Kickstart This is a semi-regular column focusing on prominent comic book and graphic novel projects that are in the process of being crowd-sourced. This edition, FreakSugar’s Steve Ekstrom interviews writer Mark Bertolini in regard to his current Kickstarter campaign for Neck Beard: Hillbilly For Hire.

Bertolini talks candidly about Neck Beard, the rigors of crowd-sourcing comics, and his own creative process.

FreakSugar: Neck Beard: Hillbilly For Hire!  What’s the project about? Who are you working with?

Mark Bertolini: Neck Beard: Hillbilly for Hire is the story of Donny “Neck Beard” Cooper, a backwoods, redneck monster-hunter and star of his own Youtube channel, where he hunts down the most dangerous game in the world: monsters. Big or small, Neck Beard hunts ‘em all!

Joining me on Team Neck Beard are Joe Koziarski on pencils and inks, Ellie Wright on colors, and Micah Myers on letters and design. Neck Beard is being published in conjunction with Imminent Press.

FS: Break down how Neck Beard’s publishing schedule will work within the parameters of your Kickstarter campaign; is this project purely digital?

MB: Neck Beard will be a purely digital campaign, at least to start. Our Kickstarter is to fund the production of the 4-issue Neck Beard miniseries, which backers can subscribe to for only $5. We expect the first issue to be complete by (or before) September 2017, and then we will continue with the remaining three issues. Our hope is for a print version of the trade paperback when we’re all done.

FS: What seems to be the biggest challenge of crowd-funding a project with a small budget as opposed to a project that is larger in scope?

MB: Having been involved with several bigger campaigns, I can say that running a smaller campaign has its pros and cons. Obviously, you’re much closer to hitting your funding goal with a smaller campaign, but at the same time, I feel like there might be a certain stigma with a smaller funding goal – like maybe you’re not confident enough in your product? But the reason we’re looking for such a small funding goal is because we’re doing a fully digital campaign, so there’re no overhead in terms of shipping or mailing.

We are offering some higher tier rewards that involved a physical copy of one of my previous books (Knowledge, Scum of the Earth, and Breakneck) as well as original sketches by Joe, but for the most part the funds raised will go to the creative team to, well, keep creating!

FS: Not only is Neckbeard: Hillbilly For Hire being funded through Kickstarter, but it’s also sporting the Imminent Press logo; does having the backing of a brand or studio have benefits?

MB: Absolutely! Imminent Press is set to make a very big splash in the comic book pond, and having Neck Beard run under that banner immediately gives us some legitimacy. I’m lucky enough to be counted among the Imminent Press creators, and it was a no-brainer to bring this project to them. It also helps expand the reach of the project because of the reach of Imminent Press. There are many creators involved, each with their own friends/fans/family, so that’s extra eyes on Neck Beard.

FS: You do something unique with your projects–you name them after songs. What’s the story behind this?

MB: I’m a huge fan of Tim Truman, especially his book Scout. Each chapter of Scout was named after one of Truman’s favorite songs, and I really liked that idea. Each of my professional works has had its chapters named after songs. Breakneck (215 Ink) was all Radiohead songs. Long Gone (Markosia)’s chapters were Tom Waits songs. Knowledge (Markosia) had snippets of song lyrics as the chapter titles.

Part of the fun of putting together a new project is working out what kind of music fits the tone of the story. Music and comics are two of my biggest passions outside of my family, so it’s natural to me that they go together.

FS: Is it difficult to write comics that have a comedic premise? How does writing comedy differ from other genres?

MB: Comedy is definitely harder, and I honestly don’t know if I’m any good at it. I write stuff that I find funny, and I just have to hope that others feel the same way. I used to describe my book Breakneck as a dick-and-fart-joke with superhero stuff happening in the background, and there was a LOT of stuff I wrote that I thought was hilarious, but that was mostly me making fun of superhero comics. With Neck Beard, I feel like there’s a lot of room to poke some fun at the idea of the hillbilly, but within the comic itself, Neck Beard is a very serious character. He’s the most skilled monster-hunter on the planet, and he takes that title very seriously indeed.

I feel like my strength isn’t necessarily in writing comedy, but most of my writing has some elements of humor to it.

FS: What is this biggest challenge of crowd-sourcing comic book projects? What parts of your campaign do you enjoy the most?

MB: The biggest challenge by far is convincing people that they should give up their hard-earned money to you for something that they might not hold in their hands right away. The idea of giving money for something you might not see for a few months or longer is a tough one. Even I have that problem when I see a Kickstarter campaign I want to back – how long is it going to take to get this thing into my hands, and would I rather have my money in my hands instead? I don’t know.

At the same time, I love sharing the project, I love that there’s a very grassroots feeling to it, like I’m connecting one-on-one with backers. Kickstarter can feel very formal and removed, but you can easily work it to have a more relaxed relationship with your backers. I love the feeling of checking the status of the campaign and seeing that more people have put their faith us and what we’re doing.

I’m a determined creator, and I see things through to the finish. Backers can trust that I will do right by them and by their pledge, because I’m pledging to get finished work into their hands.

FS: Current statistics seems to indicate that 1 in 5 Kickstarter projects get funded; what sorts of outside factors do you think prevent projects from getting funded? How have you personally approached getting past those same obstacles?

MB: I believe that current events can really do some damage to a Kickstarter campaign. I co-ran a Kickstarter in November of last year, right when a certain somebody was coming into political power, and it really did a number to our funding. Everyone was paying attention to things happening on the world stage and no one really cared about our little graphic novel. Completely understandable, but something that definitely hurt us. Timing is everything, I think, when launching a campaign.

I’m just trying to stay visible and relevant, and push the campaign hard but not too hard, if that makes any sense. I want people to be aware and to be able to check it out for themselves, but I don’t want to irritate people to the point where they’ll definitely avoid the campaign. It’s a balancing act. Neck Beard is definitely the kind of project that might be more geared towards existing comic book fans, but I’d love to be able to bring new readers into the fold as well.

FS: What other projects do you have coming up? Are you doing any shows this Convention Season?

MB: As always, I have a ton of pitches ready to go out to publishers. I have an as-yet-unannounced 5-issue miniseries coming out this summer through Darby Pop. I’ve got a story in the first arc of the Terminal Anthology Series being published by Imminent Press. I’ve got a few other things in the works, including two anthologies I created, both that I would like to take to Kickstarter later this year.

Last year I was a guest at the London, Ontario Comicon, and I hope to be invited back again this year. I’m also planning to be at NYCC this year, as my Darby Pop book will have been released already and I want to be able to promote it to readers in person.

My girlfriend and I have four kids, so being away for a weekend for a convention is a very tough thing for me to do, so I really only do a handful of cons throughout the year.

FS: What sort of advice would you offer other creators who haven’t crowd-sourced a project yet?

MB: Do your research! Understand the kind of campaign you want to run. Know your goals and rewards well, be able to pitch those rewards in 140 characters – if you can’t tweet it, you shouldn’t have it. People need to know what you’re offering quickly, without too much fuss. Don’t be too clever.

Ask questions! There are so many Kickstarter resources out there. Find creators who have done it. Tyler James, the publisher at ComixTribe comics, has been running Kickstarter groups for a while now, giving you all the tools you need to be successful.

Know your audience, and plan accordingly. It’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Lastly, don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work out. Re-tool, re-think, re-build, and come back stronger.

Neck Beard: Hillbilly For Hire is a little over 50% funded with almost two weeks left. Be sure to check out their campaign on Kickstarter.