A True Kickstarter: Cartoonist Ryan North Raises Half A Million For 'Hamlet' Comic

Ryan North launched his own choose your own adventure through Hamlet's Ryan North had one of those big ideas: What if he put together a comic book based on famous speeches, like Hamlet's famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy, from William Shakpespeare's 1603 play, and allowed readers to determine the story's ending in a choose-your-own-adventure format?

But there was one problem: He couldn't draw. And North, 32, a Canadian comic book writer, didn't have the money to hire an illustrator. "After the idea, I asked myself, now what?" In the past, most people would probably have thrown up their hands and forgotten about their idea -- but that was pre-2009, before Kickstarter was founded.

Kickstarter, which has become a popular resource for members of generations X and Y who are looking to launch creative, entrepreneurial endeavors. The New York-based enterprise's pitch is simple -- Kickstarter will promote your project through its website to attract "backers," essentially benefactors who will donate funds without expecting anything in return. Unlike other investors, people who contribute through Kickstarter don't take any equity in the projects.

Kickstarter's model of "crowdfunding" has helped many thousands of entrepreneurs get their projects off the ground; some 3 million people have pledged $450 million in funding for more than 35,000 for-profit ventures, according to Kickstarter. The initiatives have run the gamut, from a small Vermont movie theater looking to buy digital equipment to a filmmaker looking for funds to produce a documentary about relief efforts in Haiti. (The website, though, says it will not help efforts that are simply "charities" or "causes.")

North posted his project on the Kickstarter website on Nov. 21, calling it, "To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure," with what he thought were grand ambitions: To raise $20,000 to help with publication costs, including the hiring of professional illustrators. In less than four hours, he'd met that entire goal. Within a month, North's project was backed by 15,352 people, who pledged a record-breaking total of $580,905, the most that a Kickstarter project had ever received.

With the half a million raised, North says he will now create a sequel and prequel in full-color, hire some 60 artists and donate hundreds of books to libraries and universities. His goal is to have his first book printed in May. (He says he will use all the extra money to publish sequels, with extra illustrations created by a staff of about 60 artists, according to an interview he gave the Toronto Star.)

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Why was his project able to attract so much money? "I would love to say the [online] community was just starving to have some Shakespeare in their lives," he said. "I don't think that's it. I really believe ... the best projects are ones you write for yourself, that amuse yourself and make yourself laugh." He adds that the experience of having people react to his idea in such a manner was "humbling ... it's basically the best thing that can happen to an author: to have an audience be so excited about the words coming out of your computer."

The use of crowdfunding to launch pet projects is becoming increasingly common in the digital age. Other crowdfunding sites include RocketHub and WeFunder. In fact, a 2012 report found that the crowdfunding market has exploded, growing from a $32 million market to a $123 million market in two years. Some see crowdfunding as a way to level the playing field, enabling ordinary people to realize their artistic and entrepreneurial visions without benefit of connections. "A lot of times, creators are stifled by the demands of the market," Kickstarter spokesman Justin Kazmark told AOL Jobs. "But here, people can be creators on their own terms and interact directly with backers. And what we've seen is that there's a longing for community of individuals who are emotionally invested in bringing a project to life."

North was hardly a novice when it came to launching creative projects, which may help explain why there was so much enthusiasm for his project. A 2002 grad of the University of Toronto, North created a 2003 Web comic series, Dinosaur Comics, which now has 80,000 subscribers. He's also released other comic books, including Adventure Time Vol. 1, which follows the characters from the animated TV series in another choose-your-version format. (He says he's able to make a living from his comic books, which are supported online by ads. In addition, he has over the years supplemented his income through freelance computer programming gigs.)

For his "Hamlet" series, he's working with the Cambridge, Mass.-based publisher Breadpig. If it's successful, North says that he likely will try the same format for other Shakespeare plays including "Romeo and Juliet" and "Macbeth." Returning to 17th Century English texts for the first time since his teenage years has allowed North to take in the lessons of Shakespeare.

"Revenge normally doesn't go that well," he says, dryly. "You should not be vengeful."

Indeed, his advice for anyone contemplating a project for Kickstarter is to always try to keep the online community engaged with the creative process. After all, they are "people and not wallets," he says.

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Can everyone here also please sign our petition to get our local State's Attorney to convene a grand jury in Bernadette Caruso's case as well? She's now been missing over 26 yrs & her killer is still walking free. It doesn't matter where you live, we just need TONS of support calling on justice to be served because its the only way to get the attention of authorities in our state. We'd greatly appreciate it. Bernadette's family will appreciate your support more than you'll ever know. Please sign & share out to all your friends as much as possible and ask them to do the same. The petition is on her fb page or just google Petition for Bernadette Stevenson Caruso. Thanks & God bless all of you.

March 09 2013 at 4:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's nice to see articles like this that show people really are good at heart. We are also looking for good-hearted people to help us raise funds in Maryland for the latest side scanning water sonar to re-investigate a young mom's abduction who disappeared over 2 decades ago along with her car. We believe she may be in a body of water & sonar may be the key to finding her, but our police dept budget cannot afford it. We could probably borrow it from another state, but this is more than a 1 day endeavor, so we would rather have our own version to get the job done complete. In addition, this way, MD authorities will have it on hand for other search & recovery/rescue cases without all the beaurecratic red tape. If anyone can help us, please log on to her facebook page to read more about her case under Bernadette Stevenson Caruso Fund Raising Effort. Bernadette was only 23 when she disappeared, and she has now been missing longer than she was alive on this earth. She also left behind a 3 year old daughter who would like to know the truth about her mother. Please help us if you can. 25 years is way too long to live without answers to a loved ones disappearance. Every dollar, prayer, message, share, tweet etc counts & we thank you so much for caring.

March 09 2013 at 4:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I need 150 signatures

Will you sign it? http://wh.gov/75eL

March 09 2013 at 1:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Raising capital in the US is totally a rigged "who you know" good old boys system !! I love this whole concept even with its quirks ! Otherwise, creatives have very little chance of financing projects. Its innovative concepts like kickstarter that will bring on a new, more fair ecoonomy !! Crowdfunding, barter systems, bitcoin, 3d printing, the underground economy, private money(scrip) are all examples of a new economic system slowly developing !!!!!!!

March 08 2013 at 4:12 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I missed something, this is at best a boring idea, and at worst just a stupid waste of time.

March 08 2013 at 12:35 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
In My Opinion Only

Of the 80,000 subscribers, 76,000 will fall asleep once the project's completed and lawyers crawling all over Ryan.

March 06 2013 at 12:47 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
In My Opinion Only

Short lived fame, his ego will be flatten after all Obamacare, regulations, sexual harrassment among his employees and trying to become a CEO getting bonuses for himself then pride comes before fall into the pit of hell. His smile is greedy. Even if he runs back to his native Canada, fits will follow him cuz he'll owe the 15,000 sponsors bonuses instead of himself.

March 06 2013 at 12:45 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to In My Opinion Only's comment

Sounds like that is what you would do. Those who point fingers are usually pointing back at themselves.

March 08 2013 at 5:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bill Johnson

What strangers? It's all about his 80,000 subscribers. The Kickstarter & Indiegogo folks who break the rules, ie. crowdfund the most money, are the ones with a built-in subscriber base or "audience". If a quarter of his subscribers migrate over to his next project and contribute, he should be smooth sailing. And he was!
But here's the message that everyone should hear. The crowdfunding sites don't do the heavy lifting. The crowdfunder and their campaign do. The sites only jump in after the project's shown some sure signs of being a hit. Nobody does the work for you!

March 05 2013 at 7:40 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Seems like another form of looking for a handout to me, only online instead of on the street. I just feel that some of these benefactors could donate to a better cause or outlets that really could use the help, like helping families in poverty due to loss of jobs, homes, etc., or abused children, people who need medical care who have no insurance, etc. If I was in a position to donate money (which I'm not at all) I would dontate to less fortunate ones, not someone trying to create something who doesn't have the funds to do it.

March 05 2013 at 3:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to heavymetalkc's comment
Mary Jane Dopeson

No, what you are missing is that most of the people who donate to Kickstarter projects are rewarded with merchandise. In this case, a small donation got quite a bit of stuff--it is equivalent to a promise to buy the item when it is produced rather than donating money.

March 06 2013 at 10:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Congradulations to Ryan North. However, Fastenberg got it wrong - this is not a record-breaking sum. Cartoonist Rich Berlew raised 1.2 million for his Order of the Stick cartoon (his goal was 37 thousand). His record held for only a few months before being broken by someone else. I wonder why Fastenberg didn't do a summary check for the actual record holders.

Still, a half-million isn't nothing to sneeze at. Good luck to Mr. North.

March 05 2013 at 10:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jenerel's comment

Actually, Fastenberg's mistake is in calling it a comic book. It is simply a choose-your-own-path adventure book that will feature many illustrations. It is a record-breaking Kickstarter project in the "Publishing" category, rather than the "Comics" category, since it is a book, not a comic.

March 06 2013 at 8:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Shiggy's comment

Aha. That makes more sense now. Thanks.

March 06 2013 at 10:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

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