All images in this article copyright Jeff Thomas and used with permission.
Pon and Zi is a Kickstarter project to take Jeff Thomas' regular single panel webcomic of the same name, and have it produced as a high quality art book. Jeff is an illustration major who started drawing Pon and Zi in 2004. He broke his $10,000 funding goal in only nine days, going on to be funded more than 300% by the campaign's end and ended up expanding into t-shirts, plushie dolls and a Los Angeles art gallery launch and nearly 600 backers. You can check the campaign out at: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ponandzi/the-ponandzi-artbook/posts
Jeff joins us today to answer some questions about how he came up with Pon & Zi and the Kickstarter campaign around it:
How did you discover the idea, and the passion to create Pon & Zi as a webcomic in the first place?
I was kind of a little bit depressed when I first started drawing Pon and Zi, and at first, the comics were more about apathy than they were about love. All of the most popular music then (Hawthorne Heights. lol.) was about being sad or angry, so when I first started dating, first started drawing happier things, and first started noticing that people were connecting to the series, I thought it would be a good idea to snap out of whatever I was going through at the time and to try to help people be happy.
You clearly have a passionate following. What do you think it is that makes people love Pon & Zi so much?
I hope it's because they can identify with the characters. The basic concept for the series was to simplify love in a way that's universally relatable. I've left Pon and Zi's genders undetermined so that anyone could be either character. It's always only been about telling someone you love them.
How did you go about building your audience? What's been most effective for you and how do most people came across Pon & Zi?
I've only rarely made deliberate effort to build an audience for Pon&Zi, so I think most of it has happened naturally. When I set up shop in Artist Alleys at comic conventions, a lot of people say that they've seen the comic floating around the internet, but never knew where they came from.
You've mentioned that, like for many people, creating the campaign video didn't come particularly naturally? Why and how did you push through that to get it made?
Yeah, public speaking is near the top of a list of things I'm not good at. Video editing is another thing on this list, so accepting the fact that my video wouldn't be a cinematic masterpiece anyway took off some pressure. I psyched myself up, set aside an entire day, made a makeshift tripod mount for my phone and recorded more takes than I'd like to admit until I had a complete (yet conglomerate) video. Hahaha. I'm actually really happy with how it turned out though, and I'm glad I made it happen because otherwise, I wouldn't be getting my book printed!
Plushie dolls, resin figures,exclusive watercolor paintings... how did you go about coming up with the ideas for your rewards?
Over the past several years, people have made tons of suggestions for things I should have manufactured, and plushies and an art book easily top the list. When coming up with other rewards, I tried to think of things I'd like to get, or things that would be special. My walls are covered with limited edition prints and original work from my favorite artists (James Jean, Scott C., Audrey Kawasaki, Veronique Meignaud, to name a few) and while they're all in another league entirely, I figured I could try and make something special of my own for my project backers.
What have been the biggest surprises / lessons learned as a first timer to Kickstarter?
Meeting my project funding goal, especially so early on wasn't something I expected at all. I've lurked around Kickstarter quite a bit, and I've seen plenty of clever projects either barely or only almost reach their funding goals. So to see how much support I've gotten through the process has been overwhelming.
...and what about publishing physical books and getting physical products like plushies made? What have you learned along the way?
Well, I've hand-bound books for school projects before, so I'm lucky to be fairly familiar with organizing book content. Working with the book printer and the plushie manufacturer is a new experience, but it's really exciting. It's a lot of work to collaborate with companies that manufacture retail quality products in such high volume, but I'm learning how to juggle a million deadlines and do the best I can with both products.
Given that you let people add rewards to pledges that needed to be physically mailed, how are you keeping track of nearly 500 orders and who gets what?
There are only a few people who have asked to pledge more to add an extra book or plushie set to their reward package, so I've utilized the "add note to self" feature in their backer reports to remind myself to send their extra items when it comes time to send out the reward packages. I've also started a sticky note wall to make sure I don't forget anything important.
Unlike most campaigns your funding came in at an unusually even rate, as though a steady flow of people were discovering it over time. Any idea why, and where your backers were mainly hearing about you? I'm not exactly sure! I've tried my best not to flood my Twitter, Facebook, DeviantArt and Tumblr with updates regarding my project all the time, so maybe spacing out the updates has helped keep a steady flow of new visitors to my Kickstarter page. According to my Kickstarter dashboard, most backers are coming from the Pon&Zi Facebook page though.
How do you think the Kickstarter campaign has impacted your work and ability to be an independent creator?
In the beginning, I wasn't sure if my project would be successful, but I put a lot of work into it, so to see it all coming together has motivated me to work toward bigger and better things. Also, one of my favorite things about Kickstarter is being able to interact with backers. I've heard a lot of stories about how Pon and Zi have affected people in a positive way, and I'm excited for these people to see the finished book.
You've said that when you started Pon & Zi, you felt disconnected from people, and now you have an outpouring of support on Social media and now Kickstarter. Have your experiences affected how you see people in general? In the beginning, the comics were more about apathy than they were about love. (In one of the first comics, one character is stabbing the other in the back with a knife, and it reads, "Tag, you're it.") People didn't seem to connect with the darker comics as much, and it wasn't until I had started dating and drawing cuter things that I think people began to like the series. Just knowing that, it really inspires me to keep going with Pon and Zi. I think that everyone has the potential to be happy, so it's a rewarding feeling to hear that by focusing on positive things, I've played a small part in forming connections between people.
Why do you do it? Where do you hope to take Pon & Zi in the future?
Actually, I've got big plans for Pon and Zi. One problem I face with printing the 'complete' comic collection in a book is that as soon as I draw one more comic, it won't be the complete set anymore. I'm not sure if my idea is going to be well-received or not, but I'd like to take Pon and Zi to the next level, and I'm going to do it by switching format from single-panel comics to creating a graphic novel. I'd like to explore the secondary characters (Zot the storm cloud, Nubbly the cat and Scoot the snail, with more to come soon) more, and adding more depth to Pon and Zi's relationship without being limited to one line of dialogue and one image frame at a time will be exciting, hopefully not just for me.