Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Harbinger Interview

Welcome to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I’m joined by Travis Opgenorth from the Kickstarter Comic Project, “The Harbinger.” Thank you Travis for joining us today.

Hey James.  Thanks for having me.

As a veteran of the entertainment industry why come to Kickstarter and not use more traditional funding methods?

Well, honestly, I think that Kickstarter is becoming a traditional place for people to secure funding.  Finding investors to back a project like this is difficult.  Even working professionals in the comic and entertainment industries have a difficult time branching out on their own, and while I have a few connections from DVD projects I’ve worked on for DC Comics and Warner Bros., they’re nothing that I can really pull from to secure funds.  The other side of it is that, as a writer, I’m looking to get my material in front of an audience.   

Kickstarter allows project creators like myself to establish a direct interaction with the people who are eventually going to be my audience.  I’m a big fan of collaborating when you’re working on something creative.  Who better to collaborate with than your audience?  For example, a little later in our funding period, we’re going to offer backers a chance to vote on various creative aspects of the graphic novel.  If I went through more traditional channels it would only be me and a handful of other people hashing out those details.  I think Kickstarter offers you a unique chance to mold your project toward what your audience wants while you’re still working on it.

Would you care to give us a brief overview of the story of The Harbinger?

Sure.  The Harbinger tells the story of a former soldier who found himself on the losing side of a war, and who now searches for his enslaved daughter while also seeking vengeance against the invading king, but he finds himself in the service of the very king he wants to assassinate when the queen offers to help him find his daughter.

To help him on his journey, Davyn teamed up with Ali’een, an oppressed and hardened Drow elf with a keenness for self-preservation, and an illusionist with a tender soul, but a great disdain for authority.  While attempting to rob and murder an evil nobleman, Davyn discovers a slave girl and decides to return her to her family.  At the same time, the invading king, King Enthor, is in trouble.  His reign, his lands, and his people are under siege by all sorts of mythical creatures from Harpies, to Draugr, Trolls, Manticores and more.  It’s chaos out there, and the people are afraid and demanding action and threatening revolt. King Enthor, however, is bedridden from an assassin’s poison, so his wife, Queen Sonja has essentially taken.  When Davyn and his crew return the young slave girl to her village, they discover that the children there are being abducted by harpies on a nightly basis.  Davyn, who knows how it feels to lose a child, decides to help the villagers defend themselves against this threat, and in the process, ends up framed for the death of the current King’s Harbinger.  After the town is saved, the Queen learns of Davyn’s heroics, and his suspected guilt in the Harbinger’s death.  She calls for his arrest and has him brought to the castle.  With the king bedridden and under attack, the Queen knows that she can use all the heroes she can find, so she presents Davyn with an option; be put to death for killing the King’s Harbinger, or become the new King’s Harbinger in exchange for the Queen’s help in finding his daughter.   Despite his desire for vengeance, his will to find his daughter leads him to accept her terms, and he comes The Harbinger – a clandestine member of the King’s Guard meant to protect the king, his interests, and to be his messenger to the people….  And that’s the end of book one.

What was your inspiration for this story? How is it “set in a world full of Norse, Greek, and Tolkien mythologies?”

The inspiration really came from several places.  I wrote The Harbinger two years ago.  Before that I was watching things like The Tudors, and Game of Thrones, and Chris Nolan’s Batman movies.  I also started watching The Borgias, and in that story there’s a character named Michelleto who basically lurks in the shadows and brutally protects the interests of the Pope.  I saw that character, who’s really dynamic but plays a fairly small role in The Borgias, and I began to think about placing that character in a world more like Game of Thrones or LOTR while also giving him room to evolve from a shadowy hit-man to more of a dark knight crusader who’s fighting for the people.  Aside from that, I love ancient mythologies and wanted to create a world where every mythical creature known to man could co-exist.  In the first book there’s a reference to Draugr, which are a zombie-like creature from Norse mythology.  We also see a lot of the harpies who come from Greek mythos.  I’ve even tapped Hindu mythology.  In the backstory for Cyfus, which backers will receive as part of the backstory mini-book, Cyfus actually conjures an illusion of the Hindu deity Ganesha… the iconic “elephant god”, who, among other things, is believed to be a destroying of evils.  So, with The Harbinger, I’m creating some rich characters and setting them in a universe that really pulls from just about every mythology available.  It’s allowed me to create a world that is familiar, yet can still spring some fun surprises.

How much experience does your team have in creating comics? Sequential art is different than concept art or stills after all.
You’re absolutely right, and in my search for artists I stressed finding people who had a sense of story, and could use their panel designs to help convey the story I’m trying to tell.  My artists have worked on a number of comics including Chris Anderson who inked “Vostok”.  Mike Kim worked on two issues of Red Plains, and he did the coloring for “Terrorklowns”.  Sarah Rhoads did the ink and color for the fight scene you posted here, and is currently commissioned to do the art for “KwaQqokli”, a graphic novelization of the life of Shaka Zulu.

So what is the long term goal with this project?  Since it’s based off of a TV pilot are you hoping to do a full series and sell it to a studio?  

I believe in having tall goals supported by small steps.  For The Harbinger, I would love to see book one get made.  That’s step number one, but I’m not trying to create a pretty shelf piece.  If there’s a demand, I have concept material for five more books.

The end goal would really be to just get The Harbinger brand out there.  If every book has to be funded through Kickstarter, and I make no money off them, I’m fine with that, just so long as I’m able to continue telling the story.

You are asking $12,000 for a 90+ full color graphic novel?  Minus the $1200 or so Kickstarter and Amazon will take will that be enough money?  

Honestly, no, but at $12000 I felt I was at a number that was high enough to help cover the costs, but still low enough to be fully attainable.  I’m really only expecting the pledge money to cover the artists who’ve agreed to work below their normal rates, as well as the backer gifts.  I’ll most likely end up swallowing the costs of printing and production, but on independent projects like this I’m a proponent of making sure everyone involved gets something out of the project.  For me, I’m getting a showpiece that demonstrates my ability as a writer and a producer.  That’s worth the price.  For the artists, they’re also getting a showpiece, but it’s not their baby, so I’m glad to compensate them for their work.  And, for the audience, they’re getting a final product worthy of their support and attention.

One of the keys of a successful Kickstarter project is backer participation.  How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates?  Interviews?  Interesting excerpts from the book? Artwork?

As I mentioned earlier, interaction is key reason for launching the project on Kickstarter, and some of the things we’re going to do are to post some style tests and allow our backers to voice their opinions as to which styles they think suits the story best.  We’re also going to do several cover page variants, and again, our backers will help us pick which one to use as our final cover.  I’m also going to announce special bonus rewards along the way if we hit certain funding points, or to celebrate certain holidays like Halloween.  I also want to get the story out there, so I’ll be releasing scenes from the script for our backers and potential backers for them to read and check out. 

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to help things along?

I’ve gotten great feedback on the script from several sources including industry professionals.  I was very happy to receive a review from Phil Cousineau, author, TV host, and “Hero’s Journey” and story crafting guru.  I’m still working to get reviews from a pair of writer / directors who have worked closely with DC comics on a number of animated DVD projects.  We’ve got our “Review Promo” running on Youtube, and The Harbinger’s Facebook page launched a few weeks prior to our Kickstarter campaign, and thanks to a small Facebook marketing campaign, we’re well over a 1000 ‘likes’ as of this interview. I’m not seeing enough of those ‘likes’ translate into pledges though, so I have also begun using Kicktraq and made that info available to our backers and potential backers.  I’m also in the process of campaigning around some comic groups and stores trying to drum up support as well.

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?  

I would simply say that Kickstarter isn’t a magic button that you turn on and instantly get funded.  You can search their site and see hundreds of funded projects.  Some of them are funded well over their original goal, but understand that they most likely didn’t just waltz up their computer and create a campaign.  To get funding through Kickstarter is almost just as hard as securing funding through those more “traditional” sources you mentioned earlier.  Come prepared.  Expect a fight.  This is my first Kickstarter campaign.  I’m excited about how much I’ve already learned about the process, and I can’t wait to come back and try it again… for book 2 of The Harbinger.

Thank you for spending your time with us Travis!!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Yeah, I just really want to tell everyone to check out The Harbinger, but not only that, check out other projects too.  I can’t speak for all the projects on Kickstarter, but I know that we’ve got some stellar talent on our project, and there’s a lot of good artists, storytellers, and filmmakers out there clawing for the chance to tell their stories to an interested audience.  The good ones will always rise to the top, and even if all you can pledge is $1.  The notion that someone took the time, checked out your project, and was interested enough to offer support can go a long way in the eyes of a project creator.  Thanks to everyone who has backed The Harbinger, and to everyone who’s ever backed a project on Kickstarter.  

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!  

Thank you, James.  And I’m looking forward to updating you on The Harbinger’s success.

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