I imagine you’ve heard but if not, here’s a quick rundown: Archie, as in the comic publishing company and not the fictional teenager, have set up a Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter is to fund a number of new comics that will be part of their re-launch. This is the same re-launch which begins with the upcoming Archie #1, written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Fiona Staples (I know, right? Sold!)
Anyway, there are a few reasons why this Kickstarter is kind of weird. Firstly let’s talk about the obvious one: They’re Archie.
Afterlife with Archie and Sabrina both got a ton of positive press. Hell, Afterlife With Archie got its own magazine spin-off. Despite this the Kickstarter portrays Archie as the plucky underdog fighting the good fight to stay alive. I don’t doubt that they’re smaller than Marvel and DC but they’re a very widely recognised brand with 75 years of history. They’re hardly the smallest fish in the pond.
They also allude to the perception that people are barely aware Archie comics still exist, or at least that they’re still relevent. But that’s not an Archie problem, that’s a comics problem. I’ve had friends exclaim with shock when they learn Amazing Spider-Man is still an ongoing comic. They assumed Spider-Man hung up his costume when go-go boots went out of fashion. So Archie acting like they need the money to stay relevant is understandable but not something that Archie alone needs, that’s not a unique problem.
I often feature comic book Kickstarters here on the blog and that’s because I think Kickstarter is awesome. It’s a great platform to fund comics that need the money to exist. Does Archie need this money to make this new line of comics exist? Nope. In the initial campaign they say ‘With your help, these projects will go from: “theoretical” to certain.’ Meanwhile an update contradicts this with: ‘Minus this Kickstarter, would these books come out? Yes, eventually.’
So what is the Kickstarter even for?
Apparently this Kickstarter will help the comics come out faster. Clearly they can’t need this money on a consistent basis otherwise they’d be launching Kickstarters every month to keep the series’ alive. I have to wonder if this is actually more of a PR move and the money is just a bonus and a method to get the comics into people’s hands. They do even ask on the campaign page to spread it far and wide on social media. Granted, that’s not unusual, any campaign needs social media attention to succeed but most campaigns won’t create a final product even if they fail. The backers might not get their rewards, but they can still pick up these comics later if the campaign fails.
Speaking of which, the reward tiers, which do net you the comics, do so for an inflated price. Now, normally I have no problem with this. I’ve said before that it’s a bad idea to view Kickstarter as a shop. It’s better to see Kickstarter as a donation service where you’re probably going to get something in return. There’s a reason they’re called “rewards” and not orders. But does Archie really need this money? Can they really not afford to give the comics out at cover price? They’re essentially asking people to pay for their comics in advance at a higher price. Why?
The most uncomfortable reward level is certainly the $9,995 to pitch a story to them, which they’ll then use and credit you as an “executive producer” in the issue. So essentially, pay them ten thousand dollars to work for them. Okay I get it, this has to be a high tier otherwise lots of people would pick it, but it puts the company in a very bad light when they reward you with unpaid work. If we’re supposed to be so honoured to pitch stories for them then why do the Kickstarter? The creative teams can work for free too right? Or did they also pay for the honour of being credited in an Archie comic? Sarcasm aside, I get what they’re going for but this comes across in a very unfortunate way.
Meanwhile some comic book shops are already reportedly pulling out from ordering the new Archie comics. They see this as a way for Archie to snip them out of the conversation and get money right from the consumers. Not to play devil’s advocate, but I remember some shops saying that about digital comics and yet both models have survived and thrived.
In a way I do sympathise with Archie though. The traditional comic book distribution model is absolutely ridiculous. Comics live and die on orders made 3 months before they even release. It’s got to be a nightmare to manage, so by doing this Kickstarter they can get an early sense for demand and lock in some customers. But this feels like a bad solution to a real problem.
All in all I think there’s definitely something to be said for the “if you don’t like it, don’t buy it” angle. If the market doesn’t want this, it won’t succeed. If it does then I suppose we can expect to see plenty more of these and if that’s what people want, then fair enough. Comics have been long overdue for a distribution shakeup.
I don’t think Archie have any sinister intentions with this. I know I’m being quite critical but I think they’re just a company that wants to do better and are exploring new options. But there are just a lot of little things here that make me too uncomfortable to support this. I’ll still buy the comics, sure. But I’m not going to back a campaign with so many questions around it. I still don’t understand what the money is actually paying for, it’s all very vague.
We’re still in the opening days of the campaign and I’m very curious to see where this goes. Want to take a look for yourself? Here’s a link to the Kickstarter.