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11 years, 175 projects: Kickstarter noodling

Back in 2016, after 5 years of backing Kickstarter projects, I wrote one of my favorite Yore posts — a personal sniff test for what I back and why (or why not). I missed the golden opportunity to do a 10-year version of that post, but today I’m writing the 11-year version instead.

Kickstarter projects I’ve backed from 2011 to 2021 (look at that correlation between the pandemic and backing stuff that works well from home)

Kickstarter has changed a lot in the past six years. I still primarily use it for preordering RPG stuff, so that’s generally the lens through which I view it — and the RPG community and industry has also changed a lot in the past six years. Those changes have affected how, whether, and when I back stuff on Kickstarter. (Here’s my Kickstarter profile.)

Notes on data neepery

The chart above doesn’t quite match my full list of backed projects (184), since I don’t count projects I backed for $1 unless I later upped my pledge, and there are a couple other uncounted oddballs. It’s also a bit fuzzy in some places; for example, I count most dice projects as “RPG,” because I tend to buy dice to use during play, but not all dice projects. “Other” also isn’t a super-useful category, but it reflects my approach to Kickstarter: I rarely go there planning to back anything but RPGs or board games, but comics and movies/TV have a small but significant throughline so they get their own buckets. But for getting a big-picture view, this chart is more than accurate enough.

It was also a pain to create, because at some point Kickstarter stopped foregrounding when a project funded. It used to be on the main page for each project; now you have to scroll through updates until the funding date appears. In my cynical view, this is because seeing projects which funded years ago but still haven’t delivered could scare potential backers — and revenue — away from other projects.

By the numbers

Of the 175 projects that made the cut to be included in my chart, 62 are things I wish I hadn’t backed for one reason or another. That includes a few projects that never panned out (though I don’t believe their creators intended them to be scams), and a few campaigns that were run quite poorly — but the bulk of those 62 are projects I wasn’t excited about anymore once they arrived.

With success defined as 1) the project delivers and 2) I’m excited when it does, my success rate is about 65%. That’s quite a bit lower than my success rate for purchasing RPG products at retail, which is probably closer to 90%, but it’s about the same as my success rate with board games. I’m generally an enthusiastic person when it comes to RPG stuff; I want to be excited about new games. But this tells me I should back 2/3 as many RPG projects in 2022. Of course, picking the right 2/3 is the real trick!

Revisiting my 2016 sniff test

The star of my 2016 list is the maxim that still applies with the most force in 2022: Have your shit mostly done. I stand by everything I said about this one in 2016:

This mainly applies to gaming books, and comes back to skin in the game. If all you have is an idea, whoopdedoo. I have lots of ideas, everyone has lots of ideas, fuck your idea. Write the damned book. If you can’t invest capital, invest time and energy and then start the KS. I make rare exceptions to this rule for people/companies whose work already lines my shelves; I know they’ll deliver.

Past Martin, 2016

Here are the maxims from my full 2016 list, with 2022 notes:

  • No board/card games: This remains my initial position when I run into a board game project that looks like fun. I consider an unplayed board game a failure on my part (unlike unplayed RPGs), but my track record has improved — and these days, so many major publishers use Kickstarter that I’m generally just preordering a game I would have preordered somewhere else in the past.
  • No FC0B: I’ve softened on this one for zines, since the investment is usually ~$10 and it’s a great way for new creators to get into publishing. But outside of that, this one holds up.
  • No at-cost fulfillment: No longer a factor. Shipping is such a fuckfest, especially during the pandemic, that I don’t care how a project plans to do fulfillment (unless they appear to have no plan for it at all). By all means, farm out your shipping and/or production and charge me for it later.
  • No spreadsheets: The only exception I can recall making is for Car Wars 6th Edition, because that project was understandably massive (and worth it). So this one has held up well for me.
  • No paid autographs: I can’t remember the last time I even saw a paid autograph option in a project, so this is largely irrelevant these days.
  • There must be a print option: It’s complicated. In 2016 I barely used RPG PDFs, but in 2022 I use them almost exclusively (and have for several years). If I’m going to preorder something, though, it’s almost always because I’m excited about it enough to give it shelf space, and/or the use case for it benefits from print (RPG modules, for example). I don’t get excited about preordering PDFs. And just to finish muddying the waters, I can’t remember the last time I saw a PDF-only RPG project.
  • Have your shit mostly done: 100%. I’ve taken chances on this front a couple times in the past five years, and they were mistakes. “Fuck your idea” is still a useful maxim.
  • Have actual risks and challenges: Kickstarter is such a known quantity now that I never even read this section anymore. I can generally tell whether a project is risky just from reading the rest of the project page.
  • Limited clutter: This is part of my holistic risk assessment, so it still holds true. Like some of my other 2016 guidelines, though, it seems to also be a lesson most creators have learned; I rarely see cruft in projects anymore.
  • Some sort of sample: Still true, but these days it’s basically universal for any project I’d even consider backing — so it’s kind of a non-issue.

2022 sniff test additions

As Kickstarter and the RPG and board game industries have changed, I’ve added to my sniff test.

Back sure things, unless they’re inexpensive

This is a corollary to “No FC0B,” I guess? I don’t need your game, so unless it’s inexpensive (e.g., zines) I’m not taking a flyer on your ability to produce it. So why not just wait for eventual publication, since I’m mainly backing sure things? Because I enjoy contributing to a project’s success and supporting creators, I like Kickstarter exclusives, and preordering is a convenience for me. Which brings me to…

Kickstarter is 100% a store for preordering stuff

Kickstarter itself has stepped further and further back from this over the years, insisting that it’s not a store, but it’s more of a store for preorders now than ever before. These days, I bet the list of established publishers who don’t use Kickstarter to sell preorders and generate hype for projects they’re already planning to publish is shorter than the list who of those who do.

Almost nothing is urgent

I can’t possibly play all the RPGs I already own in my lifetime, and I have enough board games. This means I don’t worry too much about how soon a project will deliver — although I do care if your timeline sounds reasonable, and isn’t more than about 12-18 months out. It also means that if I’m on the fence about backing something, I just won’t back it.

Follow people, don’t browse

I follow folks on Kickstarter who have similar tastes, make cool stuff, and/or consistently back projects I like, and by default I “follow” creators I’ve backed before. That’s where 85% of my backed projects originate. (The remaining 15% is 5% Twitter, 5% BoardGameGeek, and 5% occasional browsing/random emails from Kickstarter.) In 2016, Google+ was my filter, but I’ve never successfully replaced G+ in my life, so now I use Kickstarter’s own tools to accomplish something similar.

I don’t know if Kickstarter’s heyday is behind us, but nowadays it just feels like infrastructure: useful, but rarely exciting. My crystal ball says Kickstarter’s recent stumbles, including their response to unionization and the whole weak-ass blockchain thing, and the rise of itch.io and Gamefound (and probably other sites I’m not even aware of), certainly haven’t helped. And despite Kickstarter being — in my experience — a more solid source of projects I actually like when they arrive than it used to be, the bloom is off the rose. Kickstarter isn’t a cool new thing anymore. Instead, it’s just a part of the process; it’s one more store I visit.

And that’s not a bad thing. As a store, it’s generally worked out pretty well for me over the past few years. But will I care enough about Kickstarter as A Thing in five years to write a version of this post in 2027? I wouldn’t take that bet.

But hey, what the hell do I know — I’m the guy who gets 1/3 of his RPG Kickstarter purchases wrong despite 30+ years of figuring out what I like as a gamer.

Categories
Comics

The comic book that started it all for me

I grew up in NYC, and when I was a little kid most of my comics came from bargain bins, the school fair, or the hole-in-the-wall newspaper shop/convenience store nearest our apartment. What I read was a grab bag largely determined by circumstance — and, in the case of the little shop, actual grab bags: They would bag three comics, with the outer two covers visible and the inner one a surprise, and charge less than the cost of all three for the bundle.

So while it’s possible — maybe even likely — that I read a superhero comic before this one, the first one I actually remember reading as a little kid was Marvel Tales #139, published in 1982. That’d put me around age five or six, which tracks.

When I started getting into collecting CGC-slabbed books a few years back, I thought it’d be fun to slab this one — but I also wondered if it would hold up as an adult, or if I just remembered it fondly because I loved it as a kid.

So I dug it out and reread it.

The One, dog-eared, read and reread, and much-loved

I opened it up and saw that 1) it was a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #2 (I didn’t know at the time that Marvel Tales was a reprint line), and 2) it was a Steve Ditko/Stan Lee joint. No fucking wonder I remembered loving it!

So yeah, absolutely still a great comic as an adult. And just look at that Ditko cover! Iconic.

One of its stories, which features the Vulture dropping Spidey — who has run out of web fluid — into a New York water tower is the reason I can’t look at a water tower and not immediately think of Spider-Man. (And, more broadly, see or be in NYC and not think of Spidey.) We had one on the roof of our apartment building, which my best friend and I regularly snuck up and climbed — and it sort of terrified me.

It was locked, or our dumb asses might have considered going inside.

Anyhoo, I didn’t want to frame The Actual Issue because that felt sort of sad. Why lock it away? It’s fun to read, to hold an actual connection to my childhood that has so many connections to my adult life. So I set about finding a copy in good condition — which, given that it’s essentially worthless, was a challenge!

But I eventually found one and sent it off to CGC. It came back at a 9.6, and damn is it gorgeous.

Marvel Tales #139

Slabbed books are a real challenge to photograph well, but someday I should try and get a few good shots of the ones I have up. I love them all, but so few people get to see them!

Categories
Comics

Squadron Supreme blew my mind as a kid, and it’s still amazing

When I was in 4th or 5th grade, my art teacher gave me a copy of Squadron Supreme #12. Back then I devoured every comic I could get my hands on, so this being the final issue of a limited series I knew nothing about didn’t phase me — I dove right in. What I read was completely unexpected, and totally unlike any of the other superhero comics I’d read.

The final issue (SPOILERS) is a knock-down, drag-out battle royale between former superhero teammates — all deeply flawed human beings, all relatable in their very human failings. And in that battle, some of the titular heroes get killed by people who used to be their friends, or at least their allies. And not “comic book killed,” just plain ol’ killed.

My 8- or 9-year-old mind was blown. I’d never read a superhero comic where heroes fought each other for real before, and certainly never one where the marquee characters got killed (and didn’t come back). It stuck with me, and looking back on it I can see many threads connecting things I love as an adult with that issue of Squadron Supreme and its inversion of superhero tropes.

A few years back I remember that issue, and wondered why I’d never finished the series. So I bought a TPB collecting the whole series (paid link) — and it was amazing. And then I bought a second copy, one from the first printing that — per his last wishes — incorporated Squadron Supreme creator Mark Gruenwald‘s ashes into the ink, because how could I not?

I also picked this up, a CGC-slabbed copy of issue #1[1], and added it to my wall of original art and other comics and RPG geekery. I love it, and every time I look up at it I wind up thinking about comics, and what I’m reading, and what I want to read next, and . . .

If you’ve never checked out Squadron Supreme (paid link) I highly recommend it.

[1] There are a dearth of CGC slab frames with UV protection (which I consider a must-have for wall hanging anywhere near windows), but I love the ECC Frames basic model (paid link) shown here. They’re not cheap, but I don’t frame many comics; it’s worth it.

Categories
Books Comics

The Marvel Encyclopedia is awesome

As a kid, I used to spend hours poring over any sort of “superheroes A-Z” content I could find. I had some that came in issues of comics, and the long-running Marvel-phile column in Dragon, and probably other sources I’ve forgotten about.

When I started playing TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes, I traced hero silhouettes from those articles (Captain Britain was a favorite) and used them as the basis for drawing all of my characters.

Fast forward from the late ’80s/early ’90s to now, and I’m kicking myself because it wasn’t until a few days ago that it occurred to me that of course this is still a thing, and it’s probably gotten even easier to acquire big volumes of it.

It has! Enter the Marvel Encyclopedia (paid link) which — although it’s a bit squirrely about its author credits — is at least partly written by Matt Forbeck, and which is utterly fabulous.

This book is titanic. It’s a coffee table book, hardcover, and over 400 pages. Full color, of course. (It had a dust jacket, too, which I find less than useless on books this size.) And it’s $22 shipped with Prime.

It covers more than 1,200 characters, both heroes and villains, with origins, pictures, background info, and other fun tidbits. It also covers crossover events, famous hero/villain groups, and more. It’s exactly the kind of big, splashy, high-production-values book I’d expect from DK and Marvel.

This is the kind of non-gaming RPG sourcebook that I love. Need on-the-spot inspiration for an NPC? Flip through this beast. Stuck for hero ideas for your next character? Lose yourself in over 1,200 of them. Can’t remember who Obscure Hero X is? They’re probably in here.

This book is so cool.

Categories
Comics

Green Lantern trade reading order: Geoff Johns’ run and all concurrent lantern TPBs

Want to read a whole lot of awesome Green Lantern comics? This is the list I used to do just that, plus some context to explain the order I chose and some gushing about Green Lantern in general.

Just want the reading list without the context?
Skip straight to the list, and happy reading!

Caveat added in April 2020: Geoff Johns’ primary collaborator on the core GL series, Ethan Van Sciver, is a terrible person. His misogynistic bullshit is beyond vile. Were this a post about his work, it would be long gone from Yore. But this post isn’t about his work, it’s about a decade of Green Lantern comics that includes numerous titles not associated with Van Sciver — and one, the core GL book, which unfortunately does feature his artwork. For now, I’m leaving this post in place as a resource for folks who want to explore this era of Green Lantern comics.

In 2013 I got back into superhero comics (after reading mostly indie stuff for many years) when I read a comic that surprised the hell out of me: Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman  (paid link), which took a character I’d more or less dismissed and made him fascinating. That started a slow burn that led — by way of Morrison’s New X-Men (paid link), Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye  (paid link), Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder  (paid link), and a couple of other titles — to a desire to explore a superhero who was new to me. A bit of Googling led me to Green Lantern, and specifically to Geoff Johns’ run on the title, which was widely regarded as being excellent.

I decided if I was going to jump in, I’d do a cannonball: read Green Lantern and all concurrent lantern-focused titles for all of Johns’ 2004-2013 run, 10 years worth of comics in 40 trades (plus a 41st for good measure). It was one of the best reading decisions I’ve ever made.

I came to love Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, Mogo, Despotellis, Kilowog, Sinestro, Soranik Natu, B’dg, and so many other great characters. I love the Green Lantern Corps, the mythology of the corps and the universe the lanterns inhabit, and the fact that lantern titles — especially Corps — are more sci-fi with superheroes than straight-up superhero tales. Taken as a whole, Green Lantern and its companion titles are over the top, pulpy in the best ways, often pretty wild, larger than life, and a whole lot of fun. They’ve become some of my favorite comics.

But this venture wasn’t without its challenges. It’d been a long time since I’d read a DC or Marvel title on an ongoing basis, and I was unfamiliar with the mechanics of crossover events, dovetailing and intertwining stories that span multiple books, and the like. It was confusing.

More confusing still, while it seemed like there should be one correct reading order, I saw lots of disagreement online about the order in which these titles should be read. I wound up using two lists as the basis for my own (and many thanks to the folks who created them!): this post by SmashBrawler on ComicVine, and The Superheroes List part 1 and part 2.

My reading order isn’t definitive — this is just how I chose to read these titles. I had a blast doing it, and I hope I can simplify this process for others who are in a similar situation.

The goal of this list

For context, here’s what I wanted to do:

  1. Read Green Lantern and every other book starring lanterns (not necessarily every book in which lanterns appear) for the entirety of Geoff Johns’ run
  2. Keep it simple by, whenever possible, reading whole trades at once
  3. Introduce myself to Hal Jordan, who I knew next to nothing about
  4. Avoid spoiling anything in the process of figuring out my reading order
  5. Strike a balance between simplicity (reading trade by trade) and maximum fidelity to the story (reading issue by issue and roping in lots of non-lantern books)

This is the list I used to accomplish those goals. It’s presented as simply as possible because that’s what I found I wanted when I was reading these trades: a simple list. “Do this and you’ll have fun.” I did this, and I had fun.

Green Lantern reading order, 2004-2013

For 1-19 and 23-37, you can read each trade on its own, one after the other. (I call out a couple of cases below where I took the lazy route and you might prefer to go issue by issue.) Three big cross-title events — Blackest Night (20-22) and Rise of the Third Army through Wrath of the First Lantern (38-41) — however, need to be read issue by issue, jumping between concurrent trades as you go, in order for them to make sense.

You can also download this list, including my notes, as a simple text file.

Do any of these books suck?

Red Lanterns is terrible. The first trade is basically just an excuse to put Bleez in lots of boobs/butt poses, the writing in all three trades is godawful, and the story is generally wretched to mediocre. There are a couple of cool moments, but I was glad every time I could put a Red Lanterns trade behind me.

New Guardians wasn’t great for the first two trades (though still much better than Red Lanterns), but it picked up in the third one and finished strong. I wound up liking it.

The two Ion trades were just okay, but important for Kyle Rayner’s story. Not bad, just not great; well worth reading.

Everything else on this list — over 30 TPBs — I loved reading and would be thrilled to read again. This is a fantastic set of comics.

Look, a rabbit hole

In the course of reading these trades, I came to dig the lanterns so much that I bought a replica lantern:

…and jumped at the chance to pick up a piece of original artwork (Green Lantern Corps #15, page 11 — one of my favorite storylines in the whole arc, featuring one of my favorite parts of that story), which my wife framed up for my birthday:

So be warned: Your wallet won’t thank you for getting into Green Lantern — but apart from that you’re in for a real treat.