Smash Pages Q&A: Ekstrom & Brownfield on Imminent Press and ‘Terminal’

Two members of the newly formed collective discuss their current Kickstarter campaign as it nears its completion date.

In January, a new comics imprint, Imminent Press, took to Kickstarter to raise funds to bring their graphic novel anthology, titled Terminal, to life. The campaign failed.

But more importantly, they didn’t give up.

The second time’s the charm, as they dusted themselves off and retooled their project and campaign. Now with less than a week left, they’ve hit their funding goal for the first issue of a Terminal miniseries, with hopes that they can earn enough to publish the second issue as well. Contributors to the project include a mix of veteran and emerging comic and webcomic creators, along with several names you might recognize from the comic press — one of whom is even our former boss.

I spoke with two members of their “board,” Steve Ekstrom and Troy Brownfield, about Imminent Press, Terminal, their Kickstarter campaign and more.

I thought we could start out by talking about Imminent Press. How did you guys first come together? And how did you determine who would be doing what for the imprint?

Steve Ekstrom: Troy, Matt (Brady) and I had been threatening to do SOMETHING together for almost 5-6 years, actually. Last summer, Troy and I were on the phone talking shop, complaining about being passionate about comics and just shooting the breeze…and we just decided to DO SOMETHING versus talking about doing something.

The framework for Terminal came out of that conversation. And, as Warren Ellis puts it, we “put the band together.”

As Terminal flew together and started gaining momentum, we knew we had something bigger that we could put together to help each other collectively. Imminent Press started out as a way to cross-promote our individual web properties…and, now, it’s become a label for our digital studio masthead.

Troy Brownfield: At the heart of it, it’s really about people that know and respect each other making comics together. And I respect the talent present in every one of these men and women. Except maybe Matt Brady.

Steve Ekstrom: I think everyone involved who has a business role in our group has a lot of business acumen…which is hard to come by in any field chock full of people who fake it till they make it. I had become the de facto Publisher as we were organizing so I sort talked to everyone and got a handle on how each person fit best.

CW Cooke, for example, is a pretty prudent, grounded guy. So he’s ACTUALLY our swing vote in our little gang of seven that makes larger decisions in a role of “Business Development.”

I know you’re really focused on this campaign right now, but what are your plans for expanding down the line?

Troy Brownfield: We have two primary components off the top. The first is the Terminal anthology series, which Steve will cover in a minute. The second immediate concern is the congregation of pre-existing webcomics. A number of us have our own sites (Sparkshooter, Hunter Black, Kamikazee, Cannibal Island, etc.), but we’re going to make the Imminent Press site into a hub by which one can reach all of the other affiliated creators. So, those sites will continue, but someone that comes to Imminent can also see, for example, what Carrie Tupper is doing, what Justin Peniston is doing and so on. The third component will be other series/anthologies that go to Kickstarter, but that’s for later.

Steve Ekstrom: Our collective doesn’t have a lot of restrictions because we’re not fighting to get into the Diamond catalog. We’re operating at a level of digital boutique that offers us all the flexibility to do as we please. So, it’s really based on the efforts of the individual creator and where they’d like to take themselves under the umbrella of Imminent Press.

Terminal #1 variant cover

What is Terminal exactly? I know it’s an anthology, but is there a thread that connects it all together?

Steve Ekstrom: Terminal is a postmodern look at the pulp comics of the mid-20th century. Pulp is that big predecessor of the superhero umbrella that sort of takes all the sub-genres of pulp and mashes them together and throws a cape on it. We wanted to pay homage to where we came from as readers and creators.

Terminal is 12 loosely interconnected pulp stories that bend the genre into something uniquely modern in a shared universe connected by a ubiquitous terminal station.

Troy Brownfield: In terms of the stories themselves, you’ll see some threads or Easter eggs that bind one installment to another. We didn’t mandate these; the creators got to choose what to use and how much. Steve has my main character appear on a page of his story. I have graffiti that’s important to Justin P.’s story appear in mine. And so on.

Anthologies can have a tough time finding an audience; I’m thinking of the recently canceled Dark Horse Presents and Island as I say that. What’s the appeal to you guys to collect an anthology?

Steve Ekstrom: I know the market doesn’t favor anthologies but I love them, personally. I’m that rare guy who seeks them out as a consumer on a regular basis.

Anthologies are a great way to engage a part of the industry that doesn’t get enough attention: rising talent who haven’t broken through that last big barrier into mid-tier publishing and the Big Two.

I wanted to create an opportunity not just for myself but other creators who shared in my frustration to “prove myself” to the market. Troy knows what I’m talking about…

Troy Brownfield: Strength in numbers, basically. One of the appeals of an anthology is that you can build a really large team to work with and spread the word. It also lets some of these creators step outside of the box that they might presently be in and show their chops in another regard. Take my stuff for example. If I’m known for anything, it’s either dark fantasy or the music-based comedy of Sparkshooter, which are admittedly diverse from one another. But as much as I enjoy noir-ish kinds of material, I’ve never really had an ability to show that past some webcomics I did back in 2000 (my Genretown comic that ran on my ShotgunReviews site). This was a good moment for me to show another side of what I can do.

I’m guessing you guys have seen all the stories by now that will eventually find a home in Terminal. Not counting your own, which ones really resonated with you or surprised you in some way?

Steve Ekstrom: Troy’s story is pretty special and because he’s got a tone that I find very hard to replicate in my work. Humor doesn’t come easily for me…and I tend to drift into dark places when I’m trying to be funny.

Justin Gray’s story is surprisingly dark with a hint of nonchalance. His character has this sort of demonic Lebowski vibe that I really dig.

I also think that Eric Palicki’s story is pretty unique. Hell, they’re all bringing something unique to the collection. I’m a process junkie, so just being able to help collect and edit them together has been a lot of fun.

Troy Brownfield: Thanks, Steve! I think Steve’s is pretty great, and Vito Delsante’s story kicked 100 percent of my ass. No filler here, kids.

Artwork from GRRzly + K!nX by Bob Rivard

Getting into the campaign itself… You guys are officially funded now in your second attempt at a Kickstarter. What did you learn from the first Kickstarter that informed how you set up this one?

Steve Ekstrom: Don’t use the word “donate”–I say that in jest but, trying to get projects funded in this manner, is very taxing because, oftentimes, you feel like you’re rattling a cup even when you’re really not.

At the scale that most projects are operating at, crowd-funding is very similar to pre-selling a book; we’re just not featured in the Diamond catalog and all of our reward is justified by the sweat equity we invest in the day-to-day marketing of the project.

We also learned that you have to earn the trust of consumers. We went “all in” on a $20,000 campaign. I thought, between the 21 of us involved with the project, that we would crush that goal. Not so much…but there were outside factors. A certain orange-skinned belligerent was either scaring the shit out of everyone or at least stealing their attention and/or joy to do anything other than watch the news to make sure he didn’t burn the White House down the first week he moved in.

Troy Brownfield: Yeah, inauguration week is a bad launch window.

But it was definitely a learning experience, and I think that we upped our game on both awareness and intensity for this one. And now that we’ve funded and will be delivering on stretch goals, etc., it should build some brand confidence for future installments.

Mock layout from GRRzly + K!nX by Bob Rivard

Is the plan now to crowdfund each issue?

Steve Ekstrom: We want to do something different every time we reach out to our audience. This first campaign? It’s about earning the trust of our audience by providing excellent incentives, a beautiful finished product, and have it delivered to them in a timely, drama-free fashion.

Expect to see our next Terminal Kickstarter in early September, issues #3 and #4 feature Justin Gray (Jonah Hex), Eric Palicki (No Angel), Matt Brady (Batman, Buck Rogers), the creators of Hunter Black, Justin Peniston and William Orr, and a few talented artists that are new to the industry.

We totally cherry-picked them from the Millar World Talent Hunt submission postings. Thanks, Mark!

Troy Brownfield: Issues 3 and 4 will be funded by a high-profile jewelry heist. Shit. Never mind. Shouldn’t have said that.

Seriously though, once this wraps, we plan to come back with a KS for issues 3 and 4. Each time we crowdfund, it’ll have a different spin and a different set of incentives and attractions. For example, Matt’s doing a science-fiction story in his installment, and Matt and I once wrote a Buck Rogers Annual. To my knowledge, no copy of that book exists that both Matt and I signed. It strikes me that copy signed by both of us might make a useful reward. And that’s something that’s unique to us, and might appeal directly to people in our audience. And that’s just one thing. If you’ve looked at our rewards, they are generous and expansive.

artwork from Broken Colossus by Jerome Eyquem

I noticed that, during your campaign, you ran some time-limited specials, like $51 off the $150 reward tier for an hour. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do that with a Kickstarter campaign, beyond the “early bird” deals some people will offer. Where did the idea come from and how did it work out?

Steve Ekstrom: That $99 deal sold out in just under 8 minutes. I think it did exactly what I wanted it to do. I know a few people who wouldn’t like the idea of diluting your pricing model for rewards but I think it’s also advantageous to make deals with potential customers. People can see our willingness to get product to them and we can hope that will endear us to them.

Troy can verify this: I’m insane and I will do anything to make this succeed.

In truth, when you’re managing a crowd-funding campaign, everyone does the same thing: they watch their numbers and they watch the clock tick by in slow-motion.

And there’s always a stall in the middle weeks of a campaign due to so many factors and understanding how consumers’ minds work.

The “Law of Diminishing Intent” is a real bitch, folks. (haha)

Troy Brownfield: Steve’s not insane. He’s fucking crazy.

But he and I are both very big on “I don’t care if this is a different approach or if no one has tried it. Let’s try it ourselves and see how it goes.” Thus far, the limited time offers are working for us. So we’ll use that. And we’ll keep trying to innovate with new things. There are a LOT of comics on Kickstarter; you have to distinguish yourself.

Broken Colossus print by Jerome Eyquem

With only a few days to go, is there anything you’d say to someone who might be on the fence about contributing?

Steve Ekstrom: Backing us now? You’re GUARANTEED to receive a solid 48-Page comic with two great stories with uniquely talented writers and artists. Plus, you’re going to receive over 300 additional pages of FREE digital content. We also have signature packages, t-shirts, prints and a variant sporting artwork by Rob G (The Couriers, Teenagers From Mars), Larry Watts (Robyn Hood, Army of Darkness) and Valentin Ramon (D4VE).

Plus, if we hit our next Stretch Reward? You get a second issue featuring CW Cooke (Solitary), Aaron Pittman (Grimfish), Marco Lopez (Massively Effective) co-writing with Gene Selassie, and a relatively undiscovered talent, David Landi. The variant edition for Terminal #2 features the work of Jamal Igle (Molly Danger) and Carlos Cabaleiro (Golden Guard).

We basically MATCH what you pledged on #1. So, if you invested in our $25 Pledge Reward, you’d basically get both issues of Terminal and the two Variant Editions (which we’re only printing 200 of each…EVER) as well as two prints (plus two Stretch Reward FREE prints) for one price.

How many people can say that they can get four comics, four prints and 300+ pages of Digital Comics and content for $25?

Introduce me to anyone offering something better than that…and I’ll match them. I’m not here to make money. I’m here to make you a believer in my squad.

Our motto is: “We’re bringing the comics.”

By the end of this campaign, you’ll be a believer.

GRRzly + K!nX promotional piece

You can find out more about Terminal on its Kickstarter page. The first issue will include two stories: “Broken Colossus” by Mark Bertolini and Jerome Eyquem with lettering by Micah Myers, and “GRRzly + K!nX” by Steve Ekstrom and Bob Rivard. Artwork from both included above.

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