Sometimes it's not bad news when a Kickstarter is suspended before it is completed. For Evan Young and Lou Iovino the creators of "The Last West," it was good news that made them call it off: They signed with a publisher, Alterna Comics. That means they will be going to print sooner than anticipated, and, as Young explains below, their Kickstarter couldn't be changed to accommodate that.
CBR: First of all what was your original plan? You were going to do digital only?
Evan Young: I see a two-part answer to this. The first part was our plan, on Day 1 of the Kickstarter campaign, was to use the campaign as a means to help us (that is, co-creator Lou Iovino and I) fund the project and see it through to completion. The original goal amount, an admittedly very hefty $45,000, was nearly all tabbed for our art team to get this project done; the rest would cover fulfillment of the rewards. To be clear, none of that money was tabbed for us.
Along the way, we added some print rewards, because we kept getting asked about print comics, so we wanted to respond to the demand. But the original Kickstarter plan was really geared toward finishing the project, just getting it done.
Now, the second part of the answer is geared toward our actual publishing plan. The plan was: finish the project, but publish it ourselves digitally (as .pdf distributes to our backers, eBooks, directly through comiXology, etc). We knew that we would publish the book in print, eventually, someday, but had no specific plan for that since that seemed quite far down the line. We also wanted to try to find a publisher for the book.
How did that plan change?
We found a publisher! Peter Simeti at Alterna was interested in the comic and we made the deal official just days ago. We told our backers right away and the response was very positive. But we also started fielding questions about what this meant for print, what it meant for digital distribution, for retailers, for our planned digital publishing schedule (which was bimonthly). Basically, questions we could answer but that our Kickstarter campaign and the reward levels could not be adjusted to address. Once you get backers through Kickstarter at a certain reward level, you can't change that level. So we immediately saw a problem: our campaign on Kickstarter was designed for us to get a book done and distribute it ourselves and to our backers, but really wasn't designed with a publisher behind us.
So, we did what we thought was the right thing. We told everyone we were going to cancel it, retool it, and relaunch it. And then we turned it off.
To show our gratitude to this first group of backers, however, we have been sending out pdfs of the first two issues to any of them who are interested, for free.
When will you launch your new Kickstarter?
We're not sure. We have a lot of work to do before that happens. We want to talk to more people about what they want as far as rewards go, we'd like to talk to more retailers about what they want (and don't want) to see in an indie Kickstarter. We need to talk more with Peter, we need to get the artists on board with the changes... There's just a lot of work to do first so when we do relaunch, it's done the right way.
How will it be different from the current one?
We have a few major differences in mind. We won't be setting a goal level to fulfill the entire series at once. It needs to be much more reasonable so we'll probably be chunking things out. We'll also be offering appropriately priced rewards that are more like pre-orders, and will be cutting out some of the rewards that got no interest.
What will happen to the pledges made in the current Kickstarter campaign?
If a campaign is suspended by Kickstarter, canceled by creators, or doesn't meet its goal, backers' credit cards are never charged their pledge. So it's as if the pledge has never been made. Since we canceled it ourselves, basically no money has ever been transacted, all pledges are nullified.
What does having a publisher add to the mix -- what do they do that you can't do on your own?
Alterna is an independent, fully creator-owned publisher. So the expectation is that we complete the series, and they help us set it up for distribution. They have agreements in place to distribute it digitally through comiXology, iVerse and more, for example, and it really takes the onus off of us to prep it, send it around, etc. Alterna has reach that we don't, even though it is not yet a major publisher.
What also attracted us to Alterna is that we kept hearing that Peter had a good reputation, and Alterna titles were good ones.
Your comic has an intriguing premise -- can you give a quick overview for our readers?
Basically, "The Last West" is a historical noir mystery that imagines our world, but with all scientific, cultural and technological progress having halted in 1945. The atomic bomb experiment failed, the war never ended and it's 68 years later with everything still stuck in a kind of stasis.
It's a bit of "what if," with mystery and action thrown in, focusing on a man named Stephen West and the people trying to find him. It's tabbed as a 10-issue series, engineered like a countdown: issue 1 is actually chapter 10, issue 2 is chapter 9, and so on.
Your digital graphic novel "The Carrier" was really groundbreaking. This project sounds like it's a return to a more traditional storytelling style. Is that right, and if so, why are you moving in this direction?
Thank you for that compliment! "The Last West" has indeed been told more traditionally, but if we have our way, we have some definitive things in mind that can be delivered digitally and would be quite unique. If we can pull it off, that would be terrific. Not sure if we can, though. So for now, this is just a straightforward deal.
As someone who has been working in digital graphic novels for a while, what changes have you seen? How is making and marketing a digital graphic novel now different from three years ago?
I started with this whole digital comics thing in 2009. The iPhone hadn't been out all that long; there was no definitive platform for browsing or reading a comic. I remember pitching my own platform at the DC headquarters in Manhattan, when they were trying to decide how to go mobile, and their chief concern was the reading experience.
That was then. I think what's changed now is that the reading experience has become standardized, the tapping/swiping/panel-by-panel approach we're all familiar with. I've tried some different things that were more immersive, incorporating geolocation, email, push notifications, etc right into the story -- as have many others. But the bottom line is that people now expect mobile comics or tablet comics to read and navigate a certain way.
I think the basic experience of reading a digital comic book is still far from perfect, though, and there's a lot more untapped potential out there. There will and should be more questions asked, too, about when is a digital comic book no longer really a comic book but has become something else specifically because of the way it is read. I want to see truly immersive experiences told fundamentally through what people would call a comic book, but may be some kind of new medium altogether. The potential is out there, creators just need to mine it. We're all carrying these extremely powerful, connected, geolocated, video- and audio-capable devices around with us. What can storytellers do with this new tech?
That's the question I ask all the time, because it's one I find fascinating. Can you imagine if Dickens were alive today and you handed him an iPhone 5, and told him what it could do? His brain might explode at first, but I bet he'd be able to use all of these features and capabilities to devise not just a story, but an entire multimodal experience.
I hope more creators keep experimenting and, as Neil Gaiman said recently, failing at it. We need more failures and experimentation so we can find those great ideas that work, and the world gets better, richer stories and experiences as a result.
And now, a look at a couple of Kickstarters that have been making waves lately…
What's the big idea: A graphic novel based on the characters in Jonathan Coulton's songs -- the title character from "Code Monkey," the villain from "Skullcrusher Mountain," Zombie Bob from "Re: Your Brains," and a host of others.
Moving Force: Coulton himself, plus writer Greg Pak ("Planet Hulk," "Batman/Superman"), artist Takeshi Miyazawa ("Runaways"), colorist Jessica Kholinne ("X-Treme X-Men"), and letterer Simon Bowland ("Incredible Hulk," "Spider-Man").
Selling Point: This is a natural buy for Coulton fans, especially the latest stretch goal: If the funding reaches $200,000, Coulton will record a new album of acoustic versions of the songs that inspired the comic, and everyone who pledged $15 or more will get a download. For everyone else, though, the story itself, and Pak and Miyazawa's professional chops, should be more than enough.
Premiums: A digital copy of the comic costs $15. That's kind of steep, but backers at this level also get a digital download of the songs that inspired the book, plus a new song inspired by the book. A print copy plus digital book plus music is $25, which is a pretty good deal. Music alone is $10. For $250, pledgers are included in a super-secret e-mail list that tracks the progress of the project. That's a nice idea as it doesn't cost the creators any extra but has quite a bit of value for serious fans. And then at $300 and above, there's a resin figurine sculpted by Sean Chen.
This caught my eye: This project had its birth in a Twitter exchange between Pak and Coulton; Pak Tweeted, "Occurs to me that you could field a pretty awesome supervillain team with characters from @jonathancoulton songs" and Coulton Tweeted back "DO IT."
Goal: $39,000, which has been far surpassed at this point.
Deadline: May 15.
What's the big idea? The title says it all: It's an introduction to the science and economics of global warming, done in an accessible cartoon style.
Moving force: The creator of the project, and the writer of the book, is economist Yoram Bauman, who has a PhD in economics. What's interesting about Bauman is that he has somehow figured out a way to make economics funny, and he bills himself as "the world's first and only stand-up economist." He is a fellow at Sightline Institute by day and a standup comic at night. The artist is Grady Klein, the author of the "Lost Colony" series. Bauman and Klein are the creators of the two-volume "Cartoon Introduction to Economics."
Selling point: Bauman covers both the science and the economics of global warming, writing for people who are smart and informed but not experts in the field, so it's a quick and relatively painless way to learn about this important topic.
Premiums: If you like to kibitz, you can buy the right to comment on the early drafts for just $2. The first 100 copies of the book cost $20, but those are gone, and now the cheapest print copy is $50. Oddly, there is no digital option. For $250 the pledger can take over Bauman's website for a week, and for $5,000 he will put on an Economics Comedy Show.
This caught my eye: The publisher is supplying 100 books for free -- those are the $20 premiums. Bauman explains that the books cost $13 to produce and mail, and Kickstarter and Amazon fees would eat up another $4, which is why the rest require a $50 pledge. That makes sense on the face of it, but then Bauman adds that he expects the book to retail for $20 on Amazon. Therefore, like a true economist, Bauman suggests that customers pledge a smaller amount to the Kickstarter and then buy the book on Amazon when it comes out.
Deadline: May 24.
What's the big idea? A four-issue miniseries about two teenagers who go drinking in a graveyard and end up fighting vampires.
Moving Force: First-time comic writer David Lucarelli, who is a sound engineer and the lyricist for the band Dame Fortune.
Selling point: It's got vampires and little kids, and it's set in Scotland.
Premiums: A PDF of issue 1 is $4, a print copy is $5. The price for all four issues is $16 for digital and $20 for print. For $60, Lucarelli will call you up and talk for 15 minutes about the comic, his life as a member of a Hollywood-based heavy metal band, and what it's like working on Hollywood movies.
This caught my eye: The story is based on a true incident in Glasgow, Scotland: 400 children came to the local cemetery, armed with steak knives, to take out a vampire with iron teeth they believed dwelt there. "People look upon it now as an incident of mass hysteria," Lucarelli writes. "At the time they blamed it on comic books!"
Goal: $1,000, which has already been surpassed.
Deadline: May 14.