This past week, Archie Comics made a big leap in comic publishing when they announced that they would be taking to Kickstarter to help fund three new books coming out this fall. The company was asking for $350,000 to help bring these books to the shelves. These books, by top-tier talent (which included Jughead by writer Chip Zdarsky, Betty and Veronica by writer/artist Arthur Adams, and Life with Kevin by writer Dan Parent and artist J. Bone), would have helped to expand the newly rebooted Archie universe, spearheaded by the soon-to-be-released Archie #1 by Mark Waid and Fiona Staples. It was a bold move that got people talking.
Unfortunately, all that talk did nothing but hurt the publisher’s plans. Both fans and industry insiders questioned why Archie Comics, a “big name” in comics, would look to fans to crowd-fund several new books. They also questioned some of the validity of the rewards being offered, asking why fans would pay hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars for free copies of these books that they could go out and pay three or four dollars for when they were released (helping to support their local comic book shop at the same time).
For several days, the hubbub surrounding the news continued. Jon Goldwater, Archie Comics’ CEO and Publisher, sent out a press release justifying their actions. But it was all for nothing. The negative press continued, and after five days and approximately $35,000 raised, the campaign was cancelled.
Many fans may be pleased to see the “big guy” taken down a peg or two, especially when it comes to crowd-funding big projects like this. Kickstarter has the stigma behind it that it should only be for the “little guy,” the kind of person who wouldn’t have the means or resources to make something a reality without asking others online for money. So whenever a celebrity or someone with seemingly substantial wealth goes on and asks for cash for one of their projects, fans immediately turn into angry savages and demand they fund it themselves.
This brings up an inherent flaw within the crowd-funding system Kickstarter has been at the forefront of. The idea that only smaller projects should be able to be crowd-funded is a bit silly. It was the same story a year ago when LeVar Burton hosted a Kickstarter campaign to bring back Reading Rainbow. Despite the campaign’s good intentions, it caught the ire of many because of Burton’s “celebrity” status. Unlike Archie Comics though, this campaign was completed and raised close to $5.4 million, over five times the amount they had originally asked (that number was surpassed in about eleven hours of the campaign going live).
It would be unfair to ask “celebrities” to fund some of these projects themselves, because it’s difficult (if not impossible) to say how much money they have to put towards something like this. Obviously someone like George Clooney or Angelina Jolie wouldn’t need to take to Kickstarter to fund a pet-project, but clearly LeVar Burton did. He’s not rolling in money, so he wanted to get some people (who also cared about Reading Rainbow) to help him realize his dream. He got what he needed, so why couldn’t Goldwater?
People assumed that Archie Comics has the resources to put out an entire line of books every month, mainly because they are seen as a “major” comics publisher. That, of course, isn’t necessarily true. Up until six years ago when Goldwater took over the company, they had been simply publishing the same kinds of books they always had; safe, typical Archie stories that no one necessarily cared about. But under the guidance of Goldwater, the company has garnered the attention of major news outlets for their new takes on these classic characters, such as introducing Archie’s first openly gay character in Kevin Keller, killing off an adult Archie in the pages of Life with Archie, and even turning Riverdale into a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland with Afterlife with Archie.
While these books have gotten Archie back on the map, it hasn’t resulted in major sales for the company. Goldwater even said in his original statement regarding the Kickstarter campaign, “We’re not flush with corporate cash like Marvel or DC. But we’re also not afraid to take calculated risks.” That “calculated risk” resulted in fans and critics making a big deal out of a “gigantic little guy.” Without a major company like Time Warner or Disney keeping things funded, Kickstarter really is one of the few viable options available for a small publisher like Archie to gain backing for new books.
Without something like Kickstarter available, it’s conceivable that the resources behind the company wouldn’t be able to support so many books being put out at once. This would more than likely result in books being cancelled prematurely. Granted, Goldwater has come out and said all three new series will still be coming out (but only Jughead was given a tentative fall release; the other two series have yet to be given any sort of release time), so it might not have come to axing some books. But fans should consider what would be worse; having a “major” comic book company ask for money on Kickstarter, or losing a popular book like Afterlife with Archie?
Goldwater has come out and said that these books will come out soon enough, and that this campaign was simply to help accelerate the process and get them out quicker (mainly to capitalize on the buzz surrounding the new Archie #1 release). Perhaps this does take some of the wind out of the argument, but the whole Kickstarter campaign has shown that Archie is able and willing to take risky moves that Marvel, DC, and Image wouldn’t. Said Goldwater, “We don’t regret trying something new. It’s what Archie’s been about for the last six years. We will continue to be a fearless, risk-taking and vibrant brand that will do its best to embrace new platforms, technology and ways to interact with fans.”
This shows the company’s dedication and willingness to try new things. A large, established company like Marvel wouldn’t attempt something like this, whether it be because they can fund and advertise their own books without it or because it isn’t how they run things there. The fact that Goldwater and Archie Comics was willing to buck the trend of what had been the established way of doing things in the comic book community shows their progressive nature. Going against what’s been done before also seems to be something only the “little guy” would do.
Do I think the way Goldwater went about this was the best way to collect money? Maybe not, but his determination to get new books into the hands of fans shows his willingness to be fresh and innovative in a business that is constantly fighting against becoming too stagnant. While DC and Marvel think the answer to entropy is “reboot everything,” Archie Comics has actually attempted real change. Maybe in ten years, when the idea of smaller companies asking for money from fans isn’t so radical, we’ll look back and see Goldwater was right all along.