I love the Internet. I interviewed Bill from my iPhone in Philly airport and I package this interview from my balcony overlooking the white sands of Aruba. Only my love for all things Willingham could get me to spend my first vacation in two years typing away about a KICKSTARTER project. It also doesn’t hurt Frank Cho is joining project BIFROST and Bill agreed to spill some goods on FABLES to sweeten the deal.
Bill Willingham (BW): Before we go into this I want to make sure you’re not so polite we don’t address some of the criticisms thus far about the Kickstarter.
Rob Patey aka Optimous Douche (OD): I guess you haven’t been privy to my reviews, but I chose a nom de plume reflective of my personality, Optimous Douche. I’m a huge fan and holding back my geekdom right now, but I promise not to pull punches. However, you changed my family. You’re the only comic writer I’ve been able to get my parents to sit down and read. My Mother bugs me monthly now for my copies of FABLES.
BW: Glad to hear it. She didn’t write you out of the will after reading?
OD: Only child, and they don’t have any pets so…I promise though, no punches pulled. I’ll be honest it was solely my fandom of FABLES that made me agree to covering yet another Kickstarter project.
BW: Say more…
OD: I get between probably 30-40 Kickstarter coverage requests a month. After 2 years of this I’ve become very stringent with my criteria to cover them. One of which is I insist on a finished product in hand that I can see in PDF form beforehand. I’ve been burned too many times where creators are looking to get a paycheck to create a book. Being a comic author myself, I created my book that’s getting published this year during my free time at night without ever knowing if I would get a publisher. So I take the stance; if you believe in it, go create it and worry about the money later.
BW: It surprises me Kickstarter has only been around for two years, it has completely embedded itself in the culture. It’s where I go to look at the new cool things coming up. Things like the Veronica Mars Kickstarter, which was a phenomenon unto itself.
OD: More like an anomaly…
BW: True. But just that the mechanism for something like that to occur is amazing. Very impressive. I had no idea that in such a short time there have been rules that have shaken down for Kickstarter projects. The other surprising thing on first blush is that it could be rife for scams. Since you can literally Kickstart anything, I’m waiting for the old time email equivalent of if you give me x amount of dollars you can get your held fortunes from some obscure country.
OD: That’s the 419 scammers from Nigeria, because that’s the name of the penal code for it. There’s a really cool guy in England who has a site called 419 eater where he strings them along and makes them do all sorts of crazy shit like jump off buildings before he agrees to send them the money. They film or photograph the antics and then he puts them on the site. He also shares the email exchanges which range from the sad to hilarious (depending on your world view). It still goes on by the way. If you have your email address up in enough place (like say Ain’t It Cool News). Ask your assistant Stephanie how many she gets in a day. I get about 20 a week.
BW: Such a flim flammery world we live in. Anyway my first blush impression of Kickstarter was that “Oh dear God” this is going to be scam heaven. I wonder if you can get away with things like I’m trying to finance a change in spirituality or something else that doesn’t actually exist than fast talking.
OD: And that’s one of my concerns with Kickstarter from the comic perspective. We have a mantra on Ain’t It Cool to help the little guys. Yes, we cover the big guns to keep the clicks flowing in, like I’ve done over 15 FABLES reviews in my six years on the site. But we as a site and I‘ve always taken the personal mantra to cover one indie or sub-indie book a week or every two weeks if my day job isn’t that busy. So I went into Kickstarter coverage with eyes and arms wide open ready to embrace it. Then I just got burned time after time with projects that never came to fruition or a load of half-baked ideas that thought they were a real comic book. People didn’t get scammed out of their money, but there is still a lot of skullduggery. Very fair of you to go in with that trepidation. So what made you finally decide to jump in?
BW: Two things, by the way have we started?
OD: Yeah, I’m not a great interviewer, I prefer conversations.
BW: I like that better, don’t change. So it was a couple of things. First of all, it’s fairly well known I’m from the right side of the tracks politically and one of the things that makes me bristle is that things that are worth doing like support for the arts and such do not necessarily mean we should be forced to pay for them with our tax dollars. To me Kickstarter is the perfect mechanism to prove what I’ve said fr years, which is that there are wonderful things worth doing and supporting. Meaning not an investment in a company, but more like micro amount grants to worthy causes. But it’s not required is the point. It is done with persuasion versus force. Which is how it should be. When I realized that Kickstarter was the mechanism against what I’ve griped about for years I saw it as a wonderful thing.
The specifics of why do this? Frank and I have wanted to work together for some time. We just couldn’t quite get together. Even when I came over to Marvel to do the 4 issue THOR thing, thinking maybe this time it could work, he simply wasn’t available. The deal was along the lines of you get to work with the best artist we have available at the time, that was the closest they would do to a guarantee I could work with Frank Cho. And of course it didn’t happen, because it was a slippery guarantee definition. When the big companies of DC and Marvel are there the idea of two guys wanting to do a book together is an impossible mess to slog through. We decided to do a novel instead of a comic…that takes contract exclusivity off the table.
OD: That was actually one question I prepared for the interview, why BIFROST will be a prose piece?
BW: I think it’s a better prose piece regardless, but exclusivity was one of the considerations. If we don’t do it as a comic than the exclusives are taken away.
OD: I thought you were no longer exclusive to DC, correct?
BW: I am no longer exclusive, although I haven’t done much with them outside of FABLES for it to be really noticeable. The only barrier that was left was Frank being able to take the big blocks of time to do a project like this and afford it. The art side of things for better or worse just takes longer than writing. It’s easier to find time within your schedule for other writing projects, it’s harder to do big projects on the art side. So the whole purpose of the Kickstarter was to get the money to compensate for the big chunk of time Frank needs to take out of his schedule to do BIFROST.
OD: It’s interesting you say that, my graphic novel AVERAGE JOE which is coming out soon is 160 pages and it’s taken close to 18 months for the art because my artist has a day job and we’re both getting compensated on the back end. So it is safe to say we’ll see a quick turn around with BIFROST since Frank can shuffle off other paid projects?
BW: Officially we’re going to give him a year before we get antsy. However, Frank’s enthusiasm is amazing. He shouldn’t really start working until the Kickstarter is funded, but at the cancelled Boston Con he was already showing me BIFROST sketches. And what he consider sketches most would consider ready for inking. They are gloriously rough. So my suspicion is this will move rapidly. It’s a project of love.
I should probably work in an apology now to DC and others who are waiting for work that is already scheduled. There might be a few blown deadlines.
OD: Wow, that’s a bold statement. Kudos!
BW: Well, you know, we’re excited about this. The bumps in the road, like learning the Kickstarter process notwithstanding.
OD: OK, I’m glad you brought up the white elephant in the room first. I was wondering how to get to this question. Some folks, like Bleeding Cool have derided your choices for Kickstarter incentives. You’ve gone away from the traditional, fund this project get a copy of the book or a commemorative beer cozy. What was the thought process here?
BW: Since the structure was to get the funds to create the project not publish it, which I now understand is not the exception not the norm, I simply didn’t want to handicap the project when we went to publishers. I didn’t want to go in there and say to them, “no matter what deal we make you must provide this number of copies to meet the rewards.” We’re talking to big publishers who have set policies for everything. If you go against those policies you get a lot of “this has never been done” and it will take months of rewriting contracts. I’ve been down this road before and it’s just how staid old publishers work. I over thought it basically.
So we came up with rewards that could circumvent those difficulties. People immediately rushed to let me know that I was being silly. Wiser heads like Kurt Busiek let me know that publishers are already making allowances for Kickstarter. Actually it’s precedent. What’s odd is even though it’s a norm now, digital rights are so volatile in publishing, and giving away the DRM is harder than physical copies believe it or not. So we added actual tangible rewards since then, but boy is my embarrassment vast.
In hindsight I should have asked some folks, but I just didn’t think there were any Kickstarter experts.
OD: Actually you should look outside of comics to Internet marketers because we’ve been dealing with digital rights management waaayyyyy before comics were dealing with it. We’ve also been all over Kickstarter since day one looking for ways to monetize it. Yes, “the man” is evil and I am his tool for 8 hours a day. It’s a great high commitment heavily viral tool, the panacea of marketing. Email marketing has gone the way of the Sabertooth, so we’re always moving to where the traffic is to hock our wares.
BW: I never thought of it, but that’s true. One of my assistant’s more important jobs is to slog through the email crap and get rid of anything I don’t absolutely need to see. I think Dave Sims said, if you sit to answer 300 letters from the old days, you could do it even though it would be arduous. If you sat down to answer 300 emails you couldn’t get to the end before the answers to your answers started arriving. A slog of self generation.
OD: That’s why internet marketers live by 3, 30, 300. You have to get them in 3 seconds with the subject line, 30 seconds for the email body and 300 seconds with your offer landing page. All have to the most insanely targeted and compelling thing the user has ever read. It’s why we A/B/C test and then double down the next go round.
BW: So does answer this or I kill your cat still work?
OD: No, testing found a lot of people don’t give a shit about cats.
BW: The wonderful thing about the Internet including email, is that if you step on your foot the entire Internet will tell you how badly you screwed up instantaneously. Some in a helpful way, some not so much. But that’s the price of putting yourself out there.
Some of it still confuses me. One of the things I was certain of this is not an investment. And correct me if I’m wrong, but a reward for a copy of the book should not require an investment beyond the actual retail price of the book.
OD: I respectfully disagree. There’s a level of exclusivity and specialness to advances. Everyone wants books before everyone else in this spoiler age and people will pay a premium for it and reap a 5 minutes of fame themselves for having the inside skinny.
When I screwed up and reviewed JMS’ SUPERMAN EARTH ONE: VOLUME ONE three weeks before the embargo date. I pissed off a few PR teams, but at the end of the day those people that read my review carried the word forwarded and aside from simply being thrilled to know the details ahead of time, they also helped to increase pre-order sales for the masses outside of heavily steeped geekdom.
Honestly I think this is why you guys are at 10K already. You didn’t offer a copy of BIFROST, but you had some really cool, really personally intimate interactions up there with access to you and Frank.
BW: My guiding philosophy was that the rewards should be fun. I didn’t want to put a lot of art obligations on Frank fro rewards, so he could stay focused, Meeting creators though do seem to be what fans like. These were hard for me to craft. I always have an angel or devil on my shoulder depending on your views whispering, ‘why would you think anyone wants to meet you?” It’s a little egotistical to think rewards of meeting you are an actual reward for people.
OD: Well convention admission fees say otherwise…
BW: True, but I also wanted to make it fun. I found out you can’t do rewards above $10,000. I wanted to have the top tier be a $30,000 reward, which is Frank and I flying out to give you your money back. Minus travel expenses and hooker fees of course. I never expected anyone to do it. I just thought it was funny.
OD: They mainly have that cap because of average credit card limits. You would only be flying out to meet the Krapdashians or Puffy.
BW: If you’re financing a popular movie based on a popular TV show like Veronica Mars the $10,000 dollars will play. I don’t expect too many on BIFROST.
OD: The big dollar ones are usually 5 minutes of fame. Your visage appears in the project, you get to write a line of dialog, you get a special thanks at the end…a reach around from Kristen Bell…etc…
BW: We have some of that in there, but I really don’t expect anyone to actually contribute to them. What I also didn’t expect was for someone to take offense to them. There was someone online who went on and on because I said you get ot be a bum in the story. And now I’m evil because I used that word.
OD: Here, let me take the heat off of you. It was probably a bum that complained on his subsidized iPhone he never worked a day for.
BW Even though I don’t use emoticons because I think they’re evil. There was a definitive ;-) after those prizes.
The idea that it’s an investment is something I wanted to thwart. It’s not. The best way to support the project is when it comes out, buy it. Buy it for a reasonable price. I have never noticed any Kickstarter that has listed the reasons you shouldn’t contribute. But I want to make it clear, use your poker or frivolous money for this. Don’t use your rent or car payment cash.
OD: It’s a shame you have to tell people that.
BW: But you do. In a friendly poker game one day with friends, I was doing really well. Two of my friends were talking about how they were going to make the truck payment. What the hell were they thinking? I want to make sure no one gives me important working money. Ever. That still haunts me to today.
OD: Let’s talk about BIFROST itself. It’s the old Nordic name for the Rainbow bridge right?
BW: Yes, I’ve always the whole idea of the Rainbow Bridge. It was the first thing that captured me about Norse mythology. Rainbows themselves pop up all over mythology. In Christian or Judaic circles it is the sign of the covenant that God isn’t going to destroy the world by flooding again. Which is a shame because then there were no rainbows before Noah. It’s a shame, those poor schmucks didn’t have something so beautiful.
OD: What’s even worse is that also means they lived without light or moisture in the atmosphere.
BW: Yes and mist just appeared from the ground I guess. I don’t think those are as clever though as the Norse mythology which is that is clearly the bridge of the Gods you can never quite get to. You can never follow them to the heavenly world.
I started once before to play with the notion of who controls the bridge once everything falls to shit. A big part of Norse mythology is that everything is coming to an end, there is a big doom hanging over their heads and they are just waiting. I played around with and of course Marvel has played with what comes before the end, but no one looked at what happens afterwards.
So that’s what this is about. Who controls this wonderful thing once the end has happened? The premise is that Hundall (sic) destroys the bridge and cuts it from its base once the world starts to fall. My justification is that it shatters. But just like the physicists postulate gravity will bring together a shattered planet again, likewise for the bridge. It looks like the old Roman roads of antiquity now.. it is a rocky and craggy journey instead of pleasant. You can make use of it.
OD: So BIFROST takes place in both Valhalla and the mortal plane?
BW: The novel takes place on our world, but our world where the fantasy we believe in now is real. But unlike Dresden and most urban modern fantasy where vampires or werewolves exist, or even FABLES none of these things are secret. It’s all buerocracy. You have your vampire communitues, department of lycanthropy, government divisions dealing with ghosts.One example is Amnesty Supernatural which looks to get ghosts out of abusive homes.
And you have the last survivor of the death of the Norse Gods and she just realized that’s who she is.
So yes, we have post the destruction of Ragnarok. Asgard and possibly the other 9 worlds, which are now wastelands. It’s have your cake and eat it too. It’s all post-apocalyptic, but our world is just fine. It’s all the others “over the rainbow” that got the shit kicked out of them. And now we’re going to see what’s up there.
OD: How far along are you with the script, is it completed?
BW: I do not. Part of the reward system is I write it while you watch. The first level of what I consider interesting rewards are a subscription to the writing journal and you get to follow the progress along while I write. Mostly I have to keep ahead of Frank. He needs to draw when he can so I need to keep him supplied. Especially now that we’re past April 1. It seems an auspicious day to start a project, but I’ve started all of my major projects on this day. Four of my exclusives with DC were then. I started a romantic relationship once where I knew she was going to rip out my heart on April 1. It’s an important day for me and that’s when I had to start. I should wait until it’s funded, but I can’t stop myself. The idea is that right away after May 14, we’ll send out the first update of “here’s what I worked on today.” They are little peeks into the novel. Now of course someone described it as “great for $10, you get Bill’s e-newsletter.” That’s not what it is; it’s a real journal with specifics about the novel, and my insights on writing.
OD: If I can make a suggestion, format the shit out of it with HTML so the pirates at least have to make an effort to put it out on Bittorrents.
BW: Oh, OK. I will send that to my people who are more computer aware than I. It’s going to happen. I don’t support it, but it will occur.
(Diversion about digital Brian K. Vaughan’s DRM free book)
BW: It’s on my list to reach out to him to see how it’s doing once all my obligations to editors are met and well ahead of schedule.
OD: I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much, FABLES comes out like clockwork.
BW: It does, but there are mighty efforts behind the scenes to make that happen.
OD: I imagine Buckingham’s exquisite margins alone take a week.
BW: I love em.
OD: Me too. So have you talked to any publishers about BIFROST yet?
BW: We have. I have sworn I will never name names, but there have been two that expressed blind interest. They sort of understand and are interested. I had another conversation yesterday as well. It’s remarkable I’m stressed more about saying, no or not yet than in the old days when I was just begging to be looked at. The anxiety is higher only because we break into this business we lose our ability to say no because we always want to hear yes.
The absolute overriding reason for doing it this way is so we can have the finished product unblemished by editorial mandates when we start shopping.
OD: Is Frank going to be doing the illustrations in color?
BW: I hope not, it will probably be all black and white. The Acme of this kind of project was Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein, it changed my life on a huge magnitude. With the wood cut style Frank is using it also lends itself to black and white.
OD: The main reason I ask is as we discussed digital versions, color inhibits reading on some very very popular e-reader devices.
BW: Yeah, I never thought of that. The state of the art is higher than what is usually out there. It will most likely be black and white.
OD: While I have you, can we get a FABLES update?
BW: Well I think, what, issue 128 just came out?
OD: Yup, the smackdown between Bigby and Brandish.
BW: Well without giving away the end we have one more big issue of the Snow White arc to conclude. The premise is easy; once again Snow is in a situation where no one can help her get out of her troubles. She’s on her own, so now we get to see how she rises to the occasion on her own sole devices. Also she’s not going to forget those that didn’t at least take a shot at sending Brandish packing.
Following that we have an arc called Camelot. A restoration of the round table and the idea that the powerful and privileged should put that to service in a formalized way. Rose Red starts it all. After two grim arcs, I promised the editors a little ray of hope. Camelot, a brief shining moment. It’s interesting when you recreate a knighthood of servitude the type of folks who sign up.
OD: Anything I missed on BIFROST?
BW: If you have some cash please help out. If you don’t, THEN DON’T. Just buy BIFROST when it comes out. It will be a beautiful lavish book. We’re doing it Kickstarter based because we want to offer a higher quality product.
OD: You should make the digital version have bonus material like your journals and video blogs so that becomes a higher quality experience as well. Just a suggestion from a man who loves interactive materials to his e-books.
BW: Thank you, I love recommendations…and even sullen comments, though people don’t have to contribute so I don’t get those. It’s not compulsory.
OD: But complaining on the Internet is. Thank you Bill for the insight, and tolerating my fandom.