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Kickstarted: The Glorious Return of Carbon Grey

I like Kickstarter a lot. It’s an efficient way to directly connect with artists while also making sure a project that interests you gets funded. There are still a few hitches that need to be worked out, but my experience with Kickstarter has been largely positive. I’ve backed eleven projects across a variety of genres, and the results have been solid, for the most part. Over the coming weeks, I’m going to take a close look at some of them, examining the positive and negative aspects of each campaign. Today, I’m looking at Carbon Grey, the second volume of a miniseries that was one of my favorite art showcases of last year. Pretty pictures and measured judgments below the cut.

Why This Project?

I’ve written about Carbon Grey — the alternate universe action comic written by Hoang Nguyen, Khari Evans, Paul Gardner, and Mike Kennedy and drawn by Khari Evans, Kinsun Loh, and Hoang Nguyen — before. My interest in the book is mainly visual. The story is okay. It’s extravagant, complicated, well-designed, and clearly very well thought-out, but it still doesn’t wow. It isn’t that it’s bad or poorly written. Instead, it’s acceptable and familiar.

But the art is good, good stuff. The art is produced by all three members of the art team working in perfect concert, and every issue has at least half a dozen pages that are worth just looking at for extended periods of time. It may come in the form of an interesting action scene, a curl of the lip, an immaculate landscape, or something else entirely, but you’re going to find something to dig about this comic.

Carbon Grey is the story of four sisters, descendants of a long-dead national hero. Historically, there were always three sisters in the Grey family line, and they represented Strength, Grace, and Wisdom. They were the Kaiser’s hitters, the women who went out and enforced his will. Now, though, there are four: Eva, Anna, and the twins Mathilde and Giselle. One of the twins is the Carbon Grey, a warrior prophesied to restore the nation to its former glory. Others want to use the Carbon Grey to their own ends. The sisters? They have their own problems, too. Giselle was framed for the murder of the Kaiser, and has been forced onto the run. Her sisters? They’re hunting her.

I enjoyed the first volume of Carbon Grey enough to be really into the idea of getting a second volume. I didn’t discover the project until the Kickstarter had around ten days to go, and backing it was a no-brainer. I wanted it so bad I did my share of stumping for the project, too, by posting the news on my personal site and bugging my followers on Twitter about the Kickstarter every few days.

The Campaign

Hoang Nguyen, creator of the Kickstarter project, chose $40,000 as a goal. That 40,000 bucks was earmarked to fund production of Carbon Grey volume two, another three-issue miniseries. Nguyen had been self-financing the project up til this point, and now he needed help. Carbon Grey is published by Image, who don’t pay a page rate. You get paid once your book begins selling in stores, more or less, which means that you’re working for free for the months it takes to conceive, create, produce, and ship a comic book. If you don’t sell enough copies, you may not break even, and you may need to take outside work. That situation sucks, and this project ensured that its staff would be paid while producing the comic. Nguyen received $45,215.

Nguyen marketed the Kickstarter by showing off art, a good idea for such an art-centric book like this one. On top of that, he announced milestone bonuses for when the project reached 20k, 25k, 30k, 35k, and 40k. Upon reaching each milestone, he would let loose a short story from Carbon Grey Origins, a two-issue anthology comic that was released between full volumes. These stories — in PDF format, no less — would go to all backers, not just high bidders. Prior to announcing these goals, he gave all of the backers access to digital copies of Carbon Grey #1-3, too.

I like this tactic. A rising tide lifts all boats, so if backers know that they’re due for free stuff immediately, they’ll be much more likely to want to tell their friends to get in on the action. It’s smart, and I figure they saw some real attention because of that fact.

The rewards feel a little steep — $15 gets you the first issue signed by the creative team, including shipping — but the presence of the PDFs actually helped me get over that. In order to get each issue of the comic, a very no-frills reward, you needed to pledge $25, plus another $5 for domestic and $10 for international shipping. That’s thirty bucks for three issues… plus three more issues, plus four short stories in a variety of styles.

At that point, even having bought the original series already, I was willing to go for it. DRM-less PDFs are dope, and getting the first series and Origins free alongside the new series felt like a good idea. It’s a complete package, though across two different formats, instead of a patchwork one. You get everything Carbon Grey.

During the initial funding stage, Nguyen did a good job communicating with his backers and making sure everyone stayed informed about the project. The majority of the communication was centered around rewards and gratitude for backing the project, which is nice to see. Nguyen was really interested in giving back to his fan base. He produced an ashcan filled with art for backers in addition to the usual rewards. After the funding period ended, Nguyen kept everyone updated on the status of their rewards and progress on the first issue.

The Final Product

It’s good that Nguyen established that level of communication early on. I received my copy of the first issue in August, following a (unannounced, I believe!) backers-only DRM-free digital release in July. I received a message in late September that the second issue was running late, and I really appreciated the frankness. I don’t mind late comics, especially when they look as good as Carbon Grey and the creators are straight-up about it. I’m not owed an explanation, obviously, but it is nice to have one now and then.

Carbon Grey #1, and the parts of #2 that I’ve seen, was worth backing the project. It feels like a stronger comic than the last series, with noticeable improvements in both writing and art. The series is still all over the place, with a few too many balls in the air for the page count and too few explanations of who is what, but it’s much easier to follow now. The dialogue feels a bit sharper, a little more clear, and the period-style dialogue feels a little less consciously stilted and more like noble speech.

The art, too, looks great, lettering included. There’s a particularly cool whistle sound effect in the book that was nice to see. The art maintains its high quality, and the art team even pulls back from the cheesecake that punctuated the first volume. Evans and the gang draw great women, obviously, but I really dig that the tone of the series has shifted away from Sexy Indiana Jones/The Rocketeer toward something more gritty and dark, like the Killzone games.

The Killzone games are actually a pretty good point of comparison for Carbon Grey. Both trade on World War I German iconography to a certain extent, and explore fascism and dictatorships. They feel similar, visually and thematically, but they explore their shared aspects in different ways. Killzone is very serious. It’s a war story. Carbon Grey is an adventure story, so the tone is a little different accordingly. I feel like if you dig one, you’d dig the other.

I’m pretty happy with how this Kickstarter turned out. The delay isn’t optimal, but Nguyen has done a great job of keeping everyone informed and tailoring our expectations. The comic is as good as it ever was and a little better on top of that, which is always a good thing. You can currently buy it in digital format for $1.99 for back issues and $2.99 for brand-new issues that are less than a month old. If you dig great art… you should probably be reading this Carbon Grey.

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