Kickstarted: Humberto Ramos & Paul Jenkins’s ‘Fairy Quest’
I like Kickstarter a lot. It's an efficient way to directly connect with artists while also making sure that 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 Humberto Ramos and Paul Jenkins's Fairy Quest. They're taking a dive into the world of fairy tales, and I think coming along for the ride is a great idea.
Why this Project?
I'm a big Spider-Man fan. I think he's one of the best characters in comics, and definitely the best expression of the modern super-hero when done right. Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos told one of my favorite Spider-Man stories years ago, "Return of the Goblin." It was a personal story, one that was driven largely by emotions instead of action or trauma, and I read it just as I was getting back into comics. Jenkins's script was sensitive and funny in all the right ways, and Ramos had such a great handle on Spider-Man and his cast that I couldn't believe that he wasn't born to draw the character. Jenkins and Ramos together felt like the perfect pairing, as their styles complemented each other well and their weaknesses were obscured by the other's strengths. After "Return of the Goblin," I decided that I would follow this duo wherever they felt like leading me, just to see what they cooked up next.
My interest in comics is almost completely about creators these days. When I find a creator whose style I like, or who works in a mode that gets my engine running, I stick around. Jenkins and Ramos are two guys who fit both criteria. Ramos's art style is playful, energetic, cartoony, consistent, and just plain old exciting to look at. In the case of Spidey, he draws a great skinny figure, but in general, I like the way he exaggerates the proportions of his characters. Jenkins comes with fun, believable dialogue, stories that aren't just about mass murder or world-ending apocalypse but still manage to feel like they have high stakes, and a willingness to just sit back and let his artist work. I got the same feeling from his work on Hellblazer with Sean Phillips, too.
I followed these guys onto another run of Spider-Man, a relaunch of Spectacular Spider-Man that time. Then I followed them onto Revelations, a creator-owned project. And now, I've followed them to Fairy Quest: Outlaws. Backing the project was a no-brainer for me. I give them money and get more stories from two people whose work I enjoy? C'mon, son. Easiest decision in the world.
Jenkins and Ramos ran a pretty good campaign. They requested $60,000 and received $95,100 from their backers, a fantastic turnout. I pledged $30, which gives me a copy of the hardcover book and a few minor niceties like a refrigerator magnet of Red Riding Hood and the Wolf having a good time and a tote bag. Thirty bucks seems steep for a slim book, but it's in the European album size, instead of the smaller American comics format, and a hardcover. I'm willing to pay for good production values, so after a little thought, I went for it.
The rewards were nicely divided up, too. There were several rewards under twenty bucks, ranging from PDFs to mugs, which is a good sign. Some people want to support but may not want, or be able to afford, the full book. This way, everyone gets something. More importantly, the rewards are clearly explained and funny. Not every project needs someone yukking it up in the rewards explanations, but it fits the tone of the book and Jenkins's online persona here. It's cute and endearing, and that goes a long way.
They ran an adaptable and open campaign, too. There was some confusion early on about who would receive a PDF of the book after backing the project. Originally, only people who had pledged a certain amount were due to receive the PDF, but Jenkins decided to change the rewards and give PDFs to anyone who pledged over $14. He didn't have to -- and he pointed out that the issue was addressed in the FAQ -- but he chose to do so in order to keep the Kickstarter a "positive experience." I appreciate getting free stuff, everyone does, but it's even nicer to see a creator with his ears to the street, doing the best he can to keep everyone satisfied.
Though I received my rewards a few weeks ago, some people have yet to receive theirs. Jenkins is on top of that, too. He's been very open about the delays, explaining the source of the delays and being very frank about what he's going to do to solve the problem. Again, he wants this to work and he doesn't want anyone to feel burned, so he's going all out. That's fantastic, as far as I'm concerned. While my order personally went off with nary a hitch, I can relate to people feeling upset about their rewards. If I were them, I'd feel pretty good about Jenkins being so honest about the problems.
The Final Product
Fairy Quest: Outlaws is going to seem familiar to you, if you've paid attention to pop culture at all over the past few years. Listen: there's a world, different from ours but still familiar, where characters from fairy tales live. Still with me? This time, the characters live in Fablewood. The twist is that they are expected to tell their stories each and every day, just as it was told in the past. That's their job, and deviating from the story is strictly forbidden by the authorities, and more specifically, a man named Grimm.
Good creators can do a lot with a cliché, and Jenkins and Ramos fit the bill. Their Red Riding Hood is very prim, like a proper fairy tale heroine, but honest and forthright. She knows right from wrong and tries to do her best by everyone she meets. She's a good person. The Big Bad Wolf, her best friend, is kind once you get to know him, but more than willing to eat anyone who tries to hurt him or his friends. He's sad, deep down inside, and likes spending time alone.
One problem: the wolf is the bad guy, and he's not supposed to be friends with Red Riding Hood. People find out about their friendship and then we're off to the races.
Ramos's art is worth the price of admission, especially with Leonardo Olea's colors. His Red Riding Hood is gangly and all smiles while the wolf is a Disney-esque chunk of black and grey and teeth. Ramos and Olea explore a couple of different styles over the course of the graphic novel, which fit in with Jenkins's alterations in narration. There's a very good in-story reason for it, and those pages look great. I'd be interested in seeing the Ramos/Jenkins/Olea team do a straight up storybook, actually. They have a good style for it, and they've redesigned (or designed!) several fairy tale characters already.
Fairy Quest: Outlaws is a little metatextual at times. The characters know that they are fairy tales, but that isn't treated as something exceptional. It's just who they are. That adds an interesting layer to the story, something for adults to enjoy when showing the book off to kids. The children will stick around for the fights and action, and the adults get to think about whether Fairy Quest: Outlaws is about stagnant creativity and corporate control of characters, and whether preserving the past is fossilizing it, instead of appreciating it.
The book ends with a "to be continued," but it still felt like a comfortable ending. It's the type of ending that leaves you wanting more, rather than feeling like the story was just arbitrarily cut where it stopped.
These guys did a great job. They kept in touch with their backers, were prompt about responding and quick to find a reasonable solution, and delivered a great book at the end of the campaign. While the project has had its share of troubles, I like how honestly contrite Jenkins was about them and how serious he was about finding a way to make things right.
It looks like Fairy Quest: Outlaws is going to see life outside of the Kickstarter project, too. As announced earlier this week, it's going to be serialized in two parts courtesy of Boom! Studios. I believe in this project, and I hope to sees widespread acclaim when it drops next year.