Episode 21: With a Little Help from Their Friends with Holly Rowland

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Topato Corporation, known as Topatoco for short, has spent nearly a decade fulfilling artists' dreams. Started by Jeffrey Rowland to ship out merchandise related to his own Webcomics, he expanded in 2007 to take on making and delivering books, T-shirts, and related goods for other cartoonists. Our guest, Holly Rowland, has been working with Jeffrey for seven years, and is in charge of a new effort called Make That Thing!, currently in beta testing, to help run crowdfunding projects.

On Twitter: Topatoco and Holly Rowland

Show notes

Zach Weinersmith, the creator of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, appeared on this podcast in Episode #15, Serial Artistry. Rich Stevens, the guy behind Diesel Sweeties, gave a neat talk about his career and work at the XOXO Festival. Many cartoonists work with Andrews McMeel Publishing, which is part of the same firm as the Universal Uclick cartoon syndicate. Penny Arcade is now a Death Star-sized operation with conventions, multiple Web TV series, and a charity, as well as the capability to destroy entire planets.

Topatoco handles fulfillment for Jeph Jacques, Questionable Content; David Malki of Wondermark; Dinosaur Comics; and many others.

Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) of This Modern World just won the 2013 Herblock Prize for outstanding editorial cartooning, and is one of the key figures in the alternative editorial cartooning movement. Topatoco produced his latest book and offers a Sparky plushie. Topatoco shipped him books to sign and UPS let themselves into his garage, left the boxes, and didn't tell him, he recounts on Twitter.

Outside of webcomics, Topatoco also offers stuff from or related to Gaslamp Games, Jonathan Coulton (interviewed in Episode #16, "Baby Got Back Catalog"), Brandan Bird, Maximum Fun, and MetaFilter. Maximum Fun produces MaxFunCon, a gathering of supercool people who do supercool stuff together that is fun. I wrote a blog entry at the Newdisrupt.org site recently relating Kevin Kelly's "1,000 True Fans" essay to crowdfunding.

Between about 1998 and 2002, I wrote several articles for the New York Times about the transition that cartooning and cartoonists were going through. This included a general article on the topic, a piece on the (even then) famous "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" cartoon, the New York digitizing its older cartoons, and cartoon characters that started to blog. Machine of Death was a blog that turned into a book that turned into a campaign to get a #1 ranking on Amazon.com when it was released in 2010 — and they succeeded! The book is available as a free, Creative Commons-licensed download as well as in print. The book was turned into a game, which raised $560,000 in a Kickstarter campaign that ended in March 2013!

In a recent Craig Mod podcast (Episode #17, "Everything in Moderation"), we talked about the reduction in cost for printing short runs of high-quality books. Topatoco works with Soft Stuff Creations to produce plush toys. Keith Knight's Kickstarter, "I Was a Teenage Michael Jackson Impersonator," stated clearly that it would take him about two years to fulfill. Scott McCloud is the preeminent thinker about the way in which comics communicate, a great speaker, and a terrific cartoonist himself. He wrote Reinventing Comics, among other titles. Penny Arcade's crowdfunding campaign removed ads from its site for a year, but also offered terrifically appropriate rewards, and funded the Strip Search reality show.

Tom Standage, my long-time editor at the Economist and its digital editor, has written Writing on the Wall: Social Media — the First 2,000 Years. It's about the long history of social media that stretches back far before digital technology. Dave Kellett, a cartoonist, is making the movie Stripped with his friend and cinematographer Fred Schroeder.

Canadians cannot start projects on Kickstarter: only U.S. and U.K. citizens may at the moment. The Glif tripod adapter makers hand-assembled the 3D-printed rewards for their campaign, shown in this time-lapse video.