IN HER BATTLE against capitalism, cartoonist-activist Stephanie McMillan does need funds to raise awareness of global plights through her art. And one of the reliable ways so far has been turning to the power of the crowd.
“I love the crowdfunding model, because it requires developing a strong relationship with readers, who decide what work they want to help succeed,” the Florida-based illustrator says as she seeks backing for her “365 Affirmations for Revolutionary Militants” desk calendar. “It’s a way to find out quickly if a project is a good idea or not.”
Comic Riffs caught up with McMillan, who has won an RFK Award for her comics journalism on the Occupy movement, to talk about financial models, the modes of profit and production — and which furry animals best embody her cause:
MICHAEL CAVNA: I know you’ve had success with crowdfunding in the past, Stephanie (i.e., “Mischief in the Forest”). What spurred you to turn to Kickstarter for your new project?
STEPHANIE McMILLAN: Yes, I used crowdfunding for that children’s book, and again last year for my latest book, “Capitalism Must Die! A Basic Introduction to Capitalism (What it is, why it sucks, and how to crush it).” I love the crowdfunding model, because it requires developing a strong relationship with readers, who decide what work they want to help succeed. It’s a way to find out quickly if a project is a good idea or not.
When I asked regular readers if I should launch a Kickstarter campaign to produce this calendar, the overwhelming response was “Yes!” And they are following through by pledging to it. I consider these readers to be co-collaborators, because without them, these projects wouldn’t exist.
MC: Speaking of: Where does crowdfunding fit in within the capitalistic model? If your Affirmations could lead to the overthrow of capitalism, does that mean Kickstarter represents an economic model more in line with your beliefs?
SM: I do hope that my Affirmations will contribute in some way to the overthrow of capitalism, by encouraging and supporting those involved in the struggle for a better world. But I don’t think crowdsourcing is an anti-capitalist model — though it might be useful in a transition economy. While it is, for many reasons, preferable to other models of funding, it is still within the capitalist framework – as long as the capitalist system dominates the globe, we can’t escape it. Post-capitalist production, in contrast, would be undertaken purely for the needs of humanity and the planet, and not be dependent on the need to balance income and outflow of monetary value. Monetary value would make no sense in such an economy.
I like crowdfunding because it helps connect artists and writers with their audiences in a much more direct and back-and-forth way than has been previously possible — which facilitates organizing efforts as well — and it frees us from depending on, and appealing to, gatekeepers who used to have a lot more control over what was produced and distributed.
MC: If I was on the fence about backing your Kickstarter, what are some of the Affirmations you might point me to, or recite, to persuade me to surrender some of my hard-won proletarian shekels and bitcoin?
SM: My favorites include a guinea pig saying, “Even if I am alone, I stand up for what I understand to be true.” And one with a raccoon and a dog that says, “I push through my fear of rejection and reach out to strangers, so we can unite and fight together.”
MC: “Affirmations” is, of course, such a positive word. Do any of your 365 affirmations “go negative” to make their point?
SM: There is a dialectical connection between positive and negative – one doesn’t exist without the other. These Affirmations are a response to the extremely negative situation that we find ourselves in – being subject to the exploitation, oppression and ecocide perpetrated by capitalism – and we need to counter that with a positive alternative that is in the interests of humanity and the rest of the planet.
Many of the Affirmations do speak directly of antagonism and struggle, but with those two aspects linked together – they point to an alternative of solidarity and emancipation.
MC: Your publication run is set at 1,500. How much money would you need to crowdfund to compel you to make twice as many calendars? And could this campaign’s total ever be too successful?
SM: If the campaign surpasses the goal, I have a list of “stretch goals” that are for extras, like posters and patches, and making the calendars more fancy — with embossed covers or other embellishments — and even making the Affirmations into a hardcover book in addition to a calendar. I may also produce a larger quantity of calendars as well.
I don’t think it would be possible to be too successful – I have many projects in process that I could use extra funds to produce, such as a book on sweatshops and the workers’ struggle in Haiti, and publishing a collection of comics and essays on the environmental crisis. Whatever amount ends up being raised, I will use in ways consistent with the goals of this project.
MC: Your calendar has no years or weekdays, making it highly recyclable year after year. Isn’t this a shortsightedly anti-capitalist way to approach the business of calendar publication? Where would the Cute Pet Calendar industry be, for instance, if they weren’t highly year-specific?…
SM: You’re right, it’s probably not the way to go if all I was interested in was making money. If that was my aim, I wouldn’t post all the comics for free on my website and social media, either. My main goal is an ideological and political one: to help strengthen the movement for social transformation. I want to make the calendar re-usable so those who find its messages useful don’t have to buy another one at the end of the year. These messages don’t expire!
MC: Speaking of cute, as well as non-cute, animals: In your calendar, winged insects seem to represent the revolutionary ideal of shared freedom, while rodents either symbolize fear or fearlessness. What are your favorite animals to draw, and what do they embody as walking, furry/scales symbols of economic and political systems?
SM: I’ve always loved drawing animals of all kinds, since I was a child. My favorites include frogs and chickens, both of whom have an inherent comic aspect, with their funny expressions and the ways they move. Lizards, which are running around everywhere in South Florida where I live, are also extremely fun to draw. Flying creatures like butterflies, bees, dragonflies and birds do symbolize, for me, the ability to rise above current circumstances, soaring toward a future goal. A bunny or guinea pig climbing a steep mountain symbolizes determination and fortitude. A running horse or roaring tiger can represent the power of the people, standing up for what we believe in.
MC: What verbal techniques do you use to energize and re-fortify yourself as a revolutionary militant? Do affirmations help — or what works best for you, in graphic or non-graphic form?
SM: When I run into difficulties and obstacles, I do say affirming things out loud — only if no one’s around! — like: “You can do this!” and “Just keep moving and you’ll figure this out.” I remind myself that there are many people involved in this struggle – past and present, near and far – and I will never let them down by giving up.
Also, I receive, and very much appreciate, many notes from readers who tell me that my work is useful to them and helps them stay involved – that’s the greatest motivator for me, because it tells me that my work isbeing effective.
MC: In words that could fit within a single week of your panels, why is global capitalism particularly insidious in your view?
SM: While the propaganda of global capitalism asserts that it’s the best system for the majority of humanity, that it represents freedom and democracy, the very opposite is true. Capitalism runs on the exploitation of the majority for the profit of a few. It’s oppressive and cruel, depriving most of humanity from any control of or access to any means of subsistence. And because of its inexorable growth imperative, it’s destroying the planet as well.
Capitalism really has nothing to offer us; we can do so much better.
MC: To sum up, what should Post readers most know about your campaign?
SM: For readers who are interested in getting involved in struggling for a better society, these Affirmations are an accessible, simple and appealing way to explore what that means. For those already committed to that, the Affirmations are made for you: to lift your spirits when things get tough, to break the isolation that we sometimes feel, to uphold the vision of what we’re fighting for, and affirm the possibility of realizing it.
I want to thank all those who are supporting the project already, and have shared it, and those who may consider doing so!
(NOTE: The Kickstarter campaign ends Friday.)