Crowdfunding Comics for Choice
Cartoonist Hazel Newlevant on crowdfunding an anthology of comics about abortion
By Siena Oristaglio and Winter Mendelson on June 7, 2017
Hazel Newlevant is a cartoonist, activist, and the assistant editor for Roar Comics. Her first Kickstarter was for Chainmail Bikini: The Anthology of Women Gamers, where 40 cartoonists came together and contributed comics about the games they’re passionate about. Currently, she is working on an Indiegogo campaign called Comics for Choice, an anthology of comics about abortion and reproductive justice, in collaboration with Whit Taylor and O.K. Fox. We chat with Hazel here about her current campaign and what lessons she has learned from her experience with crowdfunding, collaboration, and activism.
Siena Oristaglio: Before we dive in, can you describe your work for our readers?
Hazel Newlevant: Yeah sure! I am a cartoonist and editor. I spend about half of my time drawing my own comics. I self publish a lot of autobio comics that deal with queerness and gender and have made some comics about queer history as well. I also do comics anthologies now. My day job is working for Roar Comics as an editor. They're a kids and teens comics publisher.
My first anthology was Chainmail Bikini, which was an anthology of comics by women and nonbinary people about gaming. I published that through Kickstarter in 2015. It was such a fun process to find all of these creators that I really loved who were interested in gaming, and help them develop these stories and put them all together. It was something that people really responded to as well. There were a lot of people who wanted to see representation of girls who love games and how they factor into people's lives.
Last year, the idea came to me that I could do an anthology of comics about abortion and have all the proceeds go to charity. So that's what Comics for Choice is: women and nonbinary creators getting together to tell personal stories about a topic that relates to the current political climate. I think abortion always relates, ever since it was legalized, the whole concept has been under attack and questioned by a lot of people as to whether we should have this right.
It was such a fun process to find all of these creators that I really loved who were interested in gaming, and help them develop these stories and put them all together.
SO: Yeah, definitely.
HN: It's an important topic to share stories on, to help destigmatize, to help people understand all the enormous variety of different reasons why somebody might need this option, or seek it out. And there are also a lot of comics about the history of abortion, or what the Hyde Amendment is, or what's it is like to be a clinic escort. How can we support our friends who've had abortions and help protect this right. It's trying to look at it from a...I won't say comprehensive, but a lot of different angles. I was excited to put those stories together and bring that collection out in the world. It's something that I feel even more passionate about than Chainmail Bikini, which is the direction you want to go in. You don't want to do something that's a pale shadow of your previous project. You want to build on it and do something that's more ambitious and personally exciting.
SO: Yes, true.
HN: It's also raising money for the National Network of Abortion Funds, which is a big reason I wanted to do it and why people want to contribute. We're thinking how can we apply our labor as artists and me as an editor to support this cause that we care about.
SO: That's great. And the campaign is currently live, correct?
HN: Yup! It's live until June 16th.
SO: That's awesome. So you are using a different platform than before and it's a different style of campaign. You're raising funds for a cause versus the final product of the artwork alone. What differences are you noticing in the processes of these two campaigns that you've run?
HN: It's been rather different. This one is not something that I could have done without having the experience of this previous campaign. For one thing, I have two co-editors with this anthology. Whit Taylor is a terrific cartoonist who has also edited anthologies and works in public health, and my friend O.K. Fox is an amazing small press community organizer and activist. So one major difference is splitting the workload and getting three people's opinions on what the content should be. The experience is great because they bring perspectives that I don't have, and I wouldn't be comfortable being the arbiter of such an expansive yet personal topic. So that's one aspect.
Also, Chainmail Bikini was almost all cartoonists telling their own stories, and as you can imagine, there's a lot of overlap between people who draw comics and people who are really into games and D&D and such. But Comics for Choice is about half cartoonists telling their own stories, and half as collaborations between cartoonists and different people who are experts in reproductive justice — people who are historians or activists or work for abortion funds like the NNAF (which is who we're supporting). Actually, their Executive Director is one of the people who wrote a comic for Comics for Choice.
Pairing people up and trying to facilitate those collaborations was definitely a challenging aspect, but also really rewarding. We worked pretty closely with We Testify, which is an organization of storytellers who share their abortion stories on various platforms to try to destigmatize that experience. So it's already a group of people who are experienced in talking about this and want to share it. I care about abortion rights very deeply but I wasn't really involved in that activism before I decided I wanted to do this project. It's been a great experience to tap into this existing community and knowledge base and amplify those voices.
The final element that's different is the money is going to charity. Me, Whit, and O.K. have donated our time as editors, and all of the artists have very generously donated their work to the cause, as an in kind donation. That's why the campaign is on Generosity, a platform of Indiegogo that's only fundraising for charity and does not take a cut like Kickstarter. And on Kickstarter, you're not even allowed to raise money for charity.
I care about abortion rights very deeply [...] It's been a great experience to tap into this existing community and knowledge base and amplify those voices.
SO: Yeah. Was Chainmail Bikini your first crowdfunding campaign?
SO: I noticed you reached a bunch of stretch goals and really got a lot of community activity around the campaign. And you were also able to pay the artists more, which is amazing.
HN: Yeah! That was our enticement. I think that is one of the reasons that comics and anthologies have had such a successful history of crowdfunding. I've gotta give all props to Spike Trotman, with her Smut Peddler series, because she was the first one to innovate this idea of stretch goals as artist bonuses. That's really motivating for people. People care about seeing their favorite artists get paid more.
SO: Is there anything that you've learned from that process that you are applying to this new campaign?
HN: Things that I applied from the earlier campaign are definitely trying to make it easy for the contributors to share with their networks. To remind them, “Hey, tomorrow is launch day and if you're inclined to do so, posting a page from your comic or a preview from your work on social media would be awesome. And also, here's this post you can share...” Demanding nothing because they've already done their work, but giving them as many tools as possible for them to share.
I'm trying to promote Comics for Choice through as many avenues as possible, same as I did for Chainmail Bikini. I want to do right by my artists as much as possible, getting them paid the most they could be, and getting their work the most exposure it could. For Comics for Choice it's sort of the same ethos, but I really want to maximize the fundraising potential of what we've created. I want it to be worth all the hours put in, in terms of how much money it raises for NNAF, and of course I want as many people as possible to read these stories.
I guess those are the lessons in terms of the campaign itself, but before that, there's the whole six month process of soliciting submissions and putting everything together, editing people's work.
WM: In terms of using the internet to build community, how do you get submissions and promote your projects?
HN: I don't have too much more to it than sharing calls for submissions on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. It helps if you have a big following going into it, but also ideas from somebody with no following can really spread if they have some sort of intrinsic appeal. So there's not a ton to it, other than having a well thought out, well-worded call for submissions about why is this important and what are the deadlines, and being very clear about what form that you want the submissions in.
SO: I'm staring at the page right now and I'm noticing how beautiful and how well you're representing the visuals by providing those previews. I feel like you have this advantage that you're working with incredible artists. I think in some ways, the images speak for themselves.
HN: Yeah, all the more reason in the editing process to get as much content as possible, get the entire book done before you even launch the campaign. Because then you have all that stuff to share and you can send a PDF review, or send to news outlets. Some publishers have done it the other way around. I understand the temptation to not ask artists to work before you can actually pay them, which makes total sense to raise the money first, but then you don't have as much content to build a robust campaign with. And it could take a super long time, if it ever comes together, and maybe it would never happen. It was easier in this case because it is for charity. Having those good visuals to explain, “Here's what you're getting, here are all these cool comics you can read.” The comics themselves explain the importance of the cause. Some of them reference NNAF and people drawing stories that include, “Oh, NNAF helped me pay for my procedure and it changed my life!” It all works together in that respect.
SO: Well that's great! This is such an interesting project and I so appreciate you talking to us about it.
HN: Thank you so much. This is part of spreading the word, part of crowdfunding is talking to you guys.
Hazel Newlevant is a Portland-raised, Queens-based cartoonist and editor. Her comics include No Ivy League and If This Be Sin, which was awarded the Prism Comics Queer Press Grant. She is the publisher of Chainmail Bikini and Comics for Choice. Visit newlevant.com to read her comics.
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