Keanu Reeves's BRZRKR Heads to Kickstarter With New Artist Ron Garney (Exclusive)

In a move that the publisher hopes will bring the comic to a much larger audience, the Keanu Reeves-written BRZRKR is now heading to Kickstarter. While BOOM! Studios already has the funds to make and distribute the comic from Keanu Reeves, Matt Kindt (Folklords, Bang!), superstar artist Ron Garney (Wolverine, Captain America), colorist Bill Crabtree (BPRD), and letterer Clem Robins (Hellboy), in the direct market, they are hoping that the crowdfunding platform will give the series -- which, through Reeves's involvement, has potential for mass appeal that many comics lack -- a chance to breathe outside of the relatively constrained confines of the comics direct market and connect to some of the massive movie audience that loves him, and the growing audience who get their comics primarily in trade at non-comics bookstores.

It's an extension of the same logic DC has used with their Black Label imprint, where big-name talent is being let loose on popular characters for stories they hope will be evergreen bookstore products. It's that kind of content -- stuff like Watchmen and The Sandman -- that has kept DC at the top of the charts in terms of sales outside the direct market, even while they compete with Marvel comics that have been turned into billion-dollar movies and Image books like The Walking Dead.

For publishers like BOOM!, who lack a decades-long back catalog of certified comics classics and a deep bench of beloved characters, reaching that audience is undeniably attractive, fiscally speaking. More than that, though, BOOM! founder and CEO Ross Richie believes it's necessary for the continued health and growth of the comics industry -- both outside of the direct market and in.

"I'm going to give you, after the headline, what the big quote is," Richie told ComicBook.com. "And the big quote is, 'We're not Kickstarting BRZRKR.'...We're not raising money; we've got the money for it. I've been talking to retailers -- big direct market retailers -- about this. When you think, okay, you have Keanu Reeves, you can get somebody who's never read a comic book before to read it for the first time."

The idea, then, is to combine Kickstarter's reach and ease of use, as well as its huge user base of non-comics readers, to create content that will ideally drive new readers into comic shops. While there are plenty of naysayers who will argue movie fans simply don't read comics, Reeves has a massive reach; even Bill and Ted Face the Music, produced on a tiny budget and released during the pandemic to less than 800 theaters -- bigger chains boycotted it since it was having a day-and-date digital release -- managed $1 million on opening weekend and topped the sales and rental charts at Vudu and Fandango Now last weekend.

The idea, then, is to do. a Kickstarter where a trilogy of graphic novels -- collecting what seems likely to be about three years' worth of comics in miniseries form -- will be available to preorder all at once, giving fans of Reeves who will never remember to check back every three months for a trade paperback link on Amazon, the chance to pre-order the whole series, and then forget about it until they start getting books in the mail.

According to BOOM!'s official announcement, "Fans will have an opportunity to pre-order all three graphic novel collections of the new series in regular, limited edition and ultra-rare, premium formats through October 1 at 12:00 pm PDT. BRZRKR graphic novel collections offered through Kickstarter will begin shipping alongside the book market release of BRZRKR Vol.1 in September 2021, with subsequent volumes shipping at the same time as their book market counterparts (unless otherwise noted for later delivery)."

The series centers on "man known only as Berzerker is half-mortal and half-God, cursed and compelled to violence...even at the sacrifice of his sanity. But after wandering the world for centuries, Berzerker may have finally found a refuge – working for the U.S. government to fight the battles too violent and too dangerous for anyone else. In exchange, Berzerker will be granted the one thing he desires – the truth about his endless blood-soaked existence…and how to end it."

Richie joined ComicBook.com for a Q&A about the project, why they're taking on Kickstarter, and what has changed since it was announced back in July.

Did you guys look into the market and say, "Oh, you know where we can probably get a bunch of Keanu Reeves fans? Kickstarter."

We know we can get the word out because, you tell the Internet, "Keanu Reeves is doing a comic book," they find it. So, it's not about getting the word out. It's about the platform. And the thing that Kickstarter has is a one-click. People have heard of it, so I don't have to teach you what it is. And it's one-click.

We're kickstarting the three volumes as a complete story. And why you want to do that with a newbie is, people, sell a movie to you, and it's the whole thing. You don't get halfway through and they stop it and go home or go back to the box office and pay another ticket to get the rest. But with this, you click one click. With Amazon, Amazon doesn't even do this. You can pre-order a graphic novel first volume, but you have to wait six months later for volume two, and then six months later for volume three, even to do the pre-order.

With the Kickstarter platform, everybody understands what it is, and I can click once on it and I can set it and forget it, and then it just comes to my door.

Then our aim is, when you're thinking about how do you get new comic readers, the first thing that you do is you go doing something that gets their attention.

The second thing is, make sure it's damn good, so that when they read it, they don't have a negative experience with the medium, which I believe that we've done with this. Time will tell. Then it's, how do you make the consumer experience easy? Then what we're doing is, we're informing them with materials about where you can get comics and providing a navigation path to the direct market through Comic Shop Locator and the BOOM! Guaranteed Program and different things like that so then they can go to comic book shops.

Have some of the retailers you've talked to started to warm to the idea of Kickstarter as something to help the direct market, rather than competing with it?

The people that have hit me up and talk to me, every time I think about it, I think the project is going to be bigger than I thought it was. It's so roundly supported all the way down the line from a fan basis, people talking to me on my Instagram, or from a retailer basis, it's so hotly anticipated. And the way that I visualize the project is like, "How do you pitch this conceptually?"

And I always try to think about, you're standing in the store, you're behind the counter, and what do you say to a fan? What is this project? It needs to be a simple idea. And I think for me when I look at this, it's what if Keanu was Wolverine? And I don't mean Wolverine-like has claws, what I mean is this character is older than Wolverine, but long-lived, ferocious, strong, has the capacity to take a lot of damage, and I think has that dark past, carries a lot of pain.

And I think the psychological composition of the character is similar to Wolverine. And to me, I think about that and I go, "Everyone wants to see that."

And if you're skeptical, you want to pick up a copy to be a looky-loo so that you can hate on it because you have already decided that it's a celebrity comic, and so, therefore, it can't be good, or you're a Keanu fan and you love that kind of storytelling, Wolverine, that ferocious action. And I think the book will super deliver on that dimension because I think that's what it is.

And so I think it's the thing that you're standing at the shop, and you've just got to take home.

The special edition type stuff feels like something that BOOM! is always traditionally ahead of the curve on for, for the direct market and for retailers. Is there a retailer price for this stuff if the direct market wants to get in on this?

Everything is ... The way it's set up, we have a retailer rep, Morgan, and everything is set up so retailers can email Morgan and can get everything in the campaign. And you don't really want to do it through the tiers because the tiers are not really set up for that sort of thing.

Retailers have complained to us about, "I don't want to have to get five. I don't want to have to get 10, and you don't have a mechanism on it to get to toggle it."

So, what we know is it's just easier to have them email Morgan, and then we can get their order incorporated and get the fulfillment.

Have you guys explored whether or not you will be making the individual issues returnable?

Yeah. All of our issues are returnable. We're doing windowing with this.

So, the first window that BRZRKR comes out through is, we serialize it in the direct market, and it's a conventional BOOM! comic book. And by that I mean, the first issue is returnable, there'll be open order covers, there'll be incentive covers, walks, talks, quacks, it's a duck. Just like everything else.

Then, the second window is, we're going to collect that. So, it's going to come out in the direct market, collected graphic novel. That'll be returnable for direct market retailers. So, we've got you covered. If you're worried that you're not going to have enough for whatever, over order it, we'll take them back.

Then the second window is the book trade. Then the last window is the Kickstarter package.

So, we're preserving the direct market serialization window. And I was talking to Carr D’Angelo at Earth 2, and taking them through the program, he's a very good buddy and is a trusted person to bounce ideas off of. And what Carr said is, traditionally people Kickstart a graphic novel, and then they serialize through the direct market, and they end up putting the cart before the horse because by the time you get to the direct market, you've lost all that momentum.

He said, "You guys flipped it, and that's terrific....The thing that gets me excited is that the Kickstarter becomes marketing for the direct market launch." Because it gets all this attention and everybody gets excited, and then we're going to be sending, once the campaign is over, we're going to send these campaign updates and we're going to say, "Hey, the first issue is coming out on X date." The week before the end of the campaign, we'll see the first issues coming out ...

Do you believe though that this could incentivize trade waiting?

Love that. Let's talk about it. Let's think about it through. So, this is how I think about that answer. I go into consumer mode because I trade wait. Some things I buy in singles, some things I trade wait. So, let's say I look at this and I go, "I don't know, it's a celebrity thing. Maybe it sucks."

So, what I'll do is I'll wait and I'll let everybody decide for me if this is any good. Then I show up for volume one, but I might pre-order volume one, but I will not pre-order volume one, two, and three.

I'm going to read volume one and I'm going to decide at that juncture if it's any good and if I'm going to stick with it. Then I'll order volume two, but I won't, even at that point, pre-order volume two and three.

So, each thing is a fail point. So, the thing that makes the Kickstarter unique is that the backers are going to buy all three volumes at once, and they have to do that on spec basically. They will have materials that they can look at as far as Ron Garney’s art, and they'll have the campaign video, but they won't have all the aspects of social proof that the direct market's going to have.

Obviously you have a picture of the audience you're trying to get with this. When you get that audience, what's next?

Well, I think we need to give them a good experience. They need to get the graphic novel. There's obviously the fulfillment component, which is, it needs to arrive, it needs to arrive on time. We were 97% on-time shipping in 2018. We're 98% on-time shipping in 2019. So, I'm pretty confident in our ability to fulfill. We'll fulfill that they have a good experience. Then we have multiple touchpoints through the campaign updates to educate people about comics, comic book shops, and where they can get other comics. And we have a Matt Kindt backlist that we're going to be showing these campaign backers and saying, "Hey, look at Grass Kings. It's an award-nominated brilliant piece of business, and look over here at Folklords. Then it's an opportunity as a publisher to show them other graphic comics.

One of the big questions I wanted to ask you was does a major creative team like Scott Snyder and Tony Daniel jumping into the Kickstarter space make things easier or harder for you?

Well, I don't think they're 100% related. And I think when you look at the Kickstarter that those guys are doing it, isn't a comic book. It's a script on one side and it's a line art on the other, non-colored, and it's a process book.

And now I'm going to go old school and say, it's really an ashcan from the nineties. Working at Malibu, it reminds me of when you were in a place where you were trying to get something to retailers for them to see what they were going to order before the internet age, and you showed them art and script because that's what you had and you hadn't made the comic yet.

And I've been looking at how retailers online are responding to it, and that's the way they're processing it is. Is this is similar to an ashcan, the execution that Scott's going for is like a convention exclusive.

Because it's a more fancy, for lack of a better expression, hardcover treatment. And so I think that they're solving a couple of different things with that. They're solving a lot of creators are feeling the lack of convention sales.

So I think that does it. I think it also does the ashcan concept, which is, I know when I looked at it online, I was like, "Oh, this is really cool. I understand the feeling, the tone." It's a good preview for understanding what's to come without sort of giving you the final product.

Where what we're doing is we're doing a pre-order and it's for volumes one, two, and three. And the approach with that is if you're to sell a story to somebody who doesn't read comics, a serialized nature is something that's hard for new people to wrap their heads around.

So they hit their goal pretty quick and are growing at a pretty big clip. And I would say, a large part of that has to do with how communicative Scott and co. are about this. Does that at all change any potential tactics or plans that you guys have outside of regular press activations? For example, Will the creative team be a bit more involved in the press to an extent? Will I, as a backer of this Kickstarter, get updates from Keanu, Matt & Ron. about the progress of the book or is it going to be more BOOM!'s going to give me updates and that's really going to be it?

Well, it will be a mix of both because we think this thing will be big and so it needs a support staff and the creators need to be in a place where they can be creative. But Kindt has always been super active and he's done his own Kickstarters under his own power. And so he knows how these things work. Ron strikes me as a guy that's a bit more head down and does the work, and Keanu's shooting a Matrix right now. It's going to be a big weekend with Bill and Ted's 3.

The other thing I want to point out with the Snyder Kickstarter is I think they're aimed at two different audiences. That's aimed at comic shops. So you need to know who Scott is, you need to know who Tony S. Daniel is, you need to be interested in the process.

It's much more the patronage model where you're going directly to the creators for their insights and you're seeing process.

And you need to be excited about those creators to engage. So in all likelihood you're a direct market fit, whereas we're going to be serializing the comic book and comic shops going through the typical process.

What we're aiming at is somebody that doesn't read comics and they're drawn in by Keanu, and it's like, "I can spend $50", which is the bottom tier that gets you to three volumes, "and I can buy that, and then it gets shipped to my door", and it's not the typical comic book fan which serves them better in the direct market. They'll get the story first.

Mainstream audience aside, there is also a massive audience that is used to doing Kickstarters. It has this inherent community to it. And to me, that community is way more invested in the creators than your typical project that may or may not share similarities with the DM.

I think that's true. From what I understand, Filip Sablik and I talked about it extensively, is that there are folks on Kickstarter that back wildly different things.

They'll do a fidget spinner and a comic book and then a unicycle, and so we will have updates and we do have a 30-day campaign strategy and plan that has updates from creators as well as from BOOM!.

Talk to me about what Ron Garney, a legend in his own right, brings to a project like this.

Look, I think this is how I would pitch it to you is Keanu came into the office. I was sitting down on the couch, we stood up and he said, the way that he started pitching this idea, is he took his fist and he said, "I just want to punch through things.” And then he started to physically act out punching through a guy's chest and punching through a dude's head. It's very gory book.

Just give people a heads up, no pun intended.

And when you think about that kind of power on the page, Ron is one of the only people it's like, John Romita Jr. It's a tradition of the Kirby power page.

And I think Ron's work is so dynamic, it's really going to capture the velocity of that kind of action. And I think that's one of the things that made him such a great match for the project.

BRZRKR_001_InteriorArt_001_PROMO (1)
(Photo: Ron Garney)

To close out, what, what has been the most asked question that you've gotten and how have you answered it?

What's interesting is the way the Keanu has done the press nobody's asked, "Did he really work on this?" Because the way that he's spoken in interviews, it's been so clear that he has worked on it. I think he's done a really great job exhibiting his passion and demonstrating what he says that it's his thing. And from a retail perspective, when I talked to retailers and I laid out the Kickstarter, the way that I told them was, "How do you get comics to people who haven't read comics? You've got to use something that has digital reach because you have to go out past the comic book stores. And it's got to be a one-click solution."

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You can check out the BRZRKR Kickstarter campaign here. The first of the collected editions will begin to be fulfilled to backers in September 2021.

Additional reporting by Jim Viscardi