The supernatural Western "The Guns of Shadow Valley" started out as a webcomic three years ago, and it was enthusiastically received, garnering both an Eisner and a Harvey nomination. Creators Dave Wachter and James Andrew Clark have posted about half the story, but then they stopped -- and they've turned to Kickstarter to finish the comic and get it printed.
A lot of successful Kickstarters are based on webcomics, perhaps because webcomics artists have already built the community they need to support their projects. I thought this story was particularly interesting from several different angles, so I asked Wachter and Clark to talk a bit about their comic and the Kickstarter process.
CBR News: First, can you give us a quick rundown of what this story is about?
James Andrew Clark: "The Guns of Shadow Valley" is a Wild West story about a posse of gunmen with superhuman abilities who go up against an entire army led by a madman Colonel. The western motif is infused with other elements such as sci-fi, steampunk, superpowers, mysticism, and folklore. If you can imagine "X-Men meets The Magnificent Seven," then you have a good idea of "The Guns of Shadow Valley" and its theme.
Your story has an amazing cast of characters. How did you come up with them, and did the characters drive the story or were they shaped by it?
Dave Wachter: It came from a simple mash-up idea: superpowers in the Old West. We imagined this world, of the time in the West after the Civil War, but a world where the possibilities of science and the supernatural existed together, where the folktales and legends came from truth. Then we considered: what kinds of people inhabited this world? What kinds of abilities would they have? What are they running from, where are they headed, and what do they want from life?
Dave, what techniques do you use for the art, and how long does it take to complete a page?
Wachter: After lots of visual research, I do the layouts, sketches and pencils all on the computer. In Photoshop, no 3D software or anything like that, just sketching it out on a tablet and taking advantage of layers and command-Z. I print that onto art board in blue line and ink over it, mainly using a Pentel brush pen. Then I scan them back in and do the colors digitally in Photoshop again. Depending on the scene, it takes about a day and half from the empty page to finished color.
Why did you decide to publish this story as a webcomic?
Clark: We initially wanted to put it out as a serialized comic, like we did with our previous series, "Scar Tissue."
Wachter: We put together a first issue and a pitch package and shopped it around to publishers. There was some interest, but no deals we were happy with. At the suggestion of my friend Bryan Deemer (from Comic Geek Speak) we started thinking about webcomics, and decided to try it out. Clark: It looked like a more viable option than going the self-published route we had done before. We figured it couldn't hurt to try.
Did you have print publication in mind all along?
Clark: We've always intended to collect the webcomic into a book eventually. We love making webcomics, but there's something inherently satisfying about holding the finished product in your hands.
Were there creative decisions made that you would have done differently if this story were going straight to print? For instance, would you have used a vertical instead of horizontal format?
Wachter: Since the original idea was to print individual issues as a regular comic book series, the first chapter is the typical 22 pages long, but after that, each chapter varies. We decided that it didn't matter if each chapter was equal in length. Instead, each became as long or as short as it needed to be. The freedom of web publishing allowed the format to fit the story, instead of the other way around. The horizontal format was there from the beginning. I was a huge fan of the series "Rocketo" by Frank Espinosa, and I admired, among other things, his use of the horizontal format in a print comic. The fact that it worked for the screen was just coincidence.
Will you keep the webcomic online after the book is published?
Wachter: Yes! The plan is to release the pages back on a regular schedule as a webcomic through the end of the story, and then leave it there for anyone to read indefinitely.
Having completed 100 pages of the webcomic without outside support, why do you need a Kickstarter to complete the second half?
Wachter: The webcomic has been on hiatus for a year and half. I started working full time as a comic book artist a couple years ago, and it eventually became impossible to keep up with my deadlines there, and still produce pages for "Guns" with any regularity. Maybe I could have done it, but the work on both sides would have suffered greatly. Now, after having had projects for places like IDW and Dark Horse, I found the opportunity to set my sights back onto the webcomic. I saw what had been going on with Kickstarter for the last few years, with friends' projects and other campaigns that I had backed, and I knew that the timing was right. It was now or never.
You mention in the Risks and Rewards section that you are working with a publisher. Who is the publisher, and what part are they playing in the creation, production or distribution of the book? What advantages does that offer?
Clark: We've got a wonderful publisher lined up for distribution on the direct market, but they wish to remain anonymous for now. We're excited to work with them, but they couldn't put up the capital to allow Dave to finish it in time. We'd already been planning to use Kickstarter as a way to get it done, so we went ahead with that. The plan is that the Kickstarter backers get all their rewards first, and later the book will be distributed to comic shops through the direct market.
A lot of people work with consultants to design and execute their Kickstarter campaign. Are you doing that?
Clark: We did it all ourselves. We did a ton of research for almost a year, talked to friends and colleagues who had done Kickstarter campaigns and even asked our readers for input. But we had no idea we'd get this far this early.
You are offering the hard copy of the book at the $30 reward level, but it will eventually retail for $24.95. How do you justify asking your Kickstarter backers to pay more?
Wachter: This was a difficult decision for us. We couldn't do anything about the price the publisher set. But after all the fees, the costs of the printing, shipping, taxes, Kickstarter and Amazon fees, etc. we were barely breaking even on the book. And the idea was that we'd make a little on each book so that I could afford to finish the pages. So we went up to 30, and decided to offer the custom bookplate to everyone who gets a book, designed by us, signed by each of us, numbered and I'd do a cool little doodle on it. Also, we offer the full digital PDF, completely rights free. And include all domestic shipping. We asked people about this, on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, as well as one on one with folks who gave a lot to Kickstarter campaigns, and what we took away from it was that folks were willing to pay that extra because they were getting their money's worth. And mostly because they believed in the project, and in us. Kickstarter isn't brand new anymore, and I've seen what happens when someone cannot fulfill their obligations. We still have to work in this industry long after this project is finished, and it's not a big world. All of our backers are putting their trust in us, in our abilities, and in our character, and we don't take that lightly.
Once the Kickstarter is over, will you continue to offer a downloadable digital bundle? Will the comic be available on comiXology or another digital service?
Wachter: That's going to be up to the publisher. They will likely distribute through all the avenues they normally use.
As of this writing, your Kickstarter has been live for one day, you are already more than halfway toward your goal and most of your high-level pledges have been taken. Why do you think that has happened?
Wachter: They like us! They really, really like us! Clark: We're actually quite surprised at the response. We knew we had a solid reader base, but we had no idea it resonated this much with people. I think it's likely a combination of having a visually interesting presentation, a story people seem to really enjoy reading and want to see to the end, and having rewards that give a value for the money. If anything, it validates what we are trying to do with the project. We must be doing something right.
What will you do with the added funds if you exceed your Kickstarter goal?
Wachter: Mostly, put it right back into the project, into awesome stretch goals that make the book better, and get the backers more cool stuff.
Here's a look at some other Kickstarter campaigns of interest this week. While Kickstarter is often seen as the province of the solo creator, all of these campaigns involve a small publisher, and for all but one, the publisher -- not the creator -- is actually running the Kickstarter campaign.
What's the big idea? An all-ages graphic novel about three kids who hire on as bellhops in a hotel for space aliens to pay off the cost of a statue they broke -- and wind up having to save the hotel from sabotage by a mysterious enemy. It looks like the comics are already available as single issues, digitally and in print, but this Kickstarter funds a collected edition with lots of extras.
Moving force: The Kickstarter was created by Jason Enright, who runs the small publisher We Comics together with his wife, Mairghread Wild Scott. They are the publishers of "How I Spent My Summer Invasion"; the writer is Patrick Rieger and the artist is Mark Sean Wilson. There's the usual assortment of sketches and T-shirts, and at the upper levels Rieger will help the pledger with an original script for $250, Wilson will give an online art tutorial for $500, and both of them will give a consultation for $1,000. Every pledge includes a video of Rieger and Wilson saying "Thank you" while jumping into a swimming pool fully clothed.
Selling point: The zany set of aliens that Rieger and Wilson have created as foils for their plucky main characters. The character designs are wildly imaginative, such as the chef who has a detachable, sentient stomach.
Premiums: A digital download of issue #1 is $5, a download of the full graphic novel is $15, and a print copy is $25.
This caught my eye: Rieger and Wilson worked with several local schools as part of a literacy initiative, and they got a lot of input from the kids, including drawing aliens by request. They are showing off some of the results in their Updates section.
Deadline: July 26.
What's the big idea? An omnibus collection of Ursula Vernon's long-running webcomic "Digger," which was previously published as six single volumes. The comic tells the story of Digger, a wombat, who tunnels into a magical world filled with exotic creatures and gets caught up in a battle between ancient gods and demons.
Moving force: Sofawolf Press, which describes itself as " an independent publisher dedicated to storytelling that focuses on anthropomorphic animals of all sorts." Vernon, who does not seem to be directly involved in the Kickstarter (although she is interviewed in the video) is also the creator of the "Dragonbreath" series of children's graphic novels, which are published by Dial Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Penguin).
Selling point: Vernon really sells the book in the video, showing off her art (which has a woodblock look, although it's done digitally) and emphasizing that while this is a fantasy story, she deliberately avoided the standard, Northern European-based fantasy tropes, instead creating the wombat culture from scratch.
Premiums: A digital copy is $15, softcover is $45, hardcover is $75. Recognizing that a lot of people just want the book, Sofawolf set up plain-vanilla pledge levels for the two print editions. For those who are into it, though, they also offer a range of Digger-themed merch, including cloisonné pins, a foam pickaxe, a real pickacxe (hand forged and fully functional), and stained-glass portraits of the characters.
This caught my eye: "She would do what I would think that a decent human being would do in any given circumstance," Vernon says of Digger in the video. "I would stop and think, well, OK, 'Obviously there has been some horrible miscommunication among these groups. What would someone do?' They would stop and sort everything out and make sure everyone was on the same page. They wouldn't just start killing everyone."
Goal: $30,000; as of this writing, pledges total over twice that.
Deadline: July 10.
What's the big idea? A 360-page, black and white anthology of horror stories with an uncanny feel: "Inspired by likes of Taboo, Uzumaki and Black Hole, this collection is devoid of the familiar by design. There are no garden-variety monsters in The Sleep of Reason; no well-worn terrors from film and television. This is an anthology of comics that strive to inspire unparalleled dread."
Moving force: C. Spike Trotman, the creator of the webcomic "Templar, Arizona," as well as two previous successful Kickstarters, "Smut Peddler" and "Poorcraft." Spike also runs a small publishing company, Iron Circus Comics, which is behind all three projects.
Selling point: The talent. Spike is a pro, and it shows. The other creators include Carla Speed McNeill, Evan Dahmer, Kel McDonald, Randy Milholland, and a lengthy roster of other webcomics creators, each of whom has a following of his or her own.
Premiums: A digital copy is $15, digital plus print is $30. At the higher levels, the contributors kick in with sketches and commissions, including scrimshaw carved on real (legal) ivory, felted wool sculptures, and a monster doll. For $1,500, contributor Ainsley Seago, who is an entomologist, will name a new species of beetle after the backer.
This caught my eye: The creators have already been paid, but the stretch goals include escalating bonuses for all of them.
Goal: $20,000, which has already been surpassed.
Deadline: July 10.
What's the big idea? This is the second issue of a comics series about a biker who is forced by a curse to eat roadkill -- and then takes on the characteristics of the animal he has eaten.
Moving force: Inverse Press, a small publisher created by writer Kevin LaPorte and artist Amanda Rachels. They have done nine Kickstarters so far, including one to fund the creation of the first issue in the series.
Selling point: Motorcycle gangs and voodoo in the South. Either you're in or you're out with this one.
Premiums: A PDF of the 20-page comic is $5, a print copy is $10, and a variant-cover comic is $12. A digital subscription to all four issues is available for $15. The higher rewards include sketches, consultations, and credit in the book, and for $300, Amanda Rachels will draw your comic.
This caught my eye: Each backer who also backed Inverse Press' earlier projects will get a unique trading-card size sketchcard.
Deadline: July 3.