A Different Spin on Crowd-Funding?

By | Friday, July 17, 2020 1 comment
Kismet: Man of Fate
Back in 1944, Bomber Comics #1 debuted and included a new character: Kismet, Man of Fate. The first story was credited to "Omar Tahan" although this is a pen name -- likely writer Ruth Roche and artist Chuck Winter from the S.M. Iger Studio. The series lasted only four issues and the character -- considered to be the first Muslim superhero -- fell into public domain.

The character was revived recently, A Wave Blue World published an entirely new story called Kismet, Man of Fate - Volume 1: Boston Strong in late 2018. Although the creators involved did want to continue, A Wave Blue World has opted not to publish any more of the character, despite showing an interest in moving ahead with a second volume initially. The writer A. David Lewis was keen to continue, particularly since he had already written and scripted the next book, and decided crowd-funding was the way to go.

So far, this is a pretty straight-forward approach, and you can probably find a dozen similar stories.

But Lewis did something a little different. Instead of setting up a project on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, he opted for Patreon. But he's structured differently than I've seen other Patreon campaigns. In most cases, what people do is post some amount of content and then make it accessible based on how much an individual contributes to the Patreon. So for example, a dollar a month might get access to the same webcomic everybody else will see but a day early; and five dollars might also include access to process sketches and development ideas; and ten dollars might be a video feed watching them create the comic. The material is largely all being generated already, just through the process of making a free webcomic, and the Patreon is structured to share that (typically unseen) content. Each reward tier provides greater access to things the creator was making anyway.

Lewis, however, has set up his Patreon to pay for work that has yet to be done. As I said, he's already gotten the story written, but what he is promising through this campaign is to take every $140 and put that towards paying for the next page of art. So if 140 people come in and pledge $1 each per month, he'll have one page of art drawn up per month. If 140 people come in and pledge $2 each per month, he'll have two pages of art drawn up per month. If 50 people pledge $100 each per month, he'll have 35 pages of art drawn up per month!

In some respects, this is set up similar to a Kickstarter campaign, where the work is often not yet complete and pledges are collected and used to finish the work. But also notably different here is that the rate at which the book comes out is collectively determined. That is, if 100 people contribute $1 each, but one person contributes $40, that has the same net effect as two people contributing $70 each. So the speed at which Lewis and his team work is dependent on how much everyone contributes. If one person ponies up $139 by themselves, but no one else adds any more, that's effectively the same (for at least that one month) as if no contributed at all.

It's a pay-as-you-go model, but with a collective goal, not an individual one. I don't think I've seen anything quite like it in comics crowd-funding. I asked Lewis why he opted for this type of approach instead of a "regular" Kickstarter, and he said he's not looking to race towards a deadline to generate enough interest. He seems more inclined to let grow more organically. I believe I've also caught a few comments from him on social media where he expressed concern about trying to solicit interest in his comic during a time when the unemployment rate is the highest it's been since the Great Depression.

What this means is that, by removing the fairly short deadline imposed by something like Kickstarter, and instead drawing it out over months and years, loyal fans have a greater ability to contribute long-term irrespective of their financial situation. For example, if some only has enough money to donate $5 a month but the minimum Kickstarter tier to get a book in the mail is $30, they're basically out of luck. But in how Lewis has this set up, a person could contribute their $5 month over month, and eventually get $100 or $1000 in total contributions. Even if they could only afford $5 per month.

The model itself makes a lot of sense, but I'll be keeping an eye on this because, in part, I don't believe it's a model that Patreon is really set up for. It might work perfectly fine, but since it wasn't developed with this model in mind, it'll be interesting to see how it handles things.

I'll note, too, that I did read the first volume of Kismet and rather enjoyed it, so I'll be contributing to the campaign myself. If you want to check out Lewis' campaign, you can check it out here.
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ADL said...

Thank you for this coverage, Sean! Here's hoping that we're on to something that people both will support and can afford.