Band of Bards Redux: Bandier and Bardier – An Interview with CHRIS BENAMATI
Chris Benamati, undaunted by his earlier excursion, bravely returns to the Yeti Cave to sit down with Papa Yeti himself, Matt Ligeti, to discuss Band of Bards' successful crowdfunding efforts, their goals for the future, and what readers and creators can expect.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Chris! Thanks for coming back to the Yeti Cave for an update on Band of Bards.
When last we really got down to it about the publisher, it was when y’all were funding FINAL GAMBLE. Though it was just a few months ago, it feels much longer. Since then, you’ve funded your second title, PROSPECTS, and announced a horror-themed anthology, FROM THE STATIC. That’s a lot for a new publisher in a short amount of time. How’re you feeling?
CHRIS BENAMATI: It does feel longer...especially after the last few weeks. (laughs)
But, I'm feeling good. If you asked me this last week when we were going through that discourse over the Anthology’s name, I might have offered a different view, but that all being in the rearview, I'm back to being neck-deep into being a productive member of comic society again! There were a good amount of ups and downs though over the last few months, especially when we thought Prospects was not going to fund...not that our plan needed that, it's just nice to see some members of our community swoop in last minute to make it happen and give us two wins. We definitely have set some lofty goals, especially for 2022!
CBY: I’ve probably mentioned it before, but we’re doing an indie publisher audit right now. CBY’s looking at new and young publishers on the scene and asking them questions about what makes them tick, what makes them different, and what their plans are for the future. So, let’s start with where Band of Bards came from. What made you decide to start a comic book publishing company in the middle of a pandemic?
CB: Well, Band of Bards was actually an idea that percolated for about 5 years. Tim originally came to me with a plan to document stories from Veterans (much like himself), and he recognized that there was an abundance of bullshit out there that wasn't really providing a real voice to that community. It always kind of felt like it catered to the machismo of it all, and refused to show the other facets that make that community what it is. So the plan was to interview, build a database, and then preserve these stories in comic form.
Real life happened, and the idea was on the back burner for a bit. We'd kind of shoot ideas back and forth, and we always knew comics itself wasn't terribly inclusive. When we finally decided to hit the gas, we were both in agreement that we needed to expand the mission, which was building a publisher that was creator-focused, but also was focused on telling stories that were inclusive for everyone.
Why we waited until it was a pandemic with a real mean supply chain issue, it just seemed like the most reasonable time. (laughs)
"We're interested in our creators telling the story they want to tell, without someone from the 'label' interfering too much. So if they think that their story is better served as a 6-issue series, or a trade paperback, we're going to do our best to make it happen."
CBY: One thing I love about you guys is that you seem approachable, accessible, and that you’re really absorbing what seems to be working (or not working) for creators and other publishers. Do you feel like you’re constantly making adjustments to how Band of Bards does business, based on these new learnings and discussions? For example, are you changing your contracts to balance publisher protection and creator support, or marketing comics in different ways based on what you’ve seen working for others?
CB: Hell yeah! I think between Tim and I, we're super available and vocal. I think what makes us really work as a duo is that we're both very open to feedback, fair criticism, and ideas. We pay close attention to the community as well because we don't want to make those same selfish mistakes that some publishers do.
When I agreed to jump on board, being a creator myself, it was very apparent and very important early on that we work to balance the publisher and creator relationship. Even with contracting, for example, we ran the Final Gamble Kickstarter campaign with Robyn on a mutual agreement in good faith. The contracts we were working on were delayed. Reason being, to write those contracts we hired a literary attorney who represents creators, and not a publisher. We specifically said that we needed a fair contract that protects us as a publisher, but we cannot let it take advantage of our creators.
I think, too, our plan deep down has always been to shift the landscape, so we're very fluid and constantly adjusting. I don't think we ever want to become complacent and fall into any mindset where we just "do business this way." Evolution in an industry doesn't happen when you just dig your hole and sit in it. Tim and I are also very pro-union and are paying close attention, especially right now.
"Evolution in an industry doesn't happen when you just dig your hole and sit in it."
CBY: While we’re on the subject of contracts, let’s talk about how Band of Bards‘ creators get paid. It looks like you rely on Kickstarter to fund books, so I’m guessing it’s more of a revenue split and not a work-for-hire contract. Does the comic have to see a certain amount of profit before creators get paid, as we’ve seen with some other publishers? How does this all work?
CB: Right now Kickstarter really is the best way for us to get the word out on a new project, but we don't plan to rely on it forever. We're looking for creator-owned ideas, and are utilizing a very modified version of how Image got started to bring them to life. I think how we pay creators for the work is dependent on the project itself, but revenue share is likely going to be carrying the lot of these projects. We're looking to break even on our investment in a project and then the revenue share would kick in.
In a perfect world, we want to pay all the creators upfront for their work, and then share the revenues fairly. For example, when it comes to Final Gamble, the goal was always to raise enough funds to pay the creative team to bring Robyn's idea to life with issue #1. Then, once successful, we greenlight that and move onto the plan to get issues 2-6 completed. Right now, in regard to issue #1, Jorge is done with the line art, and he's been paid for his work.
If we could have it our way, and get the support and funding, we'll always do our best for the creators. That's what we think is the barometer of success.
CBY: Is Kickstarter part of your plans to fund every new Band of Bards release?
CB: No. It's a great tool, but we don't want to be complacent and have it become the only tool. We're working on a couple other ideas and talking to a ton of creators and indie pubs for input. Our goal from the start has always been self-sufficiency, and we don't want to always rely on crowdfunding, although for some projects, it definitely has a place.
CBY: What about IP? Do creators retain the rights to their intellectual property?
CB: We don't have any intentions to own IP (unless it's from either Tim or myself), and our contract is built more like a licensing agreement than anything. Creators we work with will always own 100% of their intellectual property. CBY: Band of Bards isn’t stuck to a single comics length, like some other indie pubs. You talked before about how length will depend on the comic itself. And you also spoke about your intent of hiring diverse creators and representing diversity in the comics themselves. These are two great differentiators we’ve been lucky to see in other publishers we’ve talked to. What other characteristics make Band of Bards different from other publishers?
CB: We're interested in our creators telling the story they want to tell, without someone from the "label" interfering too much. So if they think that their story is better served as a 6-issue series or a trade paperback, we're going to do our best to make it happen.
We want our creators to be rock stars. For example, when you hear the name "Batman" or "Captain America," inherently you think of DC or MARVEL before anything else. We want you to think about Max first when you read PROSPECTS, then after remember that they're part of Band of Bards. CBY: Are submissions open? Do you get people pitching you ideas or comics via DM? Do you already have an idea of who you want to work with in the future?
CB: Submissions are very much open right now. We haven't publicized it but they haven't closed yet, and we're still getting new stuff daily. We are a bit behind responding to people, so bear with us. It's just Tim and I... and we also have day jobs. We do definitely get stuff via DM, and it's so cool that there is such an interest in us, but please, always pitch via the submission form at BandofBards.com! We're both in and out of all the Social Media stuff all day, it's super easy to lose track of it all!
I'll be honest in saying that I definitely have a handful of creators on a list that I hope send us a pitch someday and leave it at that. CBY: Though you’re still brand new as far as indie publishers go, with 2022 right around the corner, I gotta ask: What’s the plan for Band of Bards? Do you already know how you want to evolve and grow over the next 5 years?
CB: Can I be totally cliche and say our goal is World Domination? (laughs)
We have a nice tentative schedule of releases for 2022, and I think we just want to keep growing, and hit some benchmarks.
Finding a great printing partner is what we're working on now. After that it is a distribution partner, which is paramount, and really our next step to some real success. I want to see our creators in stores by the end of the year at the latest. That's where the energy is going now.
CBY: What didn’t we cover? What do you want readers or creators or other news sites to know about you?
CB: If you have questions, please come to the source and ask us directly. We're not going to shy away from conversation. Also, be kind. Life's too short to be a jerk.
CBY: Chris, thanks so much for your time and answers here. I really appreciate it. Where can folks find you on the Worldwide Web?
CB: I'm always super happy to hear from the Yeti, and will always be available for a good Q&A! We can be found at BandofBards.com, on Twitter and Instagram via @bandofbards, and Facebook via @bandofbardscomics.
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