My Former Life as a Kickstarter Junkie

Kickstarter sampler

Top to bottom: Ashes (art by Richard Pace); Jamal Igle’s Molly Danger; Neil DeGrasse Tyson, interviewee from Fight for Space; and Great Pacific (art by Martin Morazzo).

When Kickstarter was relatively new and not yet a household name, it took a while before I warmed up to the concept. Once I dipped my toe into the pool, I had a hard time convincing myself to come up for air.

I loved the idea of artists, writer, musicians, inventors, designers, and other makers of stuff bypassing the corporate processes that normally rule their respective fields and obtaining the necessary funding to self-publish, self-release, or otherwise bring their works to life through the magic of crowdfunding, which in most cases works a lot like pre-ordering an item except you’re also adding a generous tip.

At the end of 2012 I drew a line because I realized I’d gone overboard. I have disposable income set aside each month for doing fun things such as comics and movies, but Kickstarter was devouring more than its fair share and compromising my hobbies. With my son preparing to start college this coming fall, the time has come to batten down the hatches, tighten the belts, and find ways to slash our budget, unless some wealthy benefactor wants to start donating enormous sums in care of this humble blog.

Consequently, one of the first extravagances on the chopping block was my Kickstarter patronage. I like philanthropy. I like helping creators create. I like watching success stories in action. But other priorities have come a-callin’. My last pledge was in December 2012 (a Bob Mould tribute concert film); I can’t swear it’ll be my final use of the site, but any future contributions will have to be severely limited, judiciously selected, frugally committed, and wildly recompensed with endless freebies.

Thus I bid farewell-for-now to my active Kickstarter status with a look back at our history together thus far. The following are past campaigns about which I’ve posted here previously, with updates about their subsequent progress:

* Rich Burlew’s phenomenal Order of the Stick reprint drive. A year after the fact, Burlew is still working hard to fulfill the remaining supporter perks that were delayed due to a severe hand injury. I’ve already received everything I was expecting and then some. (The OotS notepad used for a previous MCC entry was made possible by Kickstarter.)

* The Fight for Space documentary, about mankind’s retreat from the stars. Project mastermind Paul Hildebrandt wisely set a distant but realistic delivery date of December 2013; as of January 2013 his team was still conducting interviews with relevant parties in Washington D.C., making the most of their surplus funding.

* Jamal Igle’s Molly Danger graphic novel. Counting down to the release date later this year, Igle has provided backers with frequent updates and exclusive preview materials, including a heads-up that an eleven-page preview that will appear in Action Lab’s Free Comic Book Day 2013 sampler.

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“Veronica Mars: the Motion Picture”: My List of Demands

Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars, gamer

File Photos Guaranteed Not to be Used on Anyone Else’s Veronica Mars Article #49: the time she went undercover as a gamer.

Despite the grumpy tone of last night’s entry, I reiterate: I was a fan of Veronica Mars back in the day. I discovered it one day while flipping channels at random, catching the first-season episode “You Think You Know Somebody” (with guest star Aaron Ashmore!) and being shocked at the quality of what I’d written off as a standard WB teen drama, but what instead turned out to be a deceptively Californian detective drama with whip-smart dialogue — reminiscent of Buffy, but with a noir styling all its own.

I later caught up with the DVDs and stuck with the show to the bitter end, by which I mean I was bitter. Eventually I moved on, but I’m not opposed to revisiting Veronica’s world if the occasion warrants.

The March 22nd issue of Entertainment Weekly summarizes creator Rob Thomas’ planned premise:

Set a decade after the show’s third and final season, the plot has Veronica returning to her hometown of Neptune, Calif., after much schooling (a bachelor’s from Stanford; a Columbia Law School degree) when she gets a distress call from ex-boyfriend Logan: His pop-star girlfriend has been murdered, and he’s the prime suspect.

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“Veronica Mars” Kickstarter Success Raises Unreasonable Hopes in Fans of Every Canceled Series Ever

Kristen Bell, Veronica MarsJust as Star Wars fans spent weeks celebrating in the streets at the news that their beloved childhood franchise will return to theaters, so is another fan base breaking out the party hats this week…and, more importantly, their wallets.

In a first for a major-studio intellectual property, Warner Bros. has allowed producer/creator Rob Thomas to use the power of crowdfunding to extract Veronica Mars from mothballs and feature her in a major motion picture. Thomas launched a Kickstarter campaign less than 48 hours ago with a lofty goal of $2,000,000.00. As Thomas describes the conditional deal with Warner Bros.:

Of course, Warner Bros. still owns Veronica Mars and we would need their blessing and cooperation to pull this off. Kristen and I met with the Warner Bros. brass, and they agreed to allow us to take this shot. They were extremely cool about it, as a matter of fact. Their reaction was, if you can show there’s enough fan interest to warrant a movie, we’re on board. So this is it. This is our shot. I believe it’s the only one we’ve got. It’s nerve-wracking. I suppose we could fail in spectacular fashion, but there’s also the chance that we completely revolutionize how projects like ours can get made. No Kickstarter project ever has set a goal this high. It’s up to you, the fans, now. If the project is successful, our plan is to go into production this summer and the movie will be released in early 2014.

Thomas worried for naught. Pledges from tens of thousands of fans reached that formidable goal in a record-setting, jaw-dropping twelve hours, leaving 29½ days for slower fans and curious bandwagon-jumpers to keep adding to the budget in hopes of upgrading the film from niche project to wide-release underdog, maybe even with action scenes and trained stuntmen. At the rate the pledges are accumulating, they’ll have enough money to set it in 2030 and equip Veronica and her dad with robot sidekicks.

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Jamal Igle’s “Molly Danger” Aims to Remind: Comics Aren’t Just for Adult Males

Jamal Igle's "Molly Danger"Older collectors can recall a time when fans of all ages could find comic books skillfully produced as entertainment and inspiration for any and all comers. In ye olden times of my own childhood, kids like me were more than welcome to read the adventures of the Marvel and DC mainstream universes, to participate in the stories that “mattered” in the lives of their favorite heroes.

Today, not so much. In recent decades, creators have taken considerable pains in expanding the boundaries of the medium, crafting ostensibly sophisticated stories for a self-described “mature” audience, and convincing themselves that the one true path to literary respectability requires copious bleeding and nonstop pandering to the hormones. Some comics from the Big Two comic are a few steps removed from the average issue of Maxim. In the prevailing sales theory of our times, adult males are the only audience that matters, and this is obviously what all adult males need. Kids who naively or accidentally wander into a comic shop are discouraged from roaming the store freely, instead shepherded over to one designated rack filled with tons of cartoon-based comics, Archie Comics that the regular shoppers have learned to ignore, and thirty-year-old back issues — in short, not much for their generation to call their own. (If your child is lucky and your retailer is magnanimous enough, you might see a lone shelf copy of Strawberry Shortcake. Big if.)

Jamal Igle has something different in mind. After two decades of working for Marvel, DC, and several major independents, Igle is working outside the corporate scene on his own creation, a four-part graphic novel series called Molly Danger, taking full advantage of the shocking truth that some girls like action, adventure, super-heroes, and sci-fi, but should have at least one viable option beyond androcentric pabulum. Several years in the making, Igle described the premise in a recent interview like so:

Molly Danger is the world’s most powerful 10 year old Superhero. The catch is, she’s been 10 years old for almost 20 years. The public and Molly herself believe she’s an immortal, superhumanly strong alien being form a planet called Gamma 7, a world on the edge of the Galactic rim. She protects her hometown from the Supermechs, a collection of cybernetically enhanced villains. She lives in her own museum, lovingly referred to as the Mollydome. She’s respected and loved by everyone.

Unfortunately, Molly is a bird in a gilded cage. She doesn’t have any friends or family, she doesn’t have a secret identity or a life outside of being Molly. She’s kept sequestered from the public because she’s a target for her enemies and a danger to others because of her strength. She longs for a normal life.

Molly Danger should address a few lamentable shortcomings in today’s field: the lack of reading options for young but literate fans; the preponderance of sex toys pretending to be actual characters; and the derivative nature of so many heroines who are basically sidekicks or female versions of preexisting male heroes. (The underlying message therein: the best ways for a woman to succeed are to work for a great man, or to copy him Single White Female style. Plan C, of course, would be to settle for marrying a great man, leaving your five-year plan at that, and hoping really hard not to meet the same grisly fate as countless other wives and girlfriends in comics.)

Igle has a Kickstarter campaign in progress as of this writing, with three days and several dollars to go. The publishing plan is a four-issue miniseries of oversized hardcovers to be released by Action Lab Entertainment, purveyors of the excellent, award-nominated Princeless (fit for the same audience and pretty high-quality, judging by the first issue I read). Setting aside the mild language in the Maya Angelou quote that prefaces the Kickstarter video, this looks to be a winner on an all-ages level, in the sense of Pixar “quality for all fans at all levels” instead of the sense of “innocuous twaddle for ages four and under”. Igle has drawn comparisons to the likes of Astro Boy or The Powerpuff Girls in that sense.

The Kickstarter page offers plenty more art samples, typically top-notch from the artist whose favorite work of mine was an underrated run on Firestorm some years ago. Igle’s own blog also contains a recent press release with more details about supporting characters and other assorted tidbits.

For the jaded comic readers among you, consider the competitive advantages of Molly Danger for your reading dollar:

* Guaranteed not to be just one long, soulless ad for a corporate cartoon!
* Guaranteed not to be ruined by short-sighted editorial meddling halfway through!
* Guaranteed not to be wrested from Igle’s control and assigned to some hack writer who’s unclear on the concept, decides the series needs to be more “modern”, and has half the cast butchered!
* Guaranteed not to be interrupted ten pages from the end by a three-month-long crossover that requires you to buy twelve other Action Lab series!

I would like to say “fun” is also guaranteed, but fun is in the eye of the beholder and may vary by user. If Molly Danger isn’t fun after all, then Igle totally misrepresented and we should all sue him to death. But I’m betting fun will win out.

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Department of Full Disclosure:

1. I’ve been an official Supporter of Molly Danger for a few weeks now. I’m not a paid shill here, just a happy reader who likes seeing nifty things published.

2. My only experience with Igle in person was watching him at a 2011 fan-awards presentation at C2E2, where he had the privilege of accepting several different awards. They were mostly accepted on behalf of other no-show winners, but still, I’m sure there’s a certain prestige to being Award Acceptor Jamal Igle, even if all our photos of that presentation turned out dismal beyond belief.

“Fight for Space” Documentary to Ask: Whatever Happened to the Final Frontier?

At the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, KS, this sign looms over you as you descend the steps into the main exhibit hall in their basement, where rests a comprehensive collection of rockets, spaceships, and aeronautical paraphernalia from various countries that share an active or tangential history with space travel. Man’s quest for space has been fraught with skepticism, debate, setbacks, and major disasters. “Difficulties” is an understatement.

That basement location is an apt metaphor for the state of American spaceflight today, compared to other agendas and priorities that garner larger headlines and weigh on us more heavily in the moment. What once seemed like a top-shelf objective for purposes of scientific research and frontier exploration is now a set of mostly forgotten toys boxed up and forgotten in some dark corner. A few weird kids still cherish them and try to make the most of them, but no one else is interested in watching them play or buying them better toys.

The Cosmosphere has one small section dedicated to the current state of space travel aspiration, including photos of several independent companies and programs (not just American) dedicated to continuing the work that NASA started but now seems too crippled to pursue alone. I had passing familiarity with Virgin Galactic and SpaceX before we visited the Cosmosphere on this year’s road trip, but I was surprised to see that several other would-be pioneers have tossed their hat into the ring to see what they can make happen.

I’m not surprised at my relative lack of awareness. I first learned about the 2010 mothballing of the Space Shuttle program from a 2009 exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum. I couldn’t believe that such a declaration of retreat hadn’t somehow caught my attention before. A tiny shuttle diorama had to break the news to me. When events and successes occur in or about space, they tend to be reported in the back section of your few remaining local newspapers (the same section containing “news” such as “College Study Shows Eating Causes Fat”), or in an easily overlooked article link buried among two dozen other such links in the “Stories with Ten Hits or Less” section of your favorite news site. If we’re not actively hunting for space news, our odds of keeping tabs on it by casual happenstance are nil.

Filmmaker Paul Hildebrandt is working on a new feature-length documentary called Fight for Space that aims to update us all on just what happened to the space race, where it is now, who does or doesn’t care, and why America’s support for it has all but withered away. Hildebrandt and his crew have already conducted numerous interviews with scientists and non-scientists alike, with plans and hopes to keep adding more diverse viewpoints to the mix that would push the movie even closer to fairness and balance.

To that end, Hildebrandt launched his Fight for Space Kickstarter campaign last week to fund his efforts beyond the initial investments. At their current rate of acceleration the project should be fully funded by Monday, so a desperate call to arms and wheedling for more money is hardly necessary. Regardless, pledges are still accepted, the reward packages are generous, and I’m curious to see if extra support would make the movie even snazzier.

The Kickstarter page has a short video with excerpts from some of the interviewees already in the can — the likes of Neil Degrasse Tyson, the inimitable Bill Nye the Science Guy, Star Trek: Voyager‘s Robert Picardo, and several studious-looking science guys that some of you probably know and love. (I wasn’t kidding about my ignorance.) The same page also informs us of PBS’ officially piqued interest; shows us a 2013 US government budget projection that would provide NASA with just enough lunch money for half its staff; and links to an hour-long speech from Tyson, who I’m told may be the coolest astrophysicist of all time.

I’m not sure I foresee the Fight for Space campaign becoming another Order of the Stick, but I look forward to seeing this movie, and I wouldn’t mind if they had the chance and the resources to make it even bigger and better. At the very least, maybe they can use the extra petty cash to buy NASA the largest Christmas turkey in the shopkeeper’s window.

Today’s Unrelated Things: the Stalker and the Stick

Basic-cable true-crime melodrama is my wife’s thing, not mine, but she noticed the description of one of tonight’s reruns of the Investigation Discovery docuseries Stalked: Someone’s Watching mentioned “a comic book author”. I’m easily excitable whenever our interests converge, so I dropped what I was doing and joined her for quality TV time that ended up disturbing me instead. The December 2011 episode titled “Signed, your Deadliest Fan” was a half-hour run-through of the experience of Colleen Doran, creator of A Distant Soil and artist of various commendable works (Sandman, Orbiter, the underrated Zodiac), who spent years at the mercy of a “fan” who subjected her to no small amount of devious psychological Hell.

As Doran recounted her story to the offscreen interviewer, I felt sure I wasn’t the only comics reader reminded of Harlan Ellison’s classic essay, “Xenogenesis”, about the real-life horror stories endured by science fiction writers at the hands of poorly raised readers oblivious to the pain caused by their own reprehensible actions toward their ostensible idols. I’m glad that Ellison was forthright enough to set “Xenogenesis” down in print, but I really don’t like to be reminded of it. I hate knowing that I share a hobby or a fandom with extremist malcontents who failed at paying attention to the good-is-better-than-evil motif portrayed in 90% of all comics ever. Understanding that other humans are not your toys shouldn’t be a challenging lesson to learn.

“Xenogenesis” doesn’t appear to be online in any reputable downloadable form. I think I still have the copy I clipped out when it was reprinted in Comics Buyer’s Guide many a moon ago. The Stalked episode is available to view via; alas, it costs money. Doran also wrote an even more distressing follow-up about the episode with links to her past writings about the ordeal, covering details that the producers omitted or glossed over, such as the part where the offender in question is now out and about on his own recognizance. I can see how this non-minor detail would interfere with the show’s need for closure.

(Less saddening aside about the show: I was jarred out of it for a moment during a dramatization in which “Colleen” apprehensively attended a New York comic con as a special guest circa 1987. In one brief shot, we see her cheerfully signing copies of The Unwritten. Anachronism and complete un-relation to Doran aside, the next time Peter Gross needs a month’s vacation, she would seem a great fit to me.)

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On the brighter side of my day, the mailman finally delivered my tangible rewards for supporting Rich Burlew’s The Order of the Stick Kickstarter campaign. It still boggles the mind how a project that started as a quixotic quest to reprint a few old collections became a record-breaking runaway train of generosity gone wild. My pledge level permitted me a graphic novel I didn’t have, along with far too many additional stationery-section goodies that were added as prizes later in the campaign.

I’m especially tickled pink by the OotS coloring book, which includes coloring pages for each of the major stick-figure cast members, plus value-added puzzles and drawing challenges. I’m tempted to color a page and post an example for all to see, but then my coloring book wouldn’t be a mint-condition collectible anymore that I can use to fund my post-retirement world traveling.

(Caveat emptor: intense typo Nazis should think twice before purchasing a copy if the opportunity arises, because one section in the answer key misspells “situations”. I’ve seen your kind act as wet blankets in the name of proofreading in many a venue, but do realize Burlew is under tremendous pressure to fulfill his part of the deal and has a lot on his plate. It would be most gracious of you to forgive, forget, and refrain from insisting that the mere existence of “situtions” sullies his good name and ruins everything. Please do not declare the whole thing a sham or demand triple your money back and your next ten graphic novels free. As Stalked taught us, fan entitlement is an ugly, destructive force of evil.)

Help Fund “The Garlicks” on Kickstarter, and Famous Comics Writer Will Eat Bug

Not a joke headline! Not a hoax! Not a dream! Not an imaginary story! Fans of entomophagy, lend me your ears!

The Garlicks: Pandora Orange, Fail Vampire promises to be yet another fun romp of a graphic novel/webcomic from writer/artist Lea Hernandez, previously seen on such past projects as Killer Princesses (with Gail Simone) and Clockwork Angels. The official Kickstarter campaign page describes the all-ages story much more lucidly than I could hope to, but it centers around a young girl named Pandora Orange who fails at vampirism and decides to create comics instead. Imagine the fame and fortune to be had if only she could learn to juggle both, but suffice it to say hijinks will ensue with a colorful cast of characters and none of the doom or gloom that permeate 90% of what’s on comic shop shelves today.

With only five frantic days until the Dreaded Deadline Doom, the campaign has amassed a little over 25% of its funding goal. To sweeten the pot above and beyond the generous rewards Hernandez has already offered, one of my longtime favorite comics writers, Kurt Busiek (creator of things I’ve really truly liked such as Astro City, Thunderbolts, and The Liberty Project, in addition to splendid Marvel works such as Marvels and Untold Tales of Spider-Man) has now stated for the record that if the reading public makes The Garlicks a reality, he will personally ingest one (1) bug. No details have been forthcoming regarding species, condiments, or broadcast rights to this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Here’s that link one more time if you’d love to see Kurt Busiek, co-creator of Marvel’s Triathlon and one-time writer of Night Thrasher, to ingest an insect for art’s sake. Better yet, if you have a friend of a friend who happens to be a trust-fund-raised one-percenter with a million dollars just lying around, do the medium a favor and persuade them to help bring Pandora Orange to life and give current Kickstarter comics-projects record-holder Rich Burlew a run for his title!

(Please be warned: if this project is unsuccessful, I hear Sarah McLachlan will record a depressing, doe-eyed new TV commercial in support of bug adoption charities. No one wants to see that, now do they?)

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Department of Full Disclosure:

1. I’ve been an official Supporter of The Garlicks since before the threat of bug-eating made it cool. I’ve become a modest Kickstarter junkie over the past several months, donating here and there to several different projects varying in quality from very-promising to obviously-awesome-even-before-completion. I could quit the habit anytime I wanted if talented people would stop using it.

2. I still cherish the warm memory of a 1999 Usenet incident in which Hernandez and I wound up on the same side in a heated debate over whether or not strollers should be permitted at conventions. Good times.

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