The most successful live animation campaign at the moment is Cyanide and Happiness, a long-running webcomic that aims to branch out into a series of long-form animated episodes. In the eleven days since the campaign was launched, over 7,300 backers have contributed $362,000, easily surpassing the project’s original goal of $250,000. It is already the third-highest funded animation campaign in Kickstarter’s history, and could break more records before it’s all over.
The four twenty-something creators of Cyanide and Happiness—Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, Matt Melvin, Dave McElfatrick—are no strangers to animation. Before coming together to make the comic in 2004, they met each other as teenagers doing animation on Newgrounds. In 2009, they began creating brief animated segments based on their comic. Their YouTube channel has amassed neary 200 million pageviews with short-form bits and pieces of animation.
Now, they aim to do something more ambitious: a series of 10-12 minute episodes. Initially, they attempted to negotiate a TV series deal with cable networks. They wrote about the fruitless effort on their blog:
We walked away from the first two [networks] due to rights and creative control issues. We thought that we could settle those issues in the third deal, but things didn’t quite work out as we hoped. We’re starting to realize that TV as an industry just isn’t compatible with what we want to do with our animation: deliver it conveniently to a global audience, something we’ve been doing all along with our comics these past eight years. That’s just the nature of television versus the Internet, I suppose.
Now they’ve turned to Kickstarter to appeal directly to their fanbase:
We firmly believe the entertainment industry is changing, and the Internet will eventually become the only way people watch shows. Especially the people that make up our awesome fanbase. The Internet is already the largest network, available when you think about it. Why go anywhere else? By reading our comics over the years, you folks have given us the careers we dreamed of having as kids, and turned our silly cartoons into something much, much bigger than ourselves. The prospect of doing an uncensored, unaltered Cyanide & Happiness Show and giving it directly to the fans is an incredible opportunity. We’re really excited to see how far we can take things.
Besides the amount of money raised so far, there’s another noteworthy aspect, and that’s that the C&H artists developed their careers entirely online. This is different from many other high-profile animation projects on Kickstarter launched by mainstream artists whose reputations were established in entertainment mediums outside of the Internet.
It still means something to be Ralph Bakshi, John Kricfalusi or Bill Plympton—that is, being the director of numerous theatrical features, the creator of a groundbreaking TV series, or the king of American indie animation has an incalculable advantage over being an upstart. But as the Cyanide & Happiness campaign has shown, lofty reputations from other mediums can’t match the support of a well-established online following.
The C&H Kickstarter already has more backers than the combined totals of the three aforementioned animation legends, and will also achieve a higher pledge dollar amount than the combined total of those other high-profile campaigns. With this success, as well as the success of webcomic campaigns like MS Paint Adventures and Penny Arcade, the once-maligned webcomic is re-emerging as the unlikely foundation of mini-entertainment empires.