Unbound. You may not have heard of it before. It's a crowdfunding site that started to help get books published. That definition expanded just a few years ago to include comics and graphic novels.
The comics crowdfunding through Unbound are unlike anything put out by publishers today. Some are more raw and abstract. Others are ambitious, or approach the medium from a very different direction, or otherwise take chances that other "established" publishers might be afraid to take.
We're working on a separate deep dive into the pros and cons of Unbound as a crowdfunding site, but suffice to say that Unbound comics seem to get funded more slowly than comics funded through Kickstarter or similar sites – so slowly, in fact, that many projects on the list below have been live for over a year and none of them have even reached the halfway point in their funding (as of the time this article is being written).
While we conduct all the necessary research and interviews for the above article, we thought you might like to know about a few extremely promising comics that need your help RIGHT NOW. I've been lucky enough to read at least a portion of each of these and can say that each is a truly unique and impressive work by talented and innovative creators.
Here are 5 that need your help:
1. "The Unlikely Story of Felix and Macabber" by Hass Otsmane-Elhaou & Juni Ba
What is it? A coming-of-age/coming-out-of-retirement story set in a charmingly quirky world of monsters.
We've seen a lot from Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou as far as lettering, or talking and writing about comics goes, but this might be his first time actually writing a comic. It's also artist, Juni Ba's, first graphic novel. But don't let that sway you: "Felix and Macabber" is an impressive delight, a feast for the eyes and the soul.
Using a traditional story trope of the "two unlikely friends" and setting it in a world of monsters makes for a fun and dynamic story that hints at a depth to be explored in later chapters. And you can actually read the first chapter for free if you support the project!
Here's the official write-up: The Unlikely Story of Felix and Macabber is the tale of a little monster, Felix, and his run in with the big, brutish, ex-superstar monster Macabber. Felix was having a tough time, not an unusually tough time for a little monster of his age, of course, tales like his are a dime a dozen. Or at least, they were until last Flugulday, when Felix happened upon a moment that might come to change the course of his life. On his usual lonely trot to school, Felix gets accosted by Arachnibold -- the meanest of bullies. Felix is pushed to play knock-a-door-run on the big, heavy, frighteningly gothic front door of a Mr. Tails. You may know him better as Macabber Tails, or simply... Macabber. One name, like Trimpton or Rigglenok, an elite among their class.
And that is when Felix’s life began drifting into much muddier waters, and where we begin our story of Macabber and Felix, their tumultuous, up and down, flipped and reversed friendship, foeship, and everything in between. Our travels will take us to the edge of Krinkletown, to the heights of Munkun, and the deep, dark depths of Macabber’s soul.
In Felix, Macabber sees a version of himself from some time ago, a version who still might be able to make the right choices and not end up in his family-less, fame-focused future. In Macabber, Felix sees someone who has their life together, who's earned and maintained a respect he's never found. Together, they come to learn that life is never black and white...
2. "Future" by Tom Woodman & Rupert Smissen
What is it? A story of love, hope, and time travel in an attempt to save a dying Earth...and also one of our heroes at the center of the story.
Future is filled with hope and love and beauty in the face of anything but. If you want to know more about it, we reviewed it earlier this year, but if you love sci-fi with heart, you'll love Future. It has some "high science-fiction" elements, but stays grounded in a way that feels very real and natural, and it's this balance that makes Future feel approachable and intimate.
It's something that I, personally, often miss in sci-fi: the human element. The genre can easily come off as cold, sterile, divorced from humanity in order to play up the "sci-fi-ness" of the story or how dystopian its setting is. But Future is a story about people first, and the hope we have, even when it seems like it's too late. Plus, Rupert Smissen's art is hauntingly beautiful, and lettering superstar Aditya Bidikar just signed on to letter it!
Here's the official write-up: Murray Mielniczuk, the last astronaut, is dying. So is the Earth.
In a last-ditch attempt to save them both, Murray and her wife Kay are shot forward through time to find a cure and rewrite the future. But crash-landing in a barren future, they find themselves with no help, no ship, and no way home.
Future is a character-driven sci-fi story by an award-winning creative team, aimed at a 16+ audience. It is a single-volume book, in five chapters, totaling around 135 pages.
Also, if you missed it in my review, here's what I had to say about it:
"About halfway through this first issue, I paused and thought, 'I want to read this forever.'[...] Future is poised to be the best crowdfunded comic of the year."
3. "The Boy With Nails For Eyes" by Shaun Gardiner
What is it? A highly atmospheric and surreal tale of terror set against a sepia-toned, old-timey, steampunk world at war.
It stars, as you may guess, a boy with nails for eyes. He has fallen in love with a girl who he cannot see, and he is filled with a poetic longing for her. But as Bobby begins to go mad and war trudges closer to his town, this fragile, beautiful sapling of love is threatened.
And Gardiner's writing in this is poetic. There's a dramatic flair to his use of words as well as in his artistic style, which feels heavily influenced by Dave McKean.
Here's the official write-up: A young boy living in a grey prison of a town starts to go mad after falling love with someone he hasn't seen.
The town Bobby and his mother live in is a grey cluster of houses trapped against the sea by a half-ring of factories. Over the horizon, a war is raging. Any day now it may sweep over the town and crush it. And Bobby has fallen in love.
It begins at school. One day, in the playground, Bobby is kissed when he is not looking. That evening, he doesn't want his dinner; his heart leaves no room. As soon as his mother releases him, he dashes outside. He has pencil and paper. He is going to draw the girl's portrait. He thinks that to draw the girl will bring her to him.
But the spell fails.
Bobby is heartbroken.
The night, the dreams begin. They come again the next night, and the next.
Bobby begins to sleepwalk. He wakes up out of bed. Days and night smear into each other. Terror begins to seep into him. It rides in on the draught from the windows. It oozes up through the cracks in the floorboards. He thinks he is going mad.
One night, Bobby wakes downstairs. He has opened his father's toolbox, dusty as a coffin, untouched for months now. Bobby watches as he steals some things from the toolbox.
A hammer, and a pair of nails.
4. "Candles" by Lyndon White
What is it? A high fantasy tale rife with monsters, magic and more, all from the singular mind of Lyndon White.
I only got to check out the first 11 pages, but I'm already hooked by what I saw and how the story is described, some of which you can find below.
There's both levity and darkness to that story, lending to a well-balanced tale told through White's unique illustration style, which has elements of classic Final Fantasy and the imagination of a Studio Ghibli film but with a painted, visceral texture to the pages.
Here's the official write-up: Generation after generation people are taught one thing, never use magic. The evil Witch has cast a plague known as Dark-bark over the land and one by one, infected villagers are lured into the enchanted forest never to be seen again. As a last resort to save her family, Grace embarks on a quest to steal the Witch’s magic and use it to save her dying village.
Meanwhile, Idris, a flamboyant sorcerer and his talented apprentice Ava, are outcasted from their town and begin to track the source of the Dark-bark. Wolves howl at the night sky and candles begin to glow. The Witch must be stopped at all costs, however, everything is not as it seems.
Our protagonist, Grace, is the one person in her village who sees the good that magic can do. However, after generations of villagers being subjected to the evil Witch and her plague, the villagers and want nothing more to do with it. Despite its potential to cure them and once and for all.
Idris and his apprentice Ava get caught up in the mix of all this. Failing to keep a low profile they cause chaos in their home town and are exiled as magic users. While in exile they find signs of the Dark-bark infecting the land. Due to Idris’ good nature and always wanting to do the right thing, they set out to find the source of the dark magic and destroy it. Not because they seek adventure, but because Idris knows they are the only ones capable of stopping it.
Aimed at lovers of fantasy, fairy tales, monsters and magic, Candles is an all-ages book that will take you on a hero’s quest, with all the wonder and heartbreak that comes with it.
5. "The Plague and Doctor Caim" by G. E. Gallas
What is it? I cover it pretty succinctly in my review of the book from earlier this year, but I call it "A bone-dry comedy about a doctor at the time of the bubonic plague."
In that same review, I compare it to an old-timey play (or a silent film, I'd like to add!) or a humorous illuminated manuscript.
Its rigid structure of 4 panels to a page perfects its pacing, ensuring the jokes hit as hard as the more dramatic moments.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect of a comic about a plague doctor, but G. E. Gallas's writing and illustration styles make this comic distinctive amongst the sea of comics out there. Unlike anything else, I feel a strong desire to share a copy with friends and industry professionals. "Look at this! Have you seen anything like it?" It feels like a collector's item I'd showcase proudly after I'd finish reading it, though I may be compelled to read it a few times. It's a quick read, after all, darkly charming, wryly humorous. Something you have to experience for yourself.
Here's the official write-up: The Plague and Doctor Caim follows the life of a 17th-century plague doctor: an Everyman with a beak. One day, Doctor Caim is hired by a village to treat both the rich and the poor. The doctor readily accepts this position, but goes about the work with much trial and error. Doctor Caim encounters patients from all walks of life, experimenting with treatments while monitoring his own health and watching the stars for omens.
Research is the integral foundation of both the script and design of The Plague and Doctor Caim. Each medical treatment Doctor Caim tries and every situation Doctor Caim finds himself in is based on historical facts. With the aesthetic of a medieval illuminated manuscript, this graphic novel finds macabre comedy within the history of the bubonic plague.
I was inspired to make this book because people are fascinated by the plague doctor, his costume and beak mask (just as I am), but many are unfamiliar with the history behind them. The plague doctor appears in many supernatural-themed comics, is a favorite among numerous cosplayers, and adorns many bodies as tattoos. But none of these delve into the reality of the plague doctor’s life.
Furthermore, Doctor Caim is a compelling character to write and draw. I made a deliberate decision that the doctor should never be seen without a mask. This way, the character is truly an Everyman: an average human being that could belong to any race, ethnicity, gender and so on. But, at the same time, Doctor Caim is not anonymous. The doctor has a distinct personality, ethos, and set of habits, making Doctor Caim a multidimensional character that readers will care about.
That's my shortlist of Unbound comics to check out! At least, as far as the ones I have personally been able to read portions of and vouch for. There are more options on the site – "Isabella and Blodwen" by Rachael Smith looks especially promising, and you can still get editions (mostly digital) of successfully funded comics, like "Grafity's Wall," "Barking," and "The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya." That being said, please help fund the comics that still haven't reached their goals – they need your help so that you and many others can experience these truly unique titles.
And keep an eye out this Thursday for Jake West's picks for top crowdfunding comics, only at ComicBookYeti.com!