Over the past few days, Archie Comics has taken to Kickstarter to relaunch their flagship titles. The books include a Chip Zdarsky (Kaptara, Sex Criminals) -written Jughead, a new Archie #1 by Mark Waid (Incorruptible/Irredeemable) and Fiona Staples (co-creator of Saga, that delightfully foulmouthed comic about interstellar love, war, and tree-spaceships), the launch of Life With Kevin, about new (and openly gay) character Kevin Keller, and a new ongoing Betty and Veronica relaunch by Adam Hughes (JLI).
As usual, internet opinion on this is divided. Retailers took to the web to boycott Archie, especially when the comics publisher decided to openly admit to courting rack space at Wal-Mart and Target. Comics professionals on social media compared it to Marvel and DC running Kickstarted projects for things people actually want.
There’s also the question that Archie Comics has not exactly been transparent about how much the creators are getting out of this crowd-funded deal. Combined with their recent bout of legal troubles, this should make people rightfully uneasy. And while Archie Comics has answered some of these questions, EIC Jon Goldwater’s answers don’t exactly clear up all the doubts.
However, like many controversies in the modern age, while it’s clear what they’re doing as an established company is unethical as all get out, it’s…not exactly wrong.
First, let’s address the false equivalency that if Marvel or DC was doing it, it’d be wrong. The idea is kind of absurd. Marvel is backed by the full might of the Disney apparatchiks, and Warner is throwing so much money at DC that they’ve been able to fund every half-baked idea dreamed up by interns in the throes of an ether fit. None of them are exactly hurting in the same way, nor do they need to worry about securing funding for relaunches.
Second, relaunches are a risky move with some significant costs. While larger companies might be able to absorb some of the impact, smaller companies (and Archie Comics is relatively smaller, especially with all the internal shakeups, lawsuits, and financial issues) are a lot more risk-averse. And considering until the past few years, Archie was essentially publishing the same thing over and over and over again until it became a punchline, “risk-averse” is definitely something they are.
And finally, established companies doing Kickstarters isn’t exactly something new. The public applauded Double Fine, inXile, and Obsidian when they went to Kickstarter to generate funds for new games. None of those companies are exactly the “little guy,” except when compared to the major triple-A game companies. Kickstarter has been established in its own way as a platform not just for indies to crowd-fund their projects, but for larger companies to try out strategies that they couldn’t fund normally. The precedents have already been set.
But following a set precedent and something being okay are not the same thing. A perusal of the Kickstarter reads more like a press release than a request for funding, with multiple questionable award tiers (eight bucks over retail for all the relaunch titles via Kickstarter funding?) and literally zero discussion of why they need to seek alternative funding from fans to launch these titles.
In the end, while I can clearly say that this move is all kinds of unethical, I find myself in a pattern of “wait and see.” While Archie Comics says that they’re being very transparent about the process, there’s still a lot that’s murky and unanswered. I hope the comics actually do get made. But I wish they’d found an option that didn’t involve dipping into such murky waters.
Editor’s note: According to Comic Book Resources, Archie Comics officially cancelled their Kickstarter just four days after its announcement.