The Debacle of “Sullivan’s Sluggers” A Cautionary Tale of Kickstater
My name is David Bitterbaum and I am doing my 2nd guest post here on Caffeineforge. I can be found on my own site, www.thenewestrant.com where I discuss a variety of popular culture but mainly comics, and that is because I absolutely love comics. I also am a fan of Kickstarter, seeing as how it helps comic-creators get products out there that might otherwise be unable to exist due to reasons as varied as the person is an new talent publishers are wary to take a chance on, or the creator just wants to use Kickstarter because they find crowd-funding neat. That is why it makes me sad when I see a Kickstarter project go wrong, and boy is the saga of the “Sullivan’s Sluggers” quite the tale of something that seemed wonderful going sour.
Mark Andrew Smith is a comic writer. He has made stuff I’ve enjoyed such as, “Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors,” or the “Popgun” anthologies for Image he has helped edit. He is talented, that is not being questioned. At one point I even started to pursue getting an interview with him for my blog, but due to my generally being-busy I wasn’t able to follow-through with that. I wonder what that interview would have been like, before all of this “Sullivan’s Sluggers” Kickstarter nastiness started.
For those who don’t know, “Sullivan’s Sluggers” was a Kickstarter that Mark Andrew Smith ran where a comic he wrote about a team of baseball players playing a game against demons could be funded. The art was by the always-stellar James Stokoe (of “Orc Stain” fame) so that was especially appealing. Smith wanted 6,000 dollars and got $97,626, so yeah, it was wildly successful . As the money and book’s backers grew so too did the features of the book itself. It went from a little thing to a slip-cased & over-sized hardcover, with all kind of fun little bonuses such as baseball cards of the characters. It sounds wonderful, right? Well, things started to go horribly wrong.
Mark Andrew Smith had to dramatically push back the release date of the book to get all the new features made and printed. The book finally started shipping some months ago though, so the problem was over right? No, because then he claimed that as the book had changed so much, his initial promise of the publication being Kickstater-exclusive didn’t count anymore. Besides, what are you whining about? You’re getting the book for cheaper than other people (I imagined Smith shouting when I read this post where David Brother’s pointed out the lack of ethics in this)! Therefore, the book was in fact sold to retailers and put on Amazon. When this caused a fuss Smith offered the sheepish excuse that because he mis-estimated what it would cost to ship the book internationally what with it having grown in size and girth, he needed to make some extra money. Maybe if he had said from the start, “I screwed up, but so that none of you have to pay more cash/pounds/euros I’m going to make some extra scratch selling this to stores and Amazon, I’m sorry,” people wouldn’t have felt as rubbed the wrong way. That’s the end of the drama though….isn’t it?
As of this week things became uglier. Smith created a new Kickstarter with the goal of one dollar for people who “missed their first chance,” to get the book. Never-mind that while copies of the book have been shipping there still are backers in the US who haven’t gotten any copies (and nary a single book has shipped internationally yet). Also, never-mind that Kickstarter is not supposed to be used as a store and this goes against its rules (which resulted in the project being suspended once folk pointed this out). Plus, let’s never-mind that I saw this book a month ago for sale at one of my comic shops so if I wanted I could just get it a store–defeating the purpose of if I had supported the Kickstarter as I may not have even yet gotten my book. Yes, let’s “never-mind” all of that to the point I’ve used those two words so much they have lost all meaning. Putting aside all that, things have gotten even more hideous, believe it or not.
You may have noticed that in all of this I’ve barely mentioned the artist, James Stokoe. That’s because other than having turned in art all that time ago he hasn’t really been involved. He isn’t co-owner of the rights to “Sullivan’s Sluggers,” he just did it as work-for-hire. He sees no profit from any more copies of the books being sold–nada. Smith has continuously created a perception that Stokoe is benefiting from all this somehow, though. Therefore, Stokoe made a post on his blog saying, “No, I don’t get anything.” He also stated that due to the negativity that seems to be associated with the book and all the confusion he would prefer to have his named removed from any future products related to it.
Stokoe was completely polite, and Smith responded by unleashing a lot of vitriol and blame. Basically, Smith said that Stokoe turned in art so slow that it lead to his divorce and that Stokoe’s “camp” has been bullying him–quite the hilarious claim considering that Smith has done plenty of bullying himself as this Comic’s Alliance post discusses, in addition to pointing out Smith probably never meant for the book to be Kickstarter exclusive anyways.
This has been an utter debacle and besides the backers I would argue the biggest victim in all of this is Kickstarter. Kickstarter is still a relatively young entity and I fear that high-profile messes like this will paint the website in an negative light even though there have been plenty of Kickstarter projects that have delivered on their promises (and admittedly, some that haven’t). This is a cautionary tale of how not to run your Kickstarter, treat your backers, or otherwise do pretty much any of the things Smith has done.
While I may have enjoyed Smith’s work in the past, the way he has conducted himself with this Kickstarter has simply disgusted me. My sympathy goes out to all of those who supported his Kickstarter and are still waiting for their books…or his other Kickstarter project which is starting to look like it may not meet deadlines itself.
Kickstarter can be a fabulous tool and introduce its users to fascinating ideas, projects, and products. It is just sad how things can also go so horribly wrong.
I’ve been following the “Sullivan’s Sluggers” mess over on BleedingCool, and wow, Smith does not come off looking very nice. Or ethical. Apparently he had a similar falling out with the artist of his “Aqua Leung”, and deluged him with a blamestorm as well. I would say that he makes Rob Liefeld look mature by comparison, but Liefeld’s had years of practice to hone his hissyfits. I’m sure there are artists who are poor or desperate enough to work with Smith after these two nightmare scenarios, but I wonder how many more bridges he has left to burn.
Wow! I participated in the Kickstarter for Sullivan’s Sluggers and wrote about how much I enjoyed my copy of the book on my blog (http://bit.ly/13Vwor6), but I really had no idea that there was so much scandal surrounding the book! On the one hand, I can see how Smith got himself in a bit over his head by over-promising on the Kickstarter. On the other hand, that doesn’t really excuse being rather a right prick to Stokoe and to all his backers. I think this is a case of a younger creator getting caught up in his own success and letting a relatively small break (after all, what’s a 100,000 in sales of anything these days?) go to his head.
I have seen the book at the store as I mentioned in the article, and it is indeed a beautiful thing. Between the lovely art, and gorgeous slipcase it is snazzy in appearance. Form the bit of story I skimmed in the shop it seemed pretty fun too. That just makes it all the more sad some of us who’ve read about all the controversy just can’t support the book–be it because of how Smith is acting toward Stokoe, how he is acting toward backers, or how he is just acting in general. It looks like a fun book but I just would feel too dirty picking it up now. Perhaps if I had Kickstarted it before all the unpleasantness I wouldn’t mind owning it, but getting it now just feels like a no-go.
A sad tale indeed, and being that this sounds like Smith’s second goof, I wouldn’t be quick to support him again if I were anyone, despite the book sounding pretty cool.