Kickstarter propels Greg Rucka’s latest comic empire

Comic writer Greg Rucka poses with a hardcover copy of "Lady Sabre and the Pirates of Ineffable Aether" Saturday April 5 at Bridge City Comics in Portland. (KOIN)
Comic writer Greg Rucka poses with a hardcover copy of "Lady Sabre and the Pirates of Ineffable Aether" Saturday April 5 at Bridge City Comics in Portland. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland-based comic book writer Greg Rucka’s fans wanted to pay for something they were getting for free, so he and artist Rick Burchett said “O.K.”

Then, things got really crazy.

A poster for Lady Sabre and the Pirates of Ineffable Aether, by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett. (Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett)
A poster for Lady Sabre and the Pirates of Ineffable Aether, by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett. (Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett)

The Rose City’s comic book titan teamed up with Burchett, designer Eric Newsom and writer Eric Trautmann to take their popular web comic “Lady Sabre and the Pirates of Ineffable Aether” off the screen and onto the page, with the help of crowd funding.

When the crew launched a  Kickstarter campaign in May 2013, they laid out a comprehensive budget for getting the 2011-born series into print — for $27,500.

Within the first eight hours of the campaign, they surpassed their goal, and by the end of the month, had amassed just over $143,000.

“That was the craziest thirty days I think we’ve had in our lives in a long time, not a lot of sleep,” said Rucka.

The push settings from Kickstarter pledges killed Rucka’s phone battery within the first hour.

“This is the book we dreamed of making, that right there is success,” he said.

More than 25 people collected their rewards — the book, a blueprint and a “guide to the sphere” — from Bridge City Comics Saturday.

The success of Lady Sabre

Casting a woman as the protagonist — never mind a proportioned, red-headed protagonist — could be considered a risk in a genre dominated by male heroes and sexed up female characters. But, that was anything but the case.

“Just over 46% of comic readers are women,” said Rick Burchett.

Collaborators Eric Trautmann and Eric Newsom show off Edwin Winsheer's Pocket Guide to the Sphere at Bridge City Comics April 5, 2014. (KOIN)
Collaborators Eric Trautmann and Eric Newsom show off Edwin Winsheer’s Pocket Guide to the Sphere at Bridge City Comics April 5, 2014. (KOIN)

“I saw more red-headed women picking up that book last week then I’ve seen in my life.”

He said numbers show women not only read more, they’re more loyal.

Although she ventures through another world, called “The Sphere,” Lady Sabre could only have been conceived in one place: her full title, after all, is the Marchioness of Cascadia.

“There are Portland in jokes in there,” said Rucka.

Still, he said he hates being asked why he cast a woman as the protagonist.

“I hate the question because it’s a question you need to ask,” he said.

“So what the [heck] is wrong with a society that you need to ask that in 2014?”

What is steam punk?

Imagine we’re in a technologically advanced state, but just as civilization was rounding the 19th century, it took a turn. Steam continued to power our lives, but technology advanced rapidly.

Petroleum never happened, computers never happened, but heroes whiz through space fighting bad guys with high tech gizmos and gadgets.

Aesthetically, smash the Victorian era together with the Wild West, and you have steam punk.

Edwin Winsheer's Pocket Guide to the Sphere provides a "hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy" of Lady Sabre's universe. (Eric Trautmann)
Edwin Winsheer’s Pocket Guide to the Sphere provides a “hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy” of Lady Sabre’s universe. (Eric Trautmann)

How the campaign worked

The key to a good crowd funding campaign according to Rucka? Honesty.

“Any group of individuals is smarter than one person, so they’re going to know when you’re lying,” he said.

Every donation level had a corresponding dividend, ranging from an electronic copy of the book, to a speaking role for the highest bidders.

The team wanted to create a kind of community around the strip, upholding input from fans and backers.

“Honestly Rick and I were cashing in on ten years of hard work,” said Rucka.

But, the artists said they haven’t seen a penny of the campaign money, because it’s all been put back into project costs such as postage, storage and manufacturing.

Just over 2,900 pledgers backed the campaign. Rucka said in the distant future, he’d consider firing up Kickstarter again to release the second series in the book, but the crew want to see this project to fulfillment, rather than get ahead of themselves.

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