By the time you finish reading this article, Top Cow Productions may have reached its goal of raising $75,000 on Kickstarter. The partner studio of Image Comics has launched a Kickstarter campaign, asking new and “lapsed” fans to back a project that reimagines its most popular series, Cyber Force. If the project is funded, Top Cow will make the first five issues free to both the digital and print markets.
Before the close of July 19, its first day of the Kickstarter campaign, Top Cow raised more than $20,000. Top Cow president and Cyber Force co-writer Matt Hawkins was taken aback. “We may be crazy but we really do believe that we can reach old fans and make new ones with this,” he posted on Kickstarter. “We can convert people to this crazy love for comic books that we all share.”
The Kickstarter funds will go toward the art team, printing the book, and costs associated with “rewards” for backers of the project. Top Cow will incur other costs, including marketing and writing. The project’s deadline to raise the money is Friday, August 17 and as of Aug. 7 they’ve have raised more than $66,000.
Centering on cybernetic mutants, Cyber Force was created by artist Marc Silvestri, well known for his work in Marvel Comics before he founded Image Comics with seven other artists. The comic debuted in 1992 via Image Comics and was largely considered a derivative of X-Men, as Hawkins explained to PWCW in a recent interview. Still, Top Cow has sold more than 100 million copies of the series, now in its fourth iteration. The last Cyber Force run ended in 2006.
The new Cyber Force is a reboot of sorts. Silvestri and Hawkins call it “cybernetic steampunk,” complete with resistance fighters and a monolithic corporation. Hawkins said readers can expect high-concept art and writing that centers on technology and obsoletion. It helps that he has a master’s degree in physics.
“There have been multiple Cyber Force stories over the years, but they’ve been a part of the same continuity,” he said. “About a year ago we did what called ‘Top Cow Rebirth.’ It allows us to reboot this without pissing off a lot of fans.”
Hawkins said the reboot is a celebration of Image, Top Cow and Cyber Force’s shared 20th anniversary. The Cyber Force project is an example of comics publishers engaging 21st century consumers. Top Cow, he said, knows that it can’t fight torrent sites and comics piracy.
“There hasn’t really been a publisher that has come out and said, ‘We’re going to embrace the torrent sites.’ If you’re under 30, you don’t see that as wrong. So how do you combat that? I don’t think you can. Do you want to bang your head against the wall, or do you want to embrace it?”
Top Cow, he said, hopes the Cyber Force project will drive readers to comic stores, where they might purchase such titles as Witchblade and The Darkness. At the moment, the company isn’t planning another Kickstarter project.
But Top Cow is planning another initiative that involves free comics. In the fall, the company begins its fifth “Pilot Season,” in which new comics are voted on before Top Cow picks them up for a season. Unlike years past, the 2012 Pilot Season comics will be available for free through A-list comics writer Mark Waid’s provocative project, Thrillbent, which releases digital comics at no cost to readers. The Pilot Season comics will not be available in the print market—unless they win the competition.
“We would sell between 5,000 and 10,000 copies of these books,” Hawkins said of previous years, “but we would get half a million downloads. That told us where people were really seeing the content.”
Waid said Top Cow approached Thrillbent about two months ago. “I like the guys at Top Cow and I have a good, long relationship with them,” he said, speaking with PWCW at the recent San Diego Comic-Con International. “The idea is that we’ll roll out (Pilot Season) in that American Idol style … readers vote and dictate which ones move forward one week and which move forward the next week.”
Waid, like Hawkins, believes the industry’s digital movement has value. He was quick to mention the enormous divide between champions and naysayers of it.
“While it’s fair to say it’s not easy to make money doing comics on the web, there are a lot more guys than we suspect who are doing this stuff with ease. The trick is forgetting a lot of what you know about print publishing—which is to say, letting the publishers deal with the publicity, the marketing and so forth. You have to take control of all of that yourself.”