Our planning for the Code 45 graphic novel mega-issue was drawn from our experience with the first issue of comic book. This proved to be a problem. Since we had spent the better part of 2019 creating and completing Code 45 Issue 1, we didn’t quite have a handle on exactly how much time would be required for each issue moving forward. Deciding on three months per issue seemed reasonable, but it was based on perfect conditions with no distractions or unexpected situations pulling us away from the project.
It turns out that expecting ‘perfect conditions’ during a pandemic was foolish at best. When we made our plans in April we still didn’t have the sense of just how pervasive, far-reaching, and protracted the effects of the coronavirus would be. We were also at the ‘optimism’ stage of COVID-19: yes, we were under lockdown, but surely not forever. OK, so businesses were closing left and right, but they’d re-open soon enough. Yes, our freelance clients were freezing their budgets or closing shop entirely, but that was just temporary, right?
The professional and personal chaos that stretched out before us while we were creating the mega-issue had a huge impact on our ability to work effectively. Everything from our livelihoods to the safety of our families fell into question during this period, and the toll all of this exacted was high (and something I’ll discuss in a future blog post).
More Work, Less Time, More Stress
From a pure planning perspective, however, there were also problems that we didn’t anticipate. Simply put, writing, drawing, and coloring two issues back-to-back is much more work than doing one. While that might seem self-evident (and we of course knew it would be double the work on the creation side), what we didn’t factor in were all of the loose ends we had to tie up from our Issue 1 campaign before we could really bear down on the next one.
This was especially true on the art side, where Joe was working hard to complete commissions that we had offered as rewards, as well as other unique pieces of art that we needed to send out to our supporters. Throw in the design requirements that Angela had so that the new campaign looked fresh and interesting, along with a completely revised batch of rewards, and suddenly the initial three months between the end of Kickstarter #1 and the beginning of Kickstarter #2 were almost completely sponged up.
It was too much to get done in the time we had allotted. We were too optimistic about our delivery date, and instead of having both issues completed by October, we had one that was ready to go in September (which we sent out digitally), and the combined mega-issue completed by December (sent digitally, and then shipped out physically in the first half of January).
Once the dust had settled, we were two months late in completing the full delivery of our second Kickstarter, and although we were 50% fulfilled a month early (and provided bonus art prints as a thank you for everyone’s patience), it was not how we had wanted things to pan out.
We adopted a strategy of regular communication with our supporters that kept them in the loop at every step: when the digital issues were ready, when the prints were done, when the test proofs were ready, and when we had picked up the final books from the printer. There was no way we were leave our supporters in the dark while we figured out a revised timeline, and this really helped us keep a good relationship with the people who had believed in us enough to commit themselves financially to Code 45.
The entire situation taught us some very valuable lessons at Code 45 HQ.
The first? While we are still committed to the idea doing a third and final mega-issue, we will never again launch a Kickstarter until we have at least one of the issues complete, colored, and ready to go. The stress of working on two issues back-to-back while also promoting and managing a campaign is simply too much to handle, and although our supporters were completely, well, supportive the entire time, we don’t want to be late on another delivery date.
Next was the idea of how much time it took to create each individual issue. Having slack built in to the timetable to take into account interruptions on the art side or the story side is necessary to keep everything running smoothly. Running campaigns back-to-back elevated everyone’s stress level, so we elected to take much more time between the second and third campaigns (nearly a year) versus the extremely short period of three months between the first and second.
We also wanted to give ourselves more runway. With our first campaign we felt pressure to get our book shipped as quickly as possible, and it was out the door just over a month after we had wrapped up the Kickstarter. Since that time, we’ve learned the Kickstarter supporters are comfortable with waiting for their comics, especially from creators that have a track record of delivering on the promise of their campaigns.
We feel like we’ve built enough trust with our audience that they know they’re going to receive their books and rewards, and that they’re going to be worth the wait. Planning a longer delivery time, and being up front about it in the campaign, takes the pressure off of both supporters stressed about getting their books and creators working under less than ideal conditions.
Finally, we found out the hard way that our mental health is not something we could stuff into a scheduling spreadsheet and then just hope for the best. This was perhaps the most difficult thing for a group of professionals to learn: that we couldn’t simply power through the world collapsing around us and conduct business as usual as we had been doing for more than a decade as artists, writers, and designers. It was a new situation, with new rules, and refusing to acknowledge that did none of us any favors.