Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Things appear to be going well for collaborators Evan Young and Lou Iovino: Not only are they in the final hours of a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the second volume of their alternate-history thriller The Last West, they’ve signed a deal with Outlier, whose founders’ producing credits include the Twilight and Percy Jackson film series.
The agreement gives Outlier to the exclusive rights to shop the property to film studios, television networks, financiers and the like.
“Lou and I are really ecstatic about working with Outlier and having them shopping the comic around Hollywood,” Young told ROBOT 6. “It’s clear that they think the basic premise of the story holds the potential to intrigue the masses. But even more important to us is that Outlier is right on board with the fact that The Last West isn’t totally whiz-bang. It’s a slower-burn, character-driven story to sink your teeth into — the way Lost was, for example. Outlier gets this 100 percent. So combine that with the fact that Outlier clearly knows their business, have a proven track record with some mega-hit movies behind them. … Man, we really can’t wait to see where it goes.”
When I spoke to Evan Young for my Kickstand column back in May, he had just canceled the Kickstarter for his comic The Last West, the tale of a world in which all scientific and cultural progress has just stopped. But he had done it for a good reason: He had just signed with Alterna Comics, and having a publisher changed enough things that he felt he had to retool the Kickstarter.
Now he’s back, with a new Kickstarter campaign that has already exceeded its goal, and it seemed like a good time to ask him about what changed (and what didn’t).
Robot 6: First of all, can you briefly summarize why you cancelled and relaunched your Kickstarter for The Last West?
Evan Young: Good question. To make a long story short, we finalized a digital publishing deal with Peter Simeti over at Alterna Comics, which came smack in the middle of our first Kickstarter campaign. Which was fantastic for us! Unfortunately, it was not fantastic for our Kickstarter campaign at the time. Kickstarter rules don’t allow you to modify rewards in any way once someone has backed your project for that particular reward, so for that reason alone we were going to have to cancel it and reboot. The rewards we offered the first time around were not geared toward a published book (either digital or in print), they were not timed to coincide with our new Alterna schedule, etc. Just a bunch of problems for us that we weren’t going to be able to work out while at the same time staying fair to our backers.
So at the end of the day, we thought the most fair thing to do would be to cancel the campaign and relaunch it once we had all of our details sorted out — so that’s what we’ve done.
OK, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Kill All Monsters co-creator/writer Michael May is a friend of mine and a fellow contributor to ROBOT 6. Conflict of interest disclosed. Still, I interviewed him about collaboration with artist Jason Copland, which is set to be released in a collected edition (Kill All Monsters: Ruins of Paris) in June from Alterna Comics. He and Copland are in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign (ending May 10), which has already achieved more than 230 percent of its goal $2,500 goal.
In this interview, we discuss the collaborative process on the webcomic/upcoming collection as well as the Kickstarter. My hat is off to May and Copland for writing a great Kickstarter FYI blurb that efficiently describes the project: “Kill All Monsters: Ruins of Paris is the printed first volume of the hit webcomic about monsters and the giant robots that kill them.”
Tim O’Shea: I went into this work assuming it was going to be all giant robots and monsters, but it contains a great deal of human interaction/drama. How early in the development of the project did you realize the story needed that balance?
Michael May: Right away. I’ve never been interested in slugfests for the sake of slugfests. A story has to give readers a reason to care about the people in the fights. If anything, I needed encouragement to make the fights a bigger part of the comic so it wouldn’t just be people talking about fighting monsters. No one — including me — would want to read that, but characters and drama is where my interest always goes first. It’s a tough balance though and one we worked hard at, so hopefully we got close to achieving it.
Small comics publisher Alterna Comics is running what it calls a “reverse fundraiser” on the crowd-funding platform IndieGoGo. The term “reverse fundraiser” suggests the company will be giving the money to us, but alas, it’s not that good. What is reversed is actually the chronology of events: Alterna is looking for funding for comics that have already been published. Alterna founder Peter Simeti explains:
When these books originally went to print, fundraising sites like kickstarter and indie gogo weren’t super popular so we ended up putting print runs on credit cards. I’m still in a bit of debt because of this (about $30K) but it’s been getting better every year. I pay about $5K a year in interest fees though because of this, so it’s been a really hard upward battle to pay off the bills, pay creators, and produce new product. Especially on a substitute teacher’s salary… ($11K a year)
Compared to those numbers, the fund-raiser is quite modest; the goal is $2,500. And the rewards are pretty good: For $10, you can get a hard copy of any Alterna comic or a digital collection of 25 graphic novels in PDF format. But this does raise the question of what crowd-funding is really about. Johanna Draper Carlson recently commented that she prefers to donate to a project that is already complete and just needs funding for printing costs. This carries that to its logical extreme — the books are finished — but looked at another way, it is really just using IndieGoGo as a temporary storefront. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s definitely another wrinkle in the crowd-funding model.
Peter Simeti, the president and publisher of Alterna Comics, sent out a mass e-mail this weekend saying “Alterna has had a rough two years” and directing readers to the company’s fund-raising page at Indie GoGo. It sounds like they have a cash flow problem:
Sales don’t come in quick enough (book distribution takes up to 6 months to pay us) and we end up accumulating over $4,000 worth of interest ever year, even though we’ve maintained a small profit for the past 3 years, that profit has been quickly eaten up by the bills we have. The worst part is, our company debt is around $28,000 – which isn’t even a lot for most small companies. But due to the fact that we can’t even make new books to spur new income – the debt has become stifling and will eventually take its toll on us within 1 to 2 years.
So unless they can raise some money pronto, they are going to go into a death spiral of debt. The amount they are trying to raise seems laughably small—$1,000, much less than most Kickstarter drives—but apparently that will keep the wolf from the door for a while. Interestingly, the lowest level of the drive consists simply of buying their books—you fork over $10, you get a $10 book as a “reward”—although a few of the listed books cost more than $10 and at least one costs less. Of course, the indie page cuts out the distributor and thus the distributor’s cut and the time lag in payment. This really goes to Simeti’s point: Alterna’s books are selling well, they just can’t get paid for them, and in a way, the Indie GoGo page is just a direct sales channel that will get a bit of juice from the added publicity of Simeti’s plea. What’s more, it’s a sales channel with some good incentives, as the rewards escalate quickly, and you can get some original art for short money. A plea for funds isn’t really a marketing plan, but maybe this is just what Alterna needs—to sell fewer books through Diamond and Amazon and more on their own.
Alterna Comics is publishing a new edition of Rafer Roberts’ Plastic Farm: Sowing Seeds on Fertile Soil, an underground comic that he has been working on since 2000; you can read it online at his Plastic Farm website.
Roberts has been busy lately. He just did a guest strip for Danielle Corsetto’s Girls with Slingshots, which brought an influx of new readers to his site, and his Plastic Farm minicomics (issues 15-17) were nominated for a SPACE prize. In addition, he went back and cleaned up and relettered his old pages for the new book, and he put up a before-and-after set at his site to show what a difference that made. Plastic Farm: Sowing Seeds on Fertile Soil is in the April Previews for a July 1 release.
The digital comics scene continues to be a bit of a mishmash.
Every week, I get an e-mail from comiXology listing all of its new issues for the week, but the order seems to be somewhere between alphabetical and random. Viz Media also does a nice job of letting me know what’s new on its app. Graphicly sends a chatty e-mail featuring a couple of titles, but the company doesn’t put them front and center in its app, so I have to go looking for them (and it’s not the most intuitive interface). And while I know the iVerse folks have been busy, they don’t update their blog or (as far as I can tell) send out e-mails. This is all my way of saying that while the following may seem heavy on comiXology content, that’s not because I’m biased — it’s because comiXology has more titles and is doing a better job of promoting them.
That said, I thought it would be helpful to sift through this week’s offerings and pull out some good weekend reading.
A couple of classic series are debuting on comiXology this week. Having attended both the Vertigo panel and the Bill Willingham spotlight panel at C2E2, I was interested in seeing more of Fables, so it’s a happy coincidence that Jack of Fables #1 is up there for free. It’s just as clever as the main series, and Tony Akins’ supple penciling is a treat for the eyes. (One of the things I enjoy about Fables is that there is plenty of eye candy for the ladies as well as the guys.) Sometimes the free samples are kind of mingy, but not here: This is the whole first issue of Jack of Fables, and if that whets your appetite, Issue 2 is up there for $1.99.
Also new this week, although, sadly, not free, is Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Batman and Robin. The first six issues, comprising two complete story arcs, are up this week.