I’ve never been one for crowdfunding. Before this year, the only crowdfunding effort I had ever been involved with didn’t go well, and I had pretty much decided not to engage in the idea again. However, after discovering Cyberfrog and Downcast over the last few months, I’ve had to revise my previous opinion. There’s no denying that the former was an easier sell for me at first. Cyberfrog was created by famed DC artist Ethan Van Sciver, so you knew more or less what you were getting. However, the more I looked into Downcast and watched creator Clint Stoker’s (better known as Sweetcast) YouTube channel, I saw how passionate he was about his topics, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with everything that was said on every video. He talked up Downcast and how excited he was to present it to his audience; every video I watched seemed like a countdown to the campaign, and Stoker’s enthusiasm was infectious, so I looked up the series on Indiegogo. Instantly, I was reminded of the greats in the YA (Young Adult) genre.
In the early 2000s, the genre took off in a big way thanks to Harry Potter (which had arguably transitioned into a YA series as it went on) and, later on, Twilight. While it may be a strange parallel to draw given that Downcast isn’t a romance, much like Twilight’s contemporaries Divergent and The Hunger Games, all these stories follow a similar formula; young people are shown fighting for what they believe in against nearly impossible odds and a world mired in oppression and tyranny. While this story may appear formulaic, there is a reason people love this genre so much. At their core, these are archetypal stories of good and evil. They have inspired many generations to become invested in a world and mythology, many of whom perhaps weren’t necessarily excited by literary characters in the past. I remember hearing about signings and how people often have their opinions about this character or that relationship; look no further than the Team Jacob and Team Edward battles of the aughts or, perhaps to be a bit more in line with Downcast’s genre, Team Peeta or Team Gale.
In The Hunger Games, the inciting incident of the story is Katniss replacing her sister as tribute to protect her. Judging from the preview pages of Downcast, we are seeing the first signs of a similar bond; one that, unlike The Hunger Games, will no doubt be the main through-line of the series. Sibling relationships are always a strong, relatable conceit in high-concept sci-fi epics; Luke and Leia in Star Wars are the classic example. For all the X-wings and mysticism therein, the Skywalker saga is ultimately about the Skywalkers and their struggle to free themselves from the oppression of the Empire and, in the end, free their father from the Emperor’s grip. Downcast is not too dissimilar from George Lucas’ outer space epic, as Joanne and Jax are also struggling to free their father, in this case from a government more concerned with literally keeping their city afloat than the rights of their citizens. Across the aforementioned YA tales, the governments have a myopic need to be in control and maintain the status quo of their world regardless of what a seemingly small group of citizens have to say about it. It’s a David vs. Goliath story we’ve seen before, one that is always a joy to watch play out, whether it is on the screen, through the written word, or, in the case of Downcast, the panels.
The format is what I believe sets Downcast apart from various other stories in the genre. There’s no denying that the comic book medium has gone through a lot of upheaval in recent years, with creators needing to find new ways to reach audiences. Comic book readers have embraced projects such as the now iconic The Walking Dead and Lucifer (which, in comic form, was a spinoff of Neil Gaiman’s seminal Sandman series) in the last several years. For decades, when someone thought of comic books they would instantly think of capes and costumes, so it’s been great to see the medium transcend the superhero iconography. Yes, other genres had gotten the comic book treatment throughout the 20th century, but I would argue that when the medium explored those genres back then, they weren’t well regarded (and, arguably, weren’t taken seriously until the 2000s). In the age of crowdfunding, I’ve been on the lookout for new comic book stories, a journey I began when I flirted with contributing to the Kickstarter Vigilante project. I paid little attention to many other indie comics (The Walking Dead aside), and I have to admit that, initially, I felt bad for creators needing to seek assistance through crowdfunding. Yet, much like film projects such as Code 8, the ability to get comics into readers’ hands has become far easier, to the point where Image Comics is no longer the only option for getting work to the consumers without a corporate gatekeeper. Ultimately, the most important thing to the consumer is a great narrative, something that becomes more important as audiences are looking for new worlds to which to escape. With the influx of independent creators coming to Indiegogo, I’ve discovered a plethora of great stories within the comic book medium in a variety of genres.
To see Stoker leave his mark on the medium of comics is incredibly exciting. With a classical approach to the storytelling and a concept that will appeal to fans everywhere, I can’t wait to see Downcast continue to climb the Indiegogo ranks. There are still a few more weeks left in the campaign, so hopefully more people will discover Downcast and Sweetcast. I can’t wait to see what this series will bring us in the future.