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Beyond super: Five cool crowdfunded comic books

Saturday, 12 Oct 2013 | 1:00 PM ET
Detail from "Hollaback: Red, Yellow, Blue."
Source: Alison Wilgus
Detail from "Hollaback: Red, Yellow, Blue."

Comic book heroes aren't always the characters in the books. For creators, fans' superhero strength—and purchasing power—makes some projects possible.

At New York Comic Con this weekend, fans can meet the artists and writers behind works such as "Code Monkey Save World" and "Hollaback: Red, Yellow, Blue"—two of a number of new comic and graphic novel ventures that had successful crowdfunding.

Make no mistake: There's big money in comics. In September, the top 300 comics alone brought in $30.05 million, according to Diamond Comic Distributors. But would-be authors have found that it's not easy to catch a publishing house's ear or to fund the costs out of pocket.

Enter crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe, which let people create campaigns for a variety of businesses, projects and other goals. Last year, such efforts raised $2.7 billion, up 81 percent from 2011, according to research firm Massolution. Estimates for 2013 are nearly twice that.

(Read more: Comic Con draws heroes, villains, comic book fans)

Several panels at this year's Comic Con aim to show fans how to use such sites to their advantage. Not every project is successful—or profitable, experts said.

"When you look at the numbers on these projects and what they've pulled in, it's mind-blowing," said writer Greg Pak, whose "Code Monkey Save World," inspired by the songs of Jonathan Coulton, will be the focus of a panel Sunday, Oct. 13. The project raised nearly $350,000 (see details below). But, Pak said, aspiring writers and artists need to research and calculate all the costs involved in producing and delivering the work.

Artist Jake Parker, now preparing his third crowdfunding campaign, agrees. "I was surprised at the cost of shipping a book to France," he said, adding it's a mistake he won't make again.

(Read more: 7 crazy crowdfunding projects that succeeded)

What crowdfunded works might fans see at their local comic book store? GoFundMe, Indiegogo and Kickstarter reported that these five successful comic and graphic novel projects are among the more interesting they've come across.

By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @kelligrant.

'The Antler Boy and Other Stories'

(Credit: Jake Parker)

Goal: $6,000

Raised: $85,532

When artist Jake Parker wanted to compile his collection of short stories, written over a nine-year span for various anthologies, he had a tough time finding a publisher.

"They weren't sure who the audience would be," he said. Parker took his graphic novel online, to Kickstarter, asking fans for $6,000 to cover publishing costs.

"My secret goal, that I thought I would die if I reached it, was $24,000," he said. By the time it closed, "The Antler Boy" had raised more than three times that amount and more than 14 times Parker's original goal, with upward of 2,200 copies sold.

'The Middleman'

(Credit: Les McClaine)

Goal: $37,000

Raised: $51,973 and counting

Eight years after its first publication and five years after its 12-episode TV run, "The Middleman" is getting another shot. ABC Family recently gave co-creators Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClaine, and publisher Viper Comics the rights to resurrect the series. Midday Oct. 11, with 31 days to go, the project had raised $51,973 toward a new comic and a reunion of the TV show's cast.

"We have a really great group of fans," said Grillo-Marxuach. If the tally tops $60,000, he said, the graphic novel will be printed in color. More money also will help finance more adventures for "The Middleman" down the line.

'Code Monkey Save World'

(Credit: Takeshi Miyazawa and Jessica Kholinne)

Goal: $39,000

Raised: $340,270

A lovelorn supervillain. A monkey that writes code. Comic book writer Greg Pak saw more in the characters of singer-songwriter (and college buddy) Jonathan Coulton.

"He's written a ton of songs over the years that really appeal to me," Pak said, "and it occurred to me that they would make a great comic book."

Coulton agreed, and the two decided to let fans decide.They surpassed their goal within the first seven hours of the project's going live this spring, and by the end had signed on more than 8,200 backers who wanted digital or print copies. The first of the four issues, already sent to backers, will be publicly available Oct. 16 via digital comic platform ComiXology.

'Hollaback Street Harassment Comic Book'

(Credit: HollabackPHILLY)

Goal: $5,016

Raised: $8,493

"Street harassment is one of those issues that policy and law aren't going to stop," said Rochelle Keyhan, director of nonprofit HollabackPHILLY. So it decided to create a comic book to help spread the message. Crowdfunding let the group retain creative control.

"Not that we wanted the comic to be racy or anything, but we were creating it for a specific message," Keyhan said. "We didn't want that diluted in any way."

Extra funds raised let HollabackPHILLY print versions in English and Spanish. The 200 donor copies were sent out this summer, and the nonprofit has since sold 700 to the general public.

'A Stray in the Woods'

(Credit: Alison Wilgus)

Goal: $1,500

Raised: $13,325

"What should Cat do?" Alison Wilgus asked readers of her Web comic on a weekly basis, using their comments to shape Cat's story. She wanted to turn it into a book but wasn't sure there was enough interest to cover printing costs.

"I figured a Kickstarter failure for a modest amount meant people didn't want to buy it," she said. "It was a great way to see if there was an audience." Her first hint: Kickstarter designated her project a staff pick, which resulted in heavier promotion.

Wilgus sold more than 400 copies, which shipped to backers in September.

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