The moment popular web comic Cyanide & Happiness hit the Kickstarter jackpot, nobody popped a bottle of champagne. In fact, admits one of the creators, Matt Melvin, the team was fast asleep. "We kept hitting goals at the wee hours of the morning," says Melvin, "so I kept missing all of the excitement. However, that did make it like Christmas day over and over again."
Last month, the creators of the popular web comic raised a staggering, record-breaking crowd-funded $770,309 to turn their illustrations into a an animated series—almost $500,000 more than their original goal and just short of their wildest $800,000 dream (reaching that goal would have triggered a joust to the death between creators, so it was probably best). Maybe it was the zany gift offerings, like an all-expenses-paid trip to Dallas for a Banana Bar Crawl replete with a banana costume, scepter, and crown ($10,000 and one taker). But mainly, as Melvin puts it, the web comic built a loyal fan base of people who were "more than willing to make sure this crazy idea of ours got made," he says. "They’re kinda the best."
A darkly irreverent and simply drawn comic strip, Cyanaide & Happiness is the brainchild of four Dallas-bred guys, Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, Dave McElfatrick, and Melvin, who started swapping doodles as a hobby in 2004 for their own amusement. And, as they figured out a year after they launched the series online at Explosm.net in 2005, their slightly sick stick figures made a whole lot of other people laugh, too. Nearly a decade later, with an average 29 million unique visitors last year, the comics maintain their simply drawn style and crude humor that makes light of everything from child pornography raids to Instagram abuse.
With that kind of high-brow material, when they decided to turn C&H into an animated show, a network like Comedy Central or Cartoon Network seemed a logical fit for the sardonic alternative animation, and the creators say they fielded offers from the TV world. But with an already successful property and concerns about artistic compromise, the team opted for a Kickstarter-assisted DIY aproach. "We have a lot of ideas that would never fit into what networks envisioned. We could have definitely made it into a quality show, but it wouldn’t have been pure. Purity of one’s artistic vision, even if that artistic vision includes fart jokes, is of the utmost importance," Melvin explains. With Kickstarter goals surpassed, the team committed to 10 episodes of a C&H web show, weekly shorts throughout the year (plus one depressing episode…).
More than bathroom humor preservation, the C&H team is helping the larger alternative animation community by hiring a team of top-notch animators to churn out new content on a weekly basis. It’s expensive, yes, but that’s where all those Kickstarter dollars come in. And now a small independent comic can stay independent, even as the expectations of their fans (which, the team says extends beyond the typical web-comic community to even the dads of the typical web-comic community) grow.
The Cyanide & Happiness show is already in production, with shorts set to air in either April or May and the eleven 10-12 minute "fast-paced, weird" episodes slated for fall.