Hey! For those of you ardently following The Best Thing here on Thrillbent, the end of our first arc is live today. We apologize for the delay, but we are on the case and we appreciate your patronage greatly.
But what’s next? More Best Thing! Artist Erica Henderson, deservedly so, is getting more opportunities laid before her throughout the industry, and we’re genuinely happy for her and sad to see her move on. But stepping up to work with Seanan McGuire on the next story arc is the terrifically talented Caitlin Like. We’re going to post some of her non-TBT work below so you can see why we knew she was right for the gig, and you can find more of her art here and here.
She’s working away even now with Seanan on the next batch of chapters, and as soon as she gets a good rhythm going, we’ll schedule them and let you know when to expect them. I’ve read the first few, and trust me–they’re absolutely worth waiting for.
Get ready for the next round of EMPIRE by Barry Kitson, Chris Sotomayor, Troy Peteri and me! Chapter 11 launches on Wednesday 7/22 and continues weekly for the next several months (at least!). Here’s a sneak peek:
In our continual effort here at Thrillbent Central to further our content for our subscribers, we’ve made a big score. Starting Friday, July 3, we’ll be serializing the work of award-winning writer/artist Terry Moore, creator of Strangers In Paradise, one of the medium’s most acclaimed and honored comics series.
Strangers In Paradise’s 107-issue epic, a groundbreaking romantic thriller focused on the complex relationship between its two female leads, won the Eisner Award in 1996 and the GLAAD Award in 2008, and has been a personal favorite comic of both mine and John Rogers’ since forever. We’re very proud to be able to bring SiP to you every Friday, beginning from the very first issue. Much thanks to Terry and Robyn Moore of Abstract Studio for partnering up on this. If you’ve never read Strangers In Paradise, you’re in for a huge treat. If you have, then help us get the word out and tell your friends that their $3.99 a month subscription (cheap!) now includes four (4!) issues of SiP every month in addition to our other fine content! Thanks!
At last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Thrillbent held a successful and much-talked-about contest, an open pitch session for writers. The winning story, Four Seconds, is awaiting publication later this month, and it’s good.
This year at San Diego, we’re looking for artists—and just as we did last year, we’re offering the best one the prize of guaranteed publication. I will personally write a script for the winner to illustrate, our story will run on Thrillbent, and I will work with you to figure out the best kind of story to show off your talent.
Same as last year, you have to be in a certain place within a certain time. If you happen to be attending San Diego Comic-Con this year, we will be holding this open portfolio review for artists at our Digital Comics Coalition booth on Saturday, July 11, 2-4 pm, Booth 1221. During that time, I will be reviewing art portfolios and looking for potential Thrillbent artists. If you’re good, we want to know about you. Moreover, we will choose ONE ARTIST for whom I will personally write a one-shot story that will run on Thrillbent later this year. Thrillbent will pay for lettering and coloring; the winning artist will share the rights to the story with me 50/50 and will be entitled to his or her share of any revenue the story generates in any form, in perpetuity. This isn’t work for hire, nor is it an attempt to get you to work for free. It’s guaranteed publication using a high-traffic showcase to demonstrate your talent.
Anyone is welcome to participate, absolutely anyone, but there are some ground rules:
- You must be physically present to show your artwork.
- Anyone who is in line by 2:00 will be given a ticket that guarantees a review. The line will be monitored and capped at 2:00. If you want to get in line after 2:00, we can’t promise you a ticket, but I will do my level best to see you if time allows.
- Be ready to show approximately four to eight pages of sequential storytelling. Not pin-ups, not covers, but professional panel-to-panel storytelling so I can see how good your story skills are. Look at any chapter of anything we have up on Thrillbent.com or the Thrillbent app and you’ll get some sense of how comics storytelling works.
- You must have a “leave-behind” —photocopies of your samples with your contact information written on them. At 4:00 when I’m picking a winner, you want me to have your work in front of me. You don’t want me to have to be trying to remember what it looked like.
- Inked or inked-and-colored samples only. I don’t have the time or resources to teach a penciler how to ink his or her work professionally, nor are we interested in matchmaking pencilers with inkers—that’s an alchemical process much more difficult to do well than you can imagine. Black-and-white samples are actually preferred, but if you think you’re a knockout colorist, I’ll take a look.
- Landscape or portrait format, either one, is okay.While the default Thrillbent format is landscape (check it out), all we really care about is whether or not you can draw and tell a story. I’m not penalizing anyone in the least for showing me the same portrait-format samples you’d show to any print-comics publisher.
- This is not a critique. This is an audition. There will be a line. You’re probably going to get about 30-45 seconds of my time, max, if that. As nice a man as I am, given the time constraints, I’m not going to have extra time to dole out a whole lot of constructive criticism or career advice. I know the level of craft I’m looking for, and I’ll recognize it when I see it. If you show promise, you may get a brief critique and I may ask you if we can call you later for a future assignment if you show promise.
- We retain the option to put more rules on the table before showtime if need be or if we realize we’ve not covered our butts legally on something.But the first seven are the important rules.
We will announce a winner within a half-hour after the portfolio review ends (probably sooner). We’ll make the announcement at the booth and through Twitter (@Thrillbent). At that point, I’ll set up a time to talk with the winner after the madness of San Diego is finished and we’ll begin the collaboration, shooting for late fall/early winter publication.
See you in San Diego!
Hi. Mark Waid here, intro’ing a guest blogpost by one of Thrillbent’s longtime contributors, Trevor Mueller, very much worth a read. Trevor’s Albert the Alien has been a success story for Trevor and his collaborators, and rather than ask us simply to endorse his upcoming Kickstarter campaign (which we do), he’s penned a very informative process piece which we encourage you to read and share. Thanks!
Last year, Albert the Alien artist and co-creator Gabo and I launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the character’s first graphic novel: ALBERT THE ALIEN VOLUME 1: NEW IN SCHOOL. The campaign was a success – the first successfully Kickstarter funded Thrillbent series (and for their first syndicated all-ages series, to boot)!
Kickstarter was such a great help, we decided to fund the second graphic novel on there as well: ALBERT THE ALIEN VOLUME 2: THE SUBSTITUTE TEACHER FROM PLANET X! The campaign launched on May 31, and you can check out the project here.
People have been asking us how we did it. It’s hard to find a silver bullet that’s going to work for every person every time. If I had that golden ticket, I’d be doing Kickstarters every few months! But that said, I would like to provide some helpful insights on things we learned during our Kickstarter campaign – A few key items that have stuck with us from last year, and that we’re keeping in mind for this year’s campaign.
I want to start by saying that your experience may vary. No two people have the same experience on Kickstarter, and I’m sure our experience this time around will be different from last year. Having a big name can be helpful, but having a big fan base (or even better, a quality product) can help even more. It’s really going to depend on how much effort you put into the project, and into the campaign to make your project. With that said, below please find the Top 7 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started my Kickstarter:
1) It’s a time commitment
Kickstarter campaigns are a lot of work. Before they start, while they’re going, and after they’ve ended. I spent about 4-6 weeks prepping for our Kickstarter prior to hitting the “launch” button. And that doesn’t count anything about content in the book (finding my guest artists, writing bonus stories, etc). That’s just researching and getting the assets together for the campaign itself. Some of the things we had to do were 1) write the script for the video; 2) film and edit the video; 3) figure out our costs, our goal, and our timing; 4) figure out what rewards would appeal to our fans; 5) get tracking into place so we could see what promotions were proving successful (and which were a waste of time / money); 6) figure out shipping (not just postage, but packaging); the list goes on.
During the campaign I was posting about the Kickstarter 5-10 times per day. Making updates, reaching out to friends, fans, and family, and trying to get the word out about the project to the masses. This was no easy feat. Thankfully, Albert is a quality product, and it’s easy for me to talk about how awesome he is. We also had some great endorsements from industry pros who loved Albert (Mark Waid among them). We got some great coverage during the campaign (and even more after it ended).
After the campaign ended, I had to put the book together, collect bonus stories and art from our guest artists, collect photo references from our appearance backers (people who pledged enough money to appear in a story), and also ship the files off to the printer. We had a time table to get this book out in time for the holidays, and it was a tight timeline. There was little opportunity for missing a deadline, and those deadlines needed to be communicated out to the team. Which brings me to my next point…
2) Get organized — and stay that way
Making comics is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. Especially if you’re self-publishing a book, like I was. I had to juggle 5+ artists, photo references from 23+ pledgers, work with shipping companies to get the best rates (both domestically and internationally), and also work with the printer to make sure they were making their deadlines to print and ship the book. There are a lot of moving pieces that all need your attention when putting a book together on your own. Thankfully, it was my our first attempt at self-publishing a comic book. However, it was our most ambitious to date.
This is what a pallet of 700 books looks like, weighing approximately 800lbs. The work’s not done when the campaign ends
3) Set realistic (budget) goals
Lots of people ask how to set their goals for the book. I was paying for my artists out of pocket, so I ate those costs. But the printing, shipping, shipping supplies, etc all needed to be accounted for in the funds we received. And printing (especially in color) and shipping are EXPENSIVE. Also, Kickstarter and Amazon take a cut of the earnings (approximately 5% each). So how do you set a realistic / attainable funding goal for Kickstarter?
Let’s talk about every creative person’s favorite topic for a moment: math.
I started by totaling all of my costs: printing, shipping, supplies, etc. I then added 10% to that to cover the Amazon and Kickstarter fees. Our total was about $8,000 (which was our funding goal). I then took that number and divided it by 25. Why 25? Because this is statistically the most popular funding level for Kickstarter campaigns. This is likely where you will receive the bulk of your backers. So dividing your total by 25 tells you how many backers you need at $25 each to reach your goal.
Our number was 320.
I knew 320 people who wanted to back this project. So this was a very attainable goal. In the end, we had 171 backers for our first project – but many of them pledged a lot more than $25.
4) Expect to pay more
Even though our Kickstarter was successfully funded, I lost money on the campaign. First of all, I paid all of my artists out of my own pocket. This was my choice. However, the other issue we ran into were printing and shipping rates.
Printing quotes are typically only good for about 30 days. Thankfully, I had negotiated with our printer to extend that to 90 days (they were a good partner). However, the specs and parameters for our book had changed slightly. Some of our stretch goals unlocked new story content, and that meant more pages in the book. I also lowered our print run from 1,000 copies to 750 copies because we didn’t move 320 copies of the book. We had a lot of people fund at higher levels ($100 appearance level was our most popular reward level), which moved less copies but made us more money. I didn’t want to sit on the extra inventory, so I decided to shrink the print run a bit – which increased our costs overall by a bit, since we were no longer running at any special bulk rates.
Additionally, shipping costs changed. Apparently they change all the time. So my rule of thumb on shipping now is to take the estimate in the shipping quote, and increase it by 1/3 to 1/2. Because yes, sometimes shipping can change that much, depending on who you’re shipping through and the time of year you’re shipping.
5) Project completion
I can’t tell you how many Kickstarter campaigns I’ve backed that I still haven’t received the reward. Or I had to wait years for the reward to get shipped to me. Some of them were so long ago, I don’t even remember having backed the project. I didn’t want Albert the Alien to be one of those experiences for our backers. So how did we combat this? We had the book done BEFORE we started the Kickstarter.
We had 100 pages of story content from our webcomic series, and then a bunch of bonus stories from guest artists (some of which a pledger could appear in). Those bonus stories were all finished before I hit the launch button. Expect for the actual appearances themselves. Those were digitally dropped in on another layer after we were successfully funded.
Now, this approach may not work for all projects. Some people are trying to pay themselves or their artist with the Kickstarter. This is a totally fine approach, but my recommendation would be this: at least have half of the project done before you start a Kickstarter campaign. There are a few reasons I recommend this:
1) More content to show to your readers and to reviewers
2) Shorter wait time for you to finish the book, and to get your book in the hands of your readers
3) The opportunity to show your work to editors at conventions – I’ve heard a handful of success stories of creators having their projects picked up for publication, but you need to have something for those editors to look at
I’m a strong proponent of the concept of “Brand You.” This concept states that it doesn’t matter who I think I am, it matters who YOU think I am. The goal should be for both of these things to be the same. I know I’m a guy that can get a project done on time or early, and get it to you by or before I’ve promised it. Many of our backers were impressed when this actually happened – and I know they’re going to be repeat backers of our next project because of it.
Some fliers we made for convention appearances. If you pledged at the con and showed it to us, you got an exclusive gift
6) Promotion, promotion, promotion
This is always going on. You may feel like you’re overwhelming your social feeds with posts if you post 5-10 times per day. Well, it depends on how many people they are following. But I had a bunch of people tell me in week 3 they didn’t even know I was doing a Kickstarter, and I had been posting about it constantly. Part of this is because Facebook filters what posts actually reach your friends organically. Part of this is because friends may not be “following” you on Facebook.
There are a couple of ways to do promotion for your Kickstarter. We tried a bunch of these, and some worked better than others:
1) Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, etc)
2) Interviews (podcasts, web interviews, etc)
3) Reviews of your finished project (you can only do this if your project is done)
4) Direct mail
6) In-person bonuses at conventions (we did a postcard)
7) Digital ads (web banners, link exchanges, etc)
8) Begging your parents
9) Begging your extended family
10) Direct sign up at convention / signing tables
My approach was to try a little of everything and see what worked the best. This is where measurement was important, so I could know where my time (and sometimes, my money) was best spent in promoting the campaign. Thankfully, poor performers were quickly identified and I was able to focus on the channels that were driving conversion. If you don’t have a way to measure the success, then you’re working blind and you may waste a lot of time on channels that aren’t working for you. I recommend tracking EVERYTHING.
7) Keep track of your schedule
In my day job I work in advertising, and a part of that is project management. It’s ensuring you make a schedule and stick to it. Sometimes that means building in buffers – a little extra time for some tasks that are outside of your control. But essentially it boils down to this: don’t miss deadlines. Especially when you’re the one making the deadlines.
Thanks so much for reading through the list. I hope you find this list helpful in starting your own Kickstarter campaigns, but again your experience may vary. I’ve only scratched the surface of our experience crowd-funding our graphic novel project. If you want to see how things are going with our current project, please check out the Kickstarter page here. And if you like what you see, please pledge to receive a reward and / or share the link with your friends and fans.
INSUFFERABLE. The creator-owned superhero comic I do with co-creator/artist Peter Krause. The end begins today, and I promise this–you won’t see what’s coming.
When we first launched Thrillbent, we put our best foot forward with our first ongoing weekly series, INSUFFERABLE, which answered the musical question “What if a crimefighting sidekick grew up to become an egomaniacal celebrity asshole?” INSUFFERABLE introduced the world to the protectors of the city of St. Barrington: Nocturnus and his grown son, Galahad, who detest one another but who are manipulated into one last team-up to solve the mystery of just exactly what happened to their wife/mother all those years ago.
Right from the start, Pete and I had the time of our lives producing that initial arc, which very deliberately steps back and forth between heartbreaking drama and dark comedy. INSUFFERABLE became Thrillbent’s signature series, and not long after it wrapped, we brought you the second story arc, INSUFFERABLE: ON THE ROAD.
Today, Team Insufferable–Waid and Krause, along with our invaluable partners Nolan Woodard (colorist) and Troy Peteri (letterer)–launches the final arc, INSUFFERABLE: HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE, and we’re really extra-proud of this one. We’re bringing the Nocturnus and Galahad tale to an end, and we’ve very much surprised even ourselves by the twists and turns their final adventure has taken.
Please join us every Wednesday as we tell what has become a poignantly personal story of a father and his son. I know it’s hit some strong emotional chords with Pete and myself. It’s got action, mystery, and tension–but above all, it has heart. Come see for yourself.
Especially now that we’ve gone with the subscription model, I get a lot of (very fair and good) questions about how we choose what to run when, how we choose where series “breaks” happen, all that sort of thing.
Sometimes, bad luck trips us up–Troy Peteri’s been down with the flu for days now, but the next chapters of THE DAMNATION OF CHARLIE WORMWOOD will be up any moment now, as will the next THE HOUSE IN THE WALL. Troy’s lettering adds so much to those strips that over his own protestations, I’m not going to hand the work over to someone else and I’m banking on our fans giving us that leeway in this case.
That said, by and large, we’ve been every bit as diligent about hitting our deadlines as we’ve been all along, and I’m proud of us for that. For reasons that are equally editorial/publishing and budgetary, we tend to run each of our ongoing series anywhere from eight to sixteen chapters in a row (each set of chapters comprising one volume). In general, we schedule brief breaks in between volumes to (a) buy some time to get ahead of deadlines and (b) allow for new series to be rotated in as we gradually build our catalog of monthly offerings. That 8-to-16 number is hardly hard-and-fast, but that might help give you an idea why we take planned breaks with series like INSUFFERABLE, breaks that are built around strong, gut-punching cliffhangers.
The overall goal is to give subscribers far more than one standard print comic’s worth of content each month in exchange for their $3.99 subscription fee, and I feel confident we’re doing just that–and there’s much more to come. When I can finally come up for air, we’ll finally post the long-promised “upcoming” calendar to the site and app so you can see just how much you’re getting and when (and you’ll be pleasantly surprised).
Also, Troy just texted to say that he came back from Urgent Care armed with meds and cough super-suppressant and that he was jumping on WORMWOOD later tonight, but I told him to rest, for God’s sake. Thanks for understanding. We don’t and won’t abuse your trust in Thrillbent!
Well, that couldn’t have gone better. Seriously.
As announced in a previous blogpost, Thrillbent opened up the pitching process at San Diego Comic-Con this year. The rules were simple: we’d take the best pitch for a single short story and develop it for release on Thrillbent later this year–we’d pay for production, you’d own the story–but your pitch had to clock in at no more than 15 seconds.
We began our panel with a quick recap of who we were and what we did while tyros started lining up at the microphone. To show we could play by our own rules, our panelists–James Tynion IV, Christy Blanch, Chris Mancini, Todd Harris, Becky Tinker and myself–each pitched what we were doing for Thrillbent in that same 15-second space, to wit:
“EMPIRE is a science-fiction GAME OF THRONES where a supervillain has taken over the Earth. He’s trying to maintain his reign only to find out that once you’ve consolidated all the world’s power on one throne, there is no more dangerous place to sit.”
“INSUFFERABLE is about father-and-son crimefighters where the son grew up to be a jerk, went solo, and broke up the team. Now an ex-villain is trying to pull them back together for one last case.”
“The year is 1812, and VALENTINE is one of the few soldiers left of Napoleon’s once-mighty army felled by the Russian winter. Given a mysterious package by a dying general with orders to see it safely back to France, Valentine finds himself pursued through the snow by blood-eyed monsters who intent on stopping him.”
“ARCANUM follows the adventures of the secret government agency using creatures of myth and legend as its agents to fight invading arcane forces that bullets and rocket launchers are useless against. It’s 24 by way of Once Upon A Time.”
And so on.
We blew through our entire slide presentation in six minutes, including the various announcements we’ll share with you later this week. Success. Then we turned to the waiting contestants. Going in, I figured we’d have 15, maybe 20, and that the panelists and I would have time to ask some follow-up questions and discuss the merits of the pitches amongst ourselves.
I was informed just before we began that we’d had to cut the line at 100.
That didn’t leave much room for back-and-forth; it was pretty rat-a-tat-tat. Fifteen seconds isn’t a whole lot of time. But here were the things that amazed me:
First, there weren’t any terrible pitches. Not one. As someone who’s been an editor for over thirty years, I’m here to tell you that this is statistically impossible. Yes, there were some worn and tired ideas. Yes, there were some unintentionally derivative pitches. But I kept waiting for someone to step up and give me “A werewolf wakes up on the TITANIC” or “Turns out they’re all vampires,” or (BOOM! founder Ross Richie’s classic go-to example for hollow ideas) “A monkey punches a robot.” This didn’t happen. Everyone who got up to pitch–everyone, without fail–was prepared and rehearsed. Most people had written their pitches down to read. No one made me doubt the existence of God. Joe Casey asked me yesterday if I’d experienced anything recently that gave me faith that the future of comics is secure, and I told him about those pitches.
Second, there was an encouraging amount of diversity at play. Despite the fact that it was open-call, were most of the volunteers of the white-male demographic? Yes. But by no means was that majority a wide majority. I was thrilled at the number of women in line, at the number of men who didn’t look like cracked-mirror versions of me…and they all had stories to tell. Fantasy tales. Crime tales. Romans a clef. Stories of joy, of darkness, of hope. So many, many good pitches.
As we went, I answered most every pitch with an off-the-top-of-the-head comment/snap judgment (seemed to me like these people ought to hear why their pitches did or didn’t work for me–fair is fair and, besides, this was intended as a teaching process as much as a pitch session). A lot of them were good ideas that were too big for the short-story one-off space we were offering; I encouraged these writers to develop them as longer pieces or mini-series for someone. Many of them were good ideas that would be better served in another medium; there was a great one about worldwide body-swapping that, given the relatively internal nature of the conflicts it created, wasn’t terribly visual–but as I said as I rejected it, if it were a novel, I’d read the hell out of it. Some of them were just too close to things we were already publishing or were planning on rolling out. And a couple of them just didn’t strike me. (As I likewise warned everyone going in, just because I don’t like your story doesn’t mean it’s a bad story. One of the realities of publishing is that you have no idea going in how tired I might already be that day of hearing zombie pitches or vampire pitches or what have you. Nothing you can do about that; just pitch.)
As we went, we got through more than half the contestants (!) and pulled aside ten or so as potential winners. When we’d just flat out run out of time, I chose the story (congratulations, Paul O’Connor!) that all the panelists felt had the greatest potential to use the unique tools of digital storytelling well, but that was a tough call, because all the semi-finalists had dynamite pitches (especially Josh Southall, Suzy Stein and Fernando Perez, and Richard Stouvenel). I told them all to give us their contact info so that if Paul gets hit by a bus tomorrow, they can step up.
Then I went out in the hall and listened to the rest of the pitches. Everyone understood that we’d already picked a winner, but since we’d had no idea how many contestant would show up and thus hadn’t limited the number of slots, those remaining shouldn’t be penalized. Again: some amazing pitches. No dumb ones. Some I’d publish tomorrow if we had the time and resources. Only one guy whose heart visibly shattered into pieces when I told him, wincing, that his idea was too close to a Greg Rucka comic already in print. Two pitches that would have made the semi-finals easily. One that might well have won. By every measure, the panel was a rousing success, so keep visiting the Thrillbent site and reading the blog (scroll to the bottom of the page to sign up for the mailing list!) to see when and where we’ll do this again, because I can’t wait. (I know what you’re asking, and yes: we will eventually open up this site to unsolicited submissions outside of conventions, hopefully later this year, but right now we simply don’t have the peoplepower. But do keep watching the site and sign up for the mailing list so you’ll know when we throw open the gates.)
Thank you so much to everyone who came out for this. Thanks for being good sports, thanks for the good will. And watch for Paul O’Connor’s detective noir tale 4 SECONDS coming soon!