Fantagraphics is probably the leading publisher of independent and art comics in North America, in terms of sheer numbers as well as quality. They are the longtime publishers of the Hernandez brothers’ Love and Rockets, Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World, Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting, archival editions of classics from Peanuts to the works of underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, and a host of other high-quality work, both new and old. And right now they are heading in two interesting, if opposite, directions.
One is that they have turned to Kickstarter to raise $150,000 fund the next season’s publications. Fantagraphics was brought low by a sad situation: One of their founders, Kim Thompson, was diagnosed with lung cancer in the early spring and died in June. Thompson edited their European graphic novels, and his death meant that Fantagraphics had to cancel 13 books, a third of their planned Spring/Summer output. “Our fixed costs stayed the same —because they’re fixed— but the income 13 books would’ve generated was lost, disrupting our cash flow, and leaving us in a tight spot,” the Kickstarter explained.
What’s interesting about the Kickstarter is that there are no digital rewards. Most of the premiums are signed copies of books or posters, and it’s true that Fantagraphic books are beautiful objects, with high production values, but at least one person has commented, and I would second this, that a digital bundle could attract more pledges. Fantagraphics publishes their work digitally via comiXology, and if they could arrange for a couple of digital bundles, or direct downloads, that might broaden their base a bit. Not that they necessarily need to, as the Kickstarter is up to almost $130,000 as I write this, as many backers have opted to pre-order books they might have bought anyway—but with the added frisson of the creator’s autograph and the satisfaction of helping a publisher that has built up a lot of loyalty over the years.
On the other hand, Fantagraphics also announced this week that it is releasing its first digital-only comic: Violenzia, by Richard Sala. It’s the story of a woman who charges through the world, guns blazing, and leaves a trail of death and destruction. The publisher describes the comic as “a blast of pulpy fun” with retro overtones; it’s due out on November 20 but can be pre-ordered now. Fantagraphics associate publisher Eric Reynolds told Tom Spurgeon that Sala has been interested in digital publishing for some time, and this seemed like the right project: “I believe he proposed Violenzia to me originally as a 24 or 32-page digital one shot — it eventually became 50 pages — and it was just a perfect opportunity for both of us to experiment with a digital-only release.” As for why it’s digital-only, as opposed to digital-first, Reynolds said he wanted to focus on the marketing challenge of getting potential readers to find the comic in a digital format, and he added that this doesn’t necessarily mean that more digital-only comics will be forthcoming.