Willingham and Cho’s Kickstarter had to go back to the launching pad

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d3ac91aade8781d0faf43b22a9d2ba6b large Willingham and Chos Kickstarter had to go back to the launching pad
Although Kickstarter becomes a bigger and bigger element in the comics publishing world, and 5 and 6-figure funding levels are common, that doesn’t mean everything is going to succeed. Even big names can still mess up. Take Bifrost an illustrated novel that will be written by Bill Willingham with many illustrations by Frank Cho. The names don’t get more reliable, and as the art shows, it looks great. And the concept is boffo, too

This is a story about Mary Fimbul, illegitimate daughter of a Valkyrie and a certain hammer-wielding god of the north. Mary’s tough and strong, can see ghosts, and also happens to be the only survivor of Ragnarok, the final battle that ended the gods and their rule over mankind. As the sole surviving descendant of the royal line, Mary now controls Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, which still connects our world to Asgard and the other nine worlds, even though they’ve been unlivable wastelands for untold millennia.


Well, that should have been a slam dunk, right?

Wrong, because this was one of those “give us $30,000 to pay for making the book and then we’ll find a publisher” Kickstarters. The original reward structure didn’t offer a copy of the book, but did include lots and lots of contact with Willingham and Cho, from a $100 phone call from Willingham to him butlering a dinner party cooked by Cho in his home for $10,000.

This was widely and quickly mocked everywhere, including an email to me that claimed “…this is the worst Kickstarter ever…”

Willingham and Cho quickly emended the rewards—for $125 you get a bunch of buttons and postcards AND a copy of the book whenever it comes out—Willingham has two or three publishers lined up for it, so that looks very likely. But that’s still high.

I haven’t seen an outcry against a name creator like this since Tony Harris asked for $60,000 to draw his dream project back when Kickstarter was but a tiny toddler learning to wobble.

On the one hand, it does seem reasonable for creators to get some kind of advance in order to eat while they create something. On the other hand, isn’t this what publishers and advances are supposed to do? Or WERE supposed to do. Willingham has a huge following and social media presence (a whole con devoted to your work is social media, right?) so you’d have thought a Kickstarter would have been a home run. You’d also think his fans and followers would want to support his work with Cho.

But that isn’t how crowdfunding works anymore, if it ever really did. One friend of mine who supports lot of projects described Kickstarter as “a whole comic-con in your living room.” It’s a place to buy cool stuff, whether it’s a phone call from Bill Willingham or a book by Bill Willingham and Frank Cho. Getting a copy of the finished project seems to be the minimum requirement for an investment.

When I first looked at the Kickstarter—before buying the book became an option—it had barely netted a few hundred dollars. Now it’s up to $7,485 of the $30,000 goal. Is it going to make it? Probably. I’m quite sympathetic to Cho’s dilemma—time is money where artists are concerned, and getting paid for your work is definitely a great incentive. But it’s also sad to think that the publishing industry has devolved to a point where a book by two proven talents of this calibre isn’t enough to pay a reasonable advance, either.

Either way, while this may not have been the worst Kickstarter of all times, it definitely was one of the more problematic out of the gate.

Be that as it may, it still looks like a lovely book!

Comments

  1. Or maybe they do have an advance, but kickstarter is a way for them to double down? I haven’t looked yet, but is there a term in the kickstarter contract that says you may not receive backing from any other external source? It doesn’t sound like something kickstarter would include.

  2. majorjoe23 says:

    Trev, I don’t think there’s anything like that. I know a local music camp was seeking money on Kickstarter, bu that it was only a portion of the money needed, with a good portion coming from other sources.

  3. I’ve been very vocal about my disdain for this campaign. It’s a shame because I’m an unabashed fan of both creators, and by all accounts this book would be something I normally would sponsor and publicize with zeal.

    But to my mind (and I’ve backed nearly 60 successful KS projects), this is as poorly constructed a campaign as I’ve seen since perhaps The Goon trailer debacle (which for the record was successfully funded proving P.T. Barnum’s adage).

    Let’s look at the issues with this campaign:

    1) The book is as yet unwritten — Backers are being asked to wait upwards of 2 years before seeing the finished product

    2) The book does not have a publisher — Willingham is practically an institution at this point, and has published a novel before, yet he hasn’t secured a publisher?

    3) The $30,000 is for 20 pages of Frank Cho art — that’s a $1,500 page rate, folks

    4) There are no guarantees Frank will meet deadlines — I’ve seen countless times (Tony Harris anyone?) that creators will postpone finishing a KS because of other “paying work.” Are we really to believe Frank won’t take on an extra Marvel book or a new art book if the economics are better?

    5) You don’t get the product — Now admittedly they have added a copy of the book if you pledge $125 or more (originally there was no book for any pledge), but that’s still egregious. Most successful comic Kickstarters include the finished work in a tier commensurate with MSRP of the work

    6) The rewards were insultingly condescending — Take a gander at the $100 tier that includes a phone call with either Bill or Frank. “This will be a short call, no more than five minutes.” The hubris! Will Bill have a stop watch and hang up in mid sentence? Will he interrupt the $100 patron with $4 minutes left to tell him to hurry up because the clock is ticking?

    Let’s recap — If this is successfully funded, people are effectively taking all the financial risk out of the hands of Willingham and Cho, without any promise of the finished product and, frankly, without any guarantee that the book will see the light of day (what if he doesn’t find a publisher?). Even if the book does find a publisher, effectively you’ve helped get a book created where the creators have zero downside, owe you nothing, and can then reap the rewards of any success the work might have. To my mind, it violates the spirit of Kickstarter on many levels, an d sadly has sullied my view of both creators; in spite of having enjoyed the vast majority of their careers to date.

  4. Well said, Jason. I love Cho’s finished art, but the time and bullshit involved in his getting it done makes it hard to support him.

  5. William Harms says:

    In keeping with similar Kickstarters, there should be a tier at $30-35 where you get a copy of the book, $50 or so gets you a signed book, and $150 or so gets you a signed book that includes a sketch from Cho.

    Although I’d normally be interested, the tiers are so far out of whack ($75 for a t-shirt?), or feature things that I don’t care about (button, phone call), that there’s no reason to pledge. I’ll simply buy the book when it’s released.

  6. Ha, a sketch from Cho. Good luck with that.

  7. Maybe Willingham’s politics had him believing that charity is supposedly free for the asking.

  8. How can it look lovely? None of the art featured has anything to do with the book. There are no drawings and no book. It’s all an outline at this point.

  9. But it’s a LOVELY outline.

  10. chris says:

    I personally hate kickstarters that are merely trying to get income to quit their jobs and create something. That’s called a grant and really isn’t the point of what kickstarter is supposed to be for.

    These are established professionals and we are to believe they have little to no industry connections to secure a publisher and/or an advance? If this is a passion project for them, it should be done around paid gigs….just like everyone else. It really felt exploitative of fans and i was kinda offended by the way they were trying to make it all grassroots-y when it was about putting money into their pockets so they wouldn’t have to take an ounce of risk.

    I’m also getting really sick and tired of kickstarters that give you tons of crap but not the actual project until you the 10th reward tier and then its prohibitively expensive. You can tell its about income and not the project at that point. Greedy creatives are going to ruin it for everyone.

  11. comicsatemybrain says:

    With Kickstarter comics projects, it is a fine line between making backers feel like they are pre-ordering a desirable product vs. supporting a creator’s day to day expenses. The reality is that for most campaigns, the backers are doing both of course. However, I suspect that the more successful campaigns are better at emphasizing the perception of the former in the minds of the backers. Not including unsigned copies of the Bifrost book at more reasonable pledge levels works contrary to that marketing philosophy.

    So what incentive do I have for backing this project? I pretty much buy nearly everything that Cho does and I enjoy Fables. I’m exactly the sort of person who should be backing this project. But I really feel like I might as well wait until the book is actually available and purchase it that way since an unsigned copy of the book is not directly available through this campaign. (If the Kickstarter doesn’t succeed, I won’t feel like I have missed out on much — I have plenty of stuff by both of these creators in my “to read” pile.) So I’m not feeling very incentivized here.

    It also doesn’t help that my perception (fair or not) is that Cho is stretched too thin. Liberty Meadows, 50 Girls 50, Jungle Girl, and Zombie King are all waiting for follow-up around Cho’s Marvel work, so I’m not fully convinced that this book would come out on time — and I can’t deny that the possibility that it might not come out at all even if this campaign meets its funding goal. Liberty Meadows is supposed to show up on Kickstarter later this year, and I’m hopeful that campaign will be thought out a bit better than this one.

  12. Rex Rollman says:

    I only read non-fiction prose, so this project doesn’t interest me, but if Willingham wanted to fund a buy back to the rights of The Elementals, I would be down with that.

  13. Count me in among the unimpressed.

    The 10K reward to be the comic-relief “bum” trying to mooch food from the main characters after the other rewards where Willingham and Cho eat with high-paying backers suggests a certain viewpoint toward their fanbase.

    Reminds me of that Wall Street party where they mocked the homeless and the Occupy protesters.

  14. James says:

    $125?!? Fuck off! This makes me want to boycott anything either of them produce. They are pulling a Witherspoon, thinking they are top shit, when they ain’t.

  15. Don Bryan says:

    Count me out,they have to many irons in the fire,two years for the
    book ?? the rewards are a joke.

    Don Bryan

  16. comicsatemybrain says:

    It isn’t a good sign when several people pledge $1 to your Kickstarter for the stated purpose of complaining that the book itself isn’t one of the pledge rewards… which is what is starting to happen.

  17. The Gibbler says:

    I just want the book, which is what any poor person would be interested in. I once backed a project in which I couldn’t quite afford the product and so I gave what I could, but this shouldn’t be that situation. I don’t know if they even tried to go to publishers, but it seems like they could of easily found someone and then used kickstarter as a way to make it more lucrative and to spread the word. Whatever the situation, if the actual thing is not within grasp then honestly I’m not interested and paying over a hundred dollars for a book isn’t reasonable. if the book is really good then I can see the price eventually rising, but we don’t know yet and it’s a gamble that won’t be revealed for 2 years.

  18. Dramlore says:

    Lots of speculation as to motives, very little factual information. Agreed that these guys should not need a KickStart for their work as they are accomplished, proven, artists in their chosen fields. I would be interested in hearing their justification for using KickStarter

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