This week's Kickstarter Article Worth Reading (besides this one, of course) is a piece on Venture Beat, titled "Why I'm Not Backing You on Kickstarter," by Dan Shapiro, who describes himself as an "entrepreneur." Shapiro lays out three cardinal sins: Not enough detail about the product, not thinking the project through and not taking the "Risks and Challenges" section seriously.
About that "Risks and Challenges" section: The idea is to let prospective pledgers know what factors could get in the way of successful completion of the project -- and delivery of the premiums. The problem is that the creator of the project is the absolute worst person to make this assessment, first, because they are likely to be overly optimistic (and from looking at a lot of poor-quality comics projects on Kickstarter, I can tell you that is definitely the case) and second, because if they do see a major stumbling block, it's not in their best interest to tell the audience that. Not to say that people will lie, but they may rationalize or downplay the risks, and frankly, they aren't the most reliable reporters on this.
I'm not sure how to get around this, but I think Shapiro's first point would be a good start: The more details one has, the easier it is to evaluate a project. I would be OK with Kickstarter doing away with the "Risks and Challenges" section if they could come up with a basic set of facts that every creator would have to provide.
Let's take a look at some of the more interesting projects on Kickstarter this week -- and how well they covered all the details in their pitches.
What's the big idea? "Free Mars," a webcomic that launched about two years ago, is the story of a punk-rock girl band on Mars in the year 2339, where "the only thing that doesn't suck is the music." Ape Entertainment is publishing the first graphic novel, and the Kickstarter will support a second, 48-page graphic novel while keeping the webcomic running as well as pay for assorted extras such as T-shirts.
Moving force: Spearheading the Kickstarter is Dave Pauwels, a librarian and part-time game designer and science fiction writer, and the co-founder of Gorgon Studios, which makes historical miniatures -- the pledge premiums include miniatures of the lead characters. The artist is Nicolás R. Giacondino, a professional illustrator and comics artist who lives in Mar del Plata, Argentina.
Selling point: If you like your sci-fi with a heavy dose of punk, this is the story for you. Giacondino's hard-edged art is perfect for this type of story, and the girls all have strong characters. Also, with the first book already printed and the second under contract with Ape, this seems like one of the less risky Kickstarters.
Premiums: Pauwels and Giacondino work that punk-rock theme hard in the premiums, which include tickets and T-shirts for a fictitious concert. The books are reasonably priced: For $10 you get a signed copy of the Ashes 2 Ashes book, and for $15 you get a signed copy of the first "Free Mars" book (which at 112 pages is over twice as long). At the $35 level you get both books, a print, your name in a book, and the concert T-shirt, which seems like really good value for the money, and the miniatures are available for $40. Higher-level premiums include appearances in the book and the original cover art.
This caught my eye: Giacondino does all his artwork by hand, the old-fashioned way, with pencils and pens and markers, which is sort of ironic given that this is a webcomic.
Missing detail: I'm going to pick up on something Shapiro mentioned: Those T-shirts look nice, but what sizes and cuts are they offering? Because if it's only available in a Men's Large, that's going to be a deal-breaker for a lot of folks, and if it has to be hand-washed or the cool logo will shred, that's no good either.
Goal: $6,000, which has already been exceeded; the creators have set five additional stretch goals.
Deadline: November 28.
What's the big idea? A time travel comic about a cowboy from the Old West and a teenage girl from the 1980s who "clean up history" by closing wormholes; there's also an over-the-top villan, Chagatai Khan, the cyborg son of Genghis Khan, who is trying to resolve some daddy issues by conquering the whole world. The first issue was funded by an earlier Kickstarter; this campaign is to produce the full graphic novel.
Moving force: Chicago-based writer Jack McGuigan is the face of the project. The penciller and inker is John Fortune and the colorist is Vanessa Beckmann. None of them seem to have much previous comics experience, judging from their bios, but this comic is definitely of professional quality.
Selling point: It's a smart, funny time-travel comic with well thought out characters, good art, and snappy dialogue; the first issue, which is available for free, is the best sales pitch there is.
Premiums: The comic is a bit pricey: $15 for the digital comic, $25 for print plus digital. The nice thing about the digital is that the creators will send out the chapters as they are completed. Starting at the $35 level, the premiums include prints of events in history with the dinosaur and cowboy from the comic looking on, Forrest Gump-style, which is a clever twist. As in many Kickstarters, the creators also offer cameos of the pledger, but these aren't just bystanders, they are evil historical figures.
This caught my eye: Backers of the previous Kickstarter can get the print-plus-digital bundle for just $20, a $5 savings. This is the first time I have ever seen this restriction put on a pledge.
Missing detail: None that I could see. The explanation of the comic and its relationship to previous comics, where the money will go, and what each reward level entails, is perfectly clear.
Deadline: December 2.
What's the big idea? A man has sold his soul to the devil -- and payment is due in three days. The author describes this full-color graphic novel as "a blend of moody noir, action and adventure."
Moving force: K. Barrett, a graphic designer and indie comics creator from Oklahoma City.
Selling point: In a world filled with generic horror comics, "The Bargain" stands out because of its setting and characters. The place is New Orleans, the time is 1955 -- already I'm interested. A traveling salesman selling his soul to pay his mother's gambling debt? Now I'm hooked.
Premiums: A digital preview of the book costs $5, a digital copy of the full graphic novel is $10, a print plus PDF is $20 ($15 if you catch the early bird special). After that it's prints, stickers, cameos, etc.
This caught my eye: Barrett has reached out to several artists from other comics to create special prints; the first two are by Riley Rossmo, creator of "Green Wake," and Kelly Williams; Rossmo's sketch also appears on a limited-edition T-shirt.
Missing detail: Those pinups look nice, all right, but it would be helpful to know what you have to pledge to get them -- I couldn't find that information anywhere on the page. And there's a more serious omission: According to Barrett, all the Kickstarter funds are going to pay the artists (except for the portion that goes to Kickstarter and Amazon fees). This seems like a good investment -- too many Kickstarter comics projects suffer from subpar art, but this one looks great -- but it does leave open the question of how she will pay the production costs of the book. That's a question that should be addressed in the "Risks and Challenges" section.
Deadline: December 22.
What's the big idea? An anthology of comics by the artists of Hi-Fi Studios, a professional comics coloring studios.
Moving force: Brian Miller, the founder of Hi-Fi Studios, colorists to all the major publishers -- Marvel, DC, Image, Disney.
Selling point: These guys are all pros, and they already have relationships with a printer and a lettering service. Beyond that, this is a collection of pet projects by people who work on comics for a living -- the sort of thing that gets set aside so they can color "Birds of Prey" -- so the comics are labors of love done by people who actually know what they are doing. Passion plus professionalism is a winning combination.
Premiums: Books, books, books, but they don't come cheap! Just your name on the acknowledgements page costs $15; the graphic novel itself is $35 (there was an early bird special, but it sold out). Lots of extras go in after that -- a mystery comic, books on how to color, sketches, prints, and for $1,000, you can hang out with the Hi Fi guys for happy hour at a convention next year (you choose the bar!) and get behind-the-scenes access as well.
This caught my eye: "The width and height of Untold Tales is the same as the comic books already in your collection so you will not need to rearrange your life to keep your copy of Untold Tales on hand." Well, that's handy, I guess.
Missing detail: You know, if you're trying to raise $59,000 for a graphic novel, you might want to show at least a sample of the comics. Just sayin'. (Actually, on a second look I see that there's a sample on the "Updates" page, but that's not the same as including it in the original pitch.)
Deadline: December 13.
What's the big idea? This is the comics equivalent of those poetry magnets: A three-panel setup that can sit on your desk or stick to the fridge, with magnetic characters and a dry-erase marker so you can draw in the word balloons.
Moving force: Erik Heumiller, a video editor, cartoonist, and screenprinting teacher from Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Selling point: It's a clever idea and would make a great holiday gift.
Premiums: The answer to the obvious question, "How much is one of these," is $25, which seems reasonable. Heumiller will also draw the pledger as a comic character for $10. At higher levels, he will produce comic characters based on the pledger's drawings, make the frame of the Magnet Comic out of special wood, and throw in additional character packs.
This caught my eye: For $300 you can get a wall-sized magnet comic, about 18" x 40".
Missing detail: None! Heumiller does a nice job of explaining what the product is and what the Kickstarter will fund; the only thing missing is the eye-glazing details such as the exact make and model of the equipment he wants to buy.
Deadline: December 16.