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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.

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Comics

After 16 years, I was surprised to find myself reading the final pages of The Walking Dead

I’ve been reading The Walking Dead since the first TPB came out in 2004. As soon as the first 12-issue hardcover omnibus was released, I switched to that format and have collected the hardcovers ever since.

This morning, while reading volume 16 in the bath, I realized a major event that had been spoiled for me on Twitter was about to happen — and shortly after that, realized that holy shit this feels like it’s about to end.

And then…it ended.

After 16 years, it ended — and damn did it end perfectly.

One of the best rides in comic book history

Because I picked up a new hardcover every time I remembered to check on them, I was completely unaware the series had ended in single-issue format. From Kirkman’s afterword, it sounds like they solicited fake issues past the end date to pull it off as a surprise — and had been planning it for years.

Rating the final book ★★★★★ on Goodreads, I checked to confirm that my memory of this series being unerringly amazing was correct and was pleased to see that I’d rated every volume ★★★★★.

I can’t think of too many comic book series I’ve read that 1) were this good, for this long, consistently, without missing a single beat; 2) ended when they should have, rather than dragging on; and 3) stuck the motherfucking landing this well.

I don’t know how to feel right now. Mostly good, of course! This was a fantastic run, one of the all-time greats, and there were so many ways it could have gone awry. But it’s also been a part of my life for 16 years. I was reading TWD before I met my wife; I’ve been reading it longer than my daughter has been alive.

If you like horror comics in general, and zombie horror in particular (although this series is about so much more than that), I can’t recommend The Walking Dead highly enough.

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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 Life

Salt Lake Comic Con 2014

Back when we lived in Utah, we went to Salt Lake Comic Con every year. Our 2014 trip included two of my favorite moments with my daughter, Lark. These were originally posted on different days on Google+, but I’m pulling them into one post here (since G+ is going the way of the dodo).

April 18, 2014

I expect my Parent of the Year award any day now.

April 19, 2014

Comic Con day two (for us; day three of the con). One of the things I love about cons is the surprises — I didn’t expect we’d get to wear a snake.

Categories
Comics Tabletop RPGs

Unearthing some of my creative output from ages 10-15

While packing for our move to Seattle in 2015, I came across some comics and RPG stuff I created in the 1980s and early 1990s. I posted about them on G+ back in 2015, but with the impending shutdown I thought I’d rescue them to share on Yore.

Comics

At age 10, I was photocopying my handmade comics and selling subscriptions to my friends.

I don’t recall Blackbelt Assault Aardvarks: The Atomic Aristocrats making it to issue two. Nor Sam the Turtle Avenger, come to think of it.

High Adventure

In retrospect, 100% of what teenage me wrote in this introduction to a never-published fantasy heartbreaker I designed with a friend (we were fixing AD&D 2e, man!) was not true.

Bushido

Bushido, the coolest superhero in the universe, from a FASERIP Marvel campaign in the early ’90s.

I’m 96% sure the silhouette on the left was traced from a Captain Britain datafile in Dragon Magazine. I used it for my whole (sausage fest of a) superteam.

Sage Lore Productions

Playtesting for long-defunct Sage Lore Productions, age 13. This was actually a pretty cool DM’s kit.

Blood for the Blood God

Sixth grade. I have a vivid memory of drawing this during a free period at school.

I really need to scan some of this stuff and turn it into PDFs at some point.

Categories
Comics

Steve Rogers, PR disaster

Steve Rogers, PR disaster is amazing.

Context from the intro:

“Wait,” says Sam, “you had a publicist?”

“For my first five months at S.H.I.E.L.D,” says Steve. “Then she quit. Uh, decisively.”

The rubber meets the road:

The problem was his mouth.

First there was that brief period of time before the rabble-rousing got off the ground, where his main hobby seemed to be pissing off important people. Eva learned to dread the approach of elderly senators and statesmen, the way they shook Steve’s hand and leaned into his space to mutter, conspiratorially, “The country’s not like it used to be, is it?” It was like the ticking of a bomb that only Eva could hear.

“You’re right,” said Steve, the third time it happened, “nobody dies of the flu and I can’t get arrested for marrying a black person.”

I love Captain America, and this is right on the money. (I can even picture Chris Evans speaking these lines!)

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

Laika is meditative and heartbreaking

Nick Abadzis‘ and Hilary Sycamore‘s Laika (paid link) is meditative, thorough, and heartbreaking.

Everything I knew about Laika — the first orbital space traveler, a stray dog trained and conditioned for her one-way mission — before reading this book came from her Wikipedia entry and small exhibits about her at aerospace museums. I now know a lot more about her, and how extraordinary she was.

Laika is as good as two of my other favorite biographical comics, Box Brown‘s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend (paid link) and Derf Backderf‘s My Friend Dahmer (paid link). Both are sad reads (and the latter is challenging in other ways, too), and both enriched my knowledge of their subjects.

Where Laika takes liberties — fully disclosed at the outset — they ring true to me. Dogs have an inner life; they think and feel, love and fear; they’re sentient beings. Considering what Laika’s inner life was like, which is beautifully expressed in the comic, is one of the things about the book that resonates most with me — and has continued to resonate months after I finished it.

Reaing Laika made me glad my first dog, Charlie, died in my arms, surrounded by people who loved him, and it makes me want to go home and pet Wicket.

Categories
Comics

Rat Queens fucking rules

I love getting reading recommendations, but my to-read shelves are such an embarrassment, particularly when it comes to comics, that I don’t always take them. But after a visit to Outsider Comics and Geek Boutique (which rocks!), I took one: Rat Queens (paid link).

I heard about RQ when it launched, but had too much on my plate to give it a look. I’m sorry I waited so long, because it’s excellent.

Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and illustrated, at least initially, by Roc Upchurch (he was kicked off the series after being arrested for domestic abuse, but apparently he’s coming back), Rat Queens is in many ways a raunchy love letter to D&D and fantasy tropes.

(Cover by Fiona Staples.)

It’s feminist and funny and inclusive and bloody and surprising, and I love it. The back-cover blurb from the first trade sums it up nicely:

They’re a pack of booze guzzling, death dealing battle maidens-for-hire and they’re in the business of killing all the gods’ creatures for profit.

I’m Team Hannah, the foul-mouthed elven mage:

. . . but I dig all of the main characters: Violet, the hipster dwarven fighter who was shaving off her beard before it was cool; Dee, the atheist cleric who was raised in what’s basically a Cthulhu cult; and Betty, the smidgen (think halfling) drug-cooking thief. They do a lot of the things an average old-school D&D party might do — start fights, cause trouble, and murder their way across the countryside — but they also right wrongs and try to help people. It’s a good mix.

Maybe the best recommendation I can give is this one: I’ve been on a manga tear for the past few months, to the point that I found myself accidentally reading Rat Queens right-to-left several times, and Rat Queens is the first American comic out of a stellar lineup of potential candidates to break that streak.[1] It’s splendid, and I can’t wait for the second trade.

[1] It also broke my 3.5-month streak of not blogging. I figured something would — I’ve been busy doing other stuff, not avoiding blogging per se — but I didn’t expect it to be Rat Queens.