Love it or hate it, it seems this whole crowdfunding phenomenon is here to stay. From Kickstarter to GoFundMe to IndieGoGo, there’s no shortage of places for creatives to get needy on the net. As journalists, and therefore inherently impoverished creatives in our own right, we decided the best way to deal with all this internet charity stuff was to write about it — the good, the bad, even the projects we think you should (gasp!) give your hard-earned money to — in a little series we’re calling “Fund Me S.B.”
Imagine seeing a hand with a gun, stretching out from the ground of a grave. Running away should be your natural instinct, but for thousands of comic book readers this image signals the resurrection of something great: “The Guns of Shadow Valley.” After two years of metaphorical death, the second half of Jim Clark and Dave Wachter’s graphic novel is now under construction — but the return of this beloved series comes at a price.
Luckily, this price, of $24,000, has already been paid — and in just three days, thanks to backers on Kickstarter. In fact, the creators have already exceeded their goal by $8,000 — and still have until July 15 to be financed.
“That’s nice to see that we’ve struck a chord, and that the fans didn’t give up on us after two years,” said co-writer Clark.
The project, which initially ran as a web comic, started in 2009. The story follows a posse of gunmen with superpowers — in Oklahoma during the 1870s — that protects the secret of Shadow Valley from various antagonists. A Western at its core, it twists the genre by incorporating elements of science fiction, steampunk, and folklore.
After publishing over 100 pages and garnering nominations for Eisner and Harvey awards, the comic found a solid fan base. Still, the story was put on the backburner in 2011 so that co-writer and illustrator Wachter could devote more time to paid comic book work. The hiatus was only temporary, though.
“Ultimately, the goal was that we wanted this to be a book,” said Clark. “There’s nothing quite as rewarding as that — creating it and then having it in your hand.”
Given the comic’s established online presence, it was logical for the creators to turn to a web-based resource for funding. Clark has previously used Kickstarter to help fund his musical recordings under the stage name Ukulele Jim. Using digital wanted signs, the creators enticed potential backers with incentives like T-shirts, original paintings, and even cameo appearances in the story. Still, Wachter explained, moving the story to print is a tedious and expensive process that involves printing, shipping and selling. “That can take months and months,” he said.
With Clark living in Santa Barbara and Wachter in Pittsburgh, communication became key in getting “Shadow Valley” back off the ground. The men both reference one particular scene as indicative of their relationship. In chapter two of the first book a “[stagecoach] driver is talking endlessly on and on — that would be Jim — and the guy who is looking surly and annoyed is, of course, me,” deadpanned Wachter, whose own art book is titled “Curmudgeon.”
Stylistically, “Shadow Valley” inherits fundamentals from filmmaking. While the comic avoids clichés like sweeping shots of an idealized landscape, it draws on the mythology of the Old West we’ve come to know from classic American Westerns — and expands on it by placing superhumans with X-Men-like powers into the story. In framing each page, Wachter uses a landscape orientation instead of a traditional portrait because the creators “wanted that widescreen look like an old Western,” said Clark. “Comics are, in many ways, about translating ideas of motion in a still image. … A lot of what happens in any comic is what the reader puts together between two panels,” added Wachter. This kind of translation becomes apparent in shots like one where bullets are halted mid-flight in front of their shooter, evoking a slow motion effect.
Wachter is hesitant to name-check his influences, calling his work “like a hotdog, where all these different kinds of meat get stuck in a machine and then one thing comes out at the end.” The metaphor is only natural given that Wachter lived in Chicago for 15 years, where he earned a fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He now works full-time as a comic book illustrator.
Clark, on the other hand, has a day job as the Director of IT User Services at Santa Barbara City College. “I just have to have a creative outlet,” he said. Enlisting the help of Kickstarter to complete an epic graphic novel is one way to do that.