See if this sounds familiar. A creator starts working on a comic. They post it online for free, maybe advertise a bit to get some attention. It starts attracting some fans, and they make some t-shirts or something available. Probably a print-on-demand setup. Eventually, the creator has worked up enough comics that they could be collected into a book. So they pull all the pages together and start selling a book version of their comic. Maybe through a Kickstarter, maybe they just drop a chunk of cash to get them printed up-front.

What’s basically happening here is that the webcomic itself is provided as a loss leader to get more readers, and then the more devoted fans are sold t-shirts and books and whatever. The creator uses the attention given to the free webcomic to try to drive sales of the printed material.

But what if that process were reversed? What if someone started by publishing their book through a Kickstarter, and then after they’d sold a good chunk of the books, they turned around and started serializing it online?

As you might guess, that’s being tried. Last year, Ryan Estrada ran a Kickstarter campaign for a comic idea that he called Broken Telephone. It’s a crime story told through the eyes of several different protagonists who are the heroes of their own chapters. But unlike the classic Rashomon, which simply retells the same tale multiple times, Estrada weaves all of the characters’ stories together as a continuous narrative. (Another noteworthy difference is that Estrada uses a host of artists, so each chapter is depicted in a very different style.) Each character essentially picks up the story where the previous one left off. The Kickstarter was successful, raising over $30,000. Estrada then delivered the story as he’d promised and it made for a very enjoyable read.

Then, last month, he launched it as a webcomic. And since it’s a finished work, he’s posting updates five days a week, which should put him into early next year before it finishes online. He’s made a few minor changes to some coloring and such, but it’s largely what his Kickstarter backers have already read.

He is still selling an ebook version for anyone who wants to read everything immediately, but that’s pretty much it as far as revenue related to the book. I can almost hear Estrada saying, “That’s so crazy it just might work!”

And if it were anybody else trying this, I might suggest that they were indeed crazy. But Estrada has proven himself repeatedly on seemingly backwards ideas, and given how well executed the story itself is, I suspect this will be another of his strange successes that confound everyone with a business degree. It’s still pretty early to tell how successful the webcomic version of Broken Telephone will be, relative to the Kickstarter. But it’s an intriguing idea that goes against most webcomic conventions.

About The Author

Sean Kleefeld
Senior Editor, Comics & Lifestyle
Google+

Sean Kleefeld is an independent researcher whose work has been used by the likes of Marvel Entertainment, Titan Books and 20th Century Fox. He writes the ongoing “Incidental Iconography” column for The Jack Kirby Collector and had weekly “Kleefeld on Webcomics” and "Kleefeld's Fanthropology" columns for MTV Geek. He’s also contributed to Alter Ego, Back Issue and Comic Book Resources. Kleefeld’s 2009 book, Comic Book Fanthropology, addresses the questions of who and what comic fans are. He blogs daily at KleefeldOnComics.com.