Megatokyo, a pioneering English-language manga series originally self-published by its creator Fred Gallagher as a webcomic, has joined the growing number of comics properties raising eye-popping amounts of money on Kickstarter. Looking to transform the series into a visual novel game, a videogame format popular in Japan that combines comics with multiple dialogue-driven narrative paths, Gallagher has raised nearly $260,000 on Kickstarter to fund the development of the Megatokyo Visual Novel Game. Gallagher is also working with Dark Horse Comics to release an omnibus edition of Megatokyo next year that will collect the first three books of the six volume series.
[UPDATE: The Megatokyo Visual Novel Game campaign eventually raised $299,184]
Originally launched in 2000 by Gallagher and a former cocreator, Megatokyo was one of the first non-Japanese works to embrace the manga style and attract a broad following online with American fans. The series was first published online as a webcomic attracting more than 50,000 visitors every day. It was first published in print by small comics house in 2002 and subsequently has been published by Dark Horse and DC Comics. Indeed Gallagher has turned the webcomic/book series into a small commercial empire. He launched Megagear, his own online retail site and sells a wide variety of Megatokyo merchandise from t-shirts and hoodies to books, posters, prints and assorted swag.
Megatokyo is a kind of videogamers fantasy about life in Japan, a videogame nirvana for gaming fans. It’s the story of two hardcore gamers and lovers of Japanese pop culture—Piro, a sensitive guy who loves manga, love games, robots and magical Japanese schoolgirls, and Largo, a beer guzzling, ninja-wannabe zombie killer with L33T skills (advanced gaming and tech knowledge) always looking for a fight. The two get on a plane to go to a videogame convention in Tokyo and end up stranded without money in a fictional Japanese world that’s a videogame/manga series come to life. Megatokyo’s stories follow Piro’s misadventures with robot girls, emotional attachment, love and Otaku (obsessive pop culture fans), while we watch Largo battle the zombies, monsters and demons that continually seem to overrun the Tokyo of Gallagher’s imagination.
Gallagher’s Kickstarter campaign was launched on June 18 with the goal of raising $20,000 to fund a modest visual novel game that would be adapted from the first three volumes of the book series. But as the campaign draws to close it has raised more than $258,000 (at the time this article was posted) and it ends on July 18. Not a bad effort though not unusual for Kickstarter and comics projects. Indeed solid publishing projects that have a longtime presence on the internet can often be very successful on Kickstarter. While Gallagher said he expected to raise the initial amount, “maybe even as much as $75,000” he was surprised and gratified by the level of support he’s received.
“I had no idea of the support,” Gallagher said, noting that he has been interested in visual novel games for years but over the last few years, he and his wife had child and then had to cope with a variety of serious health issues, which delayed the effort. “Visual novels are games, like fighting games,” Gallagher said describing the format, “they’re very popular in Japan and I’ve been fan of them for years.” He said creating a Megatokyo Visual Novel Game is “taking comics into a medium that’s a hybrid of comics and illustrated novels.” Typically the VNG is narrated by drawings, panels and scenes but offer multiple paths—almost like a choose your own adventure story—depending on the choices the players make. “You can choose a character and see the events of the story through a new light, through the eyes of that character and their personality. It’s an inherently immersive and interesting experience,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher Originally planned to recreate the first three volumes of Megatokyo,but with the extra money he now plans to produce the Visual Novel Game in three parts that cover the entire series and offer new material and alternate narrative paths from the original work. Eventually the game will allow users to play the game as one of its seven principal characters. Gallagher is producing the Megatokyo Visual novel game himself—he’s writing the complex script with a partner and building the gaming experience with Ren’Py, a new software platform that allows nonprogrammers to create a complex videogame experience without having coding skills. “I’m not a programmer,” Gallagher said, “but now there is software that makes it possible, so I can focus on the content rather than building a gaming engine.”
Megatokyo is just the latest in what seems an explosion of comics projects being funded on Kickstarter—indeed often funded lavishly and far beyond the creator’s initial goal. Among success campaigns are indie comics like Rich Burlew’s the Order of the Stick (2012, $1.25 million) or Steve Smith's Alaxus Press, which raised the modest sum of $34,000 to publish a reprint edition of Peeters & Schuiten's classic French graphic novel The Leaning Girl. There's also the books of C. Spike Trotman, who has funded three book projects with Kickstarter, including Poorcraft: A Comic Book Guide to Frugal Urban and Suburban Living (2009, $13,000), The Smut Peddler: An Anthology of Sex Positive Erotic Comics (20012, $83,100), and the latest The Sleep of Reason: An Anthology of Horror (2013, $46,925).
There are many more examples of successful comics projects on Kickstarter. Indeed this year comics projects on Kickstarter have a success rate of 48% (general publishing has a 32% success rate) and have raised more than $19 million funding 2805 projects so far this year.
Indeed, when Kickstarter campaigns blast through their initial funding goals, creators tend to scramble to offer more premiums—Kickstarter campaings offer pledgers gifts and incentives like T-shirts or finished books to encourage them to donate—to keep the funding momentum going. Not a problem for Gallagher who runs a sizeable retail outlet (Megagear.com) and can easily fulfill a variety of merchandise for premiums.
However, as the Kickstarter donations for Megatokyo kept rising, Gallagher joked to the fans that he would add “adult content” if he were able to raise $500,000, optional material that could be unlocked in the game. Japanese visual novel games often include what’s called “fan service” or sexy or downright explicit content that can be unlocked if the player is successful at navigating the game.
While it looks like Megatokyo won’t raise quite that much money, Gallagher said that although he’s never had fan service in the comic, he would have added the sexy content because of his joke. “I promised I would do it,” he said laughing, “but I would have added a voice of conscience to the character that would bother them the whole time they were playing.”