Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Better living through crowdfunding

Crowdsourcing, Silver Age-style

I can’t deny the appeal of crowdfunding. I’ve contributed to a handful of projects, including the Stripped documentary, the new Steve Rude sketchbook and a guide to Star Wars’ domestic filming locations. I’m also planning to pledge to Leaving Megalopolis, the new graphic novel by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore.

Like many of you, I’m predisposed to like Simone and Calafiore’s work based on their issues of Secret Six. I also enjoyed the way Simone and her collaborators brought a little town of superheroes to life in Welcome to Tranquility. Heck, I just like Simone’s writing generally, and as it’s within my budget, I don’t mind spending the money.

However, while responding to Tom Spurgeon’s call for crowdfunding thoughts, I had a crazy idea: What if a license fee were part of the crowdfunding proposal? In other words, what if one item in a project’s budget were earmarked for licensing particular characters from DC or Marvel?

While there is a fine line between stupid and clever, I’m not sure upon which side this post lies. That’s probably not so good — but it hasn’t stopped me yet. …

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My perception of crowdfunding is naturally colored by the projects I have chosen to help fund. I gave to the documentary, the Star Wars book and the Steve Rude sketchbook because I figured the best way to get those particular items was to help their creators meet their particular goals. In this respect, the cost of the item included a certain amount of “opportunity cost” — that is, the amount I was willing to pay for the certainty of getting the item.

It follows that I needed to be extra-sure I would like whatever I was buying, because for the most part it didn’t yet exist for me to evaluate it. That sounds rather elementary, but whether it’s a DVD of something I’ve already seen, a collection of comics I’ve already read, or a book about a familiar topic, there’s relatively less risk in many of my purchases.

I think there’s also a certain element of flattery in the crowdfunding process. The creators are saying, “Here is something we know you’ll like, but we need you to help us.” It’s the same kind of approach your local public broadcaster takes every six months or so. Whereas guilt is on the station’s side during those pledge drives — “You listened to A Prairie Home Companion all winter, now help us pay for it” — with crowdfunding the guilt is more anticipatory. “Help us or we can’t do this anymore” becomes “Help us or we won’t be able to start.” Thus, in some small way, you become part of a generous community, and that warm-fuzzy feeling is an intangible portion of your reward.

However, with a public-radio pledge drive, your contribution most likely goes into a general fund, for use as the station’s governing body sees fit. They know what kinds of programming the audience likes, but they’re also free to experiment. Because a crowdfunded project is designed to have a more definite goal, there is a clearer connection between contribution and result. Therefore, by picking and choosing which projects to fund, the producers of crowdfunded items may well be more constrained in the kinds of projects they attempt. If Leaving Megalopolis doesn’t live up to a contributor’s expectations (for whatever reason), it affects how that contributor views similar projects later on.

So it got me thinking: if, for example, you contribute to Leaving Megalopolis because you liked Secret Six, wouldn’t you be more likely to fund a full-on Secret Six revival? After all, Top Cow got a tremendous response to its Cyber Force Kickstarter project. The problem is, apparently there’s no room for Secret Six in the New 52 lineup, and if DC doesn’t want to publish it, it won’t be published. There’s always fanfic, but that only goes so far.

One solution — and here is where I come to that stupid/clever nexus — would be to ask DC for a license to publish comics based on its characters. Said license, even for the most obscure characters, would certainly not come cheap. It would probably include some sort of royalty for DC, so that (heaven forbid) the publisher didn’t give over some of its rights in exchange for being paid something woefully insufficient. Surely DC would also want to have some say over whatever was being done with the characters; although I’d hope the publisher wouldn’t reject anything unreasonably. After all, this exercise presumes that these are characters about which DC currently cares little.

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Without getting too far into the legal and financial minutiae, I picture such an arrangement as somewhere between a franchise agreement (like the one your local Burger King has with the head office) and outsourcing. I’d expect lawyers and accountants to represent both sides on the front end, just to set up the behind-the-scenes ground rules. Still, assuming all those hurdles could be cleared, and all the money raised, it’d be a whole new world.

The question then becomes which characters might be eligible for their own crowdfunded comics. The ideal character would be both ignored by the New 52 books and able to attract a significant fanbase (with sufficient disposable income). That immediately brings to mind some familiar names, including Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain, and Wally West. However, I doubt DC would be willing to allow any crowdfunded book to compete directly with its existing titles — so no Robins, Flashes or Blue Beetles, and no old-school Teen Titans or Justice Societies. There are always loopholes, of course: you might try to do a Titans (with no “Teen” in the title), just without a Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Robin, Nightwing, Hawk, Dove, Beast Boy, Terra, Arsenal, Starfire or Cyborg.

So who does that leave — Adam Strange, Metamorpho, some B- and C-list Titans and Crimson Fox? I had thought Team 13, from the great Architecture & Mortality serial, would be good candidates, because back in 2006 they had been cast off. However, Dr. 13, the Haunted Tank and Andrew “I … Vampire!” Bennett each have New 52 counterparts. Guess they’re not as unwanted as we thought.

Again, though, there are always loopholes. Depending on their availability, DC might allow a crowdfunded Stephanie Brown/Spoiler or Cassandra Cain/Black Bat project, if it didn’t think it would compete with Batgirl or Batwoman. If I didn’t think he might be in future issues of Justice League, I’d suggest the Ryan Choi Atom (since Ray Palmer’s not using the name or costume). The ‘90s cult-favorite Young Heroes in Love would be a good option, too. Heck, assuming DC really is done with Ralph and Sue Dibny, I’d happily contribute to an Elongated Man project. If it all comes down to legal and financial issues, either those get worked out or they don’t.

That last sounds awfully blasé, I know. This whole post has been more of a theoretical exercise than a practical roadmap. On the astronomically-small chance that anything like this could actually happen, I’d still have serious concerns about whose intellectual property is protected and how, not to mention whatever royalties might be due the characters’ original creators — assuming they’re not involved already. And that’s another thing: I haven’t even brought up the need for a well-regarded creative team, because if you’re going to revive Steph, Cass, or Ralph, you’d want ‘em in good hands. Crowdfunding new stories featuring licensed properties isn’t impossible, just very complicated — and predicated on the licensor being reasonably accommodating.

Besides, I started this whole line of thought on the notion that if Simone and Calafiore could still do Secret Six, they would do Secret Six, and put off creating something new. That to me is one of crowdfunding’s hidden dangers: reinforcing the familiar at the expense of the original. Not surprisingly, Kurt Busiek’s question about the perceived value of an existing universe gets to the heart of the matter: Are those particular details worth the work?  I say thee nay — Faith Erin Hicks’ utterly-fantastic Superhero Girl is hardly diminished by not being a Supergirl comic; and Astro City gets along fine without being an actual DC/Marvel mash-up.

So yeah, I don’t expect DC to start farming out its unused characters anytime soon, and I’m okay with that. However, I’d love for them to try, if only to measure the results. Would a crowdfunded Elongated Man miniseries bypass the Direct Market? Would it be digital-first and use that to raise money for other editions? Would DC try to piggyback some advertising on it, hoping to attract non-Wednesday readers to its regular superhero line?

Frankly, I’m amazed that we live in an age where these kinds of questions can be asked, regardless of whether they will be. There’s a fine line between stupid and clever, and now I want to see what clever looks like.



>> Besides, I started this whole line of thought on the notion that if Simone and Calafiore could still do Secret Six, they would do Secret Six, and put off creating something new. That to me is one of crowdfunding’s hidden dangers: reinforcing the familiar at the expense of the original.>>

Plus, one of the reasons it works out okay that DC owns what freelancers do on SECRET SIX is that they’re paying for it, publishing it, getting it into stores, theoretically promoting it. If they’re not doing any of that, just licensing the characters, the fact that they’d wind up owning the material may loom larger.

If a crowd is willing to find LEAVING MEGALOPOLIS, then Gail and Jim get to create something they control. If there are action figures, a movie deal, whatever — the money goes to them. If they do a SECRET SIX mini that’s paid for by fans, and someone wants to make a movie out of it…that’s awfully nice for DC, isn’t it?

And if it does well enough that Gail and Jim want to do more, does DC say, “Hey, there are existing fans to support this, we’re taking it back?” Do they say, “Sure, you can do more but the license fee went up?” Do they say, “Okay, but you have to guest-star the Green Team, because we’re dangling them as KickLicense bait and we want to make them more prominent?”

If Gail and Jim can get funding from a crowd to do comics, then why should Warner Bros. own those comics?

If what you really really really want to do is that Wanderers mini-series you’ve always dreamed of, maybe you make the deal even though DC isn’t putting up any money. But unless you’re overwhelmed by love of the characters, it’s maybe not the best alternative.

Also – aside from crossovers, how often does DC license out their characters for comics? If Dark Horse wanted to license Son of Tomahawk for new material, DC would say no. Why would they say anything different if it’s a Kickstarter campaign?


So can someone explain to me why Gail Simone can’t go to Image or Dark Horse or any of a dozen publishers and say “here, I have a comic!” instead of crowdsourcing? I don’t get it.

I don’t see the crowdfunding as making the readers feel guilty for enjoying their work, I can’t remember who said it but it’s more like a taking pre-orders.

When it comes to farming out characters that don’t fit into their limited amount of comics I think I’d pre-order a digital Wally West/Flash mini-series, or Dick Grayson as Batman stuff if given the option by DC. Paying for the comic in advance. I just have no faith in something as sluggish as DC comics to be able to think outside the box.

>> So can someone explain to me why Gail Simone can’t go to Image or Dark Horse or any of a dozen publishers and say “here, I have a comic!” instead of crowdsourcing?>>

Gail could go to publishers and do that, and maybe they’d make a deal she liked and maybe they wouldn’t.

But Kickstarter isn’t only for people who have no other way to do things — Monte Cook’s got a great Kickstarter success going, and he could presumably get a deal from a game company to do it. But does that mean he has to go to a game company? Not if there’s a crowd who’d like to see what he can do on his own terms.

Same for Gail, same for Amanda Palmer, same for anyone who has other options. Crowdfunding is presumably a choice they’re making because they want that system, not because that’s their only option.

Kickstarter’s a way to go around the middleman. Not something that only people who can’t get a deal with a middleman are allowed to do.

See, I don’t have a problem with there being a middleman. I even think it’s a good thing sometimes, since I believe in the role of a good editor. I think crowdsourcing doesn’t do it for me because it loses some element of quality control.

But if it works for her, then it works for her. I just know that if I had her talent, I’d be happy to stick with the old system. Then again, I would also be willing to work for DC for hire.

If you are the kind of person who has a big enough fan following to raise enough money to buy a licensing deal from DC, wouldnt DC just hire you?

I dont want to sound dismissive of Gail or anyone else, but it seems way too elaborate.

Lets not forget that DC did publish Secret Six and then stopped. This was either because Gail didnt want to do it (in which case this whole thought experiment is pointless) or because it wasnt profitable.
Reader have already been given the chance to vote with their dollars if they want Secret Six to exist and it seems that not enough people do (again, this is assuming Gail wanted to continue the series).

Although theoretically if DC licenced Secret Six to Gail for $10 it would be $10 they wernt getting anyway, but then you get into questions maintaining the brand value of their IP, and obviously this isnt scalable to all of their IP. By the time it starts to be something thats worth DC considering it becomes something unsustainable for an individual.

This isnt to say I think Gail’s Kickstarter will be unsuccessful, the margins required to sustain an indie book are considerably different to those of a big2 title. I wish her all the best.

Has Grumpy old fan check out Kickstarter? In the blog he said perhaps the major companies should crowd fund out some of their lesser characters. I checked kickstarter and and they stated in the intro video this is for individuals not major companies. So even if they wanted to try it Kickstarter would turn them down. also he had a question on quality control on these projects. Well part of the money from the Money can be for a editor.

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