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Talk Time With Tavis

One of the more gratifying aspects of Strip Search has been watching a pretty significant explosion of creativity from the Artists; while they surely would have continued on their individual trajectories of comic-making, that period of time when they were cooped up together in a luxury mansion and able to resonate off each other has produced a lot of interesting work, not all of it seen yet. So when Tavis Maiden offered to talk to me about his plans for his next comics project, I was happy to do so.

The back-and-forth that we had was so extensive, I’ve had to split it into two parts. Today, Maiden talks about how being a father has influenced the forthcoming Tenko King, what he wants to achieve with it, and his thoughts on Kickstarter.

Fleen: So tell me about what you want to do with Tenko King that’s different from what you’ve done in the past. You’re the master of the BEAST AURA, so why do you want to launch a new project?
Maiden: I wanted to write a letter to my kids. What it’s like to grow up and what it means to be a parent watching from the outside. Tenko King is the culmination of my childhood, and my perceptions of life as an adult for me. It’s a way to understand that life is a Journey, not a destination.

Fleen: So a longer-form story will let you have that conversation in ways that Stranger Danger doesn’t? Telling a story to your kids rather than one that’s (to a degree) involves them?
Maiden: Exactly. I can inform them that life can be simultaneously: wonderful, fantastic, challenging, and scary, but it’s up to you to face each challenge as best you can, and move forward.

Fleen: I want to hear your thoughts on crowdfunding the new project, and then I’ve got a perspective on the whole thing I’d like to get your take on.
Maiden: Ah, yes. I’ve been getting Why Kickstarter? a lot. It just seemed to make sense. When I had my site Thunderskullpress designed I had to put it on the credit card, sell things (like DVDs, books, and games), and work with the designer to work out a payment plan, and I am happy with the end result, but … there were things I had to sacrifice to get it within my budget.

With Kickstarter I have the opportunity to create a website where I can shoot for the moon I don’t have to sacrifice reader experience due to budget and I can afford to implement some really cool and interactive features. I don’t just want to make a comic I want to cultivate a community, so what better way than by getting the community involved?

Fleen: Good answer. Here’s why I asked the question: of all the Strip Search-related crowdfundings that have been launched, yours was the one that surprised me. Monica funded a book — that’s a pretty traditional use of crowdfunding. Lexxy funded the launch of her first comic but pitched it pretty explicitly as a replacement for income that she’d miss out on in giving up freelance jobs. Abby, Maki, and Amy have had comics, but their campaigns also had an aspect of income-replacement as they’re at transition points in their lives.

But you’ve had multiple projects at Thunderskull, experience in launching new things while keeping up the existing things, and a longer time under your belt doing webcomics. In my brain, the closest analogue to you would be Hurricane Erika, who recently launched Oh Joy, Sex Toy without a funding push. That’s why your Kickstarter surprised me compared to the others.
Maiden: Interesting; I think there’s a misconception of my “success”. I’ve had people say similar things, and even wonder why I need Kickstarter to help — why not just do it myself? Ultimately the reason is, because this is the most ambitious project I’ve ever done in scope of story, art, and experience. I wouldn’t have been able to do this five years ago, or even two years ago.

I think it’s an important distinction to say I’m not using Kickstarter as a catalyst to fund a comic; I will sacrifice and work hard to make this comic happen regardless. What I need the help with is creating the atmosphere and appropriate reader experience; the website is the thing it will just add another layer to the comic. I don’t know if you’ve seen the cryptograms, and the Watchers? I’ve made a few posts here and there….

Fleen: I hadn’t put all those pieces together, but in retrospect it’s much more clear that what you’re working to develop is the infrastructure.
Maiden: Exactly. That’s a much simpler way to word it; take all that out and just say infrastructure. I’m thrilled that this project is funded! While it’s not going to be a crazy amount of money, it provides me with what I need to do what I want. And, I won’t be fulfilling orders until I die.

Fleen: You ain’t lying. I am constantly surprised by how many people discount the fulfillment time-suck in planning out their projects.
Maiden: Oh, and the Kickstarter fees, the Amazon fees, and taxes. Got to remember those too.

Fleen: I know you thought that part out in advance — you’ve got two kids, you’ve probably budgeted your life down to the penny and your time down to the minute. You ain’t making even one trip to the post office more than is absolutely necessary.
Maiden: You can’t afford not to when you’ve got a family counting on you to not send them to the poorhouse.

Fleen: How did that future planning of What can I make good on? shape your campaign? To date, I’ve only seen one Kickstarter where the creator purposely limited a campaign to ensure it wouldn’t consume his life/disrupt his other creative work².
Maiden: I didn’t put any physical rewards below $50, and 2/3 of the items below $50 are pre-existing content. I went in thinking the point of Kickstarter first and foremost is to back a project that you want to see come to life, not just as a way to get cool exclusive swag (don’t get me wrong, I love swag). That’s why $50 has so many extra things in that one tier it’s a big commitment and it shows a huge amount of trust and support.

Fleen: I was also thinking about the relatively small set of stretch goals you laid out. Lots of projects go live with stretch goals listed up to the horizon.
Maiden: Yeah and there is something to that; I’ve seen lots of Kickstarters that made me salivate over the 90K stretch goal But for me, time management is huge: the more stretch goals, the more vendors, the more fulfillment, etc, etc, etc.

Fleen: I know exactly what you mean about the 90K stretch goal. I was so hoping to force Maki to get a weird haircut, because I love human suffering.
Maiden: I was a little disappointed too. My new stretch goal should be I’ll shave every other Stripsearch beard. There can be only one.

Fleen thanks Maiden for his time and salutes his desire for beard superiority. Be sure to come back tomorrow for part two as we explore Strip Search and confront the fears that can strike a fully-grown man. Hint: said fears answer to “Robert”.

¹ Maiden also launched his project in a time when it’s become somewhat common for comics projects on crowdfunding sites to be pitched as Fund me and I’ll produce this new work, vs the earlier standard of Fund me and I’ll produce something tangible based on this existing work.

Combine this with a tendency for the “new work” pitches to be from first-time creators without a body of work to choose from, and it tends to color perceptions of his campaign. Of course, a critical difference is that Maiden does have a body of work and demonstrated skills to judge against.

² Howard Tayler, who purposely restricted the (let’s be fair, runaway) success of his challenge coin Kickstarter so as not to have his entire life consumed.

[…] Or rather, is looking to spin that story, provided it gets Kickstarted; as mentioned in part one of our Tavis Maiden interview, pre-funding webcomics is becoming a thing, although you’d be hard pressed to find a creator […]

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