09/14/2012 07:39 pm ET Updated Nov 14, 2012

Teddy Bear Detective Sleuths Up Kickstarter Clams

By Noah J. Nelson

Let me cop to a weakness up front: the first story I ever wrote, in the third grade, was about a dectective. A detective who just so happened to be a teddy bear.

So when Alexander Zalben and Josh Kenfield's campaign to publish their Detective Honeybear comic on Kickstarter I couldn't help but notice. Detective Honeybear and the Mystery of the Terrible Llamas is an all-ages comic about the titular teddy bear who lives in a "noir mystery world" solving crimes while speaking in an almost incomprehensible teddy bear patois.

Zalben, who writes for MTV Geek and is the host of Comic Book Club Live for the Nerdist, and I talked via email this week about how Detective Honeybear came to be and where they're taking the campaign now that they have blown past their initial $4,873 goal.

TURNSTYLE: Why a teddy bear detective?

Alexander Zalben: Let me ask you this: why a HUMAN detective? Are humans so much smarter than teddy bears? Oh they are? All right then. It's actually not really that exciting a story to explain, but it came from a few different places, sort of all at the same time, including talking to the artist, developing ideas, etc.

But it really started off with a running joke I have with my wife about TV detectives, that they always have three characteristics: 1) They're the best at [BLANK]; 2) They have one big weakness, which is [BLANK]; and 3) They have a quirky interest in [BLANK]. And that's the only things you need to know about them.

So Detective Honeybear is the best bear detective on the force, he's scared of ghosts, and loves sandwiches. We haven gotten to the ghost thing yet.

Also: Josh Kenfield draws an adorable teddy bear, doesn't he?

TS: The initial goal was to fund a 300 copy print run, why that number?

AZ: I wanted to aim for a goal with the Kickstarter that was potentially reachable, while pushing a little further than we had gone before. We had done 50 copies of the first story as sort of a pitch document, which disappeared pretty quickly; so 300 seemed like a nice jump over that!

Also: that's the Sam Humphries mandated number! I mean, I'm joking about the mandate, but he printed 300 copies of the (excellent) story Our Love Is Real, and sold out. [For more on Humpries see the editor's note below.] Then Ian Brill did the same thing with Dracula World Order, another really fun story. Right now, we've sold over 170 copies of our initial print run just through Kickstarter, and have a number of stores in the NYC area who have agreed to also sell the book once it's printed. So 300, at least for the scale we aimed for, seems to be the right amount!

TS: What's your take on the rise of Kickstarter as a de-facto indie comics publisher?

AZ: I think it's fantastic! Not to be too logical about it, but essentially what you're doing is pre-selling your comic directly to an audience that wants to read it. There's no publishers to go through, no retailers, just people who want a comic, and are voting with their money to make it happen.

Again, realistically and logically, the all-ages market in comic book stores is a tough nut to crack. If we can stretch the print run, it's definitely something I want to tackle; but this way, we get our book in the hands of people who want to see comics like this! Now we just have to make it good, I guess?

The other thing that's great about Kickstarter is that it's manageable. There's, I think, less than 150 comics projects at any given time, so you really can browse through the site and shop for things you want. Point being: it's another way of getting comics in people's hands, and that's never a bad thing.

TS: You chose to offer a retailer special, is there a tension between direct internet sales to readers and trying to get your book out into stores... or is this enough of a start-up that those issues don't really come into play?

AZ: I really can't speak for the stores themselves, but I can explain why I offered a retailer special, which we've already gotten four pledges for! Yay! The idea is to get the book in people's hands, and physical stores are still one of the best ways of doing that. I wanted to try to offer a special that let stores support the book the same way an individual would, but allowing them more stock, and the possibility of selling them at a reasonable price.

Again, I think this is a great way for retailers to stock some unique comics projects, and also feel a great deal of ownership over them, which always helps when selling to patrons! But again, I'm not a retailer; I'm just a guy who writes stories about bears investigating llamas, so who knows?

TS: Now that you've cleared the main goal, what would you like to accomplish with the campaign? Any stretch goals in mind?

AZ: I'm completely blown away that we got our full goal in fifteen days, so if we didn't get a dollar more, I'd be a happy clam. However, I'm going to be... I don't know... Two happy clams? Because we've already blasted past that goal, and as of this writing are 109% funded.

So, new stretch goals! While doing this project, I got contacted by a printer that had very, very reasonable rates for bulk quantities. If we can add a little more money (and we're actually almost there), we're going to a 1,000 copy printing, in order to have more stock to sell to stores, and bring to conventions. A bit more than that, and we'll print 2,000, or 3,000 copies, which will let us explore the possibility of submitting the book to Diamond, and - ideally - getting it in stores all over North America.

Beyond that, I have some ideas... But right now, I'm just bowled over we got as far as we did. I'm three clams happy. That's an expression, right?


Editor's note: Sam Humphries' unconventional Our Love Is Real generated big buzz in the collector market when it sold out, contributing to a rapid rise from journalist turned self-published author to writing Marvel's Ultimate Comics The Ultimates, a series which directly inspired this year's The Avengers. And no, I'm not making up that book's name. And yes, there was an Avengers comic long before that. It's complicated.

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