One can imagine that when a detective travels back in time to solve a mystery, following an investigation through a Viking encampment on the North Sea to feudal Japan and later the Civil War, he or she might encounter all sorts of complications: There could be language barriers, bad weather or agents of a nefarious corporation confusing history with acts of space-time malfeasance.
Anything is possible — but only if enough interested comic book readers invest the money needed to make it happen.
The time-traveling detective story is just one part of a 200-page hardcover graphic novel anthology now in production by a group of writers and artists based in the
Kansas City area. Graphic novel authors B. Clay Moore, of Shawnee; Seth Peck, of Merriam; Jeremy Haun, of Joplin, Mo.; and Alex Grecian, of Topeka, author of New York Times best-seller “The Yard,” are launching a local writers collective called Bad Karma with the project.
They need $18,500 to print and distribute “The Ninth Life of Solomon Gunn,” and on Dec. 10 they’ll begin seeking that funding through Kickstarter, an online platform for financing creative projects through pledges from interested supporters.
Kickstarter projects vary wildly, from inventions like a new, super-compact wallet to do-it-yourself cheesemaking kits to comic books. The nearly 4-year-old “crowdfunding” company has raised a total of $419 million for almost 33,000 projects; another 45,000 have been submitted but failed to raise enough money to launch.
For the team behind “The Ninth Life of Solomon Gunn,” Kickstarter provides a mechanism to attract small pledges from potential customers who are bankrolling and purchasing the $30 book at the same time. Kickstarter often functions as a pre-ordering system but also offers extra incentives to these early customers. In this case, Haun said, if the Bad Karma writers reach and exceed their $18,500 minimum, a series of bonus items — including T-shirts and original, handcrafted art prints from the book — will become available to the project’s Kickstarter supporters. Some buyers could even submit a photo and have their own likenesses drawn into the book. While Kickstarter supporters get the benefits of being customers, they aren’t considered actual investors and don’t get to share in any profits, except through these perks.
“One of the great things about that is the sense of ownership people get,” Haun said of Kickstarter. “A lot of the extras we’re doing are handcrafted, niche things that make it extra-special for people. The more money we get, the more cool stuff we can offer.”
If all goes as planned, the Bad Karma creators will officially release the book in June at the Heroes Con comics convention in Charlotte, N.C., with a preview at Kansas City’s Planet Comicon convention in April.
The four writers chose Astrokitty Comics and More, 15 East 7th St., as a location for a video introduction for their project that was filmed Saturday and will be available on Kickstarter.com.
Joel Pfannenstiel, owner of Astrokitty, said the writers’ work would be familiar to comic book readers across the country. Grecian is author of the graphic novel “Proof,” while Moore is perhaps best known for his Hawaiian Dick comic book series. Peck and Haun have worked on titles for Marvel Comics and DC Comics, including the X-Men, Wolverine and Arkham Asylum series. Along with other nationally known artists such as Jason Aaron, Tony Moore, and Dennis Hopeless, they represent a Kansas City-based hub of comic book production similar to others in New York, California and Portland, Ore.
“These guys are professionals,” Pfannenstiel said. “I think it totally makes sense. It’s a way for them to tell stories they might not get approval for at Marvel or DC.”
“The Ninth Life of Solomon Gunn” will include one discrete story by each of the four writers. Haun said he has already written his story, which will include elements of science fiction and adventure. It’s called “Chaos Agent.”
“The conceit is, chaos is what keeps the world going — the little things we can’t control,” he said. “Chaos agents are tasked with creating little moments of happenstance, like setting a cup of coffee on a news bin. It might spill, setting off a chain of events, causing something to happen or to not happen. They’re good guys, though you might see them as a little impish.”
Like each of the other writers, Haun will work with a group of artists from Kansas City, St. Louis, New York and California to illustrate the story. Then, the writers will work together to tie each story into an overarching plot centering on the time-traveling detective.
“The story is, when you start messing with time travel, weird things start to take place,” Haun said. “This guy is trying to solve this mystery, but other people have messed with things.”
In the story, small actions have far-reaching and unexpected consequences.
“It’s like ‘The Butterfly Effect,’” he said. “This nefarious organization is dabbling with time and space. They’ve changed things, and he’s kind of trying to fix it.”
Pfannenstiel said large anthologies such as the one Bad Karma is seeking to produce share some of the upside and downside of literary short story anthologies: They often are artistically important but not huge commercial successes. For artists such as Haun, Moore, Peck and Grecian, Kickstarter offers a way to fund a project with artistic independence without having to convince a publishing house to take a big financial risk.
The comic book may play fast and loose with time, but Kickstarter doesn’t. Like many of the site’s other projects, “The Ninth Life of Solomon Gunn” will have one month, from Dec. 10 to Jan. 10, to raise all $18,500 — or go bust.