I Kickstarted 2013

[This post originally appeared on Hazel & Wren, and it might still be viewable there with the accompanying images.]

Kickstarter released their 2013 Year in Review, and it’s a nice piece of design and advertising. They’ve done a wonderful job of covering capitalism in a delightful coating of charity, positioning themselves as the most recognizable crowd-funding website. I don’t mean to be cynical; Kickstarter has helped people create things that wouldn’t have gotten made without it, and they help money get to people that might not have gotten it. They’ve turned funding the arts into a hobby that you can pursue even if you aren’t rich.

They’ve certainly pulled me in, and their New Year reflection has led me to look at my backer history. If they’ve done nothing else for me, they’ve made me learn how to make a pie chart.

I going to share a few observations from my point of view as a consumer. None of these are backed by data (since I blew all my data processing skills on that pie chart).

—Lesson One: I’ll Buy Things I Don’t Want

If I’m in a used bookstore, I’ll be mentally tortured over a $5 purchase. However, I dropped $15 on Earthward by Bryan Q. Miller and Marcio Takara without blinking. It’s a fun, well-plotted sci-fi book with a diverse cast of young people. If I were 12, it might be my favorite comic ever. Since I’m actually 30, I’ll probably never read it again, but I wanted it to exist so badly. I want 12-year-olds out there to have a chance to read books like this, so I backed it.

(Aside: does anyone with a kid want a copy of Earthward? I will send it to you. They will love it.)

—Lesson Two: Shipping Things is Complicated and Expensive

Two of the books I backed had problems with shipping. One, Sullivan’s Sluggers, had the author going back to Kickstarter a second time to fund the international shipping of the first round. This led to a small controversy that I won’t get into since it’s been detailed elsewhere.

The second case had elder statesman and legendary recluse Steve Ditko asking backers to add additional money to the pledge for shipping instead of including it in the pledge cost for his Ditko Public Service Package. Apparently, many people didn’t see the shipping costs, or maybe they chose to willfully ignore it, which leads me to…

—Lesson Three: People Can Be Stupid or Malicious (And It’s Tough to Tell the Difference)

What happens when Kickstarters go wrong? I backed the second volume of Nobodies, a comic anthology, way back in October 2012. It still hasn’t arrived. The creator/editor sends an out an update every few months about how he still plans to ship everything out. Backers have lodged complaints with Kickstarter, but who knows what that’ll lead to. I’m content to wait and see what happens, but I didn’t pledge at the higher levels.

If this happened with a traditional publishing company, I’m sure they’d send lawyers after the offender, reclaim any advance offered, and blacklist the person. Maybe I’ll Kickstart a team of litigators.

—Lesson Four: But Things Aren’t All Bad!

When the creators of Home of the Brave fell behind on their book, the artist quit his job in order to finish. That is some crazy brave stuff. Venerable publisher Fantagraphics funded an entire year of publishing after things got derailed due to the sudden death of editor/translator Kim Thompson. Other Kickstarters, upon finding themselves surpassing their original goal, “kick it forward,” using a percentage of that extra money to fund other projects that aren’t doing so well.

—Lesson Five: This Crowdfunding Thing is For Real

Here are three awesome books I own that might not exist without Kickstarter:

  1. Bingo Baby by Penny Lantern (Amelia Onorato Dennis St. John, Donna Almendrala, Bill Bedard, Jason Lutes, Joseph Lambert)

Seeing a comic with such a long list of creators is usually akin to seeing a movie with a bunch of writers–someone’s passion has been hacked to pieces and reassembled under someone else’s direction in order to get it out the door as quickly or cheaply as possible.

Bingo Baby is different. It’s a quietly confident book. Like longform improv or the OuBaPo workshop games that French cartoonists use, Bingo Baby uses self-imposed limits to harness spontaneity and surprise. The strengths of each contributor add up to something greater than what might be produced alone.

(Also, I’m predisposed to like it since it was written during a single session of the improvisational storytelling game Fiasco, which quickly supplanted all other games in my friend circle a year or so back.)

  1. Godsend by Jesse Bausch and Meg Gandy

This is a print edition of a webcomic, and that makes me happy since I’m old and have a hard time reading comics on a screen. Gandy’s art is lush, and her character design (both human and godly) is varied and refreshing.

The story itself is slow and organic, focusing on the character interactions instead of the overarching plot. The book is good enough that I wish they’d waited another few years and released more printed pages at once. Now I have to sit and wait.

  1. SP7 edited by Box Brown and Ian Harker

Intended as a tribute to the monthly manga anthology Garo, SP7 stands strongly on its own. It’s filled with great art, but it’s also the sort of book object that we don’t get anymore: it’s big and floppy and filled with newsprint that leaves your fingers inky when you’re done with it. It was a great reading experience, and it turned me on to the editing acumen of Box Brown, publisher of Retrofit Comics.

I guess all I’m really looking for is some validation. Is Kickstarter the crowdsourcing wave of the future? Does it help independent artists? Or am I just hiding my dirty capitalist tendencies behind a facade of charity? What do you fund?

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