A Kickstarter That Will Put You on the Nice List
I love ‘what if’ type stories. For over 40 years, Marvel has been putting out fun series about what if Spider-Man became a celebrity instead of a superhero or what if Wolverine was killed by the Hulk? In the past decade, Archie Comics regained popularity with a new series called Life With Archie that examined what if Archie married Betty or Veronica. One of the best new Doctor Who episodes looked at how the world would have changed if one of the Tenth Doctor’s companions when left instead of right to get to a job interview.
Going off of that love of the path not taken, there’s an amazing comic book project on Kickstarter. It’s called The List. The premise is what if Santa wasn’t just one person, but a group of mercenaries that every Christmas Eve saved the children of the world from kidnappers and those who would abused them instead of giving presents under the tree? Think The Santa Clause meets Taken.
I had a chance to sit down with down with The List creator James Stimpson about the project and the challenge of creating independent comics in the age of Kickstarter. My questions are in bold.
James, thank you for taking some time to talk with me about The List. First of all, tell the readers a little bit about yourself. How did you get started in comics?
I’ve been reading comics for a very long time. When I was younger I read a British weekly comic called The Beano, which my nan used to get me every week. I didn’t seriously get into comics until I was at university where I started getting a monthly subscription sent to me from the States; it was cheaper to import my comics than buy them here in the UK. Since then I’ve been an avid collector, spending way too much money on them and also treating myself to the odd collectible.
It wasn’t until I read Maus at Christmas 2015 that I realised that you can write a comic about anything. That inspired me greatly and when the idea for The List popped into my head I just went with it. It’s not only the first comic I’ve written it’s also the first anything I’ve done in comics so it’s all new, exciting and daunting in equal measures.
In the comic, [the main character] Sal is one of a group of elite members of the Santa Squad who save children on Christmas instead of giving them toys. What was the inspiration for this?
It all came from me wondering what happens at Christmas to people who can’t really afford to celebrate it, which led to me thinking what happens when a child has no one at Christmas or finds themselves in an even worse situation. What would regular fat Santa be able to do about that? Presents would mean so little to children in those situations. So Sal was born, a Santa that saves children instead of delivering presents.
This is issue #1. Is The List planned as a one-shot or a continuing series?
It’s a 4 issue mini-series. I have a rough idea for volume 2 and 3 though.
You are also a games designer. Are there any in particular I might have heard of?
I’ve worked on quite a few over the years now. 24: The Game was the first game I worked on. Heavenly Sword, Kinect Disneyland Adventures, Zoo Tycoon, ScreamRide and most recently I’ve been working on Elite Dangerous.
How is the process from designing a game to crafting a comic book similar or different?
There are definitely similarities between the two. Both require you to have an idea of what the bigger picture is and how everything works as a whole. Writing a comic you have individual scenes, in design you have your mechanics. In isolation they may work brilliantly, but if they don’t work with the other scenes/mechanics then they have to be changed or scrapped completely. It’s about making sure they work as a whole.
When I’ve designed levels I’m always trying to tell a story. Why is this level in the game? What’s happening in the level? Why is this guy over here? It’s a similar thing with writing, you question everything and try to make it logical, as much as you can with a Santa who quite happily murders people (only bad people though).
One huge difference is the collaboration. When I’m writing it’s just me and my ideas, arguing with myself and making things work. In design it’s all about working as a team, not just with other designers but other disciplines too; you have people to bounce ideas off who approach things in a different way.
Of the two- games and comics- which do you find more challenging?
You know what, I have no idea! They both offer a different set of challenges. I will say that this Kickstarter is a lot more stressful than any period I’ve had working in the games industry. Probably because this is mine and it’s just me and Liana, whereas when we’re working hard to finish a game there’s loads of us and there’s a real camaraderie in the team.
When you create a game it takes a long time from that initial idea to it being released (obviously depending on the size and scale of the game). In comics it can happen a lot faster, not in my case because after I wrote it I had to find an artist etc. but you get the idea.
If I really have to pick one I’d probably say comics, mainly because it’s just me writing it and if something doesn’t work or goes wrong it’s all on me.
The artwork by Liana Recchione is amazing but a little gritty. What are some works she has done before and how did you two end up as a creative team?
Liana is the creator, writer and artist of the wonderful indie graphic novel Risenfall. She has also worked on a number of different projects from Raven, a graphic novel she wrote, drew and published in 2010, through to her more recent work of Norby working as a colourist. Liana has a lot of experience in the indie world and it has helped a lot along the way.
It took me a while to find Liana. Before we started working together I actually had another artist lined up to work on it. However he ended up being too busy as he was getting a lot of professional work so he and his boss, Christian Mirra from SmArt Studio, put forward another artist who turned out to be Liana. She read the scripts and high level description and she was in. She did an art test for it, which turned out to be the first page in the comic, and absolutely nailed it. Liana has taken the script and turned it into something amazing on the page, the panel layouts are much more interesting and dynamic than I could have imagined. I think we work pretty well as a team. I created the world in words, Liana creates it in pictures.
Jesus- yes that Jesus, is a main character of this book. On a scale from 1-10 where 1 is Jesus from South Park and 10 is Jesus from the Bible, what’s the level of seriousness? Is he inspiring or more of a source of comic relief?
Ha. He’s probably around a 7 or 8 in The List. He’s there as a level headed character with a lot of wisdom to impart. He’s definitely a father figure to Sal, who probably wouldn’t like to admit that he sees him that way.
Red Sleigh Down is a great episode of South Park. I love Jesus in that episode, gunning people down, he’s pretty badass.
I really loved you praise for the Kickstarter platform in your campaign. Could you talk a little more how it is empowering to independent comic creators?
I think it’s brilliant for people to get started in comics and to control their ideas. Comics is such a difficult industry to get into, Kickstarter offers people a way of getting their ideas out there without the need for a major publisher to back it. I have no experience working for a publisher so I can’t say how the experience differs but being in control of your idea means that creators can take more risks and try out different things. It may not always work but you need people out there to take risks, it’s those risks that can turn into some of the best things ever put onto a page.
I think it’s also liberating for the backers too. They get a chance to be a part of something they like the look of and want to see finished. Our backers have been incredible and have said some wonderful things, it really puts a big smile on your face and warms your heart.
It’s a bit like in the games industry where the indie scene has exploded and you’re getting all of these amazing, creative games because developers are able to take a risk because they only need to answer to themselves.
Some of the readers may be a little apprehensive donating to a campaign in the UK. Will you ship rewards anywhere in the world?
Yup, we will ship anywhere in the world. We’ve had backers from the US, the Netherlands, Singapore and many other places already. We want to reach as many people with this comic as possible. I made sure to keep the rewards to things that are easy to post abroad so everyone can enjoy everything.
After this campaign has ended. What are the next steps for the project in terms of getting it out?
Once we’ve finished the campaign Liana will get cracking with the art. After each page she finishes she’ll send it over to me to do the lettering. I’ll also need to get going with the various rewards that we’re offering.
After that the first thing we’ll do is make sure it gets to all the wonderful people who’ve backed us. While it’s just two of us in control of the comic we have lots of bosses that we need to keep happy, they’re the ones who matter most to us as they’ve backed us and believe in the comic.
We’re aiming to send everything out next November (2018) so it arrives well in time for people to enjoy next Christmas.
Finally, for those interested in buying The List where would the book be eventually found? Amazon? Comixology?
Comixology will definitely be a place that we put it, using the money from that to fund further issues. I’ll have a look into a few different avenues then too. To be honest I’ll just be incredibly happy that I’ve written something that’s turned into a physical comic that I can hold in my hands!
James, once again thank you for taking some time to talk with me about your project. Best of luck and I look forward to reading it.
There’s still time to get on The List. With just over a week in the campaign and less than a $1000 to go, getting fully funded in completely doable. Think of it as an early Christmas present for yourself as if this project is completed, there’s lots of cool rewards for those who back the project.
Santa has done so much for you over the years. Don’t you think it’s time to give back to the Jolly Ol’ Elf?
The List Kickstarter project will end 12pm MST on Friday December 22, 2017.