Jimmy Palmiotti Interview: Denver, Kickstarter, and the Future of Comics
Comic writer Jimmy Palmiotti discusses his latest dystopian sci-fi project, Denver, and the future of crowdfunding in comics!
Jimmy Palmiotti's PaperFilms have just announced their latest Kickstarter-funded graphic novel, Denver. Described as "set after the world’s oceans have risen, most of humanity has perished and only one city has survived the disaster: the mile high city of Denver, Colorado. Max Flynn, a loyal Coast Border Guard, protects America’s last city and regulates new citizens seeking refuge there--until an extreme group of individuals brings betrayal and blackmail and Max is forced to go against everything he has stood for in order to save the woman he loves."
Jimmy Palmiotti and PaperFilms have successfully funded five previous Kickstarter-exclusive graphic novels. Among other things going for it, Denver boasts the art of Pier Brito and a soundtrack by Hans Karl! We spoke with Mr. Palmiotti about the finer details of Denver, and how creators at all levels can best utilize crowdfunding to change the face of the comics industry.
Den of Geek: Tell us about the genesis of Denver, what sparked the original idea?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Justin and I were talking about a few ideas we had and I think I was watching a show on one of the science channels on how cities can be self-sufficient. We were bouncing a few ideas around and we came up with a simple story set in an unusual place, like the last metropolis left in a world covered with water. We had the world building aspect done, but felt it should become a backdrop rather than the main focus. We created Max Flynn, a border patrol guy where his beat is the docks of the city and built the story from there. The book is about the adventure we throw poor Max into and how he deals with it. It's a mix of drama, science fiction, and at times a bit out of control.
Has the original concept gone through any iterations between idea and execution?
Many times. When you have an idea, and even a layout of where the story will wind up and how, you make little discoveries long the way. Sometimes characters that you thought were unimportant seem to be crying out for more page time or you rethink a story plot, fine tuning it and making it mean something else. I believe in editing till the day it goes out to the printers. I cannot tell you how many times we have gone back on projects and added a panel or a page for clarification of some sorts. It is really all the process of creating. You learn this and totally understand how writers and directors would love to recut something they did in the past. A lot of time it is only them that sees a problem.
Tell us about working with Pier Brito? What does he bring to the project?
Pier has a very European sensibility to the work and I think that's what we fell in love with right away. He is no stranger to the genres we are doing and I honestly loved his character work…that he was able to get the emotions of the characters so clearly on the paper. Every single page has been a surprise for us and that’s also been an inspiring part of the process. Learning what he can do and then pushing him a bit harder as the book went on. This is his first American work and will certainly not be his last.
What makes Denver’s protagonist, Max Flynn tick? What is he searching for?
Max is a father and husband and having lost his wife to cancer, he is looking for a happy and peaceful place in the world. That is kind of difficult to achieve because he has empathy for the people he has to deal with and sometimes turn away on a daily basis. Max is a good man at heart and someone we would like in real life, but he is put in a situation that is just horrible from beginning to end and he has to step up. The thing that I like about him is he is willing to understand when something is out of his control and roll with it.
Dystopian novels have certainly been extremely popular lately, what made you want to explore this genre?
I want to explore every genre and this one seemed to fit for us. I also liked that the main character's motivation is based on love…his love for his wife. I am always attracted to stories about a romance and we thought this element would be a good one to explore .
Does Mile High Comics still exist in your story? Please say yes.
It sure does! We just don't get into the shop in the story, but it is there, right behind the university having the best selection of back issues in the city.
What do you see as the major conflicts of the novel?
The major conflict deals with max and the choices he has to make to save his family and look the other way to make this happen. It's a tough situation that if any of us were in, well…the end game would be very different for each of us. It all comes down to weighing options that are not good ones.
Will we see an international reaction to the events in the U.S. during the course of your story?
No, the story stays focused only on the city and what comes to it. I think if we were making a second book, we would explore this a lot more, but at its core it’s all about Max and the situation he is in.
Any villains you want to tell us about?
The villains have to remain a mystery until the book is read. Like all great bad guys, ours think they are doing the right thing and are driven as much as the good guys to succeed. The difference is that they are willing to let a body count happen for their cause.
On to Kickstarter, it can be said that you guys are the most successful comic creators to utilize the platform. Do you consider yourselves pioneers?
That is for others to think about. What I see is that we kept doing Kickstarters and fine tuned them along the way while keeping the goals at a reasonable figure, trying to make everyone happy. I have a rule that I repeat all the time. Treat others how you would like to be treated. You would be amazed how the world would change if people took this to heart.
Do you think Kickstarter will ever make a dent in the traditional distribution method that has fueled the industry for years?
It already has because people are taking their projects here, and less with the companies. I don't think its going to be huge, but around my house, it certainly is. I think the industry always has to reinvent itself every few years. I am hoping the trend is for companies to play ball more with the creators.
Do you think the major publishers will ever use crowd funding to kick off books that may have trouble finding the direct market audience? Like a litmus test to see if there is enough support for “B List” characters or genres other than super-heroes?
I thought Top Cow did that already. Not sure how that went. I think the bigger markets can test the water by doing mini-series. I also think they have a different agenda with their publishing. I think all of the publishing now from the bigger companies has other media as a final goal.
What have you learned from your previous Kickstarter successes?
I have learned on each and every Kickstarter what do and how to fine-tune it. I learned to never offer things that you cannot deliver. I also learned that the high price items are not the big attraction. People want something unique. This Kickstarter, for instance, has a reward where we are offering a special limited to 200, original cover by Amanda Conner that is an adults only item. It will be the only place to get it ever…so something like that is attractive for a number of reasons. I also learned that customer care is most important and updates mean a lot to people waiting for their rewards. It's all about communication.
Tell us about the rewards and push goals this time around.
We are offering a ton of digital rewards, some with the soundtracks, some with original scripts and some with special bonuses. We also went and pulled some favors and have limited edition art prints available at different pledge levels by famous friends of ours like John Cebolerro, Dave Johnson, and Dan Panosian that they signed. For the push goals we will be adding a sketch section to the book and beyond that, we’ll be adding even more content that we will talk about when and if we get there.
What makes a good reward for fans, how do you stand out from the Kickstarter pack?
Right away we are offering a unique book you cannot get anywhere else. Next, in the book we are listing the backers at different pledge levels as a thank you and so on. We also stand out because of the amazing printing, the fantastic customer service, and the on time delivery. Even if we run late, we keep everyone in the loop at all times. This is all about creating a relationship and we take it seriously.
Tell us about offering a soundtrack for Denver? How did that innovation come about?
I met composer Hans Karl a few times over the years and we always talked about collaborating on something together, and when Justin and I were working on Denver we thought about contacting him, to see if he was up for the idea. We pitched him the book, gave him some art and script and the pieces started coming in, about one every other week and we loved them. With digital delivery so easy, we thought it would be a cool idea to do this. My love for soundtracks wanted this to happen badly and we figured out a good plan and budget and went to work. We also were lucky enough to have singer songwriter Carrie Johnson add a track to it as well. She has an amazing voice and we looked at her track as the end credit part of the album. We sure hope people enjoy it.
Did the tone or cadence of the soundtrack change your story beats or pacing in any way?
The soundtrack was done after the book was done, so basically Hans scored a finished graphic novel.
How and when do you suggest an established comic pro use Kickstarter moving forward?
When they figure out how the process works, understands the shipping and delivery, realizes that they will have to spend a ton of time selling the idea, has the book done and its something people will want to see them do …and then, and only then, they should move forward.
How about a newcomer to the scene?
Same thing, except because they might not have a built in audience for their work, make it the best presentation you can and get your family involved for support.
Why use Kickstarter instead of going to Image, Boom, IDW or any of the other companies in the market?
Other than Image comics, all those other companies you partner with them and they have editorial that you have to work with. The other thing is that companies will own a percentage of your book and with these projects; the ownership stays with us, as well as all the rights, the digital rights and anything we would like to do beyond the book as far as licensing. I work with all of them, knowing full well what I am partnering on with them and that's great, but this Kickstarter gives us the freedom to do what we want and to personally interact with the actual people that buy the books, cutting out the companies, retailers and so on. As far as Image, there is a fee involved with each book, and a lot of time, that fee will be the only money you make on the title, so unless I have something that will do really well, it limits the room we have to experiment with. Believe me, as far as traditional publishing, Image and places like Top Shelf are the best, but Kickstarter is different. It is a place to experiment and try new ideas with less risk than any other publisher. One of the best things for me is that we get to sell the digital books after the fact forever on our web site, Paperfilms.com, and cut out the middleman. A lot of hosting companies are making a large amount of money taking their cut, and more power to them, but we can sell the books ourselves as well. People can choose what they want.
OK, cast a Denver movie for us?
I am a foreign movie lover, so honestly, I would love to cast the entire movie with unknowns so whoever watches the movie thinks these are the real characters and gets into the story more. If it was a Hollywood movie, I would cast Daniel Day-Lewis as Max, Kristanna Loken as Betty, Natalie Portman as Trinity (Max’s daughter), Josh Hutcherson as Jimmy, Michael Kenneth Williams as Devin (the leader of ten downers), and Jon Hamm as Faust.
Do you already have your next Kickstarter idea in your quiver?
After Denver, we will be rolling out Sex and Violence Volume 2, probably around the end of April. This will feature three separate stories around the title theme. A lot of people loved the first so we are giving it a shot to see if there is still interest. After that we are still deciding, looking at what money we have and can afford to do.
How have other pros viewed your success? Has there been resistance to the model?
The smart ones looked at it with much interest and I have helped them with advice along the way. Others have looked at it as some kind of money grab and have failed miserably. I think at first, a lot of people were looking at the Kickstarters as something easy to do and a way to make cash fast, but the reality is that these are a ton of work, and take up so much time, you better be prepared. I think there were some people that thought, at first, it was taking advantage of the fans, but that has gone away. Most think it's a ton of work now, and that's why we see so little pros still doing it. The difference is with us, we know it all going in and know what to expect.
How do you see the relationship of crowd funding and comics changing in the next decade?
Overall, it will depend on the other people doing the Kickstarters to up their game and deliver the best work and delivery possible so the reputation of future projects will give them confidence to invest. I think one day I will figure out a business model where I will not need a middle man and do crowd sourcing on my own, but until then, Kickstarter is here to stay and consumers will be checking out the page like they check out the store they shop in, to find something they like and support. The very existence of Kickstarter should have a lot of publishers looking at they way they involve the talent and rethinking it a bit. Companies like Image and Kickstarter will force the bigger companies to share with the creators more. DC has been great with doing that, but I see over time, the idea that a creator will do anything to work on their favorite characters will be less and less attractive and the quality of those books will drop along with the sales, unless some changes happen quickly. The writing is on the wall.
Fill in the blank; if you like________________________, you need to support Denver.
If you like a book where the creators are doing anything they want and not worrying about a rating system, if you like the best production values and printing you can find, if you like to be involved and be a part of a project you believe in and if you have enjoyed the past 5 Kickstarters we have delivered to you, then you need to support Denver.