Archie Comics has just joined the slew of up-and-coming and indie publishers crowdfunding their comics. On Monday, they launched a Kickstarter to fund three new books as part of their company-wide reboot: Jughead, written by Chip Zdarsky, Betty and Veronica, written and drawn by Adam Hughes, and Life with Kevin, written and drawn by Dan Parent and inked by J. Bone. They’re asking for $350,000 total.
Now, Archie has been riding an unprecedented wave of critical acclaim and increased sales for the past few years, thanks to a combination of increased diversity in their books and exciting, status quo-disrupting stories that aren’t just about how many burgers Jughead can eat. The introduction of Kevin Keller, the company’s early embracing of digital, the Archie Marries…/Life with Archie/The Death of Archie plotline, another alternate timeline where Archie marries Valerie, the new horror comics starring a much darker Archie and Sabrina, crossovers with Kiss, the Predator, and soon Sharknado… These have generated a huge amount of attention and positive buzz.
Me? I’ve been counting down the days until I can read next month’s Archie #1. Here at Panels we’re totally stoked for what we’re calling #HotArchie, and, I mean, Mark Waid and Fiona Staples? Yes, I’ll take three, please!
And these new series sound amazing. Zdarsky! Hughes! Parent and Bone! Kevin and Veronica as 20-somethings making it in the big city? Twist my arm, why don’t you?
But I don’t like this Kickstarter.
The publisher makes it clear in their pitch that they are not one of the Big Two, nor do they have the deep pockets of a massive corporation behind them like DC and Marvel do. “Archie Comics does not benefit from a deep-pocketed corporate parent,” they say. “We’re the scrappy, quick-moving and progressive publisher that is never afraid of trying new things.” And later: “Archie isn’t owned by a corporate behemoth. We’re more like David, fighting against Goliath.”
But they are a comics publisher. And they should be financially solvent enough to publish comics.
Look, I’ve backed publishers and comics projects before: Fantagraphics, Fresh Romance, webcomics artists putting out print editions of their work. But those Kickstarters were all extremely transparent about why they needed the money up front and where it was going; it was a new venture, or one artist working out of their bedroom, or whatever.
I also felt like I was getting fair value for my money. The rewards offered via the Archie Kickstarter are just inexplicable. A $10 pledge for a digital copy of a comic that’ll retail for $3 or $4? $15 to get tweeted at? Or you can pay nearly $10,000 to have Archie publish your story – in other words, pay an extravagant amount for the chance to perform possibly unpaid labor, which they will then sell for a profit. That’s dubious at best.
I’m a lifelong Archie fan. I named an Archie book as my favorite comic I read in April. I’ve loved the work of all the creators involved and I would read all of these books.
But I do not want to pay a company three times the value of its products when what they’re trying to crowdfund should be part of the normal cost of doing business. And if a publisher like Archie, with a 75 year legacy and a tremendous amount of current goodwill, needs $350,000 from ordinary shmoes just to print comics? That leaves me with way too many questions about Archie’s financial stability to feel comfortable risking my money with them. I mean, I know the guy’s always broke, but come on.
I like Archie Comics, and I want to support their endeavors. But for me to pledge to this Kickstarter, I’d need them to be far more transparent about exactly why a comics publisher suddenly needs so much money up front to, well, publish comics. And I’d need to feel like they’re offering me rewards that aren’t vaguely insulting in proportion to the money I’d be contributing. (Paying to sign up for a newsletter? Seriously?) I’d also need to feel like they weren’t holding diversity hostage to my willingness to pay much more than retail with no explanation.
Archie is a great publisher with great characters, and they’ve lined up great talent for this reboot. But this Kickstarter leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and it’s not the kind of misstep I expect from such a PR-savvy company. Let’s hope future updates to the campaign shed a bit of light on exactly what’s going on here, and let’s hope we can get these exciting new titles in a way that doesn’t feel quite so problematic.
Edit: Since I originally wrote this, there have been a few updates to the story. First of all, Archie’s PR department seems to be listening to fan concerns, and they’ve added a whole bunch of new reward tiers, including more reasonably priced ones. That doesn’t change the $10 for a single issue problem, but it’s good to know they’re listening.
However, Archie CEO Jon Goldwater has also stated that the Kickstarter came about because they “got the chance to set up some rack space at Target and Wal-Mart.” Meanwhile, comics retailers have expressed their frustration that the Kickstarter basically turns Archie into a distribution arm as well as a publisher, and some are boycotting the company as a result. Enabling a publisher to sell through massive corporations instead of small businesses seems pretty much diametrically opposed to the spirit of crowdfunding.
New information about the Kickstarter is cropping up on a nearly hourly basis, so time will tell, but right now? This whole thing seems like a mess.
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