I've been a fan of Rich Burlew's Order of the Stick for years. Despite being a stick-figure gag strip poking fun at the rules of Dungeons & Dragons, it's one of the strongest character-driven comedies in the world of webcomics. It's genuinely hilarious, occasionally moving and even downright thrilling in a way that only the best fantasy adventures manage to pull off. So when Burlew announced that he was starting a Kickstarter in order to get one of his out-of-print OOTS collections back into circulation, I was happy to throw a few bucks his way.

Apparently, I'm very, very far from alone in that. In just over a week, Burlew's Kickstarter has raised over a quarter of a million dollars, shattering records for comics and allowing him to reprint his entire line of books.The original goal for Burlew's Kickstarter was $57,750 for a new print run of Volume 3 of the strip, War and XPs. The fundraiser met that lofty goal in under two days. In the week since, it's just gotten bigger, and the way that Burlew has kept the momentum is pretty fascinating to see.

For one thing, he's been very clear about where the money's going, something that's very important for Kickstarter campaigns (particularly ones that involve huge amounts of cash). For every goal that he's met, Burlew has been quick to set the next one. When he's raised enough money for a full reprint on one book, the donations start going to a reprint of the next, working towards an ultimate goal of getting his whole library back into print, with all the details clearly established for the donors. There's no vagueness or mystery about what he's doing with the money.

All of that information has been conveyed to the people who donated through a series of emails with handy graphs that are both updates and bonus comics for donators with a storyline about the Order raising money by letting people kick the psychopathic halfling Belkar:

Because it's a Kickstarter, geddit?

The other thing Burlew's done is that he's continually added to the rewards with every milestone that he reaches. Even at the minimum level of $10 -- not a bad price for the 832 strips you can read at his website for free -- the original offer of an exclusive bonus story has now been expanded to two more original short stories created just for the pledge drive. At the higher levels, he's offering all that, plus autographed books and original art.

And the thing is, those new rewards, like the bonus stories, are being added to the existing pledges. So the more people donate, or the more they come back and increase their donation, the more everyone benefits for being a part of it.

But what makes it really fascinating is that it's the democracy of the Internet in action. In an industry like comics, where the mainstream print publishers are losing readers, here's a webcomic that's directed at about as much of a niche audience as humanly possible -- a parody of D&D done with stick figures -- that's not only found an audience, but has mobilized them into a fundraising effort that's raised $264,000 in eight days, just to get collections of it back in print. And if those readers are big enough fans that they're willing to do that much for the strip, odds are pretty good that they've got the books already, and are doing it so that the strip will be there for newer fans to enjoy.

No matter how much of an isolated example it may be, it's an incredible testament to the power of what you can do by creating a truly great comic and offering it up directly to the readers who want it. It may have taken nine years of Burlew creating his strip, during which he's only gotten better as a storyteller, but the end result is that he's built an audience that's visibly, tangibly dedicated and willing to support the story they love, surpassing every expectation.

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