Comicker Digital Takes to Kickstarter to Launch Print Line [Back Pages]
Crowdfunding has become an important part of how comics get made, allowing creators to pitch their work directly to readers, and providing opportunities for comics that traditional publishers may not consider. With Back Pages, ComicsAlliance hopes to provide a spotlight for some of the best comics crowdfunding projects we can find.
Created by Sean E. Williams and Saori Adams, Comicker Digital is offering a wide slate of digitla comics on a subscription model, with a focus on allowing creators to work to their own schedules. Now Comicker Digital is expanding into print, under the not entirely unexpected name of Comicker Press. To do this, the founders have turned to Kickstarter to help fund the books. ComicsAlliance spoke to co-founder Williams about the move, how the digital comics marketplace looks right now, and what readers can expect from the publisher in the future.
ComicsAlliance: When did Comicker Digital start? What was your ambition when you first set up the publisher?
Sean Williams: It all came about because I was looking for a solution to problem --- how to do truly creator-owned series flexibly, while juggling the economic realities of the American comics market. Adam Bolton and I had been trying to get Gatehouse made for a couple of years, but with his schedule, traditional publishers weren't going to cut it. This was a problem I'd heard over and over from other creators --- "I'd love to do a creator-owned series, but I just don't have time."
While this was all happening, Saori Adams and I had been talking about working together, and then at C2E2 2014 she came up to my table and said, "What about webcomics?" That was the piece I'd been missing in my head, and everything clicked --- we could publish webcomics on a relaxed and manageable schedule, and then do digital issues on Comixology and other platforms, and eventually collected in print. So Saori and I founded Comicker LLC that summer, and started talking to creators right away.
Once they all had a good head of steam going on their series, we launched with the Comicker Digital label on February 26th, 2015.
CA: What do you think makes Comicker Digital stand apart? What kind of identity do you feel you have have as a publisher?
SW: The way we treat the creators we work with is a big part of it. From a reader perspective, someone told us once that, on the spectrum of comics publishers, we're the perfect blend of "arty" and "high concept" --- right in between First Second and Boom, which seems like a pretty solid corner of the industry to call our own.
And it fits. You look at The Casebook of Rabbit Black by Kate Sherron --- it looks like Matisse, but has the buddy-cop premise of a novice necromancer being tied to an undead P.I. who's trying to solve his own murder. There's no reason "arty" and "high concept" can't exist in the same comic book.
CA: You've brought over some of your Monkeybrain Comics books to this new publisher --- how did the experience of working with Monkeybrain play into your development of Comicker Digital?
SW: Monkeybrain was gracious enough to let us do a webcomic edition of Artful Daggers, yeah, to give us a chance to find an audience. One of the biggest advantages of digital comics is that they're never out of print. But we learned doing Artful Daggers that digital comics have the same awareness problem that monthly print comics have, and that's that you need to be putting out comics regularly, otherwise people can't find you, and will quickly forget about you. This was probably the biggest revelation that influenced how we approach releasing our digital series.
CA: Digital comics are big business --- Thrillbent, Panel Syndicate, Tapastic; there are several growing publishers now, each with different approaches to digital comics. What's your focus? How do you view the marketplace right now, and your role within it?
SW: Our focus has always been on the creators first --- how can we make doing creator-owned series successful? Working with a lot of creators who are just starting to make names for themselves in the comics world, we knew that ad-revenue from webcomics alone wasn't going to be enough, and that sales of digital issues weren't going to be enough either.
Instead of going exclusive with our platform --- which would require readers to come to us, a new publisher with new creators --- we're going to where the readers already are. That includes going to print via this Kickstarter campaign, under our just-announced Comicker Press banner.
As far as the marketplace goes, there's no shortage of readers. Comics is a medium for everyone, but DC and Marvel have been so focused on their core audience [that] convincing folks who haven't read comics before to give it a try can be difficult --- but it's getting easier. Those readers are the ones who are picking up trade paperbacks at Barnes & Noble, or reading them on Comixology on their tablets. Those are the readers who will enjoy Comicker series the most, which is why we have to go to them where they're most comfortable. They're also looking for stories outside of the mainstream --- ones that aren't the stereotypical "comic book." Our series are anything but stereotypical.
CA: How do you find people to work with, people to publish? What kinds of comics do you want to celebrate, and promote?
SW: We don't have a single approach to finding people. The Casebook of Rabbit Black creator Kate Sherron and I met exhibiting in Artist Alley at an anime convention. Some creators are friends of friends, and some come to us via our submissions page.
For us, the important thing is the story. If it's compelling and original, we're a lot more likely to pick it up. The interesting thing to me is that once we had our first slate of titles, we realized that half our creators were women or persons of color, and that our series mostly centered around women and/or persons of color.
We want to tell stories that we want to read, which is generally stuff we're not seeing in the mainstream comics. And frankly, we don't need another publisher putting out the same kind of books, and we don't think readers want that either. That's why we're focused on representation and diversity in our series, and we've seen a really positive reaction to it.
CA: You mention in the Kickstarter how important it is for you that the creators have fair terms. Can you talk a little further about how Comicker Digital works with the creators involved?
SW: The thing that I've found over and over again in the comics business is that publishers take creators for granted, because there's always someone else who wants to get their comics published.
At Comicker, we work with our creators as true partners. Artists don't get to bill publishers for their supplies (which are insanely expensive), so we didn't understand how it was fair for publisher to charge marketing costs and "production fees" to the creators. We don't do that. And we ask for only the rights we're actually using --- digital, and now print, publishing --- and the creators keep the rest, as they should. Our publishing schedule is flexible and accommodating, because we know what it's like in the real world when you have bills to pay.
CA: If the Kickstarter is funded, you'll be able to bring three of your books to print. What can we expect from these first three titles seeing print? Can you give us a little look at each one?
SW: You can expect a wide variety, that's for sure! The Casebook of Rabbit Black Volume 1 by Kate Sherron is about a P.I. named Rabbit Black who gets killed while on a case --- only to get accidentally reanimated by the necromancer downstairs --- at which point, the series is basically a buddy-cop story, as the two are stuck with each other as Rabbit Black tries to solve his own murder.
Lost Angels Volume 1: 'Paradise High' by David Accampo and Chris Anderson is about a Latina who's just trying to survive high school in Los Angeles, except that a city of alien angels has landed on Santa Monica, and the two cultures are constantly at odds as they try to co-exist. It's a perfect example of sci-fi as metaphor, and David handles it with the exact right amount of subtlety. Chris's art has a loose sketchiness to it that compliments the story perfectly.
And finally, we have Some Kind of Blue Moon as a stretch goal. It's written by Michael D. Stewart, with art by Thomas Boatwright, and lettering by James Greatorex. It's about a guy just trying to survive normal life --- locking down a job, getting through college, coping with a break-up --- except he's a werewolf, who can't control his powers. And believe it or not, it's actually a light comedy that doesn't take itself too seriously --- its roots are in the John Hughes movies of the '80s.
CA: Why take the project to Kickstarter? What improvements will you be able to make to Comicker Press should you reach your target?
SW: Kickstarter was a bit of a no-brainer. I'd successfully done a micro-campaign on it before, so it's a platform I'm comfortable with, and David Accampo of Lost Angels had a successful campaign as well for his mini-series Sparrow & Crowe.
By bringing it to Kickstarter, we're building a foundation for bringing our creator-owned series to print. Any creator you ask knows that the hardest part of selling books at conventions is paying for that initial order --- once you have the books in hand, you can place your next order using the money from selling the first order.
It's the same way here. Kickstarter gives us the opportunity to have readers pre-order these books, so that as the books sell, we can pay for the next printing (or the next series).
CA: What are your goals for the next year of Comicker Digital and Comicker Press, in general?
SW: Part of the reason why we're doing this Kickstarter now is that we don't want to lose another convention season. By being a digital-first publisher, we didn't really have an opportunity to do any conventions last year --- it's hard to justify the expense of exhibiting when you don't have anything to sell to offset it.
Once we have books in hand, the creators will be able to sell them at conventions, and we'll be able to get out there in front of readers who might not find us otherwise. We're also planning on getting the books to comic shops via Diamond, as well as into bookstores. From there, we'll keep bringing more diverse series to the world, digitally and as trade paperbacks.
CA: Where can people keep up with the various Comicker projects, aside from the Kickstarter? This is a paid subscription service run through a free app, correct?
SW: Our Comicker Digital iOS app is free in the app store, yeah, and includes the first few chapters of all our series. Right now, Parallel Page by James Plier & Chris Bourroughs and Brainbuster 2019 by JB Roe & James H. Dufresne are available exclusively on the app. And for a subscription of $2.99 --- less than the average price of a comic book nowadays --- you get access to all our series, before they're available anywhere else. We also do a thing we call "Special Feature Friday," where we post process artwork and other cool stuff exclusively to the app.
The Kickstarter for Comicker Press will run until 1 April 2016, seeking a funding target of $13,875. To find out more, check out the Kickstarter here!