Kickstopper: Back Book 2

by Arthur B

KC Green and Andrew Clark run a damn tight ship as far as Kickstarters go.
Webcomics are great when they're not terrible, and two of the most consistently not-terrible webcomic creators of recent years have been Andrew Clark of Nedroid Picture Gallery fame and the much-memed K.C. Green, creator of series like Gunshow and He Is a Good Boy, with breakout hits including that doggo who doesn't think things are all that bad, Anime Club and the comic which inspired the “magical realm” meme.

But do these two great tastes taste great together? Luckily, a recent Kickstarter of theirs lets me offer the answer in Kickstopper form.

Usual Note On Methodology

Just in case this is the first Kickstopper article you've read, there's a few things I should establish first. As always, different backers on a Kickstarter will often have very different experiences and I make no guarantee that my experience with this Kickstarter is representative of everyone else's. In particular, I'm only able to review these things based on the tier I actually backed at, and I can't review rewards I didn't actually receive.

The format of a Kickstopper goes like this: first, I talk about the crowdfunding campaign period itself, then I note what level I backed at and give the lowdown on how the actual delivery process went. Then, I review what I've received as a result of the Kickstarter and see if I like what my money has enabled. Lots of Kickstarters present a list of backers as part of the final product; where this is the case, the "Name, DNA and Fingerprints" section notes whether I'm embarrassed by my association with the product.

Towards the end of the review, I'll be giving a judgement based on my personal rating system for Kickstarters. Higher means that I wish I'd bid at a higher reward level, a sign that I loved more or less everything I got from the campaign and regret not getting more stuff. Lower means that whilst I did get stuff that I liked out of the campaign, I would have probably been satisfied with one of the lower reward levels. Just Right means I feel that I backed at just the right level to get everything I wanted, whilst Just Wrong means that I regret being entangled in this mess and wish I'd never backed the project in the first place. After that, I give my judgement on whether I'd back another project run by the same parties involved, and give final thoughts on the whole deal.

The Campaign

This wasn’t anything flash, fanciful, or overambitious; the point of the project was simply to fund a print run of the second volume of Back and there wasn’t any fancy-pants stretch goals involved.

That’s perfectly fine, and indeed something I’d like to see more. Whilst there’s undeniably a certain excitement involved in racking up stretch goal after stretch goal, way too many Kickstarters flounder because they tacked on too many and didn’t do their homework on the actual logistics involved in delivering them. Stretch goals have their place - particularly if there’s enhancements you would like to add to the production values of your core product you want to be able to budget for, or if there’s a way to deliver them at low cost and without disrupting the delivery of the main goal - but the idea that a Kickstarter must involve stretch goals is, well, a stretch.

It also makes sense that such a Kickstarter would be required. Publishing a webcomic is not without costs - it takes time, webhosting isn’t free - but printing a book involves a big payout of money all at once which it can be hard to build up without a big pre-order campaign like this. In the end, it was a modest amount they were asking for - $20,000 - and the $23,211 raised hit the target without smashing it.

What Level I Backed At

Daniel: Both Books
Physical copies of Book 1 and Book 2, plus both PDFs!

Delivering the Goods

The advantage a webcomic-based Kickstarter has is that if the plan is to collect together material already published, then you already have the content of your key product in place; all you need to do then is to get it into a suitable format for printing, print, and distribute it. That’s still work, of course - but you at least know you won’t up in the position of waiting on a manuscript or artwork or other crucial content which has been delayed for whatever reason.

As such, and since this isn’t their first time on this particular rodeo, Clark and Green were in the happy position of being able to give a reasonable timeframe for completion and then exceed it; their targeted completion date for my tier was September 2018, I actually got my stuff in July. That’s good going.

Reviewing the Swag

Back Book 1

The first four chapters (plus prologue) introduce the basis of our story: Abigail, a dishevelled gunslinger with no memory of her past, was buried somewhere deep in the south of the realm by agents of the affably corrupt King Dang. Kicking her way out of her coffin she encounters a group of witches, who inform her that she has a special destiny - to go all the way north, to the heartland of the kingdom, and bring about the end of the world. Heading off, Abigail soon meets the idealistic druid Daniel, who’s far more willing to interrogate the whys and wherefores of such quests than Abigail is, and the two of them travel from town to town tackling local problems as they get closer to their final goal.

It’s hard to find a genre niche for Back. I’d be inclined to call it a weird fantasy adventure, though fantasy often implies an archaic setting whereas the realm of Back seems to veer between Old West times out on the frontier to basically modern times as one gets closer to the capital. I’m inclined to call it fantasy less because of any overt use of magic or the supernatural (it’s hard to point to definitive examples of either) so much as the setting involves a healthy dose of counterfactual elements, including aspects which fly in our understanding of scientific reality.

For instance, the land’s Church equivalent has priests who wear vaguely Catholic garb working in vaguely Catholic-looking Churches, but they call themselves druids and their organisation is a “coven”, not a church (complete with John Dee’s monas hieroglyphica in place of the crucifix) and they seem to be connected to the witches somehow. That’s a weirdly diverse little stew of influences and inferences which somehow come together into a congruous whole. The enemies ruining the towns that Abigail and Daniel defeat in this volume seem to have strange special abilities, some of which seem to be associated with special substances (perhaps alchemical in nature, hence the John Dee connection).

Later on in the story in subsequent chapters we get some startling revelations about the nature of the characters’ world which puts things more squarely into a fantastical space, and which also explain a range of ideas and concepts (it offers a particularly strong explanation of the use of the monas hieroglyphica, for instance). As fun as it’s been to keep up with these revelations bit by bit as Back has been published online, the book is a really handy way to get a refresher on the earlier parts of the story - and with a much deeper appreciation now that I know what’s coming.

In terms of the creatives involved, whilst Anthony Clark gets top billing on the cover, I think this comes down to K.C. Green being really extraordinarily generous (or a decision on their part to put in their names in alphabetical order), since whilst this is billed as being written by Green with the art done by Clark, at the same time it’s evident that Green also had a tremendous influence on the artistic process too. Not only is Clark drawing the comic in what is largely an affectionate imitation of Green’s style, but also the sketches provided as a bonus at the end of the book make it clear that Green provided significant artistic support in terms of getting the overall look of the characters nailed down.

The strength of the collaboration is that, whilst Clark and Green’s particular styles both have a strong individual voice, Clark’s sense of humour is just close enough to Green’s that Clark implementing Green’s comedic ideas is a teamup that works well - and when the story gets into considerations of character and worldbuilding that go beyond what Nedroid or Gunshow typically catered to, Green’s writing is strong enough to carry it. With the visual imagination of two great artists behind it and the writing of perhaps the best current webcomic writer when it comes to artful dialogue now that Chris Onstad isn’t doing Achewood any more, Back had a winning combination from the beginning and Book 1 neatly demonstrates that.

Book 2

This takes us up to the end of chapter 9, with Abigail and Daniel about to enter the Vegas-like town of Daggum. Along the way we get our strongest hints yet before the actual reveal concerning the nature of the world, Princess Darn getting proactive, King Dang interrogating the Princess’s diary and wrecking a bunch of televisions, and the introduction of my favourite supporting character in the series - namely, the hilariously incompetent local iteration of Sherlock Holmes.

This more or less gets you caught up on Back - the Daggum arc is the most recent one on the website - and by and large keeps up and deepens the qualities the series displayed in the first book. As such, I really don’t have much to say about it that I didn’t say above.

Higher, Lower, Just Right or Just Wrong

Just Right, easily. I like having the books, I don’t need the beans badge, I don’t need a retailer’s brace of copies.

Would Back Again?

Again, this is an easy “yes”. Particularly under these terms, it’s clear that Clark and Green know how to make a nice-feeling book and produce it on budget and ahead of schedule. Those are qualities sufficiently rare on Kickstarter that they’re worth treasuring.

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