Michael Koch writes,
You might want to skip this article if you are looking for tips on success on Kickstarter. That’s not me. (Just google a fellow named Grek Pak for that) But I think what I have to say might interest those who wonder if my Kickstarter doesn’t get funded, what then? Will I be humiliated? Do I crawl under a rock and never try anything again? (maybe but that’s the wrong lesson to learn. Read any success book. It’s not fun but failing is part of the process.) Are the creators who didn’t make it bitter and broken? (if they are, they didn’t appreciate the chance they were given with this platform. This is the ultimate Indie market and they can try, try again.)
I’m just here to give some impressions and advice for others who didn’t make it but wonder if it’s worth it to keep trying. I love the guys who have 4 failed kickstarters but still keep trying to release books. That may be me someday. It is the fact that they can do that and have legitimate chance at success every time that makes comics exciting and unpredictable on the Kickstarter platform. Actually, it’s a platform that never really gets that crowded. As hard as it is to do a comic, running a successful campaign on Kickstarter might be just as difficult. So that alone shakes down the numbers. Money, real work, endless calculations, failure and pride are involved.
At this writing, I am about about at the halfway mark for my Kickstarter project – The Cosmic Survivor: The Hunt for Nebulon #1. My Kickstarter has 5 backers. I know 3 of them. Two are not married to me. The handful of friends I have don’t read comics and still seemed perplexed that I like them. My mom and sister don’t transact on the internet. One brother read comics a long time ago, another thinks it’s a goofy hobby of mine. My mother-in-law in Japan heard about my Kickstarter and now she and her best friend want to contribute but they don’t know how to use a computer or shop online. My wife keeps telling them that mailing me a check is not how Kickstarter works. So they are recruiting the bartender at their karaoke bar to back her hapless son-in-law with his “manga”. To tell the truth, now I’m actually worried that I’ll get a anonymous $6000 donation out of the blue by a generous backer who won’t read my comic or want a poster. Sure, I could use the cash but the idea is to do a print run and win actual readers with addresses that will read my comic when I mail it to them. And that they will like it enough to want the next 3 or 4 issues.
It’s all a big mess but I’m trying. This is what bringing your project life on Kickstarter is all about. You leave the dream world of your creativity when the lever is pulled and you drop right into the cold bucket of reality that exists in the business world. You are selling your fantasy to actual Iive buyers who may take a pass or take the chance to help you get going. There really is no in between. Some creators drop into a warm ocean full of money and are swimming with mermaids. Others are gargling all the way to the bottom cursing at the partying yachts above from the murky depths of defeat. The second scenario sounds bleak but the truth is you never really drown. You can resurface and dive back in again as many times as you want. All the wiser as you make adjustments each time you try. Art and business is a tough mix so anything you learn to make that happen is a worthy education.
Some thoughts on my approach to Kickstarter
I planned months in advance for my first Kickstarter. It is live now but it is struggling and not looking good. And contrary to all the good advice out there (like Greg Pak’s) I made nothing simple. It’s just not the way I think. As a painter and an artist, I am full of these burdensome Baroque tendencies. Minimalism doesn’t come easy to me. I decided to make the goal of my first print run to be a Treasury sized comic, that is an extra large comic size that is almost double the standard size that nobody does anymore. So this approach doubled my printing, my shipping and my book costs. But I thought it was doable. I liked the experience my old Treasury Comic so much that I wanted to do one myself except this would be for my grand space adventure, The Cosmic Survivor: The Hunt for Nebulon. A mini-series in the Imax of comics, the Treasury sized edition! It’s Kickstarter, not Image or Marvel. Why not try it?
That made it a big, fat hard sell right out of the gate for a guy who’s never worked in comics and has no social media following. All because I thought it was cool. When I was a kid, I remember how dazzled I was when I stepped into Newbury Comics in Harvard Square and came across DC ’s lavish launch of “The Omega Men”. It had its own decorated stand in the center of the store full of gleaming #1’s on the high quality stock paper with a glorious cover bursting with dynamism and brilliance. It featured a new space team unlike anything I’ve seen before. I had a thing for space teams – the Imperial Guard, the heralds of Galactus, Legion of Superheroes, Omega Men. That comic launch made a real impression on me so I wanted to do something like that when it came time to do my space epic. That’s the thinking behind it. Not practical but motivating. So my idea was to make mine on high quality paper in the treasury size and then I’ll make the first film trailer for a space comic that I know of. Added to that, I embarked on an edition of 10 poster rewards just for this Kickstarter. I might not get funded but if my project goes out, there will be fireworks in the sky and trumpets blaring as my ship crashes back in from orbit. The Cosmic Survivor deserves no less!!!
My big idea, make a series of posters as rewards
I made a series of posters with idea of supporting the Kickstarter as rewards. I made 10 posters for this Kickstarter project. Six for the main campaign and four others as potential stretch goals if that ever happened. I treated this like a big movie project pretending I was the marketing team for the next Star Wars or Ridley Scott sci-fi movie. Early in the process, I had no ideas for rewards, then I thought “Why not posters!” You see, my comic has a brutish space hero with cannons in the place of his hands and feet, with a cyclops eye and a sort of antenna afro. He warps through space on top of these Saturn-like rings. My heroine is a space witch with no eyes, nose or mouth that used to be a Greek oracle. She has electric, colored beams in place of her features and operates from a Star Cave. My villain is a vengeful ice monster that terrorizes the universe in the form of a comet. In my story, the space witch has sent out her Star Knights to stop him. They are destined to battle at the edge of the cosmos near the Eridanus Supervoid, a giant void in space that is a billion light years wide. Iif you check Wikipedia, you’ll find that The Eridanus Supervoid is not a product of my imagination but a real cosmic entity and quite remarkable.There are theories that the Big Bang might have started here or it might be an opening to another universe( as Wikipedia says—“there is some speculation that the void may be due to quantum entanglement between our universe and another) I took a lot of inspiration from the works of Ray Harryhausen, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and John Byrne. To be as weird and fantastical as I want to be but use craftsmanship to ground it and flair to make it cool.
So the posters were designed to help the readers visualize what’s inside this world and what is going to happen in this mini-series and get past the initial strangeness of my cosmic characters. I took inspiration from the story about how George Lucas commissioned the artist Ralph McQuarrie to paint concept art for his new Star Wars movie so he could take them with him to 1970’s studio execs to help them visualize and take take seriously the grand plans he had for his movie. Instead of him pitching his screenplay cold turkey —talking about Han Solo, Luke, Obi-Wan, the Jedi Knights, Darth Vader and a big furry dog named Chewy piloting their way towards the Death Star—to executives that existed in the era of the Rockford Files, he had the beautifully rendered Ralph McQuarrie concept paintings to give a cinematic gravity and palpable reality to his movie ideas as he was doing his presentation. His plan worked. McQuarrie’s painting so dazzled the execs that we got four decades of Star Wars in return. So on a smaller scale, there is a real lesson here in marketing your fantasy. Whatever you can do to get other people’s imaginations over the line, you should do it. Be it posters, concept paintings or even making a film trailer for your comic.
My other big idea, making a film trailer for my comic
I have been an extra on a few feature films and TV shows shot in New York city over the last couple of years —The Transformers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Bourne Legacy, Men in Black. More out of curiosity to see how these movies are made than wanting to be on film. The whole time I knew it would be just a quick shot or a blur in the background so there wasn’t much to worry about. In contrast, filming myself asking for money on Kickstarter is something I just didn’t want to do. No shade on those that are brave or charismatic enough to pull it off but I knew I would not flourish in that situation. It would not go well either for me or the viewer. So my solution was a workaround that turned into a more inspired idea. Why not make a film trailer for my comic? Not the pan and scan on the book with a voiceover that you often see on Kickstarter but a space footage based film trailer that mirrors scenes from The Cosmic Survivor comic. It was amazing that I was able to purchase footage that matched some comic scenes in the story and found some pretty good theme music for the trailer. I thought it came out pretty legit. It took me a month and half to learn After Effects, struggling day by day to figure it out via the modern Library of Alexander of the internet, YouTube. I have been making a living off and on as a designer for years but I always avoided video because it was too hard. But once you push through your learning and get past a few concepts, it’s not that bad. Now I have a movie trailer for my comic and a whole new skill.
The biggest part of my plan was win a “A Projects We Love” favorite button from Kickstarter. If you get that, they float you at the top of the listings and promote you on the site for pretty much the whole month. Not all the projects get funded but most of them do and even get double funding. So it matters. I thought this film trailer idea had to work. I mean who does a feature film looking trailer for their comic? Or how many do you see? I saw fantastic one from Alan Moore filmed liked a David Lynch short where he shows off some real acting skill. And there were a few others but it wasn’t a typical approach. And all the ones I liked got a “ Projects We Love” ranking. So I thought my chances were very good. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. That was a blow and the Kickstarter algorithm is tough on you if you have low backers or you are out of the taste realm of the editorial staff. We all get tossed in the bottom of the barrel for visitors cycling through looking for projects. Moral of the story, one bad miscalculation can sink your whole project but that’s how you learn. You have got to try things. A plan still is a worthwhile thing to have.
If you don’t get funded, you have still have got something.
If you fail at Kickstarter or just not getting any love, welcome to the club. It is not the end of your dream or your business plan. You just have to rethink, pivot and try again a plan that takes into account what you learned last time. There is nothing in the arts immune from this- an art show, a movie opening, a book launch, a theater production. To me, this is the true Indie market of comics. It so well designed and thought out to sell inventions, art projects, books and more but Comics has its own category in the midst of all this. Indies can always get some heat going here to keep going if they are interesting to their readers and attentive to their customers. There are comics that thrive on Kickstarter that would have slimmer chances anywhere else and no chance with the big publishers. So that in itself is amazing and motivating.
If I don’t get funded or make my goal, this is a list of what I got just for trying this project:
- A marketable skill in having to learn After Effects to pull off my trailer
- Learning how set up and think out my own business campaign to fund my art
- Simplified the pitch my story in the process of the making film trailer. You only have 1 ½ to 2 minutes in trailer time and you’ve got to sum up your story in those parameters. Another handy skill to have..
- Film trailer for my comic with cool space footage that I will always have up on Youtube. I own a property now.
- Learned a lot about international shipping which helps the small eBay store I run
- Created 10 posters which I’m proud of and can use endlessly in all my marketing materials from the web to print.
- Printed a few posters already. I have just been doing digital comics up to this point. My first time printing anything. Next is comics.
- Learned how to write an article for Bleeding Cool that related to the creation of my comic. And got their attention by reaching out to them by telling them about my Kickstarter.
My next Kickstarter is going to be a whole lot easier.
You never know what other bounties may occur so there is value in trying and even failing. If it excites you and makes you want to create art, you should keep at it ieven if its on a low gear. Nobody knows how long it took you in the end, (look up another guy named Vermeer) Just adjust your plan and schedule if the money doesn’t come in but be reasonable about it and get outside more often.
I kind of like this recent tweet from the writer Warren Ellis on why you should stay original. It was nice to see.
See you on Kickstarter!
— Michael D. Koch
Michael Koch is a painter, designer and comic artist that lives and works in New York City. His comic work includes Fun Fun Comics and his recent project: “The Cosmic Survivor: The Hunt for Nebulon” which he is both the writer and the artist.
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The Cosmic Survivor; The Hunt for Nebulon #1
My Kick Starter: (on now through June 16, 2016)
Trailer on YouTube