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Comic Riffs
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Posted at 12:08 PM ET, 02/21/2012

NEW KICKSTARTER RECORD: ‘Order of the Stick’ webcomic creator Rich Burlew cites ‘huge geeky safety net’ in $1.2M donation campaign

THERE IS NOW, officially, a new Order of the Kickstarter.

As of about, oh, 60 seconds ago, the donation drive for the fantasy-adventure webcomic ”The Order of the Stick” closed its Kickstarter campaign with a record tally for a creative project. And creator Rich Burlew is the million-dollar man.

In just a few weeks, Burlew’s push to publish his out-of-print comics raised a staggering $1,254,120 on the strength of nearly 15,000 backers.

“It turns out I had this huge geeky safety net out there that I didn’t know about this whole time, made up of people who have been reading my comic for nine years but never contacted me,” Burlew tells Comic Riffs shortly before the drive’s close.

That’s heady stuff for the Philadelphia area-based cartoonist, whose drive is also one of the top-funded Kickstarter projects ever.

[WOMANTHOLOGY: Renae de Liz’s IDW project sets Kickstarter record]

“I didn’t really expect anything resembling this sort of concentrated response,” says Burlew, 37, a New Jersey native who got his BFA in Communication Design/Illustration from Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. “If anything, I was terrified that it was going to go down in flames and take my career with it somehow.”

Now, with the massive infusion for reprints and other “OoTS” projects, things are just heating up for the gamer-friendly comic. Comic Riffs caught up with the medieval-fantasy fan (whose resume includes “Dungeons and Dragons” work) to see whether the Kickstarter reality has settled in — and where he goes from here.

MICHAEL CAVNA: Congrats, you’ve reportedly crushed all previous Kickstarter records for creative projects. Can you speak to your reactions to this outpouring of fiscal support: Surprise? Shock? Cool gloating confidence?

RICH BURLEW: Definitely more the first two. I didn’t really expect anything resembling this sort of concentrated response; if anything, I was terrified that it was going to go down in flames and take my career with it somehow. But I think it’s important to remember that this hasn’t really been one comic project for a while; it’s essentially six projects to reprint six books, plus a project to print a new coloring book and a bunch of new merchandise, all rolled up into one.

I think the fact that I had a whole back catalog that needed reprinting allowed me to mash them all together and drive further pledging for fans who had never bought a book before, but now were shelling out for the entire set.

MC: Any “takeaway” lessons, insights, epiphanies from this surge of support?

RB: I think it just really confirms the whole “free content” model, especially for creators who start with no existing audience or reputation. Not just as a publishing strategy, but also as a way of building a social network of a sort. It may take awhile for it to all come back to you, but you earn so much goodwill from your audience by providing your creative work for free over that period of time that when you need help, they are happy to respond.

It turns out I had this huge geeky safety net out there that I didn’t know about this whole time, made up of people who have been reading my comic for nine years but never contacted me.

MC: Why do think people responded so strongly? And as the total

spiraled upward, did it all feel surreal?

RB: People like colorful charts. And they like getting to the next prize, even when they don’t know what that prize is.

It did feel surreal, but it also made perfect sense that a large group of role-playing gamers would respond so positively to a graph telling them how many more points they needed to level up. I think I really tapped into my fans’ subconscious there by accident.

MC: Your Kickstarter page says the $1.2-mill will allow you to

publish more copies of “OoTS,” and that you’re weighing other ways to spend the money. Can you shed some more light on what you’re thinking now about your spending — post-taxes — and was it challenging to keep gearing up the donor rewards?

RB: I really haven’t had time to think beyond what I wrote then, though I think the new computer is near the top of the list. Mine keeps crashing during important stuff.

It was fun to keep coming up with new rewards, but also very challenging. Because I didn’t know things were going to go this far, I had to scramble to find rewards during the pledge drive that I could add to the existing packages people had already ordered: flat, no larger than the dimensions of a book, and cost-effective while still being perceived as worthwhile. I had to reject a lot of cool ideas for failing one of those tests, but I will salvage some of them for use later, so it all works out.

By  |  12:08 PM ET, 02/21/2012

Tags:  rich burlew, order of the stick, kickstarter

 
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