By Matt D. Wilson
"Code Monkey Save World" has a Kickstarter story people are going to remember for a while.
The comic project, written by "World War Hulk's" Greg Pak, drawn by "Runaways'" Takeshi Miyazawa and inspired by the songs of Jonathan Coulton, met its goal and nearly doubled it 24 hours after getting started April 15. Now, it's gathered well over $200,000 in pledges, enough to encourage Coulton to release a whole new album for everyone who backed the project at $15 or more.
Now, with just about a week left to go, the team is announcing yet another stretch goal, again for $15 or more donors, and for when donations hit $250,000. To get the details, and to talk about their reactions to just how big this whole thing has gotten, MTV Geek chatted with Pak and Coulton for a little while.
MTV Geek: Before we get into your big announcement, I think we have to talk about the fact that you're approaching meeting your Kickstarter goal six times over, with more than a week left on it. That's crazy, right?
Greg Pak: Yes. It's nuts. Before we launched, Jonathan and I were cautiously optimistic about hitting our first target and pretty hopeful we'd make our stretch goal of expanding the book to 80 pages by the end of 30 days. We hit that within the first twelve hours. Or to be more accurate, our amazing backers hit that goal within twelve hours. We've been blown away by the response and a hugely grateful to everyone who's coming along for the ride.
Jonathan Coulton: No, I'm not surprised at all, and we deserve this. That's a joke. It's completely ridiculous and gratifying and slightly scary. We're spending a lot of time making sure that we're channeling enough effort and money and fun back into the project to match the amazing levels of support everyone has shown.
Geek: Does the overwhelming response make you feel any extra pressure? That is a ton of enthusiasm.
Pak: We've done a ton of prep. I have a detailed outline of the whole story, Jonathan and I are constantly talking about the characters and their backgrounds and motivations, and Tak's designed the major characters already, so I'm feeling pretty great about the whole thing, knock on wood! On a creative level, it's firing on all cylinders and we couldn't be more excited.
The other great thing about the huge response is that we've been able to add fun things to the package that make everything sweeter. So far, we've been able to increase the size of the book from 60 to 96 pages, with 80 pages of story and a bonus two page story by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey of "Action Philosophers" fame. And just last week, we hit our $200,000 stretch goal, which means Jonathan will record a brand new acoustic album featuring the songs that inspired the graphic novel. And everyone who's at the $15 pledge level and above will get a digital download of this album as a free bonus.
Coulton: Indeed. One of the nice things about funding such a project up front, is the the people who want it are actually letting us know how awesome they'd like it to be. So we know how much we can go crazy on fun stuff, instead of trying to guess the level of enthusiasm ahead of time.
Geek: So, your big new announcement today is that you're announcing a new stretch goal. What's it going to be?
Pak: This is the big one, folks! Our new stretch goal is a children's book based on Jonathan's fantastic song "The Princess Who Saved Herself." That's right. A WHOLE NEW BOOK. If we hit the goal, everyone who's at the $15 level and above will get a digital download of this brand new book as a free bonus! If things go really crazy we may set another stretch goal to actually print physical copies as well. I KNOW, CRAZY, RIGHT?
Geek: Just to be clear, is this new book going to be a comic or is it going to be a book-book?
Pak: A book-book. It may have some word balloons here and there, 'cause word balloons are fun. But the current plan is to make a traditional kids' book with text and pictures.
If we make the stretch goal, the entire "Code Monkey Save World" creative team will shift over to "The Princess Who Saved Herself" after we finish the main graphic novel. Tak's already done incredible character designs of the Princess and her dragon buddy, and he and Jessica have come up with some brilliant art.
Geek: Code Monkey Save World takes the characters from Jonathan's songs and throws them into the same playing field, so there's a lot of new ground being covered, while this is strictly about a character from one song. Does that mean this book will hew a little more closely to the lyrics of the song?
Pak: Great question! The answer is a tentative yes. The song is just brilliant -- a great little story about a tough, tomboy princess who encounters scary dragons and witches and ends up recruiting them for her rock band. That's a great little compact story that's a perfect spine for a kids' book. I think there's a fun chance to go a touch deeper, give a little more background with the characters and dramatize the Princess's struggles and solutions. But the story's really all there. Then again, things are going to develop in a fun and unexpected and organic way, which I'm wide open to. For example, the song mentions that the Princess has a snake. Tak gave the snake big fur hat. And now the snake's suddenly becoming a real character. Who knows where that will take us?
Geek: With that in mind, what role is Jonathan Coulton playing, creatively, in this project? I do know he's recording a new album because you guys hit $200,000, so I'm sure he's busy, but did he just give his blessing or is he contributing ideas?
Pak: Oh, Jonathan and I are working hand-in-hand on everything, every step of the way. I'm totally over my Anytime Minutes -- we're on the phone for at least an hour every day talking about all of this stuff. It's been a fantastic experience on every level.
Coulton: I'm sure the bulk of the writing work is going to come from Greg, mostly because I don't know how to do that sort of thing. But I do like to get involved in discussions about the complicated emotional lives of these characters - I do feel like I know them pretty well, so as we get deeper into the actual creation of this thing, I think we'll find a pretty comfortable kind of collaboration.
Geek: Now, I think we can safely assume that you probably didn't have any intention to reach the level you reached on this campaign, and that the decision to create this extra book came fairly recently. What led to the decision to make a kids' book the newest incentive, and what led you to "The Princess Who Saved Herself" as the song you wanted to take on next?
Pak: Jonathan had mentioned "The Princess Who Saved Herself" back when we first started talking about the graphic novel, and I've always loved the song. But it didn't really fit into the supervillain buddy story that was falling into place for "Code Monkey Save World." So we kind of tucked that into the back of our heads for later. And then in the last couple of weeks, we've had a number of people ask us if the graphic novel would be all-ages (answer: maybe!), and that got me to thinking about children's books. And that got me thinking about "The Princess Who Saved Herself" again.
Coulton: What I like about it is that it's a completely independent story - we don't have to worry about folding too much stuff into Code Monkey's universe, we can just focus on the Princess story by itself. It works nicely as a self-contained unit, and for instance, I wouldn't want her fighting office zombies. Though now that I say it...
Geek: There's a real "saving" theme to what you guys are doing here. What will be saved next?
Pak: The whales. When we hit ONE MILLION DOLLARS, WE WILL SAVE THE WHALES, Y'ALL.
Coulton: I don't care about whales. They have never been kind to ME, that's for sure.
Geek: What do you plan to tell people, once this is all over, when they all invariably ask you how to make their Kickstarter projects this successful? Are you ready to be hounded with that question forever?
Pak: We will be happy to reveal all our secrets. We might even write an ebook. Seriously, we're only here because a ton of other people went through the process before us and a bunch of them took the time to answer all our questions. I give huge props to my friends and fellow comic book creators Jamal Igle and Gail Simone, who ran great Kickstarters for their comics projects last year and were hugely supportive when I came at them with all kinds of questions.
Coulton: I agree, I feel less like we are smart and more like we are lucky. Though I will say, doing this well means a LOT of work. You have to think hard about your pledge levels, you have to keep track of your eventual shipping and fulfillment costs, you have to manage all the communication you're doing with supporters and everyone else. It's not for the faint of heart, and it's not the kind of thing where you can just set it up and let it run. You should see this crazy spreadsheet I made.
Pak: Let's just say that after diving into Jonathan's spreadsheets, I've learned how autobiographical "Code Monkey" really is.