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For Publishing Pioneer C. Spike Trotman, Crowdfunding Is Still The Way To Go

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at August 25, 2021

When C. Spike Trotman ran her first Kickstarter campaign back in 2009, it was not exactly a conventional choice even in the unconventional world of alternative comix publishing. “They said you need to put on a suit and get a bank loan, or make a deal with a regular publisher, not stand out there like a hobo with your hat out,” she recalled.

Twelve years and 29 successful campaigns later, Trotman has built her company, Iron Circus Comics, into a powerhouse of the indy landscape, raising over $2 million dollars to publish award-winning comics, graphic novels, anthologies and even animation projects from voices that might not get heard through traditional channels.

Her newest project is a collection called The Woman and the Woods and Other North American Stories, the latest in an ongoing series called Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales focusing on the folk tales of non-European cultures. In this case, the comics are inspired by the indigenous peoples of North America, highlighting LGBTQ+ perspectives. The project is spearheaded by Alina Pete (of the Nehiwaw/Cree people), Kate Ashwin, and Kel McDonald.

While a traditional publisher might have been wary of rolling the dice on such a specialized project, Trotman has mastered the art and science of mobilizing audiences to support the works that speak for them, ranging from award-winning literary work to a best-selling line of sex-positive erotica. Projects that are pre-funded reduce risk for the publisher and creator while empowering fans to get more of the work they like.

“I’ve grown an audience that’s interested in what I do and everything that I publish,” she explained. “At this point my audience kind of knows my tastes and knows my inclinations and even if it doesn’t fit like a glove, it’s something they can get behind.”

Trotman says she’s seen Kickstarter go from a niche platform for idiosyncratic personal projects to a major cog in the creative economy, often used by large publishers, production companies and videogame developers to raise money from fans that would otherwise come from the company or private investors. Though the scale of the platform has grown over the years, she believes that the arrival of bigger players has helped more than it has hurt.

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t see a problem with kickstarting alongside Hollywood projects, I really don’t. It hasn’t affected me.” Trotman points out that every time a big player like a Keanu Reeves or Spike Lee launches a project on Kickstarter, thousands of their fans join the platform and some percentage start looking around for other projects to support.

“There’s a myth that there’s just one big pot of money, and if some big project is getting it then you’re not,” she said. “In fact, a rising tide raises all ships. The more popular Kickstarter is, the better off we all are.”

These days, Kickstarter isn’t the only path for independent creators. Well-funded new publishing and subscription-based platforms have moved into the space, enticing both established professionals and ambitious up-and-comers with new ways to build an audience and monetize their work without the industrial-strength quantities of elbow grease required to run a successful crowdfunding campaign.

Trotman advises creators to be wary of what’s on offer. “Large companies do not invest in platforms for artists to showcase their intellectual property without expecting something in return,” she observed. “If you choose to use these self-publishing platforms that sell themselves on being easy and doing the marketing for you and making you discoverable and all these other things that just sound heaven sent so you don’t have to bother with it, please make sure you read all the fine print on any terms of service and talk to other people about how their experience on the platform has gone. Because not reading the fine print is kind of the eternal boogeyman of comics. A lot of people didn’t read the fine print and ended up really, really regretting it.”

For Trotman, who is looking forward to raising her third million through Kickstarter over the next few years and has built her business with the direct support of her fans, crowdfunding might not be the hot new flavor of the month, but it’s the best way she knows to keep bringing new voices and new projects into comics without compromise.


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