Crowdfunding has long been a tool for aspiring comic book creators trying to break through, but lately some established names have taken to it.
Recent arrivals include the publisher Boom Studios, which is working with Keanu Reeves on a Kickstarter project, and Todd McFarlane, the creator of the Spawn comic books.
Part of the appeal of crowdfunding, they say, is that it allows them to connect directly with their audience, bypassing the industry’s traditional distribution model. Some critics argue, however, that heavyweights with deep pockets are muscling into a marketplace intended to help beginners introduce their creations.
But Kickstarter has evolved since it was established in 2009 to become more inclusive, said Greg Pak, a comic book writer and the author of “Kickstarter Secrets,” a book of crowdfunding tips. “There was a sense early on if you were an established person, you were stealing someone else’s opportunity,” he said. “There is an understanding now that Kickstarter is for anybody.”
The success of these big-name campaigns is notable given the disruptions and anxieties caused by the coronavirus pandemic. After a decline in activity in March through May, “we’ve seen categories, comics one of them, recovering,” said Margot Atwell, the head of publishing and comics at Kickstarter. The number of prominent creators using the site has also risen.
Mr. McFarlane, who last year celebrated the arrival of the 300th issue of Spawn in comic stores, said crowdfunding was a chance to try a new business strategy. “It was an experiment,” he said. “Could this be an add-on to our business model or grow into something bigger?”
He opted to sell a 25th anniversary edition of the first Spawn action figure in April, the early days of the pandemic.
“Things were getting shut down in our industry,” he said. Two choices were left to him: Wait until it was over, however long that would be, “or do something a the beginning while people still had a smile on their face.”
He initially sought $100,000 but earned $3.4 million.
Crowdfunding offers an opportunity to reach an new audience, said Ross Richie, the chief executive and founder of Boom. More than six million people have backed more than one project on Kickstarter, according to the platform.
Last week, Boom began a campaign for BRZRKR (pronounced “berserker”), a comic book about a demigod written by Matt Kindt and Mr. Reeves and drawn by Ron Garney. The campaign, which ends Oct. 1, has already earned more than $631,000, blowing past its $50,000 goal.
“If you have a Keanu comic, how do you get it to people who have never read comics before?” Mr. Richie said.
Crowdfunding allows publishers to resolve another challenge: Comic book stories are typically told one issue at a time, leaving readers to wait months for the conclusion.
“The problem with the monthly model is that the customer may not return,” Mr. Richie said. Supporters of the Kickstarter campaign are buying future collected editions. “They are saying, ‘Here’s $50. I’m going to order Volume 1 to 3, sight unseen.’,” he said.
And he has plans to encourage those backers: “We can talk to them. We have the email list,” he said. “We want them to get hooked on comics.”
But the campaign was met with some consternation online.
An article on the internet culture site The Daily Dot questioned why a mainstream publisher was using crowdfunding. On Twitter, some users thought supporting Boom might siphon backers from other campaigns.
Mr. Richie defended Boom’s campaign. “I think we’re using Kickstarter in a very innovative way,” he said. “This is a tremendous opportunity to reach a different audience.”
The notion of one project taking away from another is common but unfounded, Ms. Atwell said. “Instead, we see that great projects launching on the platform create more visibility and interest in other projects as well,” she said, adding that around 30 percent of its community has backed two or more projects. “We also have a strong core of superbackers who have backed dozens or even hundreds or thousands of projects,” she said.
Other comic book projects have seen success.
Alex de Campi sought funding in May for the science-fiction graphic novel “Madi: Once Upon a Time in the Future,” with the film director Duncan Jones. They shot past their $50,000 goal, earning $366,000.
In August, the writer Scott Snyder and the artist Tony Daniel offered supporters a behind-the-scenes look at their series Nocterra, which will have its premiere next year with Image Comics. The target for the project, which ends Sept. 17, was $40,000, and it has so far earned $169,000.
Mr. Snyder found other opportunities with the campaign. He used it to announce his new imprint, Best Jackett Press, and proceeds will help pay for Mr. Daniel’s work as well as for the artist for a second series. The money helps alleviate worries that this project was taking time away from paid opportunities.
There were also personal reasons. “Real life circumstance is keeping us away from fans,” Mr. Snyder said. “We can’t go to conventions. We can’t do signings.” So the rewards emphasized access to the creators and a sense of community. “It’s about meeting us, taking a class with us, getting a sketch.”