Saturday, April 13, 2013

Interview with Chris Pausen, creator of Precocious

Promotional artwork for the second Precocious collection
Becca: Hey Chris, would you like to take a moment and introduce yourself, Precocious, and your Kickstarter?

Chris: My name is Christopher J Paulsen, and I draw the webcomic, Precocious - a daily, newspaper-style comic about kids who are too smart for their own good. I've been hammering at this thing for over four years, and loving it so much! The campaign I'm running now is to fund the printing of the second Precocious print collection - and giving me a vehicle to develop and promote lots of new Precocious-themed goodies for my readers. I'm finally doing fancy cartoonist things, such as offering my original comics for sale, and hiring some great artists to work on collaborations! For those wondering, Copper Road is the Precocious spin-off strip, focusing on the *other* side of the main kids' class. The major arcs in book two focused on bringing both sides together. One of the several bonus sections in the book is a collection of some of my favorite Copper Roads!

Becca: Wow! Your second book! That must be pretty exciting. Do you mind sharing with us how you published the first volume, and where readers might purchase it?

Chris: Darc and Matt Sowers, of Code Name: Hunter/RCSI Publishing, approached me about publishing the first Precocious collection, and I happily joined up with them. They had the skills and experience I did not, and without their help I still might be bookless. When RCSI underwent a change to focus more on hosting, I moved to publishing the books on my own - with them helping me through the learning process. Due to this transition, book one of Precocious was off the market for many months. For those who missed out, this Kickstarter campaign allows me to order a new printing of book one. They can be ordered along with book two (including a second chance to get book one artist editions), and will eventually be available in the upcoming Precocious store, as well as at conventions.

Becca: I have a copy of Volume 1 that I bought from you at Interventioncon, and I thought the design looked fantastic. It really reminded me of newspaper strip collections like Calvin and Hobbes Treasuries. Will Volume 2 follow suit? Chris: Thank RCSI for the nice layout touches. I kept the same format for book two, as it worked pretty well! I enjoyed the chapter breaks, with commentary at the beginning. It's a nice tidbit for those who want it, and easily skipped by those who just want the comics uninterrupted.
Photoshopping the book 2 cover into a photo of books ones to show how good life can be!
Becca: I feel late in the game, I'm interviewing you for volume 2 instead of volume 1, on a comic that's been online since January 2009, but I'm not sure my readers are too familiar with your comic. Would you mind sharing the inspiration behind those troublesome kids?

Chris: I began playing with my characters way back in 1991. I had read newspaper comics religiously since I was five and I wanted to see what I could do. Early drafts were based around my experiences in an elementary school for the gifted, mixed in with my 6th grade class, which was a special program designed for gifted kids.

Believe it or not, it was the Super Nintendo that really boosted Precocious into becoming my life's big project. I looked at this new game system (which I never actually owned) and thought about the expansive games that could be made with that power! I took my characters and imagined a game that was basically Grand Theft Auto: Grade School. That thought exercise expanded the cast, gave us the Gemstone Estates setting and locked in the kids' destructive natures.

I gave up on cartooning by the end of middle school, as I wasn't any good at it then. It wasn't until my late 20's that I resurrected the Precocious idea and turned it into a real thing.

Becca: Your Kickstarter's been going strong right off the bat! You met your initial goal in an amazing 24 hours and 4 minutes. What other exciting treats do you have in store?

Chris: I'm so flattered and overwhelmed by the positive support I've had so far! This is so important to an emerging artist, as every additional pledge gives me the ability to try new things and expand both my offerings and the conventions I can offer them at. Everything I earn is going right back into the business, in hopes that I can keep momentum going and expand Precocious' reach.

Things are getting interesting now, as the fancy goals are being unlocked. I'll begin expanding my convention staples, with new approaches in buttons and charms. New art options for the books have appeared, and I'm really excited about hitting the collaboration tier. Hiring you to help with the swag and art, and getting Duae Cat Designs on board, provides a big level up in offerings, as you all cover skill sets and abilities that I lack.
Amigurumi created by Duae Cat Designs, an unlockable stretch goal featuring a collaboration of talents
Becca: As one of your campaign advisers, I have to admit, I am the most excited about your stretch goals. Would you mind sharing the process behind a few of them, particularly the Tiff and Bud amigurumi plushies?

Chris: During our visit to Intervention last year, sales may have been weak, but that did mean the dealers were able to socialize and get out from behind the table a lot more than normal. I had so much fun talking to so many quality artists, and the friendship we struck up with Cat and Eric (he's the amigurumi virtuoso) was wonderful. I was so happy when they agreed to work with me for this campaign, and the dolls produced so far are amazing! This is an investment I couldn't have made without the crowdfunding system of Kickstarter.

I have many ambitions for the expansion of Precocious merchandise - One day, Bud Light night light, one day! - and this outpouring of support means I can show off new projects. I get to hire artists that will make me and my comic better, and invest in a variety of charms and goodies that will make readers happy and serve me well down the road.

Becca: You're offering to bring on different artists for incentives as another stretch goal. As an artist, I can see the value of this sort of incentive, and really, it's very clever. I stand to benefit from promoting your work, as that stretch goal means I see paying work. I wish more artists offered these sort of incentives with their Kickstarters. Who did you pick and why?

Chris: I'll go off on a tangent here about what I call the mid-tier curse. When you're trying so hard, pushing and fighting to edge your way into a very crowded market, it requires a lot of focus and energy. It's very difficult to pull back from your work and then give energy over to help others. You see lots of collaboration at high-tier levels, as the cartoonists have the funding and confidence to make it work, as well as in lower-tier levels, where the community nature of comics really shines. The middle tiers are a no man's land sometimes, so it's important to me to encourage a sharing nature among this usually-stressed group and pay it forward. We're all involved in turning comics into a more mainstream market, and one person's success will help others. Every new set of eyes brought into the realm of comics is progress for us all.

I have a wishlist of items I want to offer, and if I have a friend who works in that market it means I can support someone I care about in addition to getting what I want. I go down those avenues first! I'm starting relatively small now, but I hope these collaboration efforts grow and expand as we move forward.

Becca: You've been planning this Kickstarter for awhile. Care to list some of your biggest crowdfunding inspirations, and share with us what secrets you took from their campaigns?

Chris: It was a blog post by Keith Knight about a year ago that really got me thinking about this campaign. Since then, I've watched so many cartoonists use Kickstarter to their benefit, and tried to see what worked for them. I liked the no-nonsense advice of Iron Spike (Rule #1: Have an established audience that wants your product) and seeing how campaigns for Dave Kellett's Stripped film and Ryan North'sTo Be Or Not To Be evolved showed me what Kickstarter could do at high levels. Those are top-tier projects - Useful, but I lack the audience to throw around like they do. It was Tiffany Ross, of the Cyantian Chronicles, who finally convinced me to use Kickstarter by showing how effective it is even on smaller stuff. She's been doing tiny projects with Kickstarter and has really embraced the system. It's not just a way to know what's actually wanted by one's readers and avoiding costly mistakes, but an easy way to organize everything you need for fulfillment.

As for tips, I learned early to focus on timing. It's the early push and the end push that provides the most funding, so make sure the end is scheduled for a proper day and hour. My goal was set low, just enough to cover basic costs, with the hope of being able to expand. New tiers and offerings can be added as the campaign goes on, so I started basic and adapted as feedback came in. Hidden/unexpected costs are dangerous, so one has to plan for them. (Examples include forgetting to factor in the shipping cost of getting the goods you ordered to you, or not realizing you have to buy the boxes/envelopes for mailing too.) There's always a surprise in a campaign. Shipping is also very dangerous, as international rates seem to have doubled this year. This is where I'm very worried, as I know I'm not charging enough already. If my weight estimate was off by even an ounce, I could be in a lot of trouble. I did the best I could this time, and I hope my "learning experiences" aren't too painful. For me, this is a once-a-year push, and the results will guide me for the rest of the year. I must get all I can out of the experience, and take notes so I can do better next year.

Becca: Besides your super stretch goals, do you have any other aces up your sleeve for this Kickstarter campaign?

Chris: I will adapt to feedback and see where that takes me. I have a few high-end comic promises that I have yet to make, but they won't come into play until there's a clear need for a second set of stretch goals. Focus now is on making sure I'm offering what people want as rewards. Super duper stretch goals don't matter unless I have the offerings and audience to get me there.

This campaign is the first official chance for readers to own original Precocious and Copper Road strips.

Becca: So who are you going through for your printing, and any particular reason why you chose them?

Chris: Like last year, I am printing with Ka-Blam. This year I was going out on my own, and RCSI helped me out by providing the template from Book One. It was helpful as I was an InDesign novice going in to this. I knew the format already worked, so I had more confidence as I went along. Next year I may get bolder - especially since that's when color could factor into things - but sticking with Ka-Blam fit the needs I had this year.

Becca: I'm actually not all that familiar with Ka-Blam as a publisher. Do you mind if I ask a few questions for curious readers? With Ka-Blam, do you get an ISBN number, or do you need to purchase one? Are you able to sell through Amazon? Have you had any problems formatting your files for Ka-Blam's needs?

Chris: You have to purchase an ISBN on your own with this service. Instead of Amazon, Ka-Blam offers the ability to sell through IndyPlanet. I intend to ship books myself for now, just so I can be hands-on with quality control and have the access to draw artist editions, but adding the book to IndyPlanet should be a nice alternative if I want to sit back and let someone else worry about it. Ka-Blam's very good about getting quotes and the customer service has been great so far. It's aimed more for smaller print runs, but that's where I am at the moment. Once again, it's the mid-tier curse. I'm not close to being able to print larger runs yet.

Becca: What do you think of campaigns like Dresden Codak, Cucumber Quest, and Order of the Stick that far surpass the author's original expectations? If Precocious Volume 2 had that sort of success, would you be able to handle it alone, or would it be time to hire an intern?

Chris: There's a reason Aaron Diaz used a fulfillment service for the Dresden Codak campaign. Large projects like that require larger infrastructure to keep it all working cleanly. I would definitely hire help in the unlikely event the project took off to an astounding degree. I also have to be smart with limiting rewards to make sure I don't over-promise. I can only draw so many artist editions and create so much bonus art, so those tiers won't show too much expansion. There are ways to be smart about it. I'd happily add a new set of artist editions to ship a month later (giving me time to do them) if the demand was there. If people want to order books for themselves and a thousand of their closest friends, I can find a way to make that work! (Dear mythical thousand-book-buying person, if you could come back for next year, you would make so many readers so very happy, as that would enable the full-color book!)

Becca: I've been helping Ms. Heidi Black prepare her own Kickstarter books for mailing, and we've encountered a big problem in the way of international shipping. It's ridiculously expensive! Have you encountered a solution to that in your Kickstarter planning?

Chris: As mentioned above, sometimes you have to bite the bullet and bend over. I understand why the rates increased, but I don't have to like it. Last year the variance in international shipping rates caught us by surprise. This year, the post office seems to have standardized things... to a universally high cost. I already know I didn't charge the full rates, and that could really hurt me if I get lots of smaller international orders. I trust the USPS to get things where they should go, but if there's a reliable alternative, please share with me!

Becca I wish I knew, I know a lot of artists would love that information. It already seems like you're going to need a lot of shipping supplies! How do you plan on getting Volume 2 shipped to your readers, and what supplies do you recommend for mailing goodies? Any particular sites with good deals?

Chris: I used Pack Secure this time for my mailers. Their prices and shipping rates both were better than Uline, and I know the mailers work, as I used them last year. Instead of going with flimsier padded envelopes, I invested in sturdy book folds. Maybe it's just a piece of mind thing, but I like knowing the books are protected - especially the ones going international. I'm paying a lot to ship those! Don't you dare damage them!
Precocious charms! Exceedingly cute!

Becca: I know you're offering charms as an incentive, which site are you using to get them printed and why did you pick it?

Chris: I used Printsess for my initial run of (non-Kickstarter-related) charms, but that site has since closed down. For this year's bonus charms, I'm going to use InkIt Labs . This is because they offer two-sided charms and that works perfectly with the theme of book two. If I need to reorder the charms made through Printsess, I am open to other printers. We're in a time when folks are testing out the new charm market, so we all have to ask the other charm makers how their orders came out. I won't be able to add my voice to the discussion until July, though, when I have them in my hands.

Becca: Thank you so much for answering all these questions, Chris! They were all so in depth, I know my readers will find them helpful. I hope everyone checks out Precocious, Volume 2, now on Kickstarter, particularly since we're drawing close to unlocking exclusive buttons designed by moi and adorable dolls by DuaeCat!

Chris: Thank you so much for this opportunity to share! I really appreciate it!

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