Earlier this year, comics artist Rich Burlew started a drive on Kickstarter, perhaps the best-known name in the American crowdfunding world, to fund a reprint of his popular The Order of the Stick series. He asked for $57,750. By the time the drive ended a month later, nearly 15,000 people had contributed more than $1 million, making Burlew’s work the most-funded comics project in Kickstarter history. Now a new crowdfunding platform is hoping to seize that energy to help other writers and illustrators find the same success—with a niche funding site exclusively for comics and graphic novels.
Announced just before this year’s Comic-Con and launched this week, Comics Accelerator will allow fans to provide direct support to their favorite artists—and, in a step that goes beyond what most other crowdfunding sites do, to help those artists follow through on their projects by assisting with digital delivery. The venture brings the comic-book world in line with a larger trend toward specificity in crowdfunding, and the trend is one particularly suited to the comics medium, says Michael Murphey, CEO of iVerse Media, the digital comics distributor behind Comics Accelerator.
The idea is that, while artists are making it work with more generalist crowdfunding, there is a need for tailored attention from a platform that understands the needs of the community: “Those [comics] were very successful by themselves,” he says of projects like The Order of the Stick. “But we’ve seen a lot of issues where things have been successfully funded and then there’s no support from anyone to help deliver the material.”
So the comics-only angle isn’t the only way in which Comics Accelerator is tailored to the community. Because Comics Accelerator is produced by a company that specializes in digital comics, it has a built-in ability to distribute digital versions of the final projects. For instance, If an artist wants to send digital versions of their finished projects or provide rewards—the smaller incentives to donate—to backers, they can do it through the iVerse system instead of just emailing a file. A digitized product that looks finished and is delivered professionally is more than most artists can manage to do at home without corporate help, Murphey explains. “Not everyone is set up to be the creator, the marketer and the distributor of their own project,” he says. “People can use help in those areas, particularly in comics.”
The platform is also differentiated from other crowdfunding sites in several ways. For one, the company’s 5% take is capped at $2,500 per project. Additionally, artists can set a secret reserve price, lower than their goal but still enough to fund the project. “As much as people are really embracing helping creators make good content,” Murphey explains, “[artists] shouldn’t necessarily have to beg for minimum wage to get it done.” (Curators will ensure that the reserve prices are reasonable.)
Comics Accelerator launches at a time of growth in the crowdfunding world. About $1.5 billion was raised through crowdfunding in 2011, according to an industry report from Crowdsourcing.org. Despite the researchers’ finding that “donation-based and reward-based crowdfunding for art and performing arts projects drive less funding volume than the mainstream media suggest,” the same report finds that the amount raised in 2012 is expected to approximately double from last year’s level, leaving room for Comics Accelerator to establish its place. “We keep getting a new weekly record in terms of how much money is being donated,” says Crowdsourcing.org founder Carl Esposti. “One would have to assume that we’re at the tip of the iceberg in terms of how much money can be generated through these [platforms]. That would suggest that there’s probably room for many, many more players.”
But Esposti cautions that there are both advantages and obstacles for any new, niche crowdfunding organization. On the one hand, the growing number of platforms means that a specific identity will set a company apart—and an active social network attached to that identity is a huge bonus. “You convert your social network into social capital and into real capital,” he explains. On the other hand, because of the small profit margin on any given project, it is crucial for any such company to scale up quickly in order to make a profit.
Laura Morley, a project administrator for another successful comics Kickstarter drive, predicts that the niche nature of Comics Accelerator could have pros and cons for the new business. Morley’s project, the Womanthology, a not-for-profit series produced entirely by female comics artists and writers, raised more than $100,000. And in her experience, Kickstarter’s general popularity was a boon. “We expected that people would have a level of comfort with donating to a Kickstarter campaign, because it was familiar,” she explains, adding that many backers have told Womanthology’s organizers that they are not comics buyers but stumbled across the campaign by chance. This is something less likely to happen right now with a platform like Comics Accelerator.
On the other hand, she believes that Womanthology is proof positive that the comics and graphic-novels world can turn out for its own, a good omen for the future of Comics Accelerator. “A huge part of the success we enjoyed was because comics is such a community,” she says. “Any site that’s able to take advantage of the fact that comics online already work as a big community, as a place where people talk to their friends and promote things they’re interested in, is likely to do well.”