Brian Dunphy is a shoe store marketing director. Andrew Lammert works in information technology.
That’s what pays the bills.
But art is what feeds their souls — and with a little help from their friends, they are now published graphic novelists.
Using a Web phenomenon known as “crowdfunding,” Lammert and Dunphy publicly shared their dreams for a nine-part series about families trying to reconnect after a global disaster, then set out their virtual tin cup.
Over the next month, friends, family and complete strangers tossed in more than $1,600 so they could get their first book printed. Our Grey Earth: Part One hit Internet retail sites and a handful of stores this summer.
The pals from Green used Kickstarter, the first website to offer creative minds an opportunity to raise money for their projects.
Since launching in 2009, it has been joined by a few other crowdfunding sites — including Indiegogo and Seed & Spark — geared toward starving artists in search of patrons.
A few big names have been taking advantage of the trend. Spike Lee just raised more than $1.25 million on Kickstarter to fund his next movie.
But more likely, you’ll run into people like college student Steven Stapleton from Akron, who used it to turn a gospel rap song into a music video.
“It would have been hard to do it on my own,” he said.
Not all campaigns are successful.
Kickstarter — which requires the artist to reach his or her publicized funding goal in order to collect the pledges — says 44 percent of projects get the green light.
Indiegogo will allow artists to receive funds from backers even if their goal isn’t met, and Seed & Spark will collect pledges if the fundraiser hits 80 percent.
But they all work roughly the same way, beginning with creative types — they could be dancers, fashion designers, photographers, actors, game-makers, chefs — explaining their dream in words, pictures and videos, then setting a funding goal and deadline.
“Backers” are people who look over their idea and become inspired enough to pledge support, as little as a buck. It’s common practice for project creators to offer rewards to backers who offer higher levels of money.
Here’s a look at four local residents who used Kickstarter to fund a dream, and their advice for others interested in doing the same:
Dunphy and Lammert weren’t looking to get rich. Their modest Kickstarter campaign only sought enough money to print and ship 150 books to fans.
In that way, crowdfunding dictated their decision to break their graphic novel into nine parts. Success was much more likely if they were only dealing with a comic book-sized effort rather than the full graphic novel all at once.
But truth be told, the forum offered another opportunity as well — getting their names out in the industry in the hopes of attracting more work.
“It was a way of advertising our skills,” Lammert said. And it worked. Among other things, they have been invited to work on another author’s graphic novel, and to do some promotional material for Akron Comicon in November.
Meanwhile, they’re busy on their next project: A musical album accompanied by a comic book that tells the story of Little Space Beast.
The pair had plenty of advice for artists wanting to follow in their footsteps.
Keep the campaign short, Dunphy said. They could have set a 90-day deadline for their project, but they kept it to 30 days because “we wanted a sense of urgency in our backers’ minds,” he said. They didn’t want a campaign that built up excitement quickly, then languished for weeks.
And be prepared to move quickly if the momentum changes. Backers can withdraw their pledges up to the last day, and when Dunphy and Lammert started losing a handful of supporters as the clock ticked down, they were afraid of not meeting their goal.
They decided to offer their original cover artwork to the first $300-level supporter, and on the last day, a Canadian patron signed up.
Steven Stapleton, 22, was 8 years old when he first heard the Gospel Gangstaz, a Christian hip-hop group.
“It was 1998 and no one else was doing gospel rap, so I started a group and we started rapping,” he said.
His church in Akron wasn’t particularly supportive at first.
“I was going against the grain,” he said, but “when they saw my desire, they caught on and supported me full force.”
Last year, Stapleton’s supporters reached into their pockets to help him turn one of his songs into a music video.
The Internet community chipped in $2,635 — Stapleton had asked for $2,500 — and a few weeks later, Running With Angels was uploaded to YouTube.
The result wasn’t as successful as he had hoped. He sold about 500 records and has notched about 1,800 views on his video.
“It was disappointing. I wanted 10,000 hits,” he admitted.
But Stapleton’s career path is still on track. He recently graduated from Full Sail University in Florida and is now working with a production company in Orlando while also helping with a newly launched record label.
And he’s still a fan of the method he used to take a stab at his own music video.
His advice to others:
“If I did it again, I would do it on a grander scale, not just use word of mouth” to circulate news about the funding campaign, he said. “You have to be strategic and determined. You have to go in with a plan and know how to market it.”
Jon Fawcett has made a career of designing products for other companies, from toys to vacuum cleaners.
But any hope of launching his own product was always tempered with the fear that he would contract to build 20,000 units of something that would sit in a closet.
Then Kickstarter came along. Fawcett studied the site and realized it could be used for more than to just raise money — it could be used to presell a cellphone cable for which he only had a prototype.
Last year, Fawcett invited backers to pre-order his Une Bobine flexible cables, which allow Android and iPhone users to attach their phones to a computer and keep it held in any position for viewing.
As pledges for orders poured in from all over the world, Fawcett had the vote of confidence he needed to invest the necessary capital for building injection molds, a $45,000 cost.
“We essentially wanted to see if it was a viable product idea before we invested a ton of money,” he said.
He’d set his public Kickstarter goal as $9,800, but when it closed after his self-imposed deadline of 40 days, he had people committed to buying almost $250,000 worth of his cable.
He plans to use crowdfunding again in another month or two to sell his new iPhone 5 version, but he’s learned a lot in the process.
For starters, mailing the product domestically and to other countries was a huge challenge he didn’t expect.
“We had 300 retailers and distributors all over world contact us,” he said. Many customers had to wait to receive their products while he taught himself to fill out customs forms, set up international handlers for overseas sales, and perfect packaging.
He also recommends project creators consider a “weird and zany” sales pitch on their web page, as he did, to grab attention. Set the funding goal low so the little green bar that publicizes how the campaign is going fills up quickly and proclaims success, and name your product something unusual so search engines find you easily.
A lot of people may not know how to pronounce Une Bobine or know what it means, he said, but it’s the first thing that pops up in a Google search.
Dave Andrews tested the crowdfunding waters early. Within months of Kickstarter’s launch, he and his partners were on the website, asking Internet patrons for $25,000 to help film a pilot for a potential television series.
Who Am I? was a coming-of-age adventure starring a teen hockey star with mysterious origins and odd behavior that has caught the attention of his friends, his mother and the government.
Crowdfunding “was a new thing so we thought we’d give it a try,” said the filmmaker from Green.
The campaign was successful — sort of.
The pledges topped off at $29,000 and qualified Andrews to receive them, but a single pledge for $8,000 never materialized, so after fees were paid out, he had about $18,000 to rent equipment, pay actors and crew, and film his hour-long episode in Akron-area locations.
He never sold the pilot, and in hindsight, he said, he shouldn’t have tried to do so much with so little.
“The average TV pilot costs $10 million,” he said, wishing he’d used the funds instead to create a “high-end 2- to 3-minute promotional video,” to show network and cable executives.
Andrews said he’s moved on from that failed experiment. He gave up Hollywood to stay at home with his family, but his imagination is still stirring.
He’s already thinking about offering his services making props for movies. It’s not the kind of project that would be accepted by Kickstarter, he said, but Indiegogo has different rules and he might be able to promote his talents there.
“Kickstarter was the first, but it’s not always the right place to go,” he said, advising project creators to research all the platforms and pick the one that suits them best.