Jamie Tanner Presents: The Squid

As Cassie highlighted earlier, Jamie Tanner’s graphic novel project has had tremendous success. Jamie has done a great job of spreading the word, and his work is spectacular. That’s a tough combination to beat.

During the course of Cassie and Jamie’s correspondence, we somehow roped Jamie into very very very generously creating a short comic for Kickstarter itself. We couldn’t believe our luck when he agreed, and we were even more gobsmacked when the strip arrived. It’s rad.

Read his strip below. And if you like it, consider showing your support for his project. I’m sure he’d appreciate it.

And now, allow us to present… “The Squid”

Creator Q&A: Jamie Tanner

One of the best parts about working for Kickstarter is that we’re put on a collision course with some of the most creative and ambitious people we’ve ever seen. Cue Jamie Tanner, a graphic novelist/very unhappy office worker who has all the talent (he’s an Eisner Award nominee for his graphic novel The Aviaryjust sayin’) but was having trouble finding the time and the money to complete his next book.  Not a totally uncommon story, but one that was quickly upended when Jamie turned to Kickstarter for help funding his project: within a matter of days he had cleared his goal amidst a landslide of support. 

Jamie’s overwhelming success goes to show exactly what can happen when a dynamic idea is well-presented — he was able to both grow his fanbase and turn it into a committed group of investors. As a result, he’ll now be spending his time buried in comics instead of office meetings. As he said in our interview, “My unsatisfying day job seemed to eat away more and more of my time and energy, and I wanted to get back to doing the work I actually cared about. When I stumbled across Kickstarter, it seemed like just an amazing resource — if you’ll pardon the hyperbole, it actually seemed like it could help me change my life for the better.”

To hear more from Jamie, check out our Q&A with him below. Also, listen to him discuss his use of Kickstarter on Fanboy Radio here. Donate to his project here. And don’t forget to check back later today for an exclusive graphic-short that Jamie created especially for Kickstarter!

Tell me about yourself, first. What got you into comics? How did you start doing them?

Hmm, I couldn’t say exactly what it was that got me into comics in the first place - I’d have to imagine it was a stack of superhero comics that my parents gave me when I was very young.  I’ve been reading comics ever since, from those superhero books I loved as a kid (Spider-man, Batman, X-Men, all of ‘em) to the first alternative comics I found as a teenager (like Cerebus or Evan Dorkin’s work) to the books that really blew my mind in college (Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Art Spiegelman, so many more) and made it seem like anything was possible in comics.

And as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a cartoonist (cue Ray Liotta Goodfellas voice-over).  I’m sure there are some terribly embarrassing things buried in my folks’ basement - crudely drawn attempts at comics from when I was as young as 8 or 9 years old (maybe younger?).  I guess I started “seriously” making comics in college when I discovered mini-comics and began making my own complete little comic books that I’d photocopy and give to friends.  Eventually, “give to friends” turned into “sell or trade at small-press conventions”, which turned into “submit to publishers,” which turned into “Hey, I had a book published!” and there you go.  Wanting to make comics is an odd inclination, maybe more like an addiction.  It’s incredibly time-consuming and labor-intensive, and is an extremely hard way to earn a living (I’ve never even come close), yet it’s still what I aspire to do above all else.  I’ve talked to lots of other cartoonists who feel the same way.  Maybe we need a support group or something…

Where did the idea for your current project come from?

The idea grew out of my increasing frustration with how little time I could seem to find to make comics.  My unsatisfying day job seemed to eat away more and more of my time and energy, and I wanted to get back to doing the work I actually cared about.  When I stumbled across Kickstarter, it seemed like just an amazing resource - if you’ll pardon the hyperbole, it actually seemed like it could help me change my life for the better.

As there’s generally not much money in making comics, cartoonists have often sold their original art to help support themselves.  So my initial idea for a project was to sell the art for a new comic book that hadn’t even been made yet - so the people pledging would be enabling its creation, would be able to watch as it gets made and would get a physical piece of the art they helped create.  From that spark, the idea broadened to be a sort of general art sale, with some smaller, more immediate rewards like signed copies of my first book or little blank sketchbook/journals or art prints, and even more personalized rewards like commissioned drawings or cameos in the new book I’ll be making.  So backers get to be patrons — by buying some art, they’re in effect giving me a sort of advance (almost like a bona-fide novelist — dare to dream!) that lets me make the work I’m passionate about.

How have people been responding to your use of Kickstarter? Any cool stories to share about that?

The response has been pretty amazing - people seem as taken with the whole Kickstarter idea as I am.  Not only is it really encouraging to hear that people want to see more work from me, it’s also pretty great that people want to be a part of the whole process too.  I was stunned that people went for my most ridiculously-priced rewards, like getting a cameo in the book-to-be.  One backer — actually two people splitting it — even pledged $500 to have a character in the book named after them!  Definitely a thrill that people want to be such a part of it.   The pressure’s on to make something awesome, but it’s the best possible kind of pressure.

What has been your most successful reward so far?

Well, the single reward that people have gone for the most is a signed copy of my first book The Aviary.  But a close second is a page of original art from either my first book or the new book.  And of all the rewards chosen, more than half are some sort of artwork, whether it’s a print, an original page, or a commissioned drawing or painting.  So I’m pretty excited that people are responding to the whole idea. And that response has already started inspiring me, too.  For the backer whose pledge put me over my funding goal, I made a bonus reward for him - a drawing of a giant squid high-fiving my Quiet Bird-man character.  So when you asked if I’d like to draw a comic for the Kickstarter blog, that drawing popped into my head and inspired the little story I sent along with these answers…

Creator Q&A: Blip Festival 2009

Chipmusic has had a wildly successful history with Kickstarter. First there was Kind of Bloop, an 8-bit tribute to Miles Davis that received 432% of its goal and became one of the first Kickstarter success stories. Then there was Soundbytes 5, an ongoing project supporting the Melbourne-based Soundbytes chipmusic festival that has been equally as victorious. Both received the kind of momentous support from their backers that is representative of the ideal Kickstarter model in action: turning a community of dedicated fans and followers into patrons.

Now it’s Mike Rosenthal’s turn to take up the Chipmusic crown with his project to fund New York’s Blip Festival 2009. The event, featuring live music, workshops, and video installations, has quickly become a focal point for the international chipmusic scene, with acts coming from all over the world to participate.  A third of the way to their goal — and with thirty days to go — Mike talked to us a bit about the festival, the music behind it, and how his project is going.

You can stream live recordings of last year’s Blip Festival here and watch video footage here. To support the project, head over to their page

Tell me about the festival! Where did the idea come from?

Well, the idea for the festival came from a series of chiptune shows we were doing at my performance space The Tank (in New York) in late 2003-2005. I was the experimental music curator at that space and had become friends with Bit Shifter (Josh Davis) and Nullsleep (Jeremiah Johnson), who introduced me to this music they made with Gameboys that they called Chiptune music. We booked a lot of shows together and one day they said there were gonna be these 8 amazing Japanese chiptune performers coming to NYC for vacation and could we book a show? I said if they are all gonna be here, lets do a festival! So we did. It has taken off from there. 

I’m personally interested in this re-appropriation of hardware for musical expression. It’s weirdly subversive and creative…these amazing composers, who could make awesome music on any instrumentation, are choosing to limit themselves in this unique way and really push boundries that they set for themselves…the endless variety of work that comes from that basic restriction I find fascinating. Plus the music is catchy and fun to dance to!

Are you particularly excited for anything happening in this year’s festival?

I’m excited to see Little-Scale (all the way from Australia) and to finally attend a Blip Festival after-party for the first time, mostly to see Random and Covox (two amazing Scandanavian chiptune artists) perform. We have an (informal/occasionally broken) rule to not repeat out-of-town performers year to year, just as a way to keep the line-up fresh and new. Having these two amazing guys play the after party is our way of getting to see them perform again without breaking our own rules (sneaky). 

What’s been your most popular project reward so far?

The cheapest ones of course! Though the $50 custom made visualist designed T-shirt is neck and neck with the $10 mp3 collection…

How have people’s responses been to the use of Kickstarter as a funding tool for the festival?

Actually, people have been pretty excited about it. This is a community in which everyone really supports each other. It’s a fringe art in a lot of ways, and sticking together has been an amazing way to make close friends. People see Blip Festival as THEIR festival, so people are rallying, which is awesome. 

Any closing thoughts?

I just wanted to say that Kickstarter is a fantastic idea for niche markets and independent artists and I think you will find a lot of great success with tapping into these types of communities. Good luck!

Allison Weiss Update

If you are new to Kickstarter, then allow me to introduce you to Allison Weiss, an absolute powerhouse musician, blogger, and personality. Earlier this year Allison raised nearly $8,000 to make a new record after she blew past her $2,000 goal in just ten hours. Incredible.

In the months since, Allison has been keeping everyone deeply involved in the process. We got to name her record, we read her parents’ funny take on her music, we got to see updates from the studio, and we even watched her play a marathon live show of every one of her songs. You name it and Allison thought of it and executed it perfectly.

Earlier this week, Allison unveiled the album’s title and cover in a project update. We can’t argue with the result:

Earlier this week, Allison also did an extended interview for the CD Baby podcast, and she talked a lot about her Kickstarter experience. We recommend that everyone give it a listen for some great tips on running a successful Kickstarter campaign, as well as some insights into Allison’s approach to creativity in general. It’s a great conversation with an incredible artist.

Congrats to Allison and her backers, and we’re looking forward to the record’s release on November 24th.

Tiny Fabric Houses

I was already a big fan of Amy Wilson’s Tiny fabric houses want to take over the world project, and when I received my reward in the mail last night, my admiration grew. From the moment I opened the box I knew I was in for something special, so I photographed each stage of the un-boxing. (And yes, I am aware that I’m a dork.) Keep in mind that the cost of this reward was only $20. Some of the best $20 I’ve ever spent.

Opening the box.

The Moo card was a nice touch.

I had forgotten about the sewn postcard. Maybe the coolest thing in the box!

The front

The back

There’s more!

The tiny fabric houses!

The houses are much larger than I was expecting. Right now I’m keeping business cards in one of them. Still deciding about the other.

Backing this project and receiving these rewards has been an awesome experience. Kudos to Amy Wilson for running an excellent project — no question I will back whatever she does in the future. Well done, Amy!

Getting Signed

This afternoon I’ll be speaking on a CMJ Music Marathon panel about how musicians can thrive without record labels. It’s a perennial topic, and these days tools like Topspin, Bandcamp, and Tunecore (and even Kickstarter) have moved the conversation past ideology and into practical stuff. It’s a nice change.

The mechanics are important, no doubt. How much will the label spend on recording? What’s their track record? How’s their tour support? But those aren’t the kinds of things that bands worry about anymore. Either the internet has already made those things easier or we just expect that it eventually will. It hasn’t let us down yet.

The past few years I’ve been lucky enough to work with a couple dozen bands directly. I put out their records on a small, digital-only label where the mission was to find bands we love, get them recognized and fairly paid, and help them move onto bigger and better things.

Many of them were successful enough to face the choice: Do I sign with a label or do I go it alone? When we debated it, the stuff mentioned above rarely came up. Those things mattered, but the bands had already been doing many of them on their own — so well, in fact, that it attracted this very interest.

What came up instead was “getting signed.” That’s the whole point of starting a band, right? Even the bands who thought the whole label thing was bullshit had family, friends, and significant others for whom a contract would legitimize everything. To the heartache of months on the road and concern for a child chasing a dream a deal says, “I’ve made it.”

This isn’t unique to music. Film, publishing, art, fashion, and every other creative field, too. The web has upended almost every other convention, but we still look to the old guard when it comes to whose blessing we want. Case in point: every one of these bands who had this debate ended up signing with a label.

We need a new way to get signed. One that doesn’t involve the gatekeepers. We don’t need their approval like we used to, and it won’t be long before the social luster wains too. It’s not that record labels need to go away (they don’t), it’s that our definition of success needs to reflect a creator’s own goals. And maybe Kickstarter plays a role in that — I don’t know. But it’s important to remember what “getting signed” really means.

Welcome Cassie!

We’re very excited to announce a new addition to the Kickstarter team. Cassie Marketos has joined us from the indie music store Insound, and she’ll be working with me on customer service and growing the Kickstarter community. You guys are gonna love her.

Today is Cassie’s second day, and here are four things we’ve learned so far:

1) She went to UC Santa Cruz, whose mascot — famously — is the Banana Slug. (John Travolta is a big fan.)

2) She plays drums and has a band that frightens her parents. (Not online — already asked.)

3) She flew a plane from Portland to San Francisco. Blindfolded.

4) She’s a foodie, and you can read her food blog at Sweeetheart Fever.

Look for Cassie around the blog and site, and be sure to say hi in the comments. Thanks!

Giant Crowd Painting

We’re big fans of Emily Grenader’s 365 Postcards, and over the weekend Emily posted an even better project: Giant Crowd Painting. Emily wants to paint a 6’ x 9’ mural of a giant crowd scene… where the entire crowd is made up of the Kickstarter backers who funded the project.

For $30 you get to be part of the crowd. Simply email Emily two pictures of yourself (following her instructions) and you’re painted into the work. You get a postcard and a hi-res image of the finished painting. Higher-priced tiers include actual prints, blow-ups of your part of the painting, and more. A very clever idea.

What Emily understands is that a project needs to benefit its backers just as much as its creator. Her postcard project got it: for $5 you get a handmade postcard on a random day. Emily wasn’t getting fat off the cash or using it to do something else, she simply wanted to do something creative with a willing audience. There was no greater aspiration than that.

Giant Crowd Painting is similarly structured, and I would recommend that creators think about how their project’s benefits balance out. Is there a real benefit for potential backers, or are you offering $10 Twitter mentions and $40 T-shirts? If the balance is too unequal, it’s hard to get excited about a project.

Kickstarter pledges are somewhere between patronage and commerce: there is a direct exchange of value (what’s in it for backers) that commissions the realization of an idea, dream, or ambition (what’s in it for creators). Without value, the exchange doesn’t make sense.

If I could sum it up simply, it would be to say: Do something great, and make sure that supporters are rewarded with something even better. Simple as that.