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SYFY WIRE Behind the Panel

Alex Segura's new comic 'The Dusk' shows why Kickstarter really is a creator-owned powerhouse

By Mike Avila

More and more creators are using Kickstarter to launch their creator-owned projects.

Big names in the industry have been turning to the crowd-funding platform to publish their intellectual property for a while now. Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner have used Kickstarter for more than a dozen books, including their most recent release, the third volume in their Sex and Violence anthology. Some publishers are even using Kickstarter to fund special releases; Image Comics/Skybound did so with the hardbound collection of Excellence, the series by Khary Randolph, Brandon Thomas, Emilio Lopez, and Deron Bennett.

Then there was the campaign for Keanu Reeves' comic BRZRKR. That book, written by Matt Kindt and drawn by Ron Garney, raised nearly $1.5 million!

While Image remains the top dog for creator-owned books, Kickstarter has become a legitimate alternative for the creator-owned community, in part because it allows for greater creative control.

"It's a way to get your vision out there without having to deal with too many gatekeepers," Alex Segura, who just launched the Kickstarter campaign for his new original graphic novel, The Dusk, tells me during an interview over Zoom. The campaign is already halfway to its goal with nearly a month to go.

Segura is a man of many creative hats. He's a crime noir novelist, comics writer, and, by day, co-president of Archie Comics. So why didn't he try to make his new book happen at the publisher? "The simple answer is control," he says. 

The Dusk is co-written by Segura with fellow crime author Elizabeth Little, with illustrations by David Hahn, colors by Ellie Wright, and letters by Taylor Esposito, it's also edited by one of the top guys in comics, Joe Illidge. On the surface, the book seems to be a kid-friendly alternative to Batman. But it's much more than that. The title character is the crime-fighting defender of Blackstone, a Gotham-like big city in decline. The Dusk's alter-ego is Jamie Nunez, a divorced single dad who tries to figure out how to actually do more than just beat up and scare bad guys. He wants to bring about actual change.

The story holds special significance for Segura because it was inspired in part by his 5-year-old son, an avid fan of superhero comics.

"I just introduced him to stuff and he got really into Batman and Spider-Man and the Rogues Gallery and the fictional cities and all the tropes," Segura says. "Part of that journey was him seeing how superheroes solve problems. You know, they punch someone, they throw them in jail, wipe their hands, and it's resolved."

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Segura wanted to create a comic book that didn't deconstruct superheroes as much as help better understand what it is they do, in an all-ages manner. "It's not a school lecture or anything. It's not going to feel like an educational comic," he says. "It'll still have all the adventure and fun of superheroes, but also weaves in a few other ideas that aren't always there, like, how do you actually do some good? And that's the big question of the series. It's a love letter to superheroes."

It was also important that the story he and Little crafted worked for readers young and old. "I feel like saying 'all ages'… like technically the term is correct, but sometimes people just assume that 'all ages' means it's for kids," Segura explains. "The goal is to be for everyone. Like, there'll be stuff that you and I can read and be like, Oh, that's cool. That's a neat twist on superhero stuff, but then kids will read it and not pick up on that.

"When I was a kid, I watched Batman: The Animated Series and I just loved it because it was a cool superhero story," he continues. "As an older viewer, when I rewatch it, I notice how it's neat how they did this, or how they're playing the character this way or how they tweak the continuity to fit this. So the hope is that our book will appeal to different age groups."

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Segura's career in comics began in covering the industry for Wizard magazine and continued as he helped promote them at DC Comics as a publicist. Now he's on the creative and executive side. But it's clear that creativity is where the passion lies, which drove his decision to use crowdfunding to bring The Dusk to life.

"It was such a special project and it was really personal to me. It became personal to everyone else, too," he says. "David and Elizabeth are parents too. And Joe felt really strongly about the project as he got involved. As we kept working on it, we thought, 'Let's just find a way to make this happen for ourselves without kind of going through too many other hoops.'"

Segura says they shopped the book around to other publishers, but after getting feedback, the team decided to go it alone. "I think the main idea for us was we wanted to control as much as we could, from the format to the narrative," he explains. "And I really didn't want to do something where we put out a few single issues and if it didn't immediately resonate, then we'd never get the finished story."

That is one reason why Kickstarter is proving so appealing to comics creators like Segura. There is a flexibility that not even the bellwether for creator-owned books, Image Comics, can match. "If you feel like your story is not resonating with editors, you can, if you have the means and you have the team, you can just deal directly with consumers. And that's the ultimate test," Segura notes.

When asked to put his comic book industry exec hat on — I told you, he wears lots of hats — Segura explained why he thinks Kickstarter is on the verge of really becoming a legit major player in the creator-owned space.

"I've been thinking about this a long time, and there will be a lot of money made when someone figures out a clear path from Kickstarter to comic shop distribution. A lot of Kickstarters have retailer tiers where if you're a comic shop owner, you can back a Kickstarter and you'll get X amount of books and you're kind of sidestepping distribution. But if a true distribution channel was created with Diamond or any of the comic shop distributors, I think that would be a game-changer."

One part of the comic-making process Segura was happy to relinquish control of? Actually getting the books out the door. He paired up with Ominous Press to handle all the logistics, and is glad he did.

"They've helped so much in terms of just the logistics of putting the thing together and the distribution and the printing and…all the thankless stuff that gave me anxiety before I even thought about it," he says. "I'm terrible at the mail. I'm just not a good mailer. So I didn't, because it was giving me anxiety."

What Kickstarter campaigns have you supported? Find me on Twitter/Instagram and let me know.

Don't forget that Behind the Panel is a multi-platform series that can help keep you entertained. Our video series is loaded with my in-depth interviews with amazing comic book creators. The Behind the Panel podcast is an audio documentary series that provides unique insight into your favorite creators and stories. Check 'em out, we think you'll enjoy them.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.