Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Who Makes Comics? She Makes Comics

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am pleased to be joined by Patrick Meaney and Marisa Stotter from Sequart Research who are here to talk to us about their latest project She Makes Comics.  Thank you both for joining me.

Marisa: Thanks so much for having us!

Patrick: Thanks James!

Would you two be so kind as to tell us about She Makes Comics and what makes it such a special project for you both?

Marisa: She Makes Comics is a documentary tracing the history of women in comics - as writers, artists, editors, publishers, retailers, and fans. It’s a celebration of the contributions women have made and continue to make to the medium. When people think of comic books, they often think of mainstream superhero stories, which are largely about male characters, written by men, and sold to a male readership. We want to turn that stereotype on its head and point out that women have always been creating and reading comics, for as long as the medium has existed!

Patrick: Exactly, I’ve made several different projects about comics at this point, and they were all to some extent exploring stories that people were familiar with. Most comic readers know Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis’s work, if not their personality. But, I think people don’t realize the role that women played in the development of the medium. I’ve already learned a lot, and am excited to find out more.

What was the impetus behind this project?  Are you seeing an underappreciation of women in the comic industry and in fandom?  

Marisa: This project is coming along right when women are becoming more visible and more vocal in the comics community. The Internet has spurred on a robust movement of self-publishing, and women are attending cons in droves, all over the world. But I’ve noticed that female creators and readers are still fighting for recognition and legitimacy in comics. A number of female comics professionals have gone online to share stories of being harassed or otherwise discriminated against by their male peers. And just about any female comics fan will tell you that she’s been “quizzed” by guys who can’t seem to believe that women like comics. There is a lot of frustration out there, and She Makes Comics will hopefully show women that the “boys’ club” of comics has plenty of women in it, and there’s always room for more.

Based on the video you showed there are obviously some women involved in the industry, are they the rare exception?  A recent phenomenon?  How are they affecting comics?

Marisa: Many of the women we’ve spoken with already are well-known names in comics. Joyce Farmer, for example, was an artist in the underground comics movement, contributing to a comics anthology that was created in response to the male-dominated and often misogynistic comics of the ‘70s. Editor Karen Berger founded the Vertigo imprint at DC Comics and was responsible for many of the comics that ushered in a darker, more mature age in the medium - Sandman, Fables, and Y the Last Man are just a few of the titles that she oversaw.

We’re finding that there are far more women who have made major contributions to comics than you could ever imagine. Our research is proving that the well-known women who are “major players” in comics are not an exception by any means. And yet, many of them have not received the recognition they deserve.
She Makes Comics will change that by spotlighting the women who have seemingly been forgotten by comics, especially those who worked in the Golden Age of the medium.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is when people say “the comics industry” they almost always mean DC and Marvel only.  Does your project discuss women beyond these two companies say in webcomics, indie comics, and the manga markets?  

Marisa: The scope of our project definitely goes beyond the “Big Two” publishers. We’re finding that women are very well-represented in indie comics and webcomics, while Marvel and DC are still fairly male-dominated. It speaks a lot to how difficult it still is for women to break into mainstream comics, and how easy it has now become for anyone to create a comic and have it seen by thousands or even millions on the Web.

Do you think there’s a stigma attached to comics in America, both on those who read them as well as those who make them?  Perhaps even more so for women who are into reading or making comics?  Why is that do you think?  

Marisa: I think it’s quite the opposite, actually. Comics have become “cool” in American pop culture. Hollywood is churning out a what seems like a dozen comic book movies a year, and Comic-Con International in San Diego has become the destination for all things entertainment. But I think that this attention has turned the “geek” community against itself, in a way, and women have suffered for it. Newcomers to comics - especially women - are often disparaged for their interest if they are not “hardcore” enough in their fandom. It’s shameful to see people who might have been made fun of for loving comics decades ago bullying newcomers who want to share their passion.

Patrick: I think it’s the same thing that motivates music fans to say their favorite band has sold out when they become popular. It can be hard to accept more people liking the thing that meant so much to you personally, and the new fans being women can be even more jarring. I think it’s foolish, considering that the comics industry has been on the brink of extinction for thirty years. Adding new readers doesn’t mean that the comics you love will go away, it just means that there’s going to be even more to choose from.

My daughter is 5, what do you say to all the little girls like her who might want to be comic creators or readers someday?  What can I do as a father to help her enjoy an artform that I enjoy so much?  

Marisa: The most wonderful (and also overwhelming) thing about comics is that there is a story for everyone. There’s the traditional capes & cowls fare, sci-fi, fantasy, crime procedural, mystery, romance, memoir - it’s not hard to find something to love. My advice is to find a genre that appeals to you and just dive right in. You don’t have to read every comic out there. It’s a lot like movies or books: there are multiple genres and thousands of titles, so it’s a matter of finding the ones that appeal to you.

Patrick: One of our hopes with this film is to inspire younger women to not only read comics, but to think about actively telling their own stories in the medium. In talking to a lot of creators, it seems like many get involved in comics because their parents read comics and had them in the house, so it seemed normal. Which means you’re already on the right track!

The key thing of every crowdfunding project is the budget.  The fact that you’ve come to seek backers means you have a target budget in mind and it is extremely important to explain to your backers what the money is for and why you need their help.  A simple way to explain this is through a budget breakdown, yet you decided on a general explanation section.  Do you think this has been an effective way of conveying your need for the $41,500?   Do you think the general Kickstarter Backer fully understands the costs inherent in filming a documentary?  

Marisa: We aim to be as transparent as possible with our needs while allowing room for flexibility. Before we launched the Kickstarter, we did a rough budget breakdown and determined that $41,500 would cover those particular needs. But things can change down the road, especially as our film takes shape. We’ve anticipated our costs the best we can while we’re still in the early stages of production. I think that our backers understand, and I hope they know that if we exceed our goal, every cent will go towards the production, such as getting better equipment and hiring more skilled crew members.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

Marisa: I’d been hearing about Kickstarter for a couple of years, and I backed my first campaign in 2013. She Makes Comics is my first time running a campaign, and I could not be more excited (and a little anxious)!

Patrick: I started using in Kickstarter in 2010 or so. I don’t remember where I first discovered it, but I think it’s an awesome site, and a really key part of our new entertainment economy. It’s great that people can put their money where their mouth is when it comes to supporting art they want to see. I think the rise of Kickstarter is a great counterpoint to internet piracy, which gives the impression that content is worthless. Kickstarter is a chance to show that art is worth putting your money into.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

Marisa: We definitely want to keep our backers involved every step of the way. We plan to do “video updates” in the coming weeks to keep our supporters involved and hopefully entice even more backers. And we have some exciting new rewards that we plan to unveil shortly!

Patrick: We’ve got a few ideas for cool videos that will show just how necessary this project really is, and already are putting together more cool rewards.

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 track your progress?  

Marisa: We’ve been hitting the press and blogosphere hard this week to get the word out about the project, and social media has been a huge help in that. We’ve also gotten invitations to go on some popular comics podcasts that I think will help us reach even further. I actually stumbled upon Kicktraq while doing a Google search of She Makes Comics and found the information to be very helpful. It’s kind of addictive though, to keep refreshing and watching your progress. I might need a 12-step program by the end of the month.

Patrick: We’re sticking mainly to Facebook and Twitter, no ad spend, and just doing a grassroots reachout.

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

Marisa: Have a plan of attack before you launch the campaign. Not just for the initial push, but also for the remaining 29 or so days. As I mentioned, we’re planning to send out video updates so that our project isn’t forgotten over the next 3 weeks. Given the set time frame of these campaigns, it’s good to have your ducks in a row beforehand so that no time is wasted.

Patrick: Definitely identify your potential audience and how to reach them. Unfortunately, just having an idea is not enough, you need to have a hook to engage people and a track record. If you want to get $3,000 or so out of your friends and family, you can probably do it, but if you want more, you need to show why this project is better than the millions of other ways that people can spend their money.

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

Marisa: I’d like to thank our generous supporters for helping us come so far in the first week. We’re so excited to have them on this journey with us!

Patrick: We really only can make this movie with your help. So, if you want to watch it in the future, support it now.

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

Marisa: Thank you, James!

Patrick: Thanks for helping us spread the word.

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