When we first read The New Brighton Archeological Society two years ago, we immediately recognized what a great story was being told. Finally, here was an all ages graphic novel that treated kids intelligently and was really entertaining at the same time.
So we were surprised to see that the sequel was going to require some Kickstarter funding to get going. Surely a critical darling like The New Brighton Archeological Society didn’t need funding to get off the ground, did it? To find out more, we asked the book’s author, Mark Andrew Smith, about the New Brighton saga, Kickstarter, and the state of all ages’ books today.
GeekDad: Talk about the reception that The New Brighton Archeological Society received. Did the response exceed your expectations?
Mark Andrew Smith: The New Brighton Archeological Society had glowing reviews and press. The response to the first volume was incredible and we’re thankful so many reviewers gave The New Brighton Archeological Society the attention that they did. From a sales perspective, we hit the break-even point for printing costs but haven’t sold enough copies yet to cover the production costs on the first book or to give us a production budget to create the second volume.
GD: NBAS was nominated for two Harvey awards last year and received tons of critical acclaim—why didn’t all this attention translate into sales?
MAS: The comic industry awards are specific to the comic book industry and don’t translate well to sales outside of the industry. They should, but they’re not covered outside of the comic book world. With something like the Harvey Awards or the Eisner Awards, places like CNN should give the winners a blurb—at minimum—explaining why they won and what things are interesting and unique about these books so that they were selected. If the media made an effort to cover the awards it would go a long way and help comics reach a larger audience.
GD: Since sales didn’t match all the attention, what was the biggest problem in your opinion?
MAS: The name ‘The New Brighton Archeological Society‘ got out there, but it was difficult for people to find the book unless they ordered it online. Bookstores don’t order heavily because graphic novels are non-returnable. Plus, now, brick and mortar bookstores are going out of business.
It’s difficult for comic shops to take risks with new material. Most comic shops go with what’s proven to sell for them — monthly superhero titles for an adult audience — and they have less risk for them to carry. Asking people to spend money on an original graphic novel is a tall order in comic book stores where single issues are usually how books are introduced. Most comic shops don’t carry New Brighton and don’t make an effort to restock it once the book has sold out.
With so many factors working against us, I’d say we did extremely well for where we are.
GD: As an independent writer, what kind of challenges do you face when creating new work?
MAS: The creative part comes easily. I think that the biggest challenge is the stress of putting so much work into a project and getting high hopes, only to see that work be for nothing. With each new book we put in energy and so much work, and think, ‘Okay, this is going to be it. We’re going to get to where we can turn this into a career’ and it never happens.
We’ll work on a book sometimes for three years and it will come out and only 2,000 or 3,000 people will read it. Doing creator owned comics is a very Sisyphean task and you get your hopes up just to get knocked back down each time to where you started from with only a printed book to hold in your hands. I think that’s very hard to take on an emotional level. You’ve got to do your best to soldier on, keep a good outlook, and not let those things bother you. I’ve been teaching English in Asia to pursue the dream of doing comic books on a full time basis. I love this book and I want to make it my full-time job eventually.
GD: You’re getting ready to work on NBAS Book Two and you’ve turned to Kickstarter to help generate funds, yet you are a proven producer of award winning books. Why is it necessary for you to personally go out and raise money?
MAS: We’re eight thousand dollars in the red on the New Brighton Archeological Society Book One for coloring and lettering costs. I put up the money that I made teaching to pay for the costs on the first volume. We do our work for free, creating the book, and both have full-time jobs that enable us to create The New Brighton Archeological Society. If we have to, we’ll put in our own money for the second again. I think there is an assumption because we put out such a polished book, have critical acclaim, and awards, that we have a publishing deal and get a huge advance to produce New Brighton. But it’s not the case.
We front the cost of producing the book and promoting the book. The publisher prints it and the distributor distributes it and that’s the short version of it. But the production money comes out of our own pockets and if we don’t get past a break-even point for publishing, then we don’t recoup the money that we invested into the book. In the model we’re publishing under, we’re the last to recoup. In that way it’s upside down. I think we have an excellent book and that trying something a little new and different, such as Kickstarter, can help us to finance the second volume and get it to readers in a more timely way.
GD: Do you think Kickstarter (or programs like it) are the future of independent books?
MAS: There is something there in that, creators can pre-sell books, finance them, and then get them directly to readers and contributors without middlemen taking their cuts. If the system gets set up correctly, I think it might be a more valid and fluid system than the one that we have right now. It has the potential for those self-publishing to go from A to B from creator to reader while allowing creators to own their material and prosper. But we can become the masters of our own futures in this way. The prospect is exciting but I think it will be a while until that’s a reality; a tested infrastructure will have to be set up to make this happen.
MAS: NBAS 2 picks up immediately where the first book ended. We did a lot of setup in the first book. Here we get to jump into the action and let the story unfold in the center of the action. We’re really working incredibly hard to one up the first book and to make the second one feel like it’s breathing.
GD: Do you see NBAS as an ongoing series or do you have a definitive end in mind?
MAS: We have an end in mind. Right now, it feels like the entire story is between four or five volumes. If it gets “Harry Potter-big,” then we’ll stay a little longer and have as much fun as we can in the process. I think now, there’s stress hanging over our heads about finishing the story and wrapping it all up and how we’ll be able to do that.
GD: Will Matthew Weldon return to provide the artwork for NBAS 2?
MAS: Matthew Weldon is providing the artwork for the second volume. I’ve been challenging Matthew with huge epic sequences and every time he’s been delivering beyond expectations. The New Brighton Archeological Society means a lot to both of us. Creating The New Brighton Archeological Society and building the world of the book is a wonderful process. Matthew’s doing a fantastic job.
GD: What lessons did you learn during Book One that will affect future NBAS books?
MAS: I’m not sure we did. We might be stupid because we’re doing the next book in the series and putting in so much time and resources into it after the first one did well, critically, but broke even only for printing but not production costs for sales. I think we’re more crazy going into the second volume knowing what we’re in store for after the first.
If we were movie hungry we would have just worked on something new that we could sell for film and have another chance with, but we’ve returned to work on the series because we genuinely care about it and want to tell our story. We believe in it and ourselves. With a little help and the right promotion, I think we’d be able to go out there and produce the next YA sensation. Instead of a YA book sensation, it’s a graphic novel series.
GD: Share your thoughts about the state of all ages books today.
MAS: The all ages book market and the Young Adult book markets are thriving. Kids love reading and it’s a fact. It should be so easy, right? It should be a three-step plan that goes something like this:
- Make great books.
- Get them to kids.
- High-five each other.
Somewhere in that second step we have trouble. It’s not that kids aren’t reading; no, kids are reading a ton thanks to J.K. Rowling and Rick Riordan. The YA market is booming. I don’t think there’s a problem there except for marketing and to have a big push behind you to reach kids. More specifically, I think now the challenge is to get comics for kids to kids.
There are big publishers with all of the in-roads to bookstores and money — and kids love comic books. So I hope that they’ll make an effort to get more kids reading comic books to ensure a strong future for comics as a medium. A handful of comic books get the royal treatment by large publishers and sell well because they have those huge resources and promotion. That’s not our reality at the moment. For those of us without a major publishing contract it’s impossible for the have-nots to compete with the haves. We don’t have anywhere close to the resources and promotion that those with the backing of larger publishers have. It’s like taking a dinghy up against the Spanish Armada. We have to get creative and be a thousand times more resourceful in order to win. We have to fight hard for any success we have.
GD: Comics and graphic novels are now a pretty competitive field. Do you have any advice for comic writers and artists just starting out in this industry?
MAS: I would say to someone starting out in the industry to make sure you’re creating comics for the right reasons. Make sure it’s something you love and enjoy doing as a storyteller. Most likely you won’t get rich but it is so rewarding on a creative level and addicting. Create stories that you’re excited about and that interest you and don’t try to guess the market or jump on any new trends. Everything takes about four times longer than you expect career-wise. Work hard, but also be patient and have a positive attitude.
You can donate to the NBAS Kickstarter project and help bring the sequel to reality or check out the first book if you haven’t read it yet. Mark Andrew Smith has won Harvey and Eisner awards for the popular Popgun Comics anthologies and also wrote Amazing Joy Buzzards and Aqua Leung. His upcoming books include Sullivan’s Sluggers, and the second installments of Amazing Joy Buzzards and New Brighton Archeological Society.