A new Kickstarter from IDW Publishing raises similar questions. IDW produces tie-in comics for Star Trek, GI Joe, the X-Files and Ghostbusters, along with popular original titles like Locke & Key. It’s not exactly a small indie press, so why is it turning to crowdfunding to do its job?
IDW’s new Kickstarter is for Full Bleed, a quarterly anthology of comics, illustrated articles, short stories, and interviews with figures like Stephen King. It looks like a high-quality product, a hardback book with a long list of celebrated contributors. It’s also ad-free, which is part of why IDW is crowdfunding instead of publishing it like a traditional comic. This way they can estimate the size of their audience in advance, circumventing the vagaries of the “direct market”—the increasingly risky sales method used by mainstream comics publishers.
Full Bleed raised half of its $50,000 goal in one day, so there’s definitely an audience for this book. But as some comics critics have already pointed out on Twitter, it’s also a rather tone-deaf campaign. In the Kickstarter video, Creative Director Dirk Wood announces, “If you’re like me, you think the internet has basically ruined America,” a bizarre statement from someone trying to fund a project on the internet. He then celebrates Full Bleed‘s status as “physical-only media,” meaning you can only buy it as a $25 hardcover book. It won’t be released in digital format (a staple of most comics Kickstarters), suggesting Full Bleed is only for people who can afford a $25-per-volume print series.
Me: the solution to comics in the US is to pay creators directly & push digital— thal (hiatus) (@thalestral) September 12, 2017
Large comics publisher: we have kickstarter! Only print!! pic.twitter.com/SKL0RZ6aLJ
Then there’s the reward tiers, which include a couple of poorly-conceived options. For $2,000, you can interview Kevin Eastman (co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) for Full Bleed Vol. 2. In other words, you can pay $2,000 to do a freelance journalism assignment that IDW should be paying you to do. The $3,000 tier runs along similar lines, offering a trip to IDW’s office in Portland… where you will spend a day working on Full Bleed. So, you’re paying $3,000 for a one-day internship.
These rewards and Dirk Wood’s Luddite attitude will not impact the quality of the book. The campaign will almost certainly meet its goal, and IDW will publish a rare product in 2017: an anthology book with a wide range of content from established creators. At the same time, it’s understandable for indie comics fans (and creators) to feel frustrated.
IDW presumably turned to crowdfunding because it saw other anthologies succeeding online, but this is a chicken-or-egg situation. When someone wants to organize an anthology comic with multiple creators, they have to use Kickstarter because publishers only want monthly comics or graphic novels. Anthologies used to be a driving force in American comics but died out in the ’70s and ’80s. Island, a recent example from Image Comics, was canceled after 15 issues due to low sales.
But on Kickstarter, anthologies are thriving. We can thank crowdfunders for 1001 Knights (a feminist fantasy anthology that raised almost $300,000), the romance comic Fresh Romance, and fan projects like the Hannibal fanzine RAW, an art/fiction anthology that raised $97,000. Iron Circus Comics relies heavily on Kickstarter, with comics ranging from horror and fantasy to a popular erotic anthology called Smut Peddler. By necessity, crowdfunding has also become a lifeline for people excluded from the comics establishment: women of color, queer creators, and publishers working in underserved genres like romance. These comics fill a niche and instead of trying to cater to that niche, IDW aims to replicate their success with an expensive, exclusive product from a traditional publisher.
Raising $25,000 in less than a day, Full Bleed has already succeeded. However, the Kickstarter’s existence is a mark of failure for mainstream comics publishing. If an established publisher can’t release an anthology through traditional means, it’s a decidedly bad omen for the direct market.