet and see if you sink or swim.
Which, if any, of your former collaborators do you find yourself possibly "channeling" a bit as you write this new work?
Harris: None. What would be the point? To come right outta the chute riffing on a past collaborators style of writing would be professional suicide.
You've produced a lot of great work in your career from "Starman" to "Ex Machina," then with books like "War Heroes," "Obergeist" etc. -- looking at your work critically, where do you feel "ROUNDEYE" compares with the rest of your work?
Harris: I think it's a natural progression of stored memory and experience as an illustrator. I have made a decisive departure from the use of photo ref after the conclusion of "Ex Machina" when I started "The Whistling Skull." And that came from developing the "ROUNDEYE" style from what I did years ago on "Obergeist." So it's a learning curve and moving toward what you are comfortable with. Right now, I am very comfy just using a non-photo ref, energetic style for the foreseeable future.
Has this been harder to produce since it's all you or has the solo aspect allowed you a certain amount of freedom?
Harris: It's actually been easier. I'm the only person cooking in the kitchen.
Finally, I have to ask, are there any updates on the status of "War Heroes?"
Harris: Robert Kirkman called last year before Christmas asking how we could get the book back on schedule and finished, and we are getting a publishing plan together now . It will be completed, and hopefully Sony will make the film [they bought].
For more on "ROUNDEYE: For Love" check out Tony Harris' Kickstarter page.