Gay Superheroes and Kickstarter Success with Alex Woolfson and Adam DeKraker

The Young Protectors has been running as a webcomic for a little over a year now in the hands of an experienced creative team including writer Alex Woolfson (Artifice), artist Adam DeKraker (Marvel/DC penciler), and Harvey-award nominated colorist Veronica Gandini (Marvel/Image/Boom!). It’s an impressive comic for many reasons, not least of which that it features the journey of a young gay superhero, Kyle, as he makes his first steps towards self-acceptance, and includes gay romance elements. Gay heroes are not absent from superhero comics, but they aren’t particularly well-represented either, often appearing as token characters or handled in ways that don’t speak fully to the real world struggles of the gay community. Woolfson, DeKraker, and Gandini produce a beautifully rendered comic which handles universal themes with a strong sense of humor and commentary on the superhero comic tradition, and it’s not surprising that they’ve engaged a voluble fan community in doing so. Their success as a webcomic led, less than a week ago, to the launch of their Kickstarter campaign to fund a print volume of the first arc of the series, The Young Protectors: Engaging the Enemy.

What happened next revealed all the positive forces at work in creator-owned comics right now: they met their goal in less than 24 hours, and have since blown past that goal with more than double numbers and the better part of a month still to go on the campaign. It’s clear that the fan base established through the webcomic has translated firmly into crowdfunding support, and the factors that led to their success are bound to interest readers tracking the vicissitudes of webcomics and crowdfunding right now. Woolfson and DeKraker speak to The Beat today about the origin, development, and successes of The Young Protectors and the lessons they have to share about their experiences.
Hannah Means-Shannon: What led you to create and work on The Young Protectors in the context of your careers and as comics fans?
Alex Woolfson: As a gay kid growing up, I loved science-fiction and action films and comics, but I never got to see what I really wanted to see and that’s kick-ass genre fiction with heroes, real heroes, who just happened to like other guys. And it didn’t take long before I realised that if I wanted to see those stories in the world, that I’d have to make them myself. Originally, I thought I might create films like that and so I became a filmmaker (which is still my day job)—but I soon realized speculative fiction films are so incredibly expensive that it’d be extremely unlikely I’d ever be able to fund them myself. And it was even more unlikely that Hollywood would want to fund a big-budget actioner with a gay hero.
But you can make a “feature-length” comic for the price of a short film. And in comics, you essentially have an unlimited special effects budget. So by deciding to tell visual stories in comics form, it let me tell exactly the kinds of stories I want to tell.

Adam DeKraker: Alex initially got in touch with me a few years ago about doing a single illustration for another project.  That all went pretty smoothly, so I think we were both open to doing more work together.
Now, a gay superhero romance comic is the kind of thing I’d always thought I’d have to do on my own dime and on my own time, someday in the distant future, because who would ever pay me to work on that?  So, I couldn't really say no, could I?
Like Alex, I’ve always wanted to see more LGBT characters in the fiction I consume.  My intention has always been to be able to get to the point that I’m creating those stories that I’d always wanted to read.
HMS:  What have fan responses been like to the online content of The Young Protectors?

I’ve been overwhelmed by how supportive the readers have been of this comic. The Young Protectors updates once a week on Saturdays for free, but I have a deal with my readers that when the “donation bar” below the comic hits $400, I’ll post up early an addition page the next week (on Wednesday). Well, with only a couple weeks off, we’ve had double-updates every week for The Young Protectors since around page 30 or so (We’re now over 100 pages). And of course hitting our goal of $14,000 in less than 18 hours with the Kickstarter… Well, I just feel very, very grateful. The amazing reader support makes it possible for a regular guy like myself to be able to afford to make these comics and make them really without any compromises.

ADeK: It’s been incredible.  The community of readers is unlike anything I’ve experienced before.   They’re as passionate and dedicated as any other fan, but there’s a refreshing lack of snark and cynicism in the way they interact with each other and the material. The Young Protectors is my first experience with webcomics, so I don’t know if this is typical or not, but I’d like to think our readers are just especially good folks.
And they’re crazy generous!  As if the Kickstarter wasn’t enough, they donate extra hard-earned money every week to get a bonus page of The Young Protectors.   We’re beyond lucky to have such an audience.

HMS: How do you feel about reaching your first Kickstarter goal in less than 24 hours? Did you suspect this might happen?

AW: No, it was surprising! I did try to put a lot of thought into how to set up the campaign based on what I had learned from the last one—what rewards might be appealing, ways to make it more fun—but with Artifice I had asked for $7,000 and it took 48 hours to raise that. This time, based on my experience with printing Artifice, I doubled the amount to $14,000. I certainly had very much hoped I might exceed that goal, but I expected it to take many days not mere hours.
And how did I feel? Absolutely delighted, of course! Over the moon! And for someone creating what the mainstream would consider is a “niche” product, I have to admit it feels very validating too.

HMS: What’s on the horizon for The Young Protectors? Are there future volumes in the works?

AW: Absolutely. This Kickstarter is funding Volume One, which collects the Prologue, Chapter One, and Interlude One from the on-going comic. But I’ve completely plotted out the Engaging the Enemy arc of The Young Protectors and it’s actually a five-chapter story (with a Prologue and some additional Interludes as well.) So, there will be two additional books to finish up this arc. After that, I do have some ideas for other arcs I’d like to tell with different Young Protectors‘ characters. If the readers, Adam and Vero will still have me, I’d love to be able to tell those stories too once this arc is complete.

ADeK: As long as the readers keep showing up, we’ll keep going!  I don’t see the wheels coming off this thing any time soon.

HMS: Woolfson and DeKraker’s story is inspiring in very specific ways. Not only have they produced a committed webcomic featuring themes they felt were missing, and would be in demand from a reading community, but they’ve managed to translate that into a broader fan-base in print format, something of a glittering goal for those launching creator-owned projects via the web. The response of readers clearly supports the team’s own vision for potential in the superhero comic genre to include greater diversity and also demonstrates just how rewarding working on a comic close to your heart can be when handled with a knowledge of the options open for creator owned comics right now. Congratulations to The Young Protectors team from The Beat and thanks for taking the time to give such detailed insights into your work!
I cherry-picked the best questions, The full Q&A is at the source.