Best known for integrating crowdfunding into her publishing model, Spike Trotman, publisher of the indie graphic novel house Iron Circus Comics, is stepping away from Kickstarter to launch a new independent crowdfunding platform that will be hosted on the Iron Circus website. Trotman says she decided to build her own crowdfunding unit after Kickstarter announced in late 2021 that it plans to eventually migrate its platform to blockchain technology.
Trotman launched the new campaign on February 7 to crowdfund The Poorcraft Cookbook by Nero Villagallos, a 200+ page book that offers recipes, cocktail advice, purchasing, and cooking tips designed for frugal household food preparation and management. The new campaign (which like Kickstarter will last 30 days) has raised most of its $6,000 goal since it opened. This is the third book in the Poorcraft series, which offers advice, well-researched information, and enthusiasm in a DIY graphic nonfiction series about how to build and maintain a frugal and sustainable lifestyle.
Trotman launched her first crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in 2009 to fund the first volume of the Poorcraft series, Poorcraft: The Comic Book Guide to Practical Urban and Suburban Frugality (it raised $13,606); and in 2015 the second volume on travel, Poorcraft: Wish you Were Here, which raised $23,896. Trotman went on to organize more than 30 campaigns on Kickstarter that have raised more than $2.5 million to fund a wide variety of Iron Circus titles. Her successful use of crowdfunding to build a publishing house, a list of indie titles aimed at marginalized communities, and her lively and thoughtful presence on social media, were all factors that led to her being named a PW Star Watch honoree in 2015.
Trotman said fans of the first two Poorcraft titles have been asking for a full cookbook since the first book, which included a chapter on cooking, was released in 2010. The new book is written and drawn by the artist Villagallos and features the original and on-going characters—Penny, her dog Nickel, and Milli, who guide the reader through the book’s resources—created by Trotman for the first volume.
Instead of using Kickstarter for the new edition Trotman is using easily obtainable software to turn the Iron Circus website into an independent crowdfunding platform. Trotman told PW she’s stepping away from Kickstarter because of the uncertainty over plans to integrate its platform into blockchain/cryptocurrency technology. “That is absolutely the reason why I’m doing this,” she said, while also emphasizing how important Kickstarter has been to building Iron Circus into a stable indie publisher. “We love Kickstarter, they are my friends, but right now I can’t support their pivot to the blockchain,” she said. Trotman said that Kickstarter has “never given me a solid road map of what they mean by [moving to] the blockchain or where they are headed.” She called the blockchain conversion "a solution in search of a problem."
She’s not alone. Kickstarter’s plans to move its infrastructure to the blockchain has raised concerns and generated criticism. Much like others in the crowdfunding community, Trotman said she is worried about Iron Circus becoming associated with the claims of fraud sometimes linked to cryptocurrency ventures. She’s also concerned about blockchain’s enormous energy use and its impact on the environment—despite Kickstarter’s claims that it will partner with a “carbon negative” blockchain partner. “I understand the concept behind the blockchain and decentralized networks. I understand all that, but I’m concerned about what cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have become," she said.
Asked to respond to Trotman's concerns, Kickstarter senior director of communications Kate Bernyk said, "we should have told the story of why we are supporting a decentralized protocol better, and it’s on us to make it clear how this will benefit creators in the future. Spike Trotman is an incredible force in the independent comics world whose work we deeply respect. We take our responsibility to creators like Spike very seriously, and though we’re in the very early days of this new direction, we are committed to being thoughtful and transparent and involving our community much more directly as plans take shape from here."
Trotman said the plug-in software she uses will generate a crowdfunding status page on her website “that looks just like Kickstarter, so it will be familiar.” She also says she’s not looking to build a crowdfunding business; her new platform is designed to fund her own books, “we’re not a service provider. This is only for IC books.” But she also said the platform gives her "options for the future".
And she is also adamant that she is not calling on others to abandon Kickstarter. However, after launching more than 30 crowdfunding campaigns, Trotman said she has the experience and resources to migrate her sizeable audience to a new platform. So far she’s been right: the Iron Circus website crashed multiple times during the first day due to heavy web traffic. She joked, “it’s reassuring that I can crash my company’s website with a crowdfunding project.”