The Internet went to sleep last night and tossed and turned with a fever dream of monkeys, mad scientists, and robots. When it awoke, it found that Jonathan Coulton and Greg Pak had launched a crowdfunding campaign to create a series of comic books based on characters from Coulton's songs.
That sound you heard is the Internet going "squeeeeeeeeeee!"
If the Kickstarter project funds, the two will produce four comic books released in digital form to backers as they're finished over the next several months, and then as a print collection at the end to those that pledge at the necessary minimum level.
Who am I kidding? If it's successful? C'mon. Seriously. If enough funds are raised over the goal, the page count of the comics might increase.
Buying in at a higher level, as with most rewards-based crowdfunding campaigns, gets you extra-special stuff. "The highest level of our Kickstarter is, you get a capuchin monkey shipped to you," joked Coulton. For slightly more money, you don't get the monkey. Pak suggested, instead, that for a high premium, "you get to spend 10 minutes in a kissing booth with Jonathan." The actual awards are nearly as good, with less chance of contagion.
It's an almost embarrassingly perfect storm of wonderful things. Coulton made his fame as a troubadour of nerdiness starting in 2005 when he quit his programming job and produced a "Thing a Week": one song every week for a year, which he then turned into four albums. Coulton's songs tapped into our inner geek, because he was (and is) one of us. We are all Code Monkey, aren't we? I know I am. He's now the regular music guest on NPR's Ask Me Another quiz show, and headlines the JoCo Cruise Crazy boat excursion developed by Paul & Storm that just attracted 700 people who, Coulton said, come to the cruise now just as much to be with a like-minded coterie as to mix with him and his buddies. (I interviewed Coulton recently for my podcast series The New Disruptors, talking about the choices he made that gave him his independence.)
Greg Pak burst into general consciousness with his live-action film, Robot Stories in 2003, which he wrote and directed. The film is about morality and consciousness told in four separate tales. He toured with the movie for two years (winning dozens of awards along the way) while also starting what is now a career as a comic-book writer for major Marvel titles and characters. He also produced his own magnificent tale of the near future, Vision Machine, which seems eerie now with Google Glass nearly on the market. He recently signed on with DC Comics to work on the Batman/Superman series.
Combine these two gentlemen with comics and crowdfunding as the glue, and I suspect that happy mutants of a delicate nature have already cracked open a homebrewed hard cider and are fanning themselves with an old, well-thumbed issue of Concrete.
I spoke last week to Coulton, who was in Brooklyn, and Pak, then at an undisclosed location that I guess is close to the earth's core or, to judge by Skype's oddities, in a stealth ship orbiting the planet under bombardment by tachyon particles.
"I think everybody working in comics is aware of the incredible opportunities that creator-owned work provides. and I've had my eye on more creator-owned stuff for a while," Pak said. He and Coulton have been friends since they attended Yale twenty years ago, and Pak said he's long been a fan of his buddy's music. (I overlapped with both at that New Haven institution, but knew neither at the time.)
Last November, Pak randomly tweeted that characters from Coulton's songs would make an excellent supervillain team. Pak said in our interview that the musician's characters are "the kind of twisted guys for the most part who, for whatever reason, are filled with longing and resentment." ("Yeah, for whatever reason," Coulton said, laughing.) "Every one of these songs has a strong story at the core," Pak said.
Coulton publicly tweeted that it would be a good idea, and they privately set rapidly to work on planning the series, called Code Monkey Save World. The spoilers-free outline is that the heroes are Code Monkey (an actual monkey) and Skullcrusher, the owner and operator of villanous Skullcrusher Mountain. They are both victims of their ineptitude in pursuing unrequited love. Code Monkey becomes the semi-willing sidekick to the mad scientist, and events unfurl from there.
"No friction prevented this thing from happening," Coulton said. Coulton owns his work entirely and Pak is an independent contractor to Marvel and DC. That allowed them to figure out arrangements quickly without involving other parties. Pak signed on Takeshi Miyazawa to draw the four-comic series.
Crowdfunding seemed a natural for them, because they know they can reach people who already like their separate work, and hope that a collaboration is appealing to that likely highly overlapped audience. "It's a classic superhero team-up," said Coulton. Pak replied, "Or is it a supervillain team-up?" We'll find out.
We talk more about the details of writing and collaboration between the two in the 16-minute audio interview embedded above.