Jason Rohrer's epic world brought to comics. An experiment where story grows organically -- and secretly. Follow it on Twitter @cwfce.
New "stretch goal" of $2500!
Thrillingly, CWCE will be moving ahead thanks to the generous contributions of our over 50 donors. Almost 2/3rds of that total amount go directly to the "anchor artists," helping to ensure a high level of quality and value for the project itself.
But, with over two days left on the campaign, we are still accepting pledges of support; they'll go to further offset Amazon & Kickstarter fees, feed the pool of postage expenses for faster shipping to/from the anchor artists, and augment the Chain World website which can now be built.
So, if you're inspired by this project and still want to be a part of it (even for as low as $1), you still can! Keep spreading the word about what we're going to unleash upon the world -- it's moving from an abstract idea to a concrete (but still very fluid) reality!
The Short Version:
The "Chain World" Comic Book Experiment is, with the endorsement of several comics industry professionals, aimed at producing one artisan-designed hardcover slipcased 200-page comic book/"graphic novel" with a full-color wrap-around cover, beautifully illustrated initial page of story, and...199 pages left blank.
Call it the most aesthetic chain letter ever, call it the most beautifully tangible campfire "continue-the-story" game, or call it the oddest "jam comic" to ever come down the pike: This whole Experiment is about creating and releasing one book -- only ONE -- to find its narrative destiny unchecked. The book would be passed quietly from one artist to another, never discussing the ongoing story and likely never seeing the book again. Kickstarter donors would be contributing to a social experiment but also becoming part of something simultaneously exclusive and covert.
This Experiment tests whether comics are still an art or now only an industry.
The Longer (Slightly More Sane-Sounding) Version:
The idea for this project and its name comes from a fantastic Wired magazine article about videogame-maker Jason Rohrer and his Chain World project. Here's the basic idea he had: Rohrer releases only one copy of his game on a USB stick. He passes it to a user who can explore the Chain World environment, the user has one character who builds/creates whatever structures the user likes in Chain World, but, when the character dies, the user can never play Chain World again. He or she must pass it to another user. Picture one shot and one shot only at Super Mario Brothers -- except you're exploring the Mushroom Kingdom and building castles instead of necessarily fighting Bowzer. And there are no 1-UPs.
This concept is so simple, so obvious, but also incredibly exclusive and, in turn, immediately desirable. Moreover, Rohrer's game was designed to mimic religion: There's a following, a sacred text, an unseen "God," etc.
The Comic Book Experiment brings a new, narrative dimension to Rohrer's pursuit.
This book would not be an "adaptation" of Rohrer's game -- only its spirit and its method, then translated into comics. The book, when completed, would be released "into the wild," and, should it ever be filled, the last page instructs the final "user" to send it back to the Experiment Coordinator. The "rules" of the comic are printed in the inside front cover, and, like Fight Club, its contents cannot be shared with anyone except those who have contributed to it. The next user gets one page to advance the story, then it must be passed to another user(/artist/comics creator).
One innovation to the Chain World videogame after Rohrer released it was that certain big-name players were positioned at certain intervals. That is, the creator of The Sims would be scheduled to play Chain World at a certain point, then it would go back to being randomly passed around, then it would go to the creator of Halo at a specific point. This gave it added value as well as set interval/marks for tracking it.
Lewis has recruited five industry artists and custom book-maker Cathy Durso to participate in the Experiment at designated intervals. They are:
- Two-time Eisner-nominated anthology contributor Jason Copland
- Creator of The God Machine Chandra Free
- Eisner-nominated Girlamatic founder Lea Hernandez
- Eisner-nominee Ben Towle
- Illustrator of Peter David's Fallen Angel J.K. Woodward
Once a certain page is reached (e.g. page 23), it would have instructions and a pre-paid stamp to be sent to one of these inverval artists. Like any other user, that artist wouldn't know when it's reaching him/her, and none would know the story in advance. They would just read the story to date, add their page of art/narrative, and pass it along as they saw fit. Eventually, it would be mailed to another "interval artist" at a later time.
Why Do This?
A. David Lewis is coordinating this project because Rohrer's goal inspired him: To create something that will have its own destiny, separate of any supply-and-demand economics, marketing, or promotion. If the Experiment works, it'll work because people will want to add to the unknown journey this book will be on, and they'll want to contribute their own skill to it -- especially to have their names next to the "interval artists" (not to mention both other known artists to whom they may pass it as well as rising talents). There are no editors and no deadlines. Only the imperative to be creative, artful, and, if at all possible, dedicated.
But why should DONORS contribute to this?
Ah! Besides the incentives linked to certain donation levels, donors essentially become part of the Experiment. Contributing to this means that a person either is intrigued to see what this will become, believes in art for art's sake, wants to be part of an exclusive adventure, or all of the above.
In a sense, the Chain World Comic Book Experiment is about testing the notion that creativity & skill are still the priorities of comics readers and creators, not mass distribution or film adaptations. If enough people still feel a responsibility for engaging in innovative storytelling through sequential art, then the Experiment will be funded, and the book will be 200 pages filled with innovation and artistry.
Big "if." But a wholly worthwhile one.
If It's ONE Book, What Does This All Pay For?
It's a lot of money for one measly book, yup. However, to echo the videogame world Rohrer constructed, a great deal of love and labor has to be immediately evident for there to be any buy-in on behalf of the artists it reaches. People need to see that this book is serious, not to be taken lightly.
So, that goal begins with hiring both a canny cover illustrator and experienced bookmaker who will together fuse their talents into a functioning product: A beautiful book that cannot be ignored, invites investigation, and looks like nothing ever seen before. It is unmistakably one-of-a-kind and yet will be urging people to draw inside of it.
With their costs covered, putting the four other industry professionals "on retainer" for whenever the book reaches them comes with its own price. It's an atypical set-up for them, to accept a fee for an assignment that they must complete whenever it reaches them. (They also are allowing their mailing addresses to be seen by, well, anyone.) Without them, though, any responsibility for the book dwindles; kindergardeners might be left to doodle with crayons in it if each artists to whom it's passed doesn't feel compelled to give it proper value. Knowing it's going to "pros" who will be on the same level playing field as them might help ensure that it's valued and safeguarded.
(FYI - These pros have all quoted heavily discounted rates in order to be part of the Experiment. They are not getting rich on the endeavor by any means, nor is the Experiment Coordinator being paid at all.)
Additionally, the cost for sending it to the "interval artists" is built into the campaign budget -- no fair in sticking postage costs to some innocent suckers -- as is an independent website for theories on the status of the book, rumors of its location, and a special message forum open only to donors of a certain level and those who have already had the book pass through their hands. While other options have been cut back should there be the possibility of "stretch goals," this site would serve as the only digital expression of what is otherwise an almost-totally analog project. (Present company at Kickstarter excluded!)
Finally, the incidental expense of mailing incentives to donors of certain levels has been factored in to the overall budget.
Special thanks to Jason Rohrer and Casey Uhlig.
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.