While the major comics publishers are only beginning to address diversity, over the last two years a wave of Kickstarter projects organized by people of color are generating eye-popping sums for self-publication, and, in at least one case—Black, by writer Kwanza Osajyefo--the opportunity to transition to a conventional publisher..
“We’ve seen comics projects by great creators whose work and stories have been underrepresented in mainstream publishing find passionate audiences,” said Margot Atwell, community manager for publishing on Kickstarter. “Especially now, it’s more important than ever for people of color, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community to find ways to make their voices heard, and we want to help in any way we can.”
Since the platform’s launch in 2009, Atwell said that more than 50% of the comics campaigns featured on Kickstarter reached their goals, which represents over 4,400 comics projects funded. In 2015, comics campaigns raised a little more than $13 million in pledges with 52% of the 1,916 projects launched being successful. Although Kickstarter does not track campaigns by the organizer's background, it is possible to identify more than 50 publishing campaigns that have been organized by African American organizers over the last four years.
Among the most successful recent campaigns is Check, Please, a character-driven humor webcomic about a gay, pie-baking hockey player at a fictional New England college,created by Ngozi Ukazu. A graduate of Yale with an MFA in Sequential Art from the Savannah College of Art and Design, she first raised $74,290 in 2015 to finance a trade paperback edition of the first volume of the series. Ukazu returned to Kickstarter in October this year to raise a whopping $398,000 to publish a second volume of Check, Please. The new volume is scheduled to be delivered to backers in April 2017.
Kickstarter also funded Black, one of the biggest indie comic breakthroughs of the year. Praised by Paste Magazine, Graphic Policy, and Outright Geekery, among other comics and pop culture news sites, Black is a critically acclaimed superhero comic produced by writer/editor Kwanza Osajyefo, and illustrators Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle, and Khary Randolph, a group of veteran African American comics artists that have worked for Marvel, DC and at major indie publishers.
Black is the story of a world where only black people have superpowers. The project raised more than $91,000 on Kickstarter in early 2016. The series offers thematic ties to the Black Lives Matter movement—the lead character discovers he has special powers after he survives being gunned down by police—and was subsequently picked up by indie publisher Black Mask Studios for serialization in print and digital beginning this fall.
Stephane Metayer, a New Yorker of Haitian descent, raised $22,027 on Kickstarter in late 2015 to fund Tephlon Funk, a 130-page Hip-hop and manga influenced graphic novel, that surpassed his initial Kickstarter goal of $15,000. Metayer said the project combined his love of rap music, storytelling, and Japanese anime in a multicultural crime and martial arts tale centered on a 14-year-old girl who is trying to escape life in New York’s gritty Queensbridge housing projects.
Metayer, who wrote the script and oversaw the design of the project, recruited the artists to draw it. He began posting excerpts online and used social media promotion as a key driver of his crowdfunding campaign. “By 2015, I gained a following of more than 5,000 fans on social media. There was enough interest to crowdfund it.” said Metayer. “It actually exceeded my expectations.”
Although the delivery of the Tephlon Funk graphic novel, originally slated for November 2016, has been pushed back, Metayer said the delay was caused by conflicting schedules among his cocreators and a commitment to quality. “We want it to look the best it can," he said. But Metayer quickly addressed the delay by offering his backers a series of Tephlon Funk digital mini-comics (the fourth release is being prepared), a mixtape soundtrack of original music, and The Art and History of Tephlon Funk, a 200-page digital book (free to donors) documenting the imagery, storyboards, marketing materials and artwork used in the project.
Editors Sfé R. Monster and Taneka Stotts raised $79,670 in 2015 to publish Beyond, an anthology of queer science fiction and fantasy comics. Stotts followed Beyond by raising more than $51,000 this summer on Kickstarter to fund Elements, a 250-page anthology featuring a variety genre comics based on the theme of Fire, from creators of color, scheduled to be delivered by December.
“Having a channel to appeal directly to potential readers has been a mostly positive disruptive force within the industry,” said Jerome Walford, a graphic designer who raised more than $6,400 on Kickstarter to fund Gwan, a 200-page trade paperback anthology featuring comics, prose and art. Gwan addresses themes of “foreign lands, the immigrant experience, and cultural fusion.” The book is slated for publication this fall and features creators from the U.S. the Caribbean, China and Europe.