Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Namesake: Volume 2

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am joined by the wonderfully whimsical women behind the wonderful webcomic world of Namesake!  Isabelle, Megan, thank you for joining us today to talk about your latest Kickstarter to have volume 2 of Namesake produced.  

(Isa = Green) Hi, thanks for having us!

(Meg = Purple) Yes, thank you so much!

Would you be so kind as to give a brief overview of Namesake for my readers who have yet to discover the wonderfully wicked and wild world you’ve created?  

Namesake is kind of the fairy tale equivalent of quantum leap. It’s about people who have the power to cross over to magical worlds, and this power is transmitted thru the name. All Alices go to Wonderland, all Dorothies go to Oz, etc, etc. The hero of the story, Emma, is tossed in Oz after a dramatic library fire. Even though it’s not her place, she’s stuck doing the Dorothy’s job, and eventually discovers that her own personal story seems to be more complex then she would like it to be.

This isn’t your first time using Kickstarter, what did you learn from your last campaign that you’re using to improve things this time around?  

Megan did a lot of the kickstarter work. On my side, what I tried to improve was the presentation - the beauty of the images shown, the dynamism of the video. Or first visuals were a bit less professional. I strived to improve that.

On my side, other than the visuals we added, a lot was the same as the first Kickstarter. One big difference though is that we did had that first successful Kickstarter, so we went right back to them as soon as it went live. Backers from vol. 1 had been asking about vol. 2, and I noticed a lot of repeat supporters. We’re working with a comics collective now, and they’ll be handling the shipping of the books. That takes a huge load off my mind. That’s probably the biggest thing I learned the first go-around was the many ways the postal service can mangle a package! And the shipping costs. I grossly underestimated the cost of shipping out of the country, but I managed to find a way of shipping within the U.S. that managed to balance the scales. We’re actually keeping the shipping costs the same for book 2, but I budgeted more shipping into the original funding, and we’re finding new and smarter ways to ship.

The one thing I was worried about is that we were seeking more funding for book 2 than book 1. The main reason is because of the printing costs. We decided to add more pages and wound up with 172, which is 28 pages more than book 1, and that caused the book to be $1,000 more than the first one.

I’ve been known to read a webcomic or fifty in my time, but even with all of those to compare to yours is quite visually striking.  Where did that style come from?  What inspired you to do the comic with only “bits of color” instead of all black and white or all color?

The art style is a bit of a mix between manga, European comics (the “ligne claire” style) and old 19th century illustrations. I think the mix creates something that reminds people of classical illustration while having really creative and expressive character designs. I always want the characters to have very expressive eyes and bodies. I want it to look like it could be animated.

A lot of the framing is inspired by manga. The “spot color” style is a bit of an odd thing. It’s very present in old illustrations, so at first, we decided to apply it as a time-saving technique, hoping to eventually do the whole comic in color. It took too long to do 3 pages a week in color with a full time job. But then it morphed into a style and we started using it more and more and really going crazy with it. So it stayed. And became really fun.I guess we could say it’s a happy incident.

One of the central tenets of “Namesake” are the namesakes themselves, people who have the same name as famous storybook characters who travel between worlds living those stories.  Yet your main character pretty much ignores/stands on its head that notion with her very existence.  Was that the whole point?   

Trying to think of the best way to put it without giving too much of the story away, but yes, that definitely is a big part of it. I think Namesake also explores the intimate bond we have with fantasy and literature in general. Why do we still study Shakespeare and Socrates and the fairy tales of Grimm and Andersen? They provoke something in our mind to make us think, believe in something, and then share it with someone else. Can you imagine humanity if we didn’t have these sorts of stories? There would be no inspiration to create anything else. The sharing of a story also creates a connection between people. One of my very first literary influences was Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the “Little House” books. Her sharing her life’s story influenced a little girl who was born 113 years after she was to go write herself. And I hope Namesake has influenced other people to write and create art. If we weren’t sharing those stories over and over, they wouldn’t exist to begin with, then where would humanity be? To me, that’s the very core of what Namesake is.

Very well said! How much fun as a writer are you having in coming up with new spins on classic tales?  Creating a “future” for stories and even poking fun at those who only “watched the movie”  is a nice nod to the fourth wall without being a nod don’t you think?

The idea the spawned Namesake is that all retellings of a story, all the fanfics people wrote for them, the sequels, etc, are all kinda valid, they just happened with a different “Namesake”. So playing with the classic tales and their re-writes was a great part of the fun. Emma herself isn’t a big reader, so it makes it easy do exposition and go into all sorts of directions. We have a lot of fun doing the research and trying to find ways to mix in the tones of the classic with the modern viewers. Megan did a lot of research for the dialogues. I had fun with the costumes.

A lot of tales and fairy tales are very dear to a lot of people. It’s easy to screw up and have a large group of angry people criticize your work. So far, we seem to have done a good job. Or at least, that’s what the Andersen and the “Oz” fandom are telling us.

The closest we’ve come to literally breaking the fourth wall was done by accident actually. It was a line of dialogue from Hercilia that’s in chapter 11 (future book 3). It was completely in character for her, but it was only afterwards I realized she was flirting with the fourth wall.

Are you planning to do more fairy tales beyond Oz?  I’d love to see your take on other tales like Cinderella which are based more on the original stories and not the “Disneyfied” versions many know.  

Oh, a lot of things are planned. A couple of other worlds, and a few of the fairy tale stars are planned to make an appearance. I don’t want to give anything away... But there’s some of my favorite fairy tale motifs and tropes coming up.

I will say books I’ve read for Namesake for the future include more fairy tales, biographies of several well-known authors and books on mythology.

How important is it for you to call upon more “complete” versions of the original tales than most seem to be aware of.  For instance going further down the Wonderland route with calls to the “Through the Looking glass” bits and the extended stories of Oz?  

It’s important for us to read those versions so that we are aware of them, but it’s not always the versions that will be used in story. In-story, the “text version” in our world is not always written down by a reliable narrator. How reliable writers are is part of the Namesake themes.

On a personal note, I do love the originals, but I like to think a lot of the re-writes have valid and interesting points too. I like to mix and match. After all, the fun of have several versions of a story is that you get to play with it.

One of the things in Namesake that I try to do is to ground it in as much history as I can. For me, it’s fun to take something historic and twist it just a bit to make you believe this actually happened. A prime example are the Intermission chapters featuring Charles Dodgson and Alice Liddell. A lot of the details there was influenced by incidents in their lives. When it comes to the fantasy worlds, I go back to the source before and during writing. To give you an example, a lot of the reading I did when we first started Namesake involved biographies of Dodgson and Liddell and the first six books of the Oz series. I have a deep respect for the source material.

Obviously I enjoy the story and the characters you’ve presented and I became this enamored through your webcomic alone.  What are your print volumes providing that I’m not already getting through the webpage?  Why should folks like myself, as well as new readers, back your project?  

Well, every book comes with a bonus story featuring the character on the cover. And the kickstarter itself comes with a fairly long bonus story featuring the past of some of the characters. The bonus stories offer explanations and little hints to future events that are only revealed much later in-story. They also shed light on a few things that would remain unexplained in-story.

Also, for a story about stories, what’s better than to have it as a book?

One of the things I’ve heard from readers is how much they love Namesake as a book, even if they’re following online religiously. One of them commented on today’s comic that it has a real impact you can’t get on the screen, and I agree. I am a bibliophile and I read a lot in print and e-book. I have read comics online, but it’s not the same as holding the actual comic in your hand. It’s one place where I will always prefer print over digital.

Webcomics have long had a tradition of “Tip Jars” and reward wallpapers and the like to have the readers directly help the creators.  Do you think Kickstarter is a natural evolution of that kind of “feed the creator” system?  

It has a different function than the “tip jar” system. The tip jar (and the ad revenue) keeps the site afloat and the creators fed. The kickstarter allows the creators to print and distribute their books, which is still something that was hard to do without an editor or a bigger company that helps. Often, all the money of the kickstarter is invested in creating products and distribution.

I think it really depends on who you ask. If you look at the Penny Arcade Kickstarter, they used that as a “feed the creator” system more than a Kickstarter like ours or even the massively huge Order of the Stick that ran at the same time our first Kickstarter did. We wanted to get books in our readers’ hands, and traditionally that would involve trying to shop Namesake to different publishers and be dependent on meeting their sales criteria, etc. to keep going in print.

Do you think having an established webcomic makes reaching your goal easier since you already have a built in fan base and method of reaching them?  Does that give you a major advantage over standard comic Kickstarters?  

Having a fanbase does help a lot. Then again, I don’t think I would have attempted to print Namesake without the fanbase... I’d be worried we would not make it! *laughs*

You were still worried, Isa! We had these horrible moments last January of going, “Did we just get in over our heads? Are we nuts for asking people to essentially front us $7,000 for a book?” But, we went with our gut and the response we were getting from readers at the time.

I do think it makes it easier though because not only does it show you that the product does exist already, but that we’re responsible about it. Whether it’s been an actual comic or a filler piece of art (we don’t do many of those), we’ve always updated on time. The latest we’ve updated was two hours late, and that was because the page didn’t get uploaded, and I was on a plane coming back from the UK. We’re not a comic that limps along and peters out. We take our work seriously, ergo our readers take us seriously.  

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

Definitely try to create a buzz early through social media, have nice visuals to show off your work and ask for people to give you their opinion about the levels and things you want to offer. Nothing matters like a second opinion.

Try to have something out there that establishes you: a blog with a history of updating regularly, previous work you’ve done, even projects you’ve done at work. One of the negative perceptions about Kickstarter that has grown in the past year is that there are people out there who have essentially produced vaporware, so they’ve essentially backed a project that will never materialize and their money is gone. The site has changed a lot in the last year to crack down on that, but in the end, you’re the one making that commitment to dozens or hundreds of people who trust you. At the end of the day, you should be able to look them in eye and go, “I did everything I could to do right by you, because you put your faith in me.” Be prepared to answer lots of questions, be available, and communicate regularly with your backers. Research the hell out of your costs and don’t be greedy. Be upfront with what the money will be used for. I can give anyone who asks a detailed breakdown of exactly how the Kickstarter funds from book 1 were spent. I’m sure the IRS will appreciate that! Treat your backers the way you wanted to be treated yourself if you were funding a project.   

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

I’d like to thank anyone who gives Namesake a try after reading this! We greatly appreciate any kind of support, be it moral or monetary! Fairy tales have survived up to now because of their readers. Webcomics also owe their survival to their readers. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!

Yes, please give Namesake a try! It’s an amazing story, and we love sharing it as much as we love creating it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you as well!

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

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