Crowd-funding, the technical term for fund-raising sites like Kickstarter.com, has been an increasingly popular way for cartoonists to raise money to publish independent comic and graphic novel projects. While Kickstarter has just hit a new high point with the funding of the first $600,000 comics project, another recent high profile project hit a snag over creative differences but manages to regroup.
When things work, the results can be spectacular. The Order of the Stick is a Web comic written and drawn by Rich Burlew. At press time, “The Order of the Stick Reprint Drive” had raised $663,546 from a little more than 9,000 backers on Kickstarter with days to go before the project’s pledge period ends on February 21. The fund-raising doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Raising this amount of money is even more impressive considering that this project is intended to bring old books back into print, not create a new graphic novel. This is already the highest funded book project ever on Kickstarter, and it continues to climb through the top 10 of all-time highest crowd-funded projects.
The project began when Burlew noticed that volumes of the print collections of his self-published comics strip had sold out. He initially set up the Kickstarter drive just to get funds for a fresh printing of one of them. Now he’s looking at fresh printings for his entire catalogue (that's seven print volumes) and a need to increase the print runs to account for the demand generated by crowd-funding.
Burlew has accomplished this by taking an established audience—Order of the Stick started in 2003—and pointing them toward Kickstarter. He’s also selling new content as part of the menu of premiums, with 40 different donation levels. These range from a new story in PDF format for a $10 donation to a walk-on appearance in a comic by a backer’s Dungeons & Dragons character for $5,000. As the amount of money raised has increased, Burlew has added bonus premiums like stickers and a coloring book. He’s also added goals for new funding levels to keep the project aiming higher than its initial $57,750 goal. It also looks like he’ll need to set another goal past the current top level of $663,000.
While The Order of the Stick’s stock has been soaring, another well-known Kickstarter comics project was almost canceled, and its problems highlight the pitfalls of the creative process when it’s being funded by donations. In December, the original graphic novel Ashes, a Kickstarter project by writer Alex de Campi and artist Jimmy Broxton, was funded in the amount of $32,455. This was celebrated as both a top 10 funded comic project and proof that crowd-funding could finance an original graphic novel’s creation costs, not just printing costs. The project also offered an innovative premium for comics retailers, a “retailer’s bundle,” a set of five hardcover copies of the book along with digital downloads that retailers can sell for a $105 donation.
Less than a month later, however, claiming creative differences, de Campi fired Broxton, and it was unclear if a new artist would be hired or if de Campi would refund the pledged money. But de Campi is regrouping and is working to keep the project alive. “It will happen with multiple artists,” de Campi told PW of the now revised project, “which was how I had intended to do it in the first place.” De Campi has announced that artists Igor Kordey and Colleen Doran have signed on.
De Campi told backers of the project that she is very close to signing up all the artists she’ll need to complete the project. Although refunds will still be available for backers who do not care for the new artist lineup, de Campi is under no obligation to do so—once a campaign has been successfully funded, Kickstarter project organizers do not need to provide refunds. While this case has generated a lot of online chatter, it hasn’t hurt enthusiasm for crowd-funders to invest in projects by creators they believe in, as Burlew’s incredible success story shows.