From Private Fancy to Public Consumption – Howl’s Path to Kickstarter
[This is the first part of a three part guest feature by creators Eastin DeVerna and Ryan Davidson chronicling their experience successfully Kickstarting their comic, Howl]
I bet that you have one too.
That book idea that kicks around in your head for years. It could be a spin on an existing property – oh, the stories we would tell if Marvel gave us the keys to Asgard. Or, maybe, it’s your own original idea.
Seven years ago, our comic Howl (Kickstarter Page found here) was one of these effervescent ideas, just a couple notes and sketches entered into a Moleskine at a local bar. When the bartender asked us what we were working on we told him “homework,” nevermind that we were pushing thirty. Our idea was too nascent to be shared with the world. We lied to protect it.
If you are a creative, you know this feeling. “Tell me about your comic,” asks a well-meaning friend. And you want to tell them, but instead — total paralysis. Or worse, you can’t adequately explain it, “Well, it’s about this guy that can talk to goats, but it’s not really about goats, it’s about the Soviet defense of Stalingrad.”
Making the leap from the private inception of an idea to its preparation for public consumption is not just hard — it is terrifying.
Hi, we’re Ryan Davidson and Eastin DeVerna, and we invite you to share our terror as we send our fledgling comic book out into the all-or-nothing, winner-take-all arena of Kickstarter in this three part series.
The majority of Kickstarter projects are failures. The success rate sits just over one-third at 37% (stats from: https://www.kickstarter.com/help/stats).
Happily, comic books fair better than almost any other type of project on Kickstarter with a success rate of 49%, lagging behind only the unstoppable triptych of Music (51%), Theater (61%), and Kickstarter’s crown prince of success, Dance (63%). Truly, and perhaps uniquely, here in the crowdfunding space the MFAs and theater kids of the world laugh last.
Still, in a market where there are so many avenues open to indie creatives, from webcomics to (relatively) democratized platforms like Comixology, why put yourself through the gut grinding gauntlet of a Kickstarter campaign? Well, the obvious answer is financial upside, anyone that has watched a campaign smash its funding goal, or looked on as one of Kickstarter’s great successes entered seven figure territory has probably wanted a piece of that pie.
But honestly, if you are banking on a blockbuster campaign, you might as well be sending scripts to the Marvel and DC slush piles. Your odds are probably better.
No, having been through the process now, we can tell you that one of the big benefits of a Kickstarter campaign is that it forces you to take your own ideas seriously. It transforms that paralyzing question, “What is your comic about,” replacing it instead with a statement “my comic is about X.”
For Howl, that meant boiling all our high concepts down to a single sentence.
“Howl is a werewolf comic that’s about people.”
Here is the story of how we went from question to statement.
PART 1 – FINDING AN ARTIST
If you have the chops to write, pencil, and ink your own book, then congratulations, your job is half finished, but for everyone else…
The first person you will need to sell your idea to is an artist. In some ways, this is terrifying, this is after all not just Joe Reader, but another creative that will bring a critical eye to your script. In other ways, it is easier, you are going to pay this person to be interested after all.
Except, we found that paying an artist is actually a lot harder than we thought it would be.
Let’s call our first artist John.
We found John’s portfolio on Tumblr and it looked perfect. Dark, but just a little cartoon-ish, weird, but also grounded. It was perfect for a suburban horror book like Howl. We sent him an email, explained who we were, included our script for issue one, told him what we could pay (a little), and then we crossed our fingers.
We heard back from him almost immediately. He loved the script! What’s more. He’d do the project for free.
Readers, beware the artist who offers to work for free. What this really means is, “Looks cool, I’ll do it if I have time.”
Our road through those early days was littered with such offers, character sketches, and even a few sample pages. One day we emailed John to check on the next batch of pages and we just never heard back. He had retreated to the rarefied ether whence come visual artists.
What was most confusing to us was why no one would take our money. Desperate, we reached out to our own social networks and spoke to a friend in graphic design that cracked the problem for us.
We were offering joke money. No one, he told us, was going to commit to 24 pages for a $300.
So here we were, our first fork in the road, we could shelve the project or we could put real money on the table and go after an artist who would sign a contract and commit. We chose the latter and in doing so we transformed Howl from a hobby into a business overnight. In the hole for over a grand, we decided that we had BETTER be able to explain the book to people!
And we did explain it. We explained it to exactly one person. Dan Buksa. Our artist.
But of course, Dan had an incentive to believe, we were paying him after all.
Next time, building the Kickstarter campaign and getting people to believe in the book WITHOUT paying them.
Eastin DeVerna and Ryan Davidson have been making comics for four years now. They started out with the webcomic, Spaceship Long Island, which asked the question: What would happen if the world exploded and Long Island launched into outer space? They connected with Dan Buksa and began work on their first full length comic, Howl, which is about life after the werewolf apocalypse. Connect with them on Twitter: @EastinDeVerna @RyanGTDavidson @Bigbanduksa