Saturday, 26 September 2015

Kickstarter Tips

Ever since I first backed a Kickstarter, I've been a fan of the crowd-source funding site. Not only is a great way for us indie guys to fund a project, it's even better as a fan, for discovering all sorts of cool things that you might not have ever heard of otherwise. 

To date, I have created one project on Kickstarter (Canadian Corps- 173% funded) and backed 45 projects (unfortunately having had to pass up at least another 15 or 20 that I wanted to back). 

Let me get this out of the way first: I am by no means an expert on running a Kickstarter. I have run exactly ONE. It was successful, yes, but that doesn't make me an expert. What it does mean, is that I have at least a SENSE of what does and does not work. 

Since running the Kickstarter for Canadian Corps, for some reason I've taken to reading through all of the other comics projects that hop up in there- sometimes to make sure I'm not missing out on something cool, sometimes to make sure I pay forward the success that we had with ours, and sometimes because... well, just because. 

While reading through them, I started taking them apart- seeing what I like and didn't like about them. What works and what doesn't. And sometimes getting a little outraged over the stuff that people put out there thinking that it is ready or should be on there. 

Things that drew my ire included a supposed novelist who wanted to raise $30,000+ for his book (which is a LOT of money to produce a novel) and did not capitalize the "i" when referring to himself; among at least two dozen other errors in spelling and grammar. Now in this day and age of texting and messaging, I can understand a slip or two- we're all guilty of that. I can handle that. But when you are asking people for money to help fund you for a WRITING project and you do that? Really? REALLY?? I just can't deal with that kind of thing. 

Running a Kickstarter is asking people to invest in you and your idea. Not to hand over money because you are poor or cheap and don't want to do it and you're going to take it and forget about them. Some treat it like that, unfortunately, but they should not. You are asking your backers to take part in this journey and, whether you like it or not, that means you are beholden to them for a few things. Like proper spelling. A clear message of what you are trying to achieve and what they will get in return for helping you reach your goal. Kickstarter is a business venture and should be treated as such. 

Part of any business venture is doing research- knowing who your audience will be, what you can offer them, and how you will go about doing that. If you cannot answer those things, you are not ready to launch your Kickstarter. 

For the Canadian Corps KS I looked at the levels that people pledged at on other Kickstarters- what sort of things they wanted and were willing to pay for them. Easy enough, right? A quick look at what's on Kickstarter right now will tell you that there are many who have not done that. When in doubt approach your reward levels as a fan- would YOU be willing to pay $10 for that PDF copy of a 20 page comic book? I know I wouldn't. $5 and we're talking. It's about value to your backers. Make it worth their time. And still worth yours- after all you are trying to raise money, not give things away. It's tricky but it can be done. 

Research everything that you can think of that you might need to tackle- production/printing costs, shipping costs (which is where a LOT of projects run into problems), how long it'll take to finish the project (and it's always safe to assume it'll be longer by a month than what you think it will) and then ask friends and family for any questions that they might have. Get all your stuff lined up before you launch- if you don't, it'll fall apart fast. 

Once you are set up and running the campaign, make sure when people back you that you thank them. When I ran the CC one I made sure to send every backer a personal thank you message- if you're able to do that, do it. It takes literally a minute to do so and that's the least you can do for something throwing $40 at you to make your dream come true. People work hard for their money and they want to know that their pledges are appreciated. And if they take it upon themselves to tell others about it, you HAVE to thank them. That's above and beyond and should be recognized and appreciated as such. 

The real key to running a Kickstarter that performs well is to do all the little things right that you would want to see as a fan- interact with backers on social media, be polite and friendly to those that show an interest in it (I mean you should be those things as a default but...) and show that you've done some work on your project. 

I understand that sometimes the cost of a project is so insurmountable that the only way to do it is to seek outside funding, but do SOMETHING to show people that you've at least STARTED working on it. If you're funding an album- have a song for people to hear (even if it's just you in your bedroom and an acoustic guitar). If it's a comic book, have some pages for people to look at. A board game? Samples or mock-ups of what it might look like. This should be common sense stuff, but so many people drop the ball on this. If you're not willing to invest a little time and money into getting your project ready, you can sure as hell bet no one else is going to be willing to either. 

Use common sense, think like a fan, be polite and engage those who show an interest. It's not hard stuff, though it does involve a lot of hard work. If you're willing to do it however, you'll succeed. 

Or you can hire me for cheap and I'll look it over for you- odds are that I'll be checking out anyhow if it's a comic book, and be ripping it apart. For a small fee, I'll tell you how to fix it. ;)  

Best of luck!


The Challenge of Creating Indie Comic Books In Canada

Wow, that sure sounds like a fancy title for one of my blog posts, eh? Usually it's things like "Why I Like Cheeseburgers" or "Neat Things You Should Read".

Either way, it's accurate and what this post is about. 

This is not a knock against indie comics creators anywhere else- I know for a fact many of them face quite a few of the same challenges that we here in the Great White North have, but that's for them to write about, and this is what I am doing. I can say one thing- no matter what country you make indie comics in, you work your ass off to do so and you have my respect for that. As you should everyone else's that has ever made anything- the effort and time required to create is not something that you can quantify as anything more than "a lot". Even when things come easily, there' the journey that took you to that point. Alas, I digress. 

Creating comic books in Canada is full of many challenges that are unique to living here. First and foremost is that for independent creators, there are very few places where you can get your work actually printed. True, there are many quality printing companies throughout the country, but very few of them offer traditional comic book printing and those that do expect BASE print runs of 10,000+. Even at $1 each, that is far more money than most indie creators have. You're going to sit on most of that, even if the book sells well, for awhile and that is a ton of money to invest. 

Solutions to that come in one of three ways: don't print and stay strictly digital, find a different format (usually fancier and costing more) to print in, or go with a printer from either China (takes forever and quality is inconsistent) or the United States. Which brings us to the next challenge: paying in US dollars. 

Anytime you source out of Canada, whether for printing or for talent (aka artists), you pay in US money. Three years ago when I started making comics, it wasn't so bad- $1 Canadian was equal to $0.92 American. This has changed considerably since then, with the Canadian dollar averaging only 70 CENTS over the last year. 

What does that mean? It means when you pay an artist $300US you are actually putting out nearly $400 Canadian. 25-30% above the actual "cost" of what you are paying. If you average an indie comic's cost at $4000US (it's quite often higher), that means that, for a Canadian publisher, that book is setting them back over $5200. BEFORE it goes to print. 

Following that math, let's say we print with a US company, 200 copies of said book. Not a lot, but good enough for a decent selling convention. The average price for printing a 24 page comic book is $2.75 per book. US dollars. Two hundred books at $2.75 each, after exchange, comes to roughly $715 Canadian. Plus shipping. 

In the past three years, shipping from the US to Canada (and vice versa) has tripled in cost as fuel prices have gone up. Paying close to a dollar per book for shipping is not unheard of- and that's just regular no-frills shipping. With shipping thrown in, this single book has cost roughly $6000 for 200 copies. 

Unless you're able to sell those 200 copies for $30 each (good luck on that!), you clearly will not make money back this go around on it, and will have to continue to print books to start making a dent in the costs. Indie comics typically sell between $5-$10/copy, so assuming a price of $8 each means you will need to sell 1600+ copies to break even. 

Why so many? Why, that brings us to challenge number three! Getting the books out there. 

Many comic stores are run by awesome people who want nothing more than to help comics creators get out there and show off their stuff. Those same awesome people unfortunately work on very tight budgets with even more limited room to showcase their goods. What does that mean? It means that if you are lucky and have a great shop to work with, you may get a small space for your books and will sell them on consignment. If you are unlucky, you'll have to find somewhere else to sell your books. The most popular place to do so, of course being comic book conventions. 

Conventions are a great place to get your books out for people to see. Often folks are there looking for that kind of thing when they go there, though in recent years I, personally, have seen less and less people buying and more just checking stuff out as the emphasis has shifted away from comics and more to pop culture celebrations. I have a blast either way, but as a publisher, I want to see people spending money. Preferably on my books. 

There are always costs that are incurred in doing conventions- the tables, hotel rooms if applicable, travel to and from, and of course food and drinks. None of that comes cheap. Even if it's a local con, you can expect it to run you hundreds of dollars. Luckily these days we seem to have more and more conventions across Canada. I just got back from the fantastic SaskExpo last weekend and am very much looking forward to doing the C4 Comic Con in Winnipeg at the end of next month.   

The only problem with doing conventions in Canada, and it's also the same problem as generally getting your books out, is the distance. Canada is not a small country and getting across this great nation is time-consuming and expensive. It's also what you have to do if you want to build a following for your books. You might be able to get great digital sales (and more power to you if you can) but nothing sells a book like the creators getting to talk to the fans and general public about it. I've said it time and again, passion sells projects. Even more so than talent. 

So, so far we've covered the actual costs of making a book, the printing and shipping the book and the getting it out there. All of this is true of any indie comic book, all made a little harder due to the Canadian dollar these days, and I'm going to touch on one more; being a CANADIAN creator. 

As I said, I attended SaskExpo this past weekend, and one of the things I was able to do was take part in a Canadian Comics Creator panel alongside Justin and Donovan (my Canadian Corps creative partners) as well as Kurtis Wiebe (Rat Queens- great book, buy it) and Ed Brisson. One of the things that came up during the panel was about identifying as Canadian comic book creators and how, yes even though we're living in a global community now, that many creators don't make it a point that they are from here. 

In fact, many of them seem embarrassed to admit where they are from (nothing that is unique to comics, many entertainment industries seem like that) and yet some of the biggest names in the field are from Canada- David Finch, Marcus To, Jason Fabok, Ty Templeton, Fiona Staples, and many more. Jeff Lemire too, but he's from Toronto and well all know Toronto doesn't count itself with the rest of the nation. (I kid, sort of.)

Being a Canadian creator has a variety of challenges because people have certain expectations of what you should do or be- they want you to acknowledge your routes/where you are from but not in a way that is TOO Canadian (no Tim Horton's jokes apparently) but at the same time they want all the bombastic action and adventure one might find in an American production. It's a fine line to straddle. American enough for commercial success but Canadian enough that you aren't too American. Crazy, right? It's tough but it can be done. If you're willing to put the work in and if the audience is willing to give it a chance. 

A quick little story about that- at SaskExpo I broke one of the rules of selling as an indie comics guy. I had a guy come up and tell me how great it was that we were putting out this Canadian Corps book and how we were all-Canadian creators doing a book about all-Canadian heroes. He went on and on for about five minutes about how him and his friends are always saying that "this is exactly what we want and need more of" (I remember it very clearly) and I thanked him for his interest. 

This is where I made a mistake, however. It was clear that despite his supposed interest, he wasn't going to buy, and I made a comment along the lines that "lots of people say that they want more Canadian content but aren't willing to help support it". Without a doubt part of it was due to frustration, but part of it was merely stating a fact- there will be TONS of people who SAY that they want to support indie comics, but not actually DO it. 

Was I wrong to say what I did? Maybe. It was the truth, though I suppose I didn't have to say it. At the end of the day, all of these are challenges that any creator will face- be it comics, novels, music or art; only you can decide if it is worth it to you to do so. 

I know my answer and I look forward to seeing you at a convention sometime down the road. Maybe you'll buy something, maybe you won't, but maybe you'll have a greater appreciation for the hard work people put in to their projects. It's not easy but we think it's cool and fun and hopefully you will too. On behalf of all my fellow Canadian indie comics creators, thank you for your support.  


Saturday, 12 September 2015

S17 Series Profile: LEGACY

This is the first of a series of profiles that I'll be doing about each of the September17 Productions comic books that will go into the origins of the book as well as the direction of each title going ahead. 

To date six issues of LEGACY have been published and with a seventh on the way in-production, we're only just scratching the surface of the story. For those not familiar with the book, LEGACY is the story of the city of the same name, and its citizens, among them the costumed hero known as Paragon. 

The ideas for LEGACY came to me in 1993 and evolved over the years, but the base concept of the exploration of the city's people as much as the city's hero, stayed the same. This was well before I'd even hear of Kurt Busiek's Astro City (first published in 1995) or read James Robinson's Starman which became a huge influence for the book, not that I'd in any way ever compare LEGACY to either book... Yet. Here's hoping one day, right?

Anyhow, the ideas sat there and I picked away at them over the years, many of the characters and storylines stayed the same, until I began finally writing the scripts back in the end of 2011. 

The first LEGACY script was completed January 6th, 2012. I know this because Cass made me an awesome little congratulations certificate. For close to ten years I hadn't written a story and finishing it was a huge accomplishment and mark the first step to founding S17.

In the first issue I introduced the star-chested hero (who at the time was not given a name- I knew it but I didn't want the readers to- I wanted them to discover him as though they were part of the citizens of Legacy, slowly learning about him and the other characters) and a small number of the supporting cast. The idea was to use the first issue as a trailer of sorts, a hint at what you would find going forth in the series and introduce some of the "cast" as it were. 

As we moved on into the next few books, we got to meet some of the cast- the members of the District Attorney's office whom Paragon (our aforementioned star-adorned superhero) works with in his secret identity, as well as some of the other players of the city. Going ahead, we'll learn more about the other characters that populate Legacy and more about the city itself- its history and its future. 

I've always been a fan of generational stories- ones that take place over decades, if not centuries, and LEGACY (and the city the book is named after) is my take on that sort of story. We'll jump to the far past, the near future, and perhaps the far future, all the while exploring and getting to know the characters of the "present". 

Some issues will be large action-adventure types, with sprawling super battles that affect the entire city, and some will be "quiet" stories that dig into the history and lives of the citizens of Legacy- and not just our main cast, but smaller characters who play roles that affect the larger stories- because after all, each and every life matters and impacts the world around it, whether we realize it or not. 

LEGACY #4 was the first issue to really delve into Paragon's past; we saw some of the reasons he does what he does and who he was before gaining his powers and donning a costume to protect the city. We'll revisit his past again in future issues and see why Alex was chosen to be the man who would lead Legacy back to the shining example it once was. 

I've often compared LEGACY to that of a weekly TV show- each "episode"/issue adding to an overall story, building the world that the characters inhabit. As with TV shows, LEGACY is broken down into "seasons"- in total 10 such seasons are planned- for a total of 120 issues. Ambitious, for sure, but with enough support (and some time to tell them all) there's no reason we can't get through them all. Not all seasons will be 12 issues long though- the first season, in fact, is 15 issues. 

New characters will be introduced along the way and over the course of the series we'll see the different neighborhoods of the city- from the Art Deco buildings of the Robinson area, to the seedy streets of Parker Hill and the struggles of the reigning high school football champions from Delsante Heights. Each character has their own story that will add to the overall depth of the stories and, if all goes as planned, they'll become people whose lives draw you in and maybe that you can even relate to. 

Though hopefully not in the way that a supervillain blew up your car with an energy blast while attempting to take over the city.  ;) 

Legacy is about the life you lead and what you leave behind- who you were to the people in your life and what stories they remember of you. This is the story of the people of this city, this is their LEGACY.