by MK Reed
So before anyone gets offended: No one is a bad person for using Kickstarter. It’s a tool in our toolbox for these tough economic times, and it has genuinely helped a lot of creators get their work into print who otherwise might not have been able to do that. For groups working on a project together, even better! As a mechanism for fundraising or pre-sales, when the money’s put in the right hands, we can all feel nice about it. Good for you if you’ve been able to make it work, I am genuinely happy for your success.
That said, Kickstarter isn’t a business model to prop up our industry. It has some inherent flaws that are potentially damaging in the long run. And there are a lot of people that are really reluctant to say anything on the internet, because of responses like those from when Johanna Draper Carlson wrote about it last year and got bashed for it. Let’s try manners this time.
Disclosure: I’ve self-published comics for a decade, edited an all-woman comics anthology for the Friends of Lulu in 2007, and my first GN is being released through First Second this month, (it’s nearly entirely available at saveapathea.com if you feel inclined to read it. /plug). I make some money from comics, though not all of what I live on. I’ve never used Kickstarter, though several friends & acquaintances have. This is a reflection of events over the past few months & a number of articles posted this week such as Meredith Gran’s & Lauren McCubbin’s.
Rob Walker wrote in his NY Times piece about Kickstarter this week, “A project suggests something finite; it is not supporting a career or underwriting a start-up.”
Which makes Kickstarter great for people trying to get one thing printed, but not so great for creators who are trying to build a career around a yearly Kickstarter solicitation.
There are anecdotal blips in the system that are parts of why I don’t care for Kickstarter. Aside from outright scams, like the guy who plagiarized a short film, there’s projects that never mail their rewards to backers; one recently cited on the Ink Panthers podcast was one unnamed creator who was over a year late and had stopped replying to inquiries. There’s the popularity contest aspect to it. There’s the Twitter badgering on day 42 of 60 when funding has already been doubly met on the first day. And these are faux pas & annoyances that I can overlook, but I see deeper problems.
In some Kickstarter projects, it is possible to see the dollar signs flashing in people’s eyes through the computer screen. It may be because some view Kickstarter as a viral promotion tool that’s more effective as guerilla marketing towards their corporately sponsored project. Besides the risk-free money, you have an extra token of internet respectability and public approval to show off to any interested media, who would very much like to write something people will read. There’s temptation to follow the zeitgeist of Kickstarter, even though your product may be a slapped together funnel for money, or just entirely unnecessary.
One of the many lamentable things about the death of the Xeric Grant is that there actually a board of people reviewing the financial needs of the recipient. This was part of Kevin Laird’s mission to help launch young cartoonists’ careers, and it ensured that the prize went to a talent that both deserved and needed the help. True, there’s a project review board at Kickstarter, but it doesn’t look over anyone’s tax return. (The Xeric did.) On top of that, you had to have a completed work for the Xeric, to make sure that you were dedicated enough to the project to see it through on your own. You had to already be all in to do it.
THE PART ABOUT WOMANTHOLOGY:
They also ensured that publishers got just the right amount of money to put out their book.
Even when we start out with the best of intentions, sometimes we make a mess of things. Renae De Liz is awesome for putting the book together & doing all the work on getting the word out, etc. Her project earned over four times what it asked for. $109,301, 2001 backers, which is STAGGERING. It is great to see the support. For $16,000 more, she could reprint the giant KRAMERS. For “a 300 page, 9×12, hardcover, full-color book,” with now 5500 copies, Renae has more than enough cash, and I hope the project is successful for her. I also hope she considers doing the following:
1.) Getting a new quote from some different printers. (This is just prudent, that price seems way high, even for color.)
2.) Using media mail when possible for backers.
3.) Offering an honorarium to the contributors.
On number 3, there are people who are entirely okay with their share going to charity. I also have no doubts that at least some of them really could use a little extra cash, but won’t comment on anyone’s blog. Let them replace the bristol they used, or pay their phone bill. Being in the book will get them a little attention from those that read it, but money ACTUALLY HELPS them. Offer them like $50, for 140 creators that won’t even dip the total under $100k, or make it $100 for their submissions, and they can actually do something with it. And don’t stigmatize anyone who asks for it or needs it. If they’d just met their fundraising goal, this would not be an issue, but they have quadrupled it. The stakes have changed. There is room in that budget to cover the costs, pay the ladies something for their work, and still donate money to charity.
I am convinced that this money could better benefit these artists. It will be a lovely book, no doubt, and it’s a nice gesture to support ladies in the industry in a time when that’s a concern. As someone who’s put out an anthology of women cartoonists, I have some knowledge of the marketplace’s interest in anthologies of women cartoonists, or any cartoonists. Someone might get their first comics gig out of it, like Raina Telgemeier did nearly a decade ago when Scholastic saw her piece in the Friends of Lulu’s second anthology, BROAD APPEAL. Mostly anthologies are ignored. Occasionally, there’s FLIGHT or something with a strong theme that resonates with readers, but usually anthologies aren’t big sellers. Because unless you’re a scout who reads everything to learn where new talent is coming from, if a book isn’t ABOUT something, it’s difficult to get someone to pick it up. You can pretty much give it away, but beyond a seriously devoted core audience, there’s no demand.
It’s nice to be printed, but if you’re starting out, more people will see your work on the web where it’s free than in a bound dead tree version they have to go find and pay for. All you need to get going is some retweets on an awesome link. This money could be split up into 10-20 chunks of a couple thousand dollars, and some talented ladies could buy a few months to work on a masterpiece, promote it through the web, and see who comes calling. I got a break like this through the PAPERCUTTER anthology, and it changed my life. (Granted, that was print & but also 4 years ago & a different market.) Anyhow, I got a more talented artist to illustrate the story while my art was still developing, and a little money so I could buy some time to focus on working on my comic instead of working for crap wages and being exhausted constantly doing everything on my own. This is the path to success walked by every woman and man working in the industry today.
If you want to support some young budding creators of either gender, buy a book from that creator. Buy it from them, donate to their webcomic, help them pay rent and buy food so they can sit at their desks and make something new and wonderful for you. Buy it in your local comic shop so they stay in business and don’t fuck them over to save three dollars with Amazon, Destroyer of Jobs.
The last problem I have with Kickstarter for this part is with Amazon taking a cut of Kickstarter projects. I lost a job in the height of the recession, like thousands of others are to this day, in part because of people that would come to browse in the store I worked in, would even ask for help from the staff, and tell us when we were done telling them about how cool this comic is, “Awesome, but I’m gonna go buy it on Amazon because it’s cheaper.” Amazon prevents money from entering your local economy. It deprives your state and city of sales tax. It bullies the publishing industry if it doesn’t get what it wants. It kills jobs. And it’s made somewhere from $2.4 to 4 million from Kickstarter account fees. Awesome. I get that it’s a business and they’re not obligated to do anything for anyone. But I have a personal rule not to buy anything from them, and it sucks to see them getting a piece of projects that could go to actually support artists.