Kickstarter — Patronage for the New Millennium

Gaius Maecenas bust from Encylopedia BrittanicaAdmit it, you’ve always wanted to be Gaius Maecenas when you grew up, didn’t you?

Maecenas was one of the earliest patrons of the arts, and was renowned for funding all measures of artistic expression in Rome, including backing Virgil (yes, that Virgil). Whether Maecenas’ name is new to you, I’m betting the concept of art patronage is not. Patronage has been an important engine for the creative arts for most of recorded history. But long gone are the days when patronage is limited to the wealthy elite. The modern trappings of the internet, social media and micropayments have opened up the doors of patronage to anyone with even a dollar or two in disposable income.

Kickstarter Logo
Enter Kickstarter
Kickstarter is the brainchild of Perry Chen and Yancey Strickler, two entrepreneurs from Brooklyn who were looking for a way to enable creativity leveraging the long-tail of crowd-sourcing and micro-payments. From their website:
  • Kickstarter is the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world. Every month, tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.

  • A new form of commerce and patronage. This is not about investment or lending. Project creators keep 100% ownership and control over their work. Instead, they offer products and experiences that are unique to each project.

  • All or nothing funding. On Kickstarter, a project must reach its funding goal before time runs out or no money changes hands. Why? It protects everyone involved. Creators aren’t expected to develop their project without necessary funds, and it allows anyone to test concepts without risk.

  • Each and every project is the independent creation of someone like you. Projects are big and small, serious and whimsical, traditional and experimental. They’re inspiring, entertaining and unbelievably diverse. We hope you agree… Welcome to Kickstarter!

How it Works
Anyone with a creative endeavor in mind can apply to Kickstarter for the right to list their idea. Creators then use Kickstarter’s platform to showcase the idea (using video, text, pictures, etc…), setting a funding goal and a time limit (no more than 90 days). Creators are encouraged to create tiers of patronage so that donors are incentivized to give more (this is akin to the way PBS telethons work, where the more you donate, the cooler ‘schwag’ you get). We’ll get back to the specifics of the tiering in a moment. 
After the project is listed, patrons are free to pledge their funding. Importantly, the “all or nothing” model means that no one is charged for their pledge unless the project is 100% (or more) funded. Therefore there’s never a concern about giving money to a project that never gets off the ground, and then you’re in the uncomfortable position of trying to get your money back from the artist you intended to support. Kickstarter takes 5% of the pledged amount, only if the project is successfully funded. 
What does all this have to do with Comics? 
Kickstarter has received a fair amount of notoriety of late, being profiled in Wired, NPR and the New York Times among others. But I first heard of the company thanks to my good friend Steve Bryant
Athena Voltaire logoSteve is the co-creator of the Eisner-nominated Athena Voltaire series, and I came to know him a few years ago through mutual friends. I adored Athena Voltaire, but was even more impressed with Steve as both a human being, and for the candor with which he shared his experiences as a creator trying to make a living self-publishing comics. Many indie creators are overwhelmingly private about the trials and tribulations of self-publishing, other than to admit it’s a tough road. Steve, on the other hand, has freely shared the gritty (and sometimes depressing) financial realities of self-publishing. It’s through Steve (and a few other indie creators), that I began understanding the massive dichotomy between the economics of creating books owned by the big publishers, versus creating comic books anywhere else.
A few months ago, Steve told me he was going to try to put out another volume of Athena Voltaire, and had created a campaign on a site called Kickstarter. I was skeptical at first. I thought, “who is going to pre-pay you to create a comic book?” But then he told me to check out the site, and see what he was offering. Steve wasn’t just asking for donations, he was asking for patrons who – in return for their financial support – would be justly rewarded. This gets back to the tiering rewards I spoke about earlier. Steve meticulously created tiers ranging from $10 pledges all the way up to $1,000. Rewards ranged from your name in the acknowledgements to a customized, limited edition hardcover of the previous Athena work, to personalized commissions, to original art pages from the comic itself. 
Steve’s goal was to raise $7,000. He ended up raising $10,450 from 161 different backers – for an average of $65 per patron. But the distribution was fascinating:
  • $10 or more – 29 patrons
  • $25 or more – 35 patrons
  • $50 or more – 16 patrons
  • $60 or more – 4 patrons
  • $75 or more – 14 patrons
  • $85 or more – 7 patrons
  • $100 or more – 16 patrons
  • $125 or more – 21 patrons
  • $150 or more – 10 patrons
  • $300 or more – 1 patron
A smashing success as Steve gets to create the next phase of his passion project, while still keeping the lights on and putting food on the table. And in turn 161 supporters (who wanted to see the book in print as its own reward) now have some measure of ownership in its success. I know I can’t wait to receive my sketch and hardcover!
A Haven for Self Published Comics?
Once I saw the power of Kickstarter with my own eyes, I wondered whether other comic book projects were being attempted; and whether they too were having success being funded.


Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy Bastian (Issue 1)

By my count, 76 comic book projects have been successfully funded already, including the most recent addition – Jeremy Bastian’s Cursed Pirate Girl. The publishers had hoped to raise $2,500 to handle the costs of the first collected edition of Bastian’s luxurious comic, and managed to raise $36,017…1,440% funded!
Can this be a new engine for the small press comic book world? It’s too early to say, but I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen so far. Imagine a scenario where creators are able to leverage the relatively low costs of the internet to create web properties, and then a service like Kickstarter to fund limited print run collected versions of their work? Ultimately the future success will hinge somewhat on the experiences of these first funded projects. If the majority of these projects deliver their books (and pledged rewards) on time, and up to standards, it will help reinforce confidence in the model. I know it’s become a regular ritual for me to stop by Kickstarter to see if there’s something worth supporting. Do yourself a favor and join me.

Jason is a mutant with the ability to squeeze 36 hours into every 24-hour day, which is why he was able to convince his wife he had time to join the iFanboy team on top of running his business, raising his three sons, and most importantly, co-hosting the 11 O'Clock Comics podcast with his buddies Vince B, Chris Neseman and David Price. If you are one of the twelve people on Earth who want to read about comics, the stock market and football in rapid fire succession, you can follow him on Twitter.


  1. Kickstarter is a wonderful site and awesome idea.  I love the fact that it’s almost like those pledge drives you see on public broadcasting, and the fact that it’s an all or nothing type deal.

    My buds and I are actually working on putting something together, and seeing the high amount of success rate for people reaching their goals fills us with inspiration and confidence.

    Go Kickstarter!! 

  2. Kickstarter is pretty awesome, even though I’ve only supported one project (The Puppycow plush doll)

  3. There are so many great stories out there wanting to be published.  Please support Kickstarter!  I was very happy to participate in Steve’s campaign, and like Wood, I’m eagerly awaiting that collected edition.  But as Jason alluded to at the beginning of the article, I just like seeing brilliant, creative people creating.  We’ll all be richer for it.

  4. Very, very interesting.

  5. I’ve not been one to brag about my name being in the credits of the latest Ras Kass album, but yes:  Kickstarter is very cool and I can say that it works out well for everyone involved.

  6. Did Rass Kass fund an album that way?  I’d have pitched in for that.  He’s nice.

  7. I’m ashamed to admit that SWEETS looks awesome, but I’m crossing my fingers for the trade as my store missed the first couple issues.  I’m keep my eyes open to see if he uses Kickstarter for the trade.

    Also, I can’t help but wonder if this had been around when The Circle by Brian Reed came out if we’d still have that awesom series being published today.

  8. My buddy got his graphic novel fully funded on Kickstarter a while back. He generated an insane amount of money in one month and surpassed his goals, enabling him to travel to cons and what not. If you have a great product, and a good network of people, kickstarter is an amazing resource for the independent creative. 

  9. Wood – karma to you for the Maecenas reference, and thank you for the article.