On Mark Andrew Smith’s Sullivan’s Sluggers Kickstarter

January 8th, 2013 by | Tags: ,

I wrote Mark Andrew Smith a message on Kickstarter asking what was up with Sullivan’s Sluggers being on Amazon and for sale elsewhere, even though the Kickstarter page says “This book is exclusive only to Kickstarter backers and available here for a limited time.” I was curious and I had a couple friends who were asking me if I knew what’s up, so I reached out. He wrote back asking me if I was stalking him.


I figure it was because I wrote about his kickstarter on ComicsAlliance and talked about the pros and cons? But sure, stalking. Okay. I figured it was him trying to deflect and that I wasn’t going to get an answer, so it was whatever.

Rich Johnston asked the same question on the Kickstarter, and Smith didn’t answer him, either. But he DID answer another backer who responded to Rich and here’s the goods:

@John the book also now is upgraded to an Omnibus Size, with Slipcase, Hardcover, Bound in Ribbon Book Mark, Gatefold Cover, Print inside the front cover, and Baseball Card sheet inside the back cover. It’s really not the same book as it was originally on the Kickstarter and US backers are getting this at essentially $25 plus $5 for shipping and handling.

There were a lot of opportunities to cut corners and cut costs. We never did.

We put $49.99 on the back of the book to reflect the actual value of the book. So while it was listed as exclusive it’s really no longer the same book, and it’s never again going to be offered at the price original backers picked it up at and never sold for less. Aside from that it will be offered on our website at a higher price but shipping after orders go out to backers first.

We did an overprint to raise funds for future projects, and we’re going to offer the book as a reward item from time to time on Kickstarter to raise funds for new projects and the focus really is the creation of more new and original comic book projects.

Lotta mush in here, lotta things to tackle, but I LOVE the idea that because the Kickstarter was such a big success that the book morphed into this big fat other book that isn’t bound by the rules he laid out for the original Kickstarter, and in fact, we should be thankful, because he could charge us a lot more!

But nah, here’s the thing: the book that he’s selling on his site and on Amazon is the book that backers pledged for. It’s not some magical new thing. People pledged money to produce this book, and then they kept pledging to make the book get better, often at Smith’s urging. This fancy technicolor omnibus dolby digital edition is exactly what the backers kicked him almost ninety thousand bucks more than he asked for in order to get.

So to say “the book changed, and that’s why I’m not bound by my word” is more than a little shady. To subtly shame people for getting it cheaper than it’s worth (“the actual value of the book”) when it was your idea to make it a dope package in the first place — c’mon, son. Where are you going with this?

How is this anything but Smith going against the terms of his own Kickstarter? It says in plain language that it is exclusive for backers, right? But it isn’t. If the plan was to sell things all along, just say so upfront! If plans changed in mid-stream, say so! Most people will understand, I figure, especially if the book did change into this whole other deluxe package. If it’s money, if you promised too much, then I bet people would understand that, too. There are hidden fees everywhere and in everything. “Hey, I thought I could print this for X, but I can’t, so it’s going to take longer” is way better than “I’m doing you a favor, have you seen how nice this book is?”

The problem — and this is something I talked about a lot when writing about Kickstarter for ComicsAlliance — is communication. If I say “Hey, I’m gonna do this thing you don’t like” before I do it, then you have a chance to either go “Hey, how about no?” or “Okay, cool, whatever, I’ll get over it.” If you don’t, and then just do things anyway, you look like you’re hiding something. When you take into account the suddenly non-exclusive nature of the book, ComiXology getting the book for non-backers before backers even got their digital PDF, Smith himself putting the book up for sale before print backers get theirs, Stokoe being entirely silent despite being the main draw for the book, and backers who ordered two books having to wait until probably late Feb or March to get their stuff… the project leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It’s not cheating his backers, not exactly, but it’s definitely shady and frustrating. It’s the kind of thing that makes people look at Kickstarter as a problem, and it kills the faith that people have in the process. Kickstarter revolves around one basic transaction: “I am going to give you money, and you are going to give me what you say you will.” That goes for exclusives, upgrades, and everything else. People back projects because they believe in it or they want the product, and it’s important to keep your word.

I’m not out any money or anything — I paid ten bucks for a PDF and got it; it was pretty — but this is the type of thing that makes me not want to back someone’s projects or pay attention to their work at all. Transparency, keeping things aboveboard and honest, is crucial.

(Late addition — Smith was begging free work off people in the name of Sullivan’s Sluggers, too.)

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14 comments to “On Mark Andrew Smith’s Sullivan’s Sluggers Kickstarter”

  1. I’m glad you do that column on ComicsAlliance. It doesn’t seem like many places talk about the follow-through of a successful Kickstarter, which seems to me to be the most important part, if least exciting. You have to point out when someone is messing up for anyone uninvolved to take notice.

  2. Definitely a bait-and-switch type of scenario there. I looked at this Kickstarter, but decided to pass. I got burned on a Kickstarter already when the guy decided it would take more time and money than he thought to do what he said he would do (sketch cards). It was only ten bucks, so I just chalked it up to a lesson learned. That experience has made me much more cautious about backing anything on Kickstarter, even by known professionals.

    On a side note, I just went to Amazon to check on the book. The hardcover is listed as out of print. The softcover has a note letting people sign up to be notified of when it is released (though the release date listed is tomorrow).

  3. *siiiiiiiigh*

    Mark really really really needs to stop using the words ‘we’ and ‘ours’.

  4. I’m sure the Amazon listing predates the kickstarter – as I understood it the upgrading of the book to hardcover/omnibus/slipcase/formatparty was precisely the exclusive part, and that the general release would be a standard paperback. Some crazy semantic gymnastics going on here.

    Also: “never sold for less” – gonna point guns at retailers? Or…

  5. I really liked the ‘Sullivan’s Sluggers’ CA piece, and I’m glad to see you keep the heat on here! It echoes my own frustrations with this Kickstarter, though far more eloquently (you also hit the nail on the head with the Cerebus kickstarter being not quite what was promised).
    I’m an international backer, who paid to get the actual book, and it seems everyone in the world will get to read it before me. (Partially my choice – I paid for an over-sized Stokoe hardcover, so don’t want to read it first on my ipad, even once he decided to let us lowly backers have access to the PDF/comixology version).
    Maybe I’ll get it in Feb, or maybe I’ll get it in March, according to the latest updates. Not too bad for a book originally due in September, then October and then back from the printers in November – whoops no, that’s shipping from the printers in late November, arriving late December. I’d be less annoyed, but the updates said production was wrapped in August!
    To be honest, I don’t mind Mark Andrew Smith doing extra prints to sell for profit, or putting it on comixology – backers gave him a hell of kick-start after all, why not put that money into making more of the books – it’s just when he’s doing it with the money we gave him, before he’s given us what we paid for (which is Stokoe!).

  6. @James Stokoe: Not going to lie James, I jumped on this for your art, and while I’m really excited to get my copy in my hands and would gladly support anything else you do, Mark’s a different story entirely.

    And, as usual, David’s pointed out perfectly why it’s an issue. It’s not that shit happened, it’s that shit happened and he’s bullshitting us.

  7. Believe,
    The ONLY reason anyone is buying ‘Sullivan’s Sluggers’ is because of James Stokoe.
    No insult intended, but I’ve never heard of Mark Andrew Smith in my life.
    So I would suggest James Stokoe have a word with him, less the stink brush rub off on him.

  8. What a shitty position to be in. Everyone throwing money at you to see some artwork you’re story happens to be attached to. What an absurd comedy that a book could make nearly 100 000 dollars without having been read, with every indication that its treading a dangerously generic path. Comics is an endless source of high quality drama, illogical twists and tragic dead ends.

  9. @N. Savory: Mark has written several things for Image including Amazing Joy Buzzards (which I loved),
    The New Brighton Archeological Society,
    Gladstone’s School For World Conquerors, etc.

  10. This is all fascinating, in a grubby kind of way (not so much the Kickstarter issue, which is a completely valid thing- there needs to be some kind of mechanism brought in to ensure accountability on crowdfunding sites before things like this kill them), but the gossipy, scenestery stuff that’s swirling around it. Smith seems to be making weird drama part of his rep, what with the whole Aqua Leung thing a few years ago. That’s really not the greatest look.

    On a personal level, I don’t know really know anything at all about either of the creators involved, it’s possible that either one a serial killer or the messiah, but my gut goes like this: James Stokoe is easily one of the best cartoonists and storytellers working today, who by the looks of things did a job for pay, like a professional, and is now keeping out of it, like a professional- while the other guy called a journalist a stalker for doing his job. Everything else seems pretty open to interpretation, based on viewpoint and existing personal bias, but those things right there do not make Smith look good.

  11. @David Wynne: What was the Aqua Leung thing?

    I think Smith saying that he was going to mark someone’s complaints as spam and delete them says it all, too.

  12. @david brothers: The Aqua Leung thing was something. Basically Mark and Paul Maybury had a sizeable falling out, and it didn’t take much to see who was being the arsehole.


    ‘Aqua Liquidated’ part covers the more savoury part of the whole mess.

  13. @David Brothers- the Aqua Leung thing: Smith and his collaborator, Paul Maybury, had a big, nasty, public falling out. Maybury claimed he’d written whole issues by himself and Smith took credit, that Smith had tried to change the terms of contracts mid-job (hmm, sounds familiar) and sundry other stuff; Smith accused Maybury of stealing “thousands of dollars” from him and various other things I forget right now. Goodness knows what the real facts of the situation actually were, but the whole thing felt really icky and uncomfortably public at the time. This was back in 2008, I think. Probably best to google rather than take my drug-ravaged brain’s severely faulty memory as any kind of accurate record, to be honest.

  14. Now I know why I felt so uncomfortable when I finally got my copy of Sullivan’s Sluggers in the mail last week…

    The “stalker” comment amuses me greatly, because a week or two ago, Smith followed me on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, AND Pinterest, the latter two of which I don’t even use. I mean, I guess it almost makes sense, “hey, this guy backed my project and could potentially back future projects of mine and I would like to be able to reach him,” but it’s also kind of creepy when you get followed by one person on four social networks almost simultaneously.