Alternative comics publisher Fantagraphics Books is on pace for a highly successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a run of its books, set for release from April to August 2014.
The campaign reached its $150,000 funding goal in one week and has currently raised more than $168,000 with 19 days remaining.
Fantagraphics experienced financial troubles after the death of Editor and Co-Publisher Kim Thompson. According to the company’s Kickstarter page, 13 books Thompson was editing at the time of his death had to be postponed or canceled, causing the company to lose income from the revenue these books would have brought.
Founded in 1976 by Gary Groth and Mike Catron, Fantagraphics has made a name for itself as a publisher of bold and innovative comics of the cartoonist tradition.
It has published the work of iconic cartoonists of the last 30 years, such as Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, and Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, as well as historically important works like The Complete Peanuts. Fantagraphics also publishes The Comics Journal, a periodical dedicated to in-depth criticism of comics as literature.
With the success of the campaign, it is clear that there is a substantial fanbase for the company’s niche. Though I primarily read comics from the major publishers and big independents, I’m very happy Fantagraphics is around, because I want that kind of variety in the comics industry.
I’m also happy to see Fantagraphics offer quality rewards for its backer levels. It is common for books coming from publishing projects to cost more at the Kickstarter level than they will when released, but “markup” (for lack of a better term) here is reasonable. An extra $10 or so for a signed copy of a forthcoming book is an attractive reward for potential backers.
Fantagraphics’s campaign is different from most projects, in that it is funding a full “season” of 39 books rather than one project.
This difference from Kickstarter norms has led some to question whether the campaign is in the spirit of the platform.
San Francisco comic book retailer and Comic Book Resources columnist Brian Hibbs expressed concern over Fantagraphics’s pragmatism in conducting business.
“This is at least the third, and maybe the fourth, time that FBI has come to the market, hat-in-hand, needing a cash infusion to continue publishing,” Hibbs said. “This is a bad habit, and one that I very much want FBI (and almost all of their contemporaries) to avoid going forward.”
Despite his reservations, Hibbs also said he pledged $25 to the project.
Matt D. Wilson of Comics Alliance posed the question of whether Fantagraphics is setting a precedent for other publishers in financial trouble.
Wilson points out the criticism leveled at past campaigns that were designed to fund “an ongoing, successful concern,” such as Penny Arcade’s campaign to make its site ad-free.
Though Wilson wonders whether the campaign would be seen as appropriate if the immediate financial trouble weren’t so apparent, he concludes that because Fantagraphics is “more interested in the intrinsic value of art than profit,” its Kickstarter use is in the right spirit.
The argument that the validity of Kickstarter projects is ultimately up to the audience probably seems like a cop-out, but in this case, it applies.
Concerns over whether it is proper for a for-profit company to ask for money to continue operation are legitimate (the comments on this article from Robot 6 made some interesting points), but if people want to back companies that use Kickstarter this way, should they be prohibited from doing so?
The very concept of Kickstarter is based on audience participation, so shouldn’t the audience be the people who decide whether a campaign is worthwhile?