Doug TenNapel is probably best known for his video game creation Earthworm Jim first launched as a videogame for the Sega Genesis and the classic SNES. Earthworm Jim has been a beloved character ever since, but his story was never properly told. Even though Earthworm Jim appeared in award-winning video games, an animated series and even a toy line, Doug TenNapel never had a chance to tell the story of Earthworm Jim until now.
For the last 20 years TenNapel has been making over eighteen graphic novels, including his most recent successfully crowdfunded Bigfoot Bill sequel. Last year, Doug finally got the chance to tell the Earthworm Jim story in EWJ: Launch the Cow! answering such questions such as “Who made the super suit?” and “Why is he launching cows?!” The book was so successful, it demanded a sequel and TenNapel is all too happy to oblige. Now he has written another all-ages story that takes place just after EWJ: Launch the Cow!
I spoke to Doug about the massive launch he had for his latest crowdfund campaign that kicked off last week.
Chris: Tell us about your latest project Earthworm Jim 2: Fight the Fish!
Doug: The Earthworm Jim gang are ready to start a new life on a farm in Turlock, when mysterious cats, enslaved by a hyper-brained, talking goldfish kidnap Princess What’s Her Name and take her to the underwater Planeta De Agua. Earthworm Jim is overcome with fear, since painful memories of his fight with Psycrow are implanted in his head by the goldfish (named Bob)!
Chris: You had another incredible launch for this crowdfund, something like $100k in less than 12 hours or something like that. Would you say that’s a new personal best?
Doug: The first day raise is a new record for me and it’s incredibly encouraging. But with crowdfunding, the audience always seems to be all over the place. Like it’s really hard to tell the entire internet that we launched! Everyone knows in electronic commerce that if the whole world just knew about a new book to buy it would sell billions of dollars. That’s what we’re all dealing with.
Chris: I’ve backed a couple of your projects, and you always put a lot into these books as well as some fun extras. Tell me why you’re so invested in these campaigns?
Doug: I’m all in. I think the hostility in the market to independent thinkers over the last 20 years has been sobering. Some guys get beaten down and cower like scared puppies, but it sobered me up to what I need to do to succeed. I’m a fighter, and just a huge car of piss and vinegar so I’m obsessed with proving the market wrong by making a bigger, better book at a reasonable price. I really love comics and that includes the delivery and printing process. I’ve always wanted to make tee shirts and stickers because those were simple joys from my childhood. So if a backer gets one of my books I want the whole package and accompanying material to feel like that excitement when I’d open up a birthday present or a box of Whacky Packs.
Chris: There are big differences between Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and this project is launching on Kickstarter. What’s the strategy here? Which platform do you prefer?
Doug: I like both platforms because they house my business, but I have a lot more respect for the way Indiegogo does it. Kickstarter is a much, much bigger audience, but they can’t find you unless your project is picked to be featured on the front page. Indiegogo is a little more blind about the choosing, they can still pick favorite projects, but they also let the algorithm decide things so a popular book like mine can find its way to the top. Kickstarter curates a lot more, so there are a lot more non-binary, blue-haired comics to get through before you find mine. I feel really good about the IGG guys and I feel like I’m in hostile territory doing business on KS. But I need to grow my audience, and I figured there was more growth to be had on KS than IGG. I could be wrong, but that’s my thinking.
Chris: Interesting strategy, Doug. It makes sense. When you did your first crowdfunding project a couple of years ago, I remember you ended up refunding a few of your international backers. I know first hand that international shipping is incredibly expensive to some countries. What did you learn from that experience?
Doug: I learned I was an idiot is what I learned! I had looked at the success of Ethan Van Sciver’s Cyberfrog campaign and modeled my shipping after his prices which were wrong for my giant, heavy books! It’s also a warning to all crowd-funding independents that you can get smashed by unseen problems on nearly every part of your campaign. International shipping was bad then, but it’s even worse in the last two years. The global pandemic hasn’t helped in that delivery has gotten a little less reliable, meaning when a backer doesn’t get their book we ship them another and that drives up the cost of international shipping.
My books are some of the heaviest of nearly everyone in crowd-funding, so my international shipping will naturally be the most expensive. But at the end of each campaign we compare our actual shipping costs to what we charged and we are good with our rates. There are still some surprises, like one backer we had to send his book three times to Germany or another in Brazil where we lost $99 in strange fees. It’s all part of the business. I’ve often thought of not offering books to international backers, but there are so many EWJ fans in other countries, it just doesn’t seem right. It’s better to weather the complaints and try to put as much value into the shipment as possible. But yeah, it’s nuts. By far the most difficult part of crowd funding is cracking the international shipping problem.
Chris: Never stop learning, right? Let’s talk about your history with Earthworm Jim. I’m old enough to remember it being one of the most fun games of its era.
Doug: That game was just a lot bigger than any of us could have imagined. I think with the love of nostalgia these days, people place a lot of value in the fun days of their youth. Earthworm Jim wasn’t just another bland character, there was a lot to him that makes him stick in the mind a lot deeper than other characters. I like making things that are authentically mine. EWJ couldn’t have been made by someone else just like how Edward Scissorhands reflected so much of who Tim Burton is. The good news is that EWJ is the easiest character for me to write and draw. It really doesn’t take much effort to know what he would do or say at any given moment. He’s been in my head for 30 years now, so it’s kind of easy.
Chris: I understand we’re going to see some brand new powers in this installment. What can you tell us without spoiling anything?
Doug: I don’t know if even I fully understand those powers! But he’s got some not-of-this-universe things going on with the power source and in this book we see it start to wake up and have a mind of its own. I’m not sure how far that is going to go, but I have a feeling it could be a brand new character in the fetal stage!
Chris: Woah. Back when I interviewed you for EWJ: Launch the Cow, you mentioned that it might be tough to do a Bigfoot Bill Earthworm Jim crossover. Still the case?
Doug: Yes. It’s still just a legal nightmare and it’s not the kind of negotiation I like to spend my time on. It’s just a lot funner to hit the drawing table and make comics than go back and forth with licensing. I was put here to make stories not negotiate contracts. That’s my big take on it. If I found the story really needed the merge I’d pursue it a lot more. Things are going so well for both stories, it’s probably going to be better to make them further diverge than bring them together. But I remain open to anything.
Chris: I’ll just pretend they’re in a shared universe. When might we see Bigfoot Bill again?
Doug: As soon as my work on EWJ 2 wraps in a month and a half, I’ll start writing the script for Bigfoot Bill 3! We should be ready to roll that out early next year and I can’t wait to get started on it! I love that world.
Chris: Before we go, tell me which is the hottest tier right now in the campaign, and which one do you think is the best deal?
Doug: The most popular and best tier is the Signed Book. It’s where you get the main story but also get a little piece of me on the signing page. But people who are fans of what I’m doing should consider getting caught up on the four hardbound book library tier! I will send you 640 pages of reading! It’s a great price and incredible books that will nuke your comic shelf with heft.
Chris: Thanks Doug. Congrats on your massive success.