Crowdfunding is becoming an increasingly popular way for creative people to ask the community for financial backing to get their ideas off the ground. Larger websites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, which are dedicated solely to facilitating crowdfunded projects, have helped thousands of artists, animators, writers and musicians to raise money through the internet towards projects that would have struggled with funding taking the traditional routes. Crowdfunding works on a donation basis where websites allow you to put up your project and regular people from all over the world get to pitch in what they can to make it happen. Cartoonist Caanan Grall is currently running a campaign on IndieGoGo for the printing of his webcomic Max Overacts – nominated for the 2011 Eisner Awards. We asked him a few questions about life as a cartoonist and how the crowdfunding experience has been so far.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

Well, I’m an Aussie, but I’m living in Canada. 27 years there, coming up on 5 here, so yeah, until it’s equal amounts of time, I’m still an Aussie. I failed year 9 careers, year 10 math, and got my BA in advertising at RMIT University in Melbourne. And, as I like to say to anyone who asks, all I got from my advertising degree was a strong desire not to do advertising. I’ve always wanted to do comics, and I still feel that way.

What initially brought you in to the world of illustration and comics and how did you get started as a cartoonist?

I just grew up reading comics – Peanuts, Disney comics and Archie, mainly – and copying them. Eventually I gave up the copying in high school and started drawing my own stuff from scratch, and boy, I went from being pretty good to awful again! After high school though, I did a few odd jobs here and there – canvases for a childrens ward at a hospital, a comic strip for the local paper which only lasted a year and – looking back at how bad it was, they were great sports to give this gangly, deluded kid valuable grey space. Then, I got a job doing illustrations for Wizard Books through a distant family member, and I did a LOT of work for them, and it’s there my work started getting better.

Eventually that led to doing illustrations for Cambridge Press at the same time as getting a full time job as a storyboard artist with an ad agency. I did both of those for a while, working in the day and coming home to more work. I earned a ton of cash, slept very little, had a nervous breakdown, left the country, blew all my savings, won a contract with DC Comics in their online competition, Zuda Comics, and now I do comics while wishing I had money to buy them, but – eating is important.

What was the first strip you ever created and how did it go down?

Well, in high school I worked on a comic strip that ran in a weekly free sports paper, but that was conceived by the editor, so I guess the first strip I created myself was Pembley and Squop. That ran in the Ballarat Courier, my hometown paper, for about a year. They stopped running it when I moved to Melbourne and was no longer there to bug them in person every week. They printed up to about strip 54, but I did about 160 all up.

It definitely got better as it went, but it’s still really hard to look at. I know it had its fans, but looking back – it’s a graveyard of obvious jokes that I’m glad I got out of my system at least. (It was about two penguins – a father and son. It was anthropomorphic, and I constantly got asked – why isn’t this just a comic with people in it?)

Your webcomic that’s up for crowdfunding is Max Overacts. Can you tell us a bit about this comic?

Max Overacts is about an 8 year old lad, Max, who has the ambition to become the world’s next great thespian, a serious actor, and everything in life is an opportunity to showcase his talents. It’s a gag-a-day strip but there is also a larger story at play. This isn’t one of those strips where Christmas comes every year but no-one ever gets older. All the kids will age.

Some supporting players will come and go and come again, and we’ll get to watch Max make lots of important decisions about who he’ll become. Janet and Auryn (his two leading lady friends) represent two different lifestyles to Max and he’ll constantly be torn between the two. I have lots of fun, big stories planned, but I’m happy to just stumble along, laying down the character, which will make it all the more satisfying when we get to some of the heavier stuff planned. I really want to make a strip where you care enough about the characters that, when major life stuff goes down, it’s gut-wrenching. I’m hoping I can get to that place through the use of humour.

What inspired Max to begin with?

Well, I had just finished Celadore with DC Comics, a big 180 page fantasy epic and was looking to get back to doing small daily gags. Something a little less heavy and more in my comfort zone. So I dug out some of my old ideas, and found a two page doodle that I thought had real potential. On these pages was this kid, Max, going over the top thanking his mum for their dinner (which became the first comic strip) and the original story was a morality tale about how parents shouldn’t push their kids too far, but I added Andi, Janet, Klaus and Max’s love of ventriloquism, and the strip was born.

A large cast of characters is good for longevity with a comic strip, but a strong lead character is also essential, and Max is most definitely strong – like stinky cheese.

For how long have you been working on Max?

I’ve been doing Max for about a year and a half, including some down time while I recharge batteries, or deal with server issues, which, actually, never did get resolved. (Just goes to show I’m not that popular still.)

How do you spread the word about a webcomic like Max Overacts so that people find it?

I wish I knew. I was lucky enough to get some people talking about my comic strip at the very beginning without even asking for it, which was great! I’ve always thought if it’s good enough, it will sell itself, so that was kind of validating. Since then, the readership has grown pretty much just through word of mouth.

I got an Eisner nomination for Best Digital Comic earlier this year which got me some elevated views for a month or two, but it normalised again after that. I do a weekly sketch feature with comic book resources dot com, which is a good showcase for my sense of humour, so I got a lot of readers through there, but apart from that, I don’t know where they come from at all. It’s a mystery!

What equipment and materials do you use to produce your comics? Do you work both on computers and by hand?

Yep. All the comics are drawn with pen on bristol. I’ve just switched to blue line pencils to streamline that process a little, as it removes the time spent erasing pencil and touching up areas where the eraser also fades the ink. (It’s good to have the original, physical, paper comics as something extra to sell since no-one is paying me to do a webcomic.)

Then I scan them and colour them with a 4 x 6 wacom in Photoshop, which is a continual lesson in how to do things wrong. I’m slightly colourblind, so that part is never easy, and I’ve never formally learned Photoshop, so I’m sure I use it like a time-traveling caveman might bash a typewriter.

Do you have any personal favorite comics and what’s important to you in a good comic?

I love, and will re-read any number of times all these things – Peanuts, Cul de Sac, Calvin & Hobbes, Mutts, Bone, Carl Barks and Don Rosa Duck stories, older Archie comics, Major Bummer, and I guess there’s a zillion other things I love to read, but those are the core things I always come back to. (More current favourites are Laika, The Stuff of Legend, Salt Water Taffy, Love and Capes, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Reed Gunther.)

I always look for humour in my comics, and good writing. Weak stories with great art don’t interest me much. I prefer strong writing still with great art. ‘Great’ meaning a style that is the perfect compliment to the story it’s trying to tell.

What made you decide to put your project up for crowdfunding? Can you tell us a bit about your campaign on IndieGoGo and what will come out of it if the fundraising is successful?

Excessive merchandise is something I’ve never been interested in, so everything I’m doing – from my three comics a week schedule to this campaign – is designed to get to the ‘book stage’ as quickly as possible. I want to sell things through my site but I want it to be a thing of substance.

IndieGoGo (and I guess Kickstarter if you happen to live in the US) is a great way to get pre-orders. No bank would look at me and give me a loan, so my only option was to appeal to my readers who would like to have a real, solid, copy of Max for their shelves. I offered things like the chance to be in the book (which all went rather quickly, to my happy surprise) and faux ‘headshots’ of my actors, Max and Janet, original strips, and original sketches, but the real prize is the book.

You’ve set a very ambitious goal at 16,000 dollars so what happens if you fail to raise this?

That was a catch all figure to cover 3,000 books, taxes, and shipping. I’ve probably underestimated the shipping in all of this, actually. I’m at a level now where I can probably get 1,000 (or if the next two weeks go well) 2,000 books made, but will have to use all the money gathered for the printing. Taxes and shipping will have to be dealt with as it comes, I guess. I’m a big fan of jumping in the deep end to learn how to swim. There’s something about not being able to feel the bottom that makes you kick harder.

How has your crowdfunding experience been so far, what are the positives and negatives?

Hmm. I was featured on the front page of IndieGoGo, which did nothing for me, so I guess that means casual clickers are not going to give you their money. The initial level of support when the campaign first went live was overwhelming though, and there was much merriment in the house for a good week or two. Then there’s been some surprises on just who has ordered their own copy of Max, too, and peer validation is pretty neat.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to the people reading this to inspire them to make a donation towards your project?

I see this as my stepping stone to greater things. Eventually, if my own comics are successful and earn me some money, I’d love to spin that around and publish other’s works. All over the place, I see how artists are devalued – especially comic artists – how we’re always at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to being paid.

Comic contracts are horrible. They make it seem like publishing you is a favour you should be grateful for. They don’t say ‘we believe in you’, they say ‘here’s how we’re going to cover ourselves, and then you, if you end up being popular’. To be fair, I haven’t seen a lot of contracts, but that’s the vibe I get. In the publishing industry, authors get advances, and illustrators are paid up front, but in comics, it’s all at the back end (unless you work for Marvel or DC) and I’d love to see that change within my lifetime.

Plus, Max is funny. The book will be great!

Caanan was nice enough to make an exclusive strip for this SimplyMaya interview on his comic “Time for Another Andistraction” – here it is, enjoy!