To say artist and writer Tracy Butler was nervous when faced with the daunting task of launching her very first Kickstarter in the middle of a pandemic is an understatement.
Despite Butler's initial fears, it's a goal they managed to surpass ... in less than a day. In its final week, the campaign at the time of this writing has made over $280,000, obliterating its creator's expectations and giving hope for something far larger down the line.
So, what kind of comic book characters does one need to create to crowdfund six figures in the middle of a pandemic and an economic shutdown?
One word: cats.
You see, Lackadaisy is an uber-popular, Eisner-nominated webcomic (2011 for Best Comic Series) with a huge fanbase, boasting over 60,000 followers across Twitter and Instagram and almost 2,000 Patreon contributors. Since Butler always loved animation, it came as no surprise that she wished to adapt the story into an animated short film. However, when she started shopping it around with a friend and veteran animation pro, Fable Siegel (Ben 10, F Is for Family), they had trouble getting traction; Western studios aren’t used to anthropomorphic animal stories that aren't slapstick sitcoms that flirt with more adult themes. (At the time, Beastars hadn't hit Netflix yet.) The pair were advised to create a proof of concept themselves since they did not have the backing of a large animation house or distribution.
So when Siegel stopped by Trotman’s table at Comic Arts LA in December 2019 and gave her the pitch, the reigning Queen of Kickstarter knew precisely what to do: Crowdfund the project and offer the first two volumes of the comic in print, plus a series of minicomics with brand-new artwork for existing fans to boot. “I knew the instant Siegel began talking about it, this was such an obvious slam dunk," Trotman tells SYFY WIRE. "The comic was beautiful. The fanbase was big. The desire was there! All it needed was someone to get it on the track and to the starting line."
The name "Lackadaisy" comes from the 1920s, St. Louis-based underground speakeasy the comic revolves around — it's run by Mitzi May, proprietor, one-time musician, and part-time gangster, who inherited the entire business after her husband Atlas met a violent end. Those still loyal to Atlas, a motley crew of jazz musicians, bootleggers, and patrons, all struggle to keep the business going and to eke out a living in Prohibition Era St. Louis. The lively series is full of drama, comedy, violence, and if you squint, a history lesson or two. Did we mention that all of the characters are cats?
Butler was an artist in the gaming industry in the early 2000s when she began researching the history of her century-old St. Louis home and became enamored with the 1920s aesthetics. Add to that her love of jazz music and Lacakdaisy was born. Launched online in 2006, the webcomic became so popular that she started a Patreon, and the response has become so overwhelming that the project is now Butler’s full-time job.
“This is the first time I’ve attempted to Kickstart anything related to Lackadaisy,” Butler tells SYFY WIRE. “Being that it was for an animated film — as opposed to something more conventional for a webcomic, like a new print volume — I wasn’t quite sure how it’d be received. Add to that a global pandemic and associated economic uncertainties, and I was losing out on a fair amount of sleep leading up to launch day.”
Apparently, Butler had nothing to worry about. The campaign reached its funding goals on the same day it launched — within six hours.
This success is undoubtedly due to Trotman’s long history with crowdfunding high-quality comics (in fact, her reputation is so renowned that in 2017, Kickstarter named her a thought-leader in the space), as well as Butler’s phenomenal artwork. Her cinematic use of lighting and detail blends seamlessly with her character designs and dialogue, transporting you into an immersive story that begs to be animated. Of course, none of this would be possible without Lackadaisy's fans, as well: Over 4,000 backers have contributed to the campaign from all over the world. And many more are donating outside the campaign simply for their love of the comic.
Needless to say, the bigger budget has changed the scope of the project a bit.
“With the original budget, it probably would've been closer to a 10-minute cartoon with a much more limited animation style,” Siegel says. “But now the animation can be more fleshed out and it can be 15 minutes or even 18 minutes long instead. We can afford more people on the crew who can do the work even better and even faster, with fairer pay. Ideas are cheap, we could always come up with new and bigger ideas. But making ideas — reality requires both experience and a secure budget.”
Ultimately, after the animated short film is complete, Butler would like to shop it around as a proof-of-concept and hopefully get it picked up by for distribution either as a film or for development into a series.
“I’d be pleased to be able to approach the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Adult Swim with it,” Butler says. “As soon as the Kickstarter wraps, our primary focus will be producing the highest quality film we can — the best possible animated representation of what Lackadaisy is — so when it comes time to share it with the readers and backers, we can be proud of what we’ve made, and so that when it comes time to pitch the idea, we can be certain we’re putting our best foot forward.”