Ryan Sohmer on Kickstarting ‘The Gutters’
It’s also a great showcase for established and emerging artists: Ryan Sohmer writes the comic but he brings in different artists to illustrate each page, so the style of the comic varies quite a bit from day to day, depending on who is being skewered.
After three years, however, The Gutters isn’t turning a profit, so Sohmer, who is also the writer of the webcomics Least I Could Do and Looking for Group, has turned to Kickstarter to basically pre-fund the next year. As he explains on the Kickstarter page, he pays the artist an average of $300 per comic, which comes to $15,000 per year for a comic that updates once a week. The campaign reached its initial goal this week, and Sohmer will add another weekly update for each additional $15,000 raised. I asked him why he was taking this route, and why he is doing things the way he does.
Robot 6: This Kickstarter is different from a lot of the others in that it’s not starting something new, it’s continuing a going concern. The Gutters has been running for years — what has changed to make a Kickstarter necessary?
Ryan Sohmer: My philosophy when it comes to business, is that any project needs at least three years to determine whether it’s viable or not. When those three years are up, it’s time to evaluate where the project is, where it’s going and of course, detailed cost analysis. The reality was, at the end of the three years, Gutters has cost us far more money than it’s brought in. So, from a numbers/business view, it’s a no-brainer that it should be shuttered.
But, as goes for a lot of creative projects, all of us love doing it so much, it’s our love letter to comics, so we thought if we could raise enough to cover the production costs of the strip, we could keep it going.
Why doesn’t the standard webcomics model work for The Gutters as it does for Least I Could Do and your other comics?
Being a complete work of parody, we ride a very fine line between what’s allowed, and what’ll get our asses sued. I don’t want to push any further by doing merchandise. Being that we don’t own anything, i.e., the characters, we can’t do T-shirts, figurines, etc., all the things we do in our other webcomic properties. The only thing we can sell are books and prints, which do incredibly well, but still not enough.
Why do you think it’s important to have a lot of different artists working on this comic?
Part of what makes Gutters what it is, is that every time you check the site, you don’t know what you’re going to get, in terms of content and style. I think it keeps it fresh, and that if we went to a one-artist solution, it would limit what we can do. There’s no one artist out there who can manage all the styles we’ve done with the 300-plus artists we’ve used.
Looking at the Kickstarter, it’s to fund one comic a week for the next year, with the possibility of adding one or two more weekly comics as stretch goals. Given how fast the comics news/blogs/comments cycle works, do you think one update a week is enough? What’s your ideal number?
I don’t think one comic per week is nearly enough. What I’d like to do is return to the three-times-per-week schedule. My dream, though, is to do Gutters five times a week, Monday through Friday. I’d kill for that.
What is the “backstage pass” that’s included in every reward level? Is it a newsletter or access to a closed blog? What can pledgers expect to see?
It’s a closed blog, and what we’ll offer is a look in to see how every Gutters page is created. The research, the writing, the choosing of the right artist, the first draft, the approval process, the inks, the letters, the colors, all of it. That it all happens within a 36-hour window makes it that much more interesting, I feel. For all intents and purposes, we’re creating a new comic book with a new artist three times a week. No time for growing pains.
Where do you get your ideas?
RSS is my best friend, along with Twitter and Facebook. I have a constant ticker running at the side of my screen with comic news, and when I see something that grabs my attention, I investigate and see if there’s something there for a page. Plus, for some reason, people tell me things. Still not sure why.
Do you ever get pushback from publishers or creators? Anyone try to get a comic pulled?
Oh, yeah, on both. I’d say I’ve seen attempts to get a couple dozen pages pulled, along with lawyers letters, angry phone calls and plenty of e-mails. Unfortunately for them, intimidation techniques just make me dig my heels in more, and I stand by my work.
We make comics for a living, that should be enough to give anyone a sense of humor.
What’s your favorite part of The Gutters, and why do you want to see it continue?
I like declaring comic books as a business expense? Honestly though, I adore the fact that I can play in everyone’s sandbox, any character, any setting, any style. It’s fun, pure and simple. Comic books are fun. For me, that’s more than enough reason to want it to continue.
Did you have a Plan B in case the Kickstarter failed? Or would you simply shut down the comic?
This Kickstarter was the Plan B. If it fails, sad as it is to say, Gutters would be shut down. After three years, we can’t afford to do it any more, and I’d rather shutter it than go half-assed at it.