The timing of our first Kickstarter for Code 45 was both a blessing and a curse. We chose March 3, 2020 as our launch date shortly after having crossed the t’s and dotted the lower-case j’s with Scout Comics in January. This gave us a scant 30 days or so to promote the campaign on social media and create some buzz for the book with the kind of people who were as interested as we were in the intersection between drugs, raves, and underground dragons. It wasn’t enough time, really, but we wanted to get a head-start on connecting with Code 45’s audience. In retrospect, we were incredibly lucky that we pushed forward as quickly as we did.
We decided to focus our efforts on building a Facebook community for Code 45, as it was something we as a team were familiar with from past promotional efforts for projects outside of the comic book world. We also hope to be able to count on Joe’s strong Instagram following in terms of outreach to fans of his art. I began writing content two to three times a week for the Facebook page, as well as this blog, while Angela worked on art designs that we could adapt from the Code 45 characters as well as completed comic book panels. This was all tied together with a Facebook advertising campaign aimed at indie comics fans that directed them to either the Code 45 page or our Kickstarter ‘coming soon’ page.
We also reached out to a small group of friends and family that we felt would be willing to pledge to our campaign during its initial few hours. The Kickstarter algorithm is known to reward projects that gather a lot of interest immediately after launch by showing them to greater and greater numbers of browsers on the site, and our core supporters understood this and wanted to help us garner this momentum.
Starting Out Strong
March 4th arrived, and we were overjoyed. We hit 80 percent of our funding goal in the first five hours, and less than 10 hours later, we had reached our initial funding goal. Being able to move into our second day of the campaign as a ‘fully funded’ project was a massive boost to us in terms of winning over comic fans who could pledge without worrying that we’d fall short financially and be unable to print and ship Code 45 Issue 1.
We continued to see respectable numbers of backers signing up for Code 45 over the course of the next 10 days—but there were storm clouds on the horizon. News reports from around the world began to increasingly focus on something called COVID-19, a virus that was spreading rapidly and which seemed to be dangerous in ways not many understood. In what seemed like a very short space of time, reports went from cautionary to full-on pandemic, and by the week of March 16 here in Quebec we were on the verge of a complete lockdown as businesses and schools shuttered and people sheltered in their homes to protect themselves from becoming ill.
It’s roughly at this point that the Code 45 campaign ground to a screeching halt. People in every country, not just Canada and the U.S., suddenly had way more important things to think about than supporting an independent comic book. The only subject being discussed anywhere, whether it was online, on the phone, or in person for anyone lucky enough to be sheltered with friends or family, was how to make it through the next few weeks while governments and health care systems figured out how to handle the chaos.
For the following 10 days, there was almost no activity at all on the Code 45 campaign. We picked up a handful of pledges, and saw a few canceled, too, no doubt by people worried whether they’d have a job the following month when it came time for Kickstarter to collect. By the 26th of the month, with about a week left in the campaign, a trickle of pledges turned into a more steady stream, and in the final two days we picked up five times as many new supporters as we had during our 10 day dead zone where the uncertainty surrounding COVID had dominated everyone’s lives.
What were the lessons here for us as comic book creators and Kickstarter newbies? I strongly believe we were very lucky to launch in early March. There’s no doubt in my mind that if we had delayed until later in the month, the pandemic’s emergence would have wiped us out completely, and it would have been impossible for us to gain the initial traction that helped us meet our funding goals.
It’s also true that COVID played a role in keeping our funding lower than it might otherwise have been. It’s here that the initial effort we put in to encouraging backers to support us early, in the first few hours of the campaign, proved to be a difference-maker. The role of our friends and family in supporting our initial Kickstarter effort cannot be overstated here, and they were absolutely crucial in giving us that strong first push towards getting us in front of total strangers willing to back our book. Without those pledges, we would have been less likely to break even on our production costs with the first issue.
While the pandemic definitely hurt our first campaign for Code 45 in terms of connecting with backers willing to take a risk on an unfamiliar project, it turns out that the exact opposite was true for our second campaign. In fact, newcomers to Code 45 overwhelmed returning backers just a few months later during our campaign for Issue 2-3—and once again, the circumstances created by COVID played a major role, which I’ll discuss in the next blog post in this series.