Josh Elder's all-ages adventure/comedy series Mail Order Ninja will return, both digitally an in limited print runs, soon thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign that ends tomorrow at 1 a.m.
The property, which went into publishing limbo when Tokyopop suspended its American publishing operations four years ago, will see its first-ever hardcover collection--a Kickstarter exclusive that presents all of the already-existing material. A great deal more content will be coming soon via the Comics Plus platform from Elder and a number of comics artists.
"This is a pretty unique arrangement for Tokyopop but they're doing it because we've been talking about it for a long time; I've proven I know what I'm doing on Kickstarter and it was a risk-free proposition for Tokyopop," explained Elder in an interview with ComicBook.com. Elder shares a copyright on the property with Tokyopop, who may have stopped releasing books here in the United States but still publish digitally and internationally. "They gave me the go-ahead to make it happen and so far it's worked out pretty well."
And while many in the comics community may not have heard of Mail Order Ninja themselves, it had a pretty huge audience in its day. The product of a grand-prize winning talent search entry back when Tokyopop was a thriving publishing interest specializing in American translations (and iterations) of Manga, the series was not only sold and distributed through schools and bookstores, but published as a strip in newspapers all over the country.
"When we talk about mainstream--sure, Batman's mainstream. Whenever I said, I wrote [The Batman Strikes] for DC Comics,' everyone knows who that is and I see legitimate--but the Batman series I wrote? Mail Order Ninja outsold that. And when Mail Order Ninja was syndicated as a comic strip, that was read by 2 million people a week. Mail Order Ninja is way more mainstream than at least my version of Batman was." He added, "We always have those things in our head about what's mainstream and what's not, but these webcomic guys...XKCD is a bigger deal than any comic being published by anybody else in America right now."
The original Mail Order Ninja material has been out of print for years now, and fans still approach Elder about it at least monthly, wondering when it will go back into circulation.
"I want to be able to give [fans] an answer--and now I can, which is really exciting," Elder said.
Thanks to this Kickstarter, not only will the old material be made available again, but a new chapter will begin. He can't talk specifics just yet, but Elder says he has "a pretty sweet setup in the webcomics space once this thing goes live."
So, what can he say?
"The new stuff is all going to be digital-first. Ideally we'll get to print eventually, but the plan is to serialize it online, to release digital mini-collections equivalent to about ten pages each," Elder explained. "We're going to have one story that really is the next volume in the series by artist Cef Grima, who's a former art director at Wide Load Games, where I used to work for Disney Interactive. He's going to be doing amazing stuff on the new core Mail Order Ninja series...and then a bunch of the other wacky ideas that I have, that I've developed over the years that I've been working on this--one way or another, I've been working on Mail Order Ninja more or less nonstop since 2005 and a lot of the stuff never made it to the page and wouldn't fit in with where the story's going--but I still want to do the stories anyway. So it's going to be a mix of wacky one-offs and still wacky but a little more serious core story that continues the series."
One of those wacky stories, which sadly will likely not be completed in time for the holidays this year, is "How The Ninja Saved Christmas," which Elder says details how the book's heroes become embroiled in "a communist plot to overthrow the North Pole." Fans will also see a Mail Order Ninja/G-Man team up by Elder and Chris Giarrusso, which Elder says came about after he commissioned a pinup from Giarrusso for the Mail Order Ninja hardcover, and the pair decided that the image they were looking at had some story behind it.
Once the series goes live, Elder says they should be updating the website with a new page every weekday.
"You have to build an audience. The audience--especially the young people who are the core audience for Mail Order Ninja-- if it doesn't exist online, it might as well not be real. So I embraced that. You start there and that's where you build up from. Putting together a giant ad budget and trying to come from the top down...only a very few people can do that. Very few people can pull something like that off, but the Web is open to everyone."