My Kickstarter Kronstadt: thoughts on crowdfunded comics [UPDATED]

In the diminishing wake of Dan Nadel’s comments about the SP7 anthology and the use of Kickstarter for comics projects, Tom Spurgeon is asking people to share their thoughts about crowdfunded comics. Here are mine.

I might be forgetting something, but I’m pretty sure I’ve donated to three comics-related crowdfunding campaigns. I gave to the Ulule campaing for Leah Wishnia’s Happiness #2 anthology, the Indiegogo campaign for Sparkplug Comic Books following the death of its founder Dylan Williams, and the Kickstarter campaign for Dave Kiersh’s After School Special graphic novel.

Each project had something going for it beyond “I’d like to read this comic.” In the case of Sparkplug, I felt awful about Dylan’s passing, particularly as it affected my friend and incoming Sparkplug co-publisher Tom Neely, and wanted to do something to help. In Kiersh’s case, I’m not just a big fan of his comics, I’m something of an evangelist about them — they just seem like something a lot of people would be over the moon for if they saw them, so I wanted to do my part to help that happen. Happiness is the one project of the three I had the least of a brief with prior to contributing — in fact I actually flipped through the anthology at BCGF last year but passed on buying it — but it seemed important to me that the young cartoonists in that anthology, many of whom I hadn’t seen or heard of before, have an outlet. I considered that one an investment in comics’ infrastructure.

But what it came down to in all three cases was that I believed that these were comics that deserved to be published, but wouldn’t be in any other way. That’s why this Twin Peaks fanzine project has become my Kickstarter Kronstadt.

It’s not that I dislike the idea of the zine. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is the same Twin Peaks zine I inquired about contributing to before finding out it already had a set contributor list. I love Twin Peaks, and I enjoy fanzines that pay tribute to stuff I love. Everyone involved seems nobly intentioned, including the editor, Andrea Kalfas, who’s never done this sort of thing before. I’m sure it will be gorgeous, too. So that’s not the problem.

The problem is, well, why on earth do you need to Kickstart a project in which 60 illustrators who (judging from the samples) draw in lush, inviting, commercial-friendly styles make pin-ups from someone else’s intellectual property, drawn from a show that’s so hugely popular with the project’s target audience that it could make its money back and then some during the first hour of SPX without breaking a sweat? If the project’s publisher had asked its 60 contributors to paypal her twelve bucks, that would have covered the $700 goal of the kickstarter right there. Indeed the modest amount being requested makes it more baffling, not less, since it’s undeniable that the zine could have been independently funded with a modicum of self-sacrifice, which again would no doubt be handsomely rewarded the moment the book went on sale. Instead, what we have is a project that’s made three times its goal amount with 18 days to go.

I’m always happy to see artists make a little scratch and don’t begrudge that — in this country, the deck is so stacked against creative-field freelancers in terms of health insurance alone that anything that mitigates against that is worth celebrating. But I think that in some cases, such as when you and your friends think (correctly!) that it’d be neat to draw a bunch of spooky sexy fanart* for one of the most influential television shows of all time, I’d be happier to see this treated as the indulgence it is, rather than an act deserving the recompense of charity.

* I suspect that that is indeed what will comprise the bulk of the book — pretty drawings of the girls and women, square-jawed drawings of Coop, spooky drawings of the Black Lodge and its denizens — and that a more thoroughgoing interrogation of Lynch and Frost’s multifaceted and challenging work will not be forthcoming. I obviously could be wrong, and hope I am.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, the “Kronstadt” thing is hyperbole. I wrote that headline because I love alliteration and I thought the phrase “Kickstarter Kronstadt” was funny and thought people would think it was funny too and maybe read the post because of it. I definitely deserve to be dinged for that if you’re so inclined. I haven’t soured on Kickstarter/crowdfunding in general like the term implies, nor do I intend to make a grand sweeping statement about anything other than this specific project. What I meant by it was that when Dan wrote his anti-SP7 thing the other week and I responded to it, my assumption was that the only crowdfunding campaigns I would have a problem with were a) campaigns for stuff I dislike, in which case the problem’s just an aesthetic one and I’d simply not give to it; b) campaigns that seem hinky in some way, like asking for waaaaay more money than seems reasonable; c) campaigns by successful, wealthy artists with established inroads to traditional publishing, or by successful traditional publishers themselves. It had never occurred to me before now that there could be a campaign run by working artists asking for a reasonable amount of money to fund a book I’d like to read that wasn’t an obvious boondoggle but that I would still have a problem with, for whatever reason. This specific project made me realize that such a phenomenon was possible.

20 Responses to My Kickstarter Kronstadt: thoughts on crowdfunded comics [UPDATED]

  1. JK Parkin says:

    I went to look at Kickstarter’s guidelines to see if they prohibited projects that used other people’s intellectual property without their permission, and I didn’t see it listed as being prohibited … but it feels like it should be something they should disallow. That would be my issue with the Twin Peaks fanzine, unless of course they have prior permission from David Lynch or the Log Lady or whoever owns the rights to Twin Peaks to make the zine. It does cross a line from simply drawing something because you’re a fan of or even posting it on your website to trying to make money off of it. It sounds like the editor approached it from the standpoint of just trying to raise money for printing, so I don’t think she intentionally thought “hey, I can make a ton of money off my black-market Twin Peaks zine!” but that’s what inevitably happened.

  2. “If the project’s publisher had asked its 60 contributors to paypal her twelve bucks, that would have covered the $700 goal of the kickstarter right there.”

    Is this some sort of jape?!?! Surely you don’t see this as a better alternative to crowdfunding.

    • mickey z says:

      “If the project’s publisher had asked its 60 contributors to paypal her twelve bucks, that would have covered the $700 goal of the kickstarter right there.”

      Is this some sort of jape?!?! Surely you don’t see this as a better alternative to crowdfunding.

      whoa dude requesting PAYMENT FROM ARTISTS in order to fund YOUR RIDICULOUS FANTASY PROJECT would maybe be allright if there is some sort of investment return incentive for the contributing artist — but that requires the contributing artist to not only WANT to contribute to the project, but have FAITH in the project FINANCIALLY, AND you’re ability so SELL the project ——– which sends thinking about contributing to an anthology into a whole different realm — a financial investment realm! granted on a smaller scale, but still — the idea is there! And now you’re taking RISKS (granted the scale of risk in this example is minute), moreso than you were before — SIMPLY AS A CONTRIBUTING ARTIST, not even as an amateur publisher/printer — that’s insane!!! and its asking a LOT from people who may not even realize what is being asked from them off the bat? you wanna work 22 hours for me and pay me 12 bux so i can fulfill my dream (one of many seemingly insignificant dreams)? i dont mean to imply that you’re LITERALLY suggesting this as a reasonable alternative to crowdfunding, but its WAY more insulting than telling someone to “sell their boots” for what they love.

      ALSO —- the meager amount of money this woman is requesting for her twin peaks zine is nothing short of REASONABLE —- its apparent she’s assessed the literal costs of printing and binding, and has decided she simply would prefer to not pay it out of pocket — which is especially reasonable because she’s, as you say, NEVER done this before — she doesn’t have the “last year’s anthology” publisher’s cushion that sometimes exists to work with, she doesn’t know if shes gonna make her money back because she probably doesn’t know much about “the comics market” cuz she hasnt had that experience! but with kickstarter, she doesn’t HAVE to take a financial risk … or at least she has the CHANCE to not take a financial risk. 700 bux to print and bind something is way closer to the realm of reality that 8000 bux for “printing and binding”. asking for a reasonable sum is far more respectful than asking for a horsecart’s worth of cash… or fucking money from your contributing artists!!

      • I’m just used to paying to print the stuff that I do that gets printed. I didn’t think of it as an issue of being respectful or not.

        • Scott says:

          It does not matter what you are used to. They too are paying for what they print. But Kickstarter makes it possible for them to front the costs through pre order. There is nothing shameful or shady about that arrangement as long as people get back what they invested in. If there is not enough interest or demand for a proposed project, it doesn’t get funded. Nobody is getting conned or duped. To refer to it as begging or charity is indefensible in that sense.

          The whole Kickstarter debate is a farce since that is what people chose to focus on instead of the fact that an attempt was being made by a critic to sandbag a project made by industry outsiders, that had not been read, nor was it even in print yet, with trivial snobbery that was really only a cheap disguise for professional jealousy.

          • It’s a bit frustrating to be so thoroughly misread. I never said or suggested or felt or believed that anything shady or shameful was happening or that anyone was getting conned or duped — to the contrary, I said “everyone involved seems nobly intentioned,” or that anyone was begging. Charity was a bad word to use, though, and I take that back.

            Once a discussion moves to the mindreading phase, as the “you’re just jealous” response would imply, it’s usually fruitless to continue to engage, but I’ll say this: If it was truly the case that I was out to sandbag the project out of jealousy and simply used the Kickstarter angle as an excuse, then I sure am lucky that Tom Spurgeon put up this post calling for thoughts on Kickstarter, and I sure was pretty devious in spending half the post talking about other kickstarters I supported, and I sure was unreasonably jealous considering that it’s a zine for illustrators and I can’t even draw. Also, talking about how gorgeous the book is going to be, and how much I love Twin Peaks and love fanzines about stuff I love, and how everyone involved clearly has good intentions, is a weird way to sandbag a project that was already fully funded.

          • Scott says:

            i wasn’t accusing you of trying to sandbag a project.
            i was referring to the article that kicked off this weeks-long debate.

          • Ohhh, I see. Well, i’m sorry to have gotten you so wrong. I still don’t think the jealousy explanation holds water for Dan, though, as he is a successful editor and publisher in his own right for multiple venues.

          • Scott says:

            I think the idea that a man’s degree of professional success making him incapable of pettiness is an argument that holds far less water.
            I also find it funny that you question the ethos of a group of artists setting a low funding goal for their Kickstarter campaign, Yet Nadel is above scrutiny.

          • Oh, he could certainly be petty, but you said “jealous,” which is an odd thing to accuse him of in this case. I don’t think Box and Ian are jealous of Dan either, for what it’s worth.

            I’m not sure why you think I believe Nadel is above scrutiny. Here’s some scrutiny I paid him when this first came up, in fact:

            http://seantcollins.com/2012/07/1-thoughts-on-the-comics-journalkickstartersp7-fight/

  3. I think kickstarter is more of the occam’s razor approach to funding, especially in cases like this. why make all the artists invest in the project hoping it does well at a convention rather than throw it up on kickstarter which has much more visibility and you can make the money to publish it without having to open your own wallet. I do, however, find it unfortunate that the projects that do best on this platform are often based in fan art and not on new ideas, but if you look at art anywhere on the internet fan art really does reign supreme. People turn to tv (or books occasionally) for new ideas and then to the internet for a reflection.

  4. [...] this morning I saw Sean Collins saying this: The problem is, well, why on earth do you need to Kickstart a project in which 60 illustrators who [...]

  5. Pat says:

    Am I crazy or do all the arguments against using Kickstarter seem to boil down to “i just don’t like it”? This isn’t “charity”.

    • Well, yes and no about charity. On one level Kickstarter’s just a glorified pre-order program, and as you give more you’re effectively just pre-ordering more stuff, depending on the incentives offered. But since it doesn’t cap the donations, you can absolutely give money in a fashion that’s not tied to getting something of comparable value in return, and that is charity.

      • Pat says:

        I think that’s setting a pretty subjective and arbitrary value on art, likely the most difficult commodity in which to define “comparable value”. If somebody thinks that Twin Peaks zine is worth $100, who are any of us to say they’re wrong? I find it really difficult to see how those charity statements match up with not begrudging artists getting paid.

        (know this is still a hot subject for a lot of people and it’s hard for me to phrase this in a way that doesn’t come off fairly aggro, so for the record, really like your writing/like the blog/much respect/etc/etc)

        • I mean, the maker of the zine set a value on that zine by coming up with a cover price.

          • Pat says:

            She also set the prices on all the other packages available on the Kickstarter, so at what point does her ability to determine comparable value end? At what tier does the “charity” start and why?

          • yeah i agree with pat. i dont see how its charity. things are only worth what people are willing to pay for it. it’s weird how people think there’s some kind of inherent “fairness” to be expected in any capitalist system. It’s just as fair to ask for more than what some people think your comic is worth as it is that a comic book is worth 1/100th as much as a single painting regardless of the fact that it takes 100 more hours to produce a comic.

      • Jon Hastings says:

        I would say “patronage” rather than charity.

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