The Menace of Doc Vox!
This past Sunday, Theodore Beale, a science-fiction author who pens under the name Vox Day, concluded a month-long crowdfunding campaign he has been running to raise money for a project designed to make superheroes great again.
Beale, you should know, is not only an author, but also a well-established B-lister in online racist politics. And while he is ostensibly a man of letters, his driving purpose in recent years has been to gain glory for himself in any way that does not involve impressing the literary community with his work. Now he hopes to also not impress anyone with his new line of comic books, titled “Alt-Hero”.
Beale began blazing a trail of infamy in 2013 by losing an election for the presidency of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s of America organization, and subsequently being expelled from that body for tweeting bigoted insults to some of its members. He has turned defaming and trolling the author John Scalzi (his unrequited crush) into a personal Manhattan Project, dipped his toe into #Gamergate (that effort by chauvinist gamers to harass female game designers with threats of violence and rape) and most recently ran the “Rabid Puppies” campaign to stuff the ballots for the annual Hugo science fiction awards, yet another trolling campaign, one designed to get obnoxious and unqualified authors listed as finalists.
All in all, Teddy Beale comes across as a person molded from the stomach contents of a human centipede. But when I heard that he wanted to get into the comic book business, my antenna quickly homed in on his signal. Was this man now attempting to debase superheroes as well as science fiction?
Beale pitched Alt-Hero —which is about a world populated with bigoted superheroes — as a poke in the eye to Marvel and DC ; punishment, you might say, for allowing a leftist social agenda to creep into their products. Despite these aspirations, Beale began his campaign by tamping down the notion that he would be fighting Spider-Man and Wonder Woman on their home turf. “Comic shops are going out of business left and right, so we see no need to pay any attention to them at all,” Beale wrote on his blog. “Digital distribution inside games is the core of our strategy.” (I have talked to several gamers, and they have no idea what this could mean.)
Beale crowdfunded his comic book through a fly-by-night operation called Freestartr. Freestartr is run by a couple of reactionary dingbats who are minor names in the alt-right movement: Charles C. Johnson and Peter Duke. Freestartr’s handful of open campaigns have raised almost no money (although the site does falsely claim to have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for people who actually raised their funds through one of Chuck Johnson’s other enterprises). Beale’s campaign is a notable exception.
Predictably, Freestartr’s buggy platform lacks the features that anyone who has funded a project through Kickstarter would expect, such as a ready means to enter international shipping data or to add or remove money from a pledge. Beale’s campaign was equally sloppy, offering no project overview, no breakdown of the costs, and no ETA for the project to be delivered (“It will be done when it is done,” Beale told me in an e-mail). There was little production art to speak of, and what was on display ran the gamut from “not bad” to “godawful”. The stories that Beale was teasing, about white vigilantes beating up immigrants, and evil “cucked” superheroes doing battle with a nationalist European vanguard, sounded like something cooked up by a lifer at San Quentin.
With all these strikes against the project you might think that Beale would have had trouble raising the $25,000 he was asking for. NOPE! The project raked in $244,565, donated by a total of 2190 anonymous backers, including $47,500 from a handful who pledged between $1500 and $5000 for a chance to appear in the comic or to design a character for it. (I’ll pause while you rush to the toilet.)
You can’t argue with success, and you also can’t argue with Beale’s fan base, whose servility would embarrass Jim Jones. After prowling his blog’s comments sections it became clear to me that many of his fans, if not most, cared little for the product they were funding, and were motivated more by their politics and the satisfaction of trolling a fandom that could not give a rat’s ass. They thrilled to the idea that Beale’s gay villain (sigh….he’s called “Rainbow”) will portray homosexuality as deviant, and they were highly animated by the fact that Alt-Hero features a superhero who smokes (a swipe at Disney’s decision to remove all cigarettes from Marvel’s comics and movies). This, they think, will blow the comic book world’s little mind.
Will these manchildren be proven right? Is the world of soopy-doopy heroes about to receive a hot lava enema from the villainous “Vox Day”? I think I can answer that.
Through the benefit of a career spent publishing comic books and running Kickstarters, I will now do that which Teddy would not and let his fans know exactly how their money will be spent. (Warning to those fans: that thing racing towards you is the ground.)
Obviously I cannot know the actual costs of any of the merchandise or services that Teddy Beale will be purchasing. What follows are my best guesses, based on my conversations with printers, sculptors, comic book professionals and the very men who ran the Alt-Hero campaign. I contacted multiple vendors for accurate estimates as often as possible. You should take all of this with a grain of salt, but my assumptions are generally conservative.
We begin with Freestartr, the shabby operation that is less a crowdfunding platform than it is a Lotto ticket machine. Freestartr markets itself as a safe space for far right crowdfunding, but it comes at a price: a 15% vig (compare that to Kickstarter’s cut, which tops out at 10%). So Teddy begins the odyssey of fulfilling his promises with $207,880 in the kitty.
The talent costs are the hardest to predict. It is unclear how many artists will be involved with this project, or what their experience is (which would help determine their rates). One of the artists involved is Timothy Lim, a fairly decent pro who, funnily enough, lost a gig with another small publisher because of his association with Alt-Hero. Lim’s employer was offended by artwork Lim created depicting a character dressed in a Confederate flag, to which Lim responded “It’s pretty outrageous…But the pay is great!”
Lim appears to be slated for cover artwork only. The interior art chores will belong to a number of different unidentified artists, including one known only as “JinjerZilla”, who Beale intended to make a “lead illustrator” for the project, but who has now been sidelined. It’s a pity, because with only $208k to spread around, JinjerZilla was a steal!
It is unclear how many of Alt-Hero’s artists will sit on Lim’s side of the bench and how many on JinjerZilla’s. I assume the Lims will be paid with dollars and the JinjerZillas with sacks of sorghum, but regardless, a full page of colored and lettered comic book artwork will still take the average comic book artist the better part of two working days to complete. Assuming that most of the talent will be no-names, I estimate an average of $125.00 a page for interior artwork, $400.00 for covers. With 576 pages and 12 covers to complete, the art costs for Alt-Hero will be around $76,800.
Beale has also acquired the writing talents of a waning comic industry talent named Chuck Dixon, a man with a respectable career and who is also the co-creator of the Batman villain Bane. Considering Dixon’s street cred it is odd to see him slumming for Beale. One assumes that the urgently conservative Dixon is stoked on writing classic, no-nonsense action comics free of liberal politics for an audience of troglodytes just dying to see if he can turn the chant “Jews will not replace us!” into the new “Avengers assemble!”
Dixon is no Robert Kirkman or Neil Gaiman, but I’m sure he doesn’t come cheap. Nevertheless, I am going to assign him a pauper’s wage of $100 per page. For 288 pages of work, that comes to $28,800. In addition, Dixon will also be writing a prose novel for the project. Let’s give him a $3,000 advance. Total Chuck bucks: $31,800.
The printing costs are fairly easy to estimate. I had numerous exchanges online and by e-mail with Theodore Beale and his partner Markku Koponen about the nature of the print job for these comics. Their company, Castalia House, principally deals in e-books, but also does some physical printing. Various pieces of information disclosed by Beale and Koponen make it plain that the physical copies of Alt-Hero’s books will be produced though a print-on-demand service and shipped directly from the printer to their customers.
Using established POD services like Ka-Blam, Ingram Spark and LuLu for a baseline, and assuming a repeat-customer discount, I estimate that the average cost (with shipping) for the four different softcover and hardcover editions of these products will be $11.00 per unit. With 2,521 copies to distribute, that comes to $27, 731.
There is a statuette ($6000 for 500 units), a poster ($500), T-shirts ($3,454) and various and sundry smaller obligations amounting to around $1000. Lastly: a margin of error for cost overruns of $2000.
Then there are the taxes. We know that the House of Beale isn’t too keen on this feature of modern life, but there is no escaping them! Teddy’s $207,880 counts as personal income (taxable at 33%). Running the campaign this late in the year was a rookie mistake, leaving Teddy only two months to dispose of his winnings and write them off as expenses. He better hustle, or else he will be on the hook for the full freight: $51,917.
But even if that were the case, the total expenses for the Alt-Hero fundraiser only amount to$201,202. Deducted from his $207,880 haul, Teddy’s personal take is $6,678. Not too shabby! Maybe it was modesty that made him not want to share these numbers.
Sadly, there isn’t quite enough gravy to get Alt-Hero into shops (as many backers were expecting), unless Beale wants to go out of pocket an additional five thousand dollars or more (POD comic book printing would simply be unprofitable — a large offset print run is the only way to go). But then, who cares? His plan all along was to make his profit selling digital comics through games like Star Citizen….right?
The enthusiasm for Alt-Hero, from Theodore Beale’s fans as well as perhaps hundreds of disinterested white nationalists who came in late, was truly nauseating to behold. If Teddy actually cared about making quality comic books he could be proud of what he has achieved. As it is, he can really only be proud of the money he raised.
But since Teddy didn’t raise enough green to get Alt-Hero into comic shops or bookstores, and with no likelihood that European-bound Castalia House will start promoting Alt-Hero at shows, or even advertise these products, Beale’s stated pledge to upend the world of mainstream comics turns out to have been a sales ploy for gullible schnooks. (And really, as conceits go, the idea that Teddy Beale’s hamster tail pecker could ever fence with Walt Disney’s obelisk-sized lightsaber cock is about as funny as they come.)
From Day One, Teddy telegraphed that he did not understand the crucial element of selling comic books: they have to have attractive art. The stories keep you coming back, but the art is the hook. If you don’t believe me, just wait. One day you might see Teddy do a Periscope with his jaw wired shut, and you will know he tried to fob off a JinjerZilla on Chuck Dixon.
But JinjerZilla-quality artwork is all Teddy budgeted for. Already, Timothy Lim has gone whining to the press about how Alt-Hero became his Scarlet Letter. Who else will sign up to have their reputations wrecked by a publisher who blithely calls Asians “chinks”, considers Jews to be scheming rats, and basically considers anyone who wasn’t brought to this country through Operation Paperclip to be an invasive species?
Can Teddy make a profit off of this effort? Sure, but not much. There is obviously a fascist ecosystem out there capable of bringing a project like this to life, but it is very niche. The thrill of pissing in liberals’ Cheerios (which, as Markku put it to me, was this project’s first, last and only goal) won’t make ugly, politically driven comic books any less boring.
What, then, will Teddy get out of all the time he will ultimately have to pour into this low-reward venture? An excuse to troll the Eisner awards? The thrill of ruining the costume contest at Comic-Con? Or maybe just a chance to nudge some maggot into threatening to rape Jill Thompson?
I guess all that would be easier than writing a novel that can do better than seventh place at the Hugos.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed to Timothy Lim a quote that implied he had once condemned Confederate flag imagery. That statement belonged to another artist.
Previously: An Open Letter To Chuck Dixon