On Mark Andrew Smith’s Sullivan’s Sluggers Kickstarter

January 8th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

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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On Kickstarter, suffering for art, and helping out

August 10th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Back in early July, Rich Johnston posted about a Kickstarter for Telikos Protocol. I thought it looked neat and I had a spare ten bucks, so I kicked ten dollars their way in exchange for DRM-free copies of their first three issues. They were a few thousand dollars short of their goal, but every little bit helps, right? Three hours later, I got an email update from their Kickstarter that began like this:

We are sat here trying to fathom quite what’s happened. We just don’t know how to react – we hit target after just 2 days, 1 hour and 49 minutes. We’re finding this tough to compute, but while we do that, some extra updates!

Three thousand dollars in three hours and they hit their goal. They wanted 9,500 and they got 50,119. They get to make a series of books that’s much, much better than they ever expected. On top of that, they get to make their book. That’s the most important part, I think.

I’ve contributed to ten Kickstarters thus far, supporting a wide range of comics from webcomics to Image comics to OGNs to Dave Sim’s digital efforts. Ten isn’t a lot of projects, but I feel good about it. I can afford that, and it’s nice to be able to help someone get their work done. Paying it forward, maybe — I’m blessed enough to have a steady job so that I’m not living on exceedingly thin margins. So I do what I can.

There’s a conversation going around comics internet right now about Kickstarter. Tom Spurgeon has a nice conversation going here. It was sparked by a post in which TCJ editor Dan Nadel said this:

-And finally, Kickstarter. Guess what? You don’t get to call yourself underground if you’re on Kickstarter. Guess what else? You don’t get to call yourself a publisher either; you’re just someone who pays a printing bill. Take pre-orders on your site. Sell your boots. Do what you have to do. But don’t go begging for money so that you can then give 5% of it to Amazon.com, which is actively trying to put you (!), and the stores you hope to shove this shit into, out of business. I’m all for raising money for art, but it would be nice if there was some sense of proportion. No one needs this anthology but it might do fine “in the market”. I’m so sick of seeing perfectly viable (viable, but not smart or interesting; viable) comic book projects on there. People can do what they want, but when you’re out there hustling dough for your movie-ready zombie-baseball graphic novel, or fucking Cyberforce, or your poorly thought through Garo book, you just look like a schmuck.

Just this morning I saw Sean Collins saying this:

The problem is, well, why on earth do you need to Kickstart a project in which 60 illustrators who (judging from the samples) draw in lush, inviting, commercial-friendly styles make pin-ups from someone else’s intellectual property, drawn from a show that’s so hugely popular with the project’s target audience that it could make its money back and then some during the first hour of SPX without breaking a sweat? If the project’s publisher had asked its 60 contributors to paypal her twelve bucks, that would have covered the $700 goal of the kickstarter right there. Indeed the modest amount being requested makes it more baffling, not less, since it’s undeniable that the zine could have been independently funded with a modicum of self-sacrifice, which again would no doubt be handsomely rewarded the moment the book went on sale. Instead, what we have is a project that’s made three times its goal amount with 18 days to go.

(the bolds in each quote are mine, of course)

and I have a real problem with this type of thinking. ’cause here’s the thing: life sucks. You can get sick once and find yourself under three years of debt. You can save money for two years and see it all wiped out because of something you couldn’t have predicted. You can live life exactly the way you’re supposed to and still find yourself directly behind the eight ball.

That goes for artists, too. A “sure thing” is a fake idea. It’s a cudgel for an argument. Any number of sure things flop and fail every single day, from a new Superman movie taking inspiration from the Christopher Reeve flicks to asking out a pretty girl who smiled at you on the bus. There is no such thing as a sure thing. This is true in life and it is definitely true in comics.

“Maybe you should sacrifice some! Maybe you should sell your boots!” is hilariously insulting. It assumes that the people involved haven’t already done so. It assumes that the people involved can afford to do so. If I wanted to launch a new website with robust content right now, or that podcast I talked about, I couldn’t afford to. I have a full-time job, a vaguely-lucrative part-time gig, and I couldn’t afford to do that. It’s a time and money investment that I simply cannot make right now, no matter how great an idea it is or how much money it might make if I take it to SPX or sell it door-to-door. I can’t afford it because I’ve got bills. I’ve got student loans. I’ve got a lot of things on my plate, and even carving out the time that needs investing for those projects would result in something slipping elsewhere. I can only do so much. I can only afford so much. And I possibly have more freedom than a lot of artists, in that I have a job that pays me every two weeks without fail. I don’t have to seek out freelance work like I used to.

Life is hard. It’s hard to make a living. It’s even harder to make a living as an artist. So I honestly, earnestly, believe that if I believe in something or someone, and I can help them along, I should do so. I don’t have a lot of money, nowhere near as much as I should, but I can spare ten bucks to help out an artist, even when I’m scraping to save money. Why not? I like them, I want what they’re doing, and so I do so.

I don’t think that artists should have to suffer for their art. If I’m interested in what they’re doing, and I can help out, I will. Joe and Jane Schmo having to max out their credit cards to print their comics is stupid when there’s an audience right there willing to kick in a few bucks to help get it done in exchange for a book or two.

“Well maybe the contributors should pay first!” is a stupid thing to say when every week some new artist learns the hard lesson of “never work for free.” If someone chooses to pay to get their art out there, sweet! That’s how people have been doing it, and I’m sure Visa will be very happy. But if I can help someone else keep their head out of the muck, to not suffer for their art and actually get a chance to love what they do before they burn out or whatever, then let’s do it!

I don’t know. Maybe this doesn’t make any sense. I wrote this on my lunch break in a burst, brain to page. But I hate this “I got mine, so go screw yourself if you can’t afford to pay for what you want to do” mentality so, so much. It’s the grossest, annoyingest, Ron Paul-iest thing that has hit comics in a long while. You can help someone get their book made, at no extra cost to yourself, and help them not have to go through the pain of choosing between eating three meals a day and putting out their labor of love. I like that feeling, in part because I hope that other people feel the same way.

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