JOPLIN, Mo. —
A back room in Jeremy Haun's studio is filled with cardboard boxes, some of them full, some of them empty. The full ones are loaded with copies of a hardcover book Haun co-authored with three others. Called "Bad Karma," the volumes are beautiful: Spot-gloss white hardcovers that features the title's art in bold cobalt blue, filled with 200 pages of full-color comic art -- there's even a foldout in the center.
The empty boxes are pretty plain, except for a hand-stamped red picture of a kraken -- the same kraken on Haun's T-shirt. It's the emblem of the Kraken Corporation, a shady entity that features prominently in "Bad Karma."
Haun worked on the stories "Chaos Agent" and "The Ninth Life of Solomon Gunn," two of the stories in "Bad Karma." He spent many hours inking the characters, working on concepts and writing stories with collaborators.
Now, Haun spends his time moving the books from one box to another. "Bad Karma" is the finished product of a Kickstarter campaign, and Haun is in the process of fulfilling it.
He and others spend a few weeknights and every Friday packing boxes and special rewards such as T-shirts, sketches, prints, coasters and more, depending on the level of support a backer gave. He hopes to be done shipping all the orders by October.
Haun would probably rather be drawing more stories instead of packing boxes. But because "Bad Karma" was backed by fans, he's proud to fold and stamp boxes, organize "signing parties," pack freebies and ship orders.
"That's the beauty of Kickstarter. People are voting with their wallets," Haun said. "This wouldn't have happened without the support of fans."
Haun is a comic artist who has a long list of credits for DC Comics, Image Comics, ONI Press, IDW and others. He has drawn comics in the Batman series "Batman: Arkham Reborn" and is currently working on other Batman storylines.
He and fellow comic artists Alex Grecian, B. Clay Moore and Seth Peck had an idea for a series of stories, prose and art that occurred in their own separate world, separated from the stories on which they currently work.
Haun said the project could easily have been taken to ONI or Image, which would have published it -- meaning that they could have drawn their stories, turned it over to the publisher and be done with it.
But the collaborative wanted to experiment with Kickstarter, the crowd-sourced campaign that connects creators with backers. The idea of being responsible for every part of the project, from the story's first draft to the final shipped product, sounded compelling for the artists.
"It's complete control," Haun said. "At this point in our careers, we are allowed to do what we want. But this was complete control from inception to the final bits."
That meant they got to choose exactly how the final product would be printed. They could also choose what kind of bonus promotional materials to offer. Where other publishers would choose printing formats based on a budget, they knew they could give fans exactly what they paid for.
Haun and others put together a video for their campaign, talking about the story and what the final product would look like. They offered bonuses, such as inserting the centerfold and including sketches and T-shirts.
Most importantly, they talked about the stories they wanted to tell without the threat of any limitations. "Bad Karma" is a collection of five concepts encircling travels through time and a nefarious company.
Haun, who spends most of his time working with superheroes, said he got to develop a sci-fi adventurer named Solomon Gunn, a time-traveling man confronted with finding answers to questions he barely understands.
"We wanted to tell exactly the kinds of stories we like individually," Haun said. "They bounce around genres, but they are all interconnected around the Kraken Corporation, which has broken time and space a little bit. The book has an anthology feel. Unlike a lot of anthologies, this is tied together and everything flows together."
They asked for $18,500.
In 31 days (from Dec. 10 to Jan. 10), 615 backers gave them $36,262.
What is Kickstarter?
Haun laughs at the notion of Kickstarter giving handouts to artists with little work involved. He said Kickstarter was more like pre-ordering something, only with a large amount of fan input. Everything from music albums to food products, such as an artisan cheese or special wine, can be found on the crowd-sourcing site.
"Look at Kickstarter as pre-ordering a product, only you get to choose how amazing that product is," Haun said. "You're not giving money to someone. You're getting a specialty, rare, limited-edition product that you really can't get anywhere else."
Local creators, global scale
The level of support, almost double what they asked for, meant it was time to work. The additional money enabled them to add additional features on top of what they initially proposed.
Haun said this project took a lot more work than other projects he's worked on.
"I just finished drawing an issue of 'Batman' focusing on the Riddler," Haun said. "I get the script, I draw my pages, send them in, and I'm done. Working on this, you think about the entire project. Write the script, draw, format, then talk to a printer, negotiate the shipping from the printer, figure out the logistics ..."
Creating the story was simple enough: The four worked with several other collaborators and designed their stories.
Using a printer from China, the group published 2,500 books -- which breaks down into 160 cases and a total weight of about three tons.
Haun had to handle more than just the printing, however.
Kickstarter campaigns usually offer different levels, depending on how much someone is willing to back. For "Bad Karma," people could pledge as little as $5 and receive a sticker and a temporary tattoo. A pledge of $35 earned a signed copy of the printed book and a credit printed on the book's thank-you page. For $500, someone could have their likeness drawn into the story "Hellbent" in addition to receiving a signed book.
T-shirts, prints and other promotional items were part of other funding levels. That meant Haun had to handle all the aspects of getting those manufactured. T-shirts were printed at Binky Guy, and prints were published by Missouri Southern State University's printmaking department.
"Even though this was a project with the other creators, I wanted to keep this as local as possible," Haun said. "It was important to me to support art in Joplin. Even though this project was done on a global scale, if I could keep some of that money here, I wanted to."
Haun also organized signing parties -- the four artists signed more than 200 copies of books for supporters. One of the main artists was on tour in Great Britain during the first party, so he had to come to Joplin later for his autographs.
Not everything went smoothly. A printing delay meant that the collaborative couldn't honor a promise to debut the book during a Charlotte, N.C., convention. Other cost and printing estimates promised by suppliers turned out to not be promises.
"It always costs more than you expect, and it always takes longer than you expect," Haun said.
The finished product was delivered in July. They celebrated with one of Instant Karma's signature beer dinners, where gourmet entrees were paired with local brews. Copies of the book were also given to all the attendees.
"I have a lot of foodie friends in the comic industry," Haun said. "We like to get together and eat really well, and I wanted to do that locally. I love the dinners that Jason and Suzanne (Miller, the restaurant's owners) have done."
The collaborative has other events tied in with the book's release, such as appearances at comic conventions across the nation.
Thinking about the next
Planning for a second volume is under way -- the collaborative has stories sussed out. Haun said he didn't know if they would use Kickstarter again to fund it, but it's a possibility, he said.
But drawing comics is about the work of drawing, Haun said, not receiving a product.
"I am always excited by the process rather than the finished product," he said. "For me, it's about the work, about telling the stories. So often, by the time I hold a book in hand, I'm focusing on the next."
Kickstarter is a mixed bag, emotionally, from the gratification of a doubly funded project to the burden of having so much work to do after fans declare their support.
Still, receiving the first books of "Bad Karma," which included all the special details and touches that fans asked for, was special, Haun said.
"I don't think when I started this project that I expected to hold something so beautiful in my hands," he said. "I always worry that I'll get something back and it will be crap. But I'd give this book to anyone. I feel really good about it."
Want a copy?
"Bad Karma," the graphic novel featuring the work of Jeremy Haun and other professional artists, is available for $35 at Hurley's Heroes Comics and Games, located at 824 S. Main St. Details: 417-782-6642.