Kickstarter is increasingly becoming a way for smaller, independent projects and publishing houses to even the playing field with competitors with bigger war chests. Case in point: the Fantagraphics Kickstarter, which enabled the struggling industry stalwart to remain afloat in the wake of founding partner Kim Thompson’s death. At its best, Kickstarter offers some of the best creative voices in comics a chance to be heard by democratizing the publishing process. As anyone who has tried their hand at crowdfunding can tell you, platforms like Kickstarter, while great, can be a tempestuous affair. Unless you’re a celebrity with a built in fanbase like Zach Braff, cutting through the white noise and plethora of projects can be a sometimes insurmountable challenge. Still, the cream rises to the top and when it comes to crowdfunding, veteran comics writer Jimmy Palmiotti (Harley Quinn, Painkiller Jane)is the undeniable cream of the Kickstarter crop.
With his production company PaperFilms, a creative enclave that counts Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Justin Gray, Frank Tieri, and Paul Mounts amongst its numbers, Palmiotti has successfully funded a whopping five projects on Kickstarter (Queen Crab, Forager, Weapon of God, Retrovirus, and Sex and Violence). In other words, he is no stranger to the trials and travails of crowdfunding. And today, Palmiotti is at it again with the announcement of his sixth (!) Kickstarter project, Denver, an original graphic novel co-written with Justin Gray, featuring artwork from Pier Brito, and a soundtrack by composer Hans Karl (who has created an album of songs inspired by Shag paintings). Palmiotti has also enlisted talented cohorts like Amanda Conner, Dave Johnson, John Cebolerro, and Dan Panosian to provide rewards, so you know he’s putting your money where his mouth is.
Denver may not have fared so well in the Super Bowl, but in the eco-apocalyptic vision of the world Palmiotti and Gray have crafted, it is the last surviving city above sea level. Denver offers a bleak portrait of our near future. The world’s oceans have risen to catastrophic levels, killing most of humanity in the process, and only one city has survived the disastrous turn of events: the mile-high city of Denver, Colorado. America’s last city is protected by Max Flynn, a Coast Border Guard trying his best to regulate the influx of new citizens seeking refuge from the drowning pool around them. All is well and good until a group of extremists weave a tangled web of betrayal, blackmail, and backstabbing that forces Flynn to decide what’s more important, his ideals or the woman he loves.
To celebrate the launch of his newest Kickstarter project, I caught up with Palmiotti to talk about the challenges inherent to crowdfunding, the biggest misconceptions that creators have about it, what to expect from Denver, and much more.
Nerdist: You’ve had unparalleled success using Kickstarter as a mean to fund independent works. Loaded question, I know, but what’s your secret? Or rather, what do you think is the challenge to a crafting a good Kickstarter?
Jimmy Palmiotti: I think the secret is producing a quality product, making sure its clear what you are offering and making sure the pledge levels offer something the backer cannot get elsewhere. After that, keep the supporters up to date on the progress of the project and make sure delivery and follow up are taken care of. You have to have a full time commitment to the customer service end of the Kickstarter as well. We treat each and every pledge as best we can so they come back for more and support further projects. It’s all about building a following and a supporter base… a grass roots type of operation. Since me and my buddy Patrick pack every package that goes out, I feel like I know these people and it’s really nice when they post online how happy they are with everything. We encourage this and it really builds the community. I know, this all doesn’t seem like a secret, but more like common sense.
N: It’s certainly allowing a variety of entrepreneurial folks to speak directly with a potential market to see what they want. Is crowdfunding the future of independent publishing?
JP: I think it’s a key one in our future. This process is not made for everyone. I think, as you just said, only those with an entrepreneurial drive and skills will want to do this. It’s a lot less people than you think. Most of the creators I know would rather spend their time making the work and less time selling it, and I totally understand that. It is not for everyone. We have seen this past year, some big names completely fail at their Kickstarters, thinking it was an easy way to nail funding and finding out that either they were asking too much for their project or there was just no interest. There are other ways to sell your book for sure, but for us, this is the best by far.
N: One of the biggest problems I can foresee is that there are so many projects out there. Obviously, you have a certain fan base which helps visibility, but how do you make your project stand out from the rest of the crowd?
JP: Take a look at the amount of Kickstarter comic book-related projects there are a month. On average I think it’s about a hundred or so. I just looked at the number right now and its 130. Not a big number when you realize the bigger companies put out over 500 books a month plus trade collections and digital comics. I will agree that having a fan base and brand certainly do help, especially when going after the finds to create an aggressive project like Denver. I try my best to front-load the Kickstarter page with as much information and art of the project and use social media and my past supporters to help spread the word. After that, the works speaks for itself. I personally back anything that I think looks good. I hardly care less if it’s a famous creator. I look at the art and story and make my decision.I think a lot of people do, so visually enticing projects tend to do better out of the gate.
N: What do you think is the biggest misconception people and creators have about Kickstarter? What’s something that you know now that you wish you knew going into your first one?
JP: I wish I knew what I know now about the packing and shipping end of the projects. I’ve learned what envelopes to use and not use, how to use book rate/media mail to its fullest in the States and keep up with postage rates all over the world. There is a reason I have to ask so much to ship to a place like Singapore. I think the biggest misconception professionals have is that you are begging for money to make your comic. I always explain its more like a pitch where I offer a range of products they would want which goes toward making the project a reality. The other thing professionals ask me all the time is how much money I make on the Kickstarters. I always say enough to deliver a killer book and then if anything is left, put it towards another project. I think they think I am smoking hundred dollar bills in first class somewhere. The reality is there are a ton of hidden expenses beyond shipping. It’s all about planning ahead.
N: Tell us about Denver: What can backers expect? What excites you about the book? Is this a consolation gift for those poor Broncos fans after the Super Bowl?
JP: Yes, we would love if each and every person that was upset that the Broncos lost would back this Kickstarter and show the rest of the world that when things go bad, they are going to be begging to go to Denver. Wouldn’t that be nice!
Denver is our sixth Kickstarter that the PaperFilms crew has done and is a story about a border guard looking after the docks of Denver, the last city left in the United States that isn’t underwater. It’s set in the near future and follows the story of Max Flynn as he watches his world turned upside down after the kidnapping of his wife. It’s a little sci-fi and a whole lot of drama. The graphic novel is a mature audiences only book and we do push the envelope at times, so be warned, it’s a bit over the top in places.
The backers can expect a great and beautiful graphic novel, a soundtrack that accompanies the book and a lot of cool rewards by artists like Amanda Conner, Dave Johnson, John Cebollero and Dan Panosian. We even have a limited to 200 special edition of the book that we are offering that is an Amanda Conner exclusive cover. We did a couple of things different this time around as we’re always learning what the fans are looking for, and it is reflected in this Kickstarter on a number of levels. I’m super excited about this project. The whole crew involved stepped up their game.
N: What about this creative team you’ve assembled? Obviously, you’ve worked with Justin Gray before, but what attracted you to Pier Brito’s art?
JP: Pier has the kind of look and storytelling we were waiting for when we wrote the book a year and a half ago. We were looking for a European sensibility as far as the world building and design went and we needed someone that understood and grew up with the same ideas and love of this type of genre. Pier has done some of the best work of his career and this is his first time doing a book like this for an American audience. We met at the New York Comic Con two years ago and have been working ever since on this project.
N: Shifting gears slightly, Harley Quinn has been one of our favorite new books. How has the response been so far and what has been the most exciting part of launching a Harley Quinn solo outing?
JP: The response has been insane. Amanda and I never imagined that Harley had such a big audience. We took the title on with the condition that we could do the book our way and launched with a very out there idea with the zero book. Dan DiDio and the whole DC crew have been amazing with us. We never thought they would go for the zero issue idea and then when we hit them with the madness we have planned for the next year, we thought for sure we would be shot down. This was not the case, and we are full steam ahead! Oh, and anything that you think is written by me when you read the book, it’s probably Amanda. Her sense of humor is out there, folks.
The most exciting part of the whole experience is seeing just how quickly the book found its audience. I think a large part has to do with our editor Katie Kubert and the amazing art of Chad Hardin, Stephane Roux, the colors of Alex Sinclair, and working once again with one of the best letterers out there, John J. Hill.
The stuff we got coming up is pretty insane and way outside the box, and I think the thing Amanda and I like about writing the character is, we can really experiment with the material. We throw everything we have into each issue, and when legal is done yelling at us, we still manage to get away with a ton of stuff. I will say that issue 5 and 6 have been our favorites so far, and you will soon see why.
N: Tell us about the impetus behind the hilarious yet high concept Harley Quinn #0. Was that you guys just auditioning artists?
JP: We had a few ideas, but the book was not a tryout as much as it was some crazy idea I woke up with in San Diego that we got a green light on. It was an experiment and something we never did before, but Dan thought it was a great idea and once we started walking around Comic-Con, we hit up most of the talent you see in the book. It all came together so quickly; we didn’t have time to think, “what if this sucks,” which worked in our favor. We pieced the book together like Frankenstein and a miracle happened. It came alive and people liked it.
Here’s a look at some of the artwork from Denver:
Click to expand the thumbnails below.
And if that’s no enough, our friends at 13th Dimension have another exclusive piece of artwork.
Do you have any Kickstarter success stories or horror stories? Share them below and help your fellow man better themselves.