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Comics fans deserve "more interesting" marketing of comics, and Vault aims to deliver with Barbaric's Crowdbuilding plans

Inside Vault Comics' Crowdbuilding Campaign program with Zoop for Barbaric: Born in Blood

Barbaric: Born in Blood #1 variant cover
Image credit: Corin Howell (Vault Comics)

The rambunctious fantasy series Barbaric by Michael Moreci and Nathan Gooden has been one of the biggest recent hits in the creator-owned comics space, and it's been the biggest hit Vault Comics has had since the company launched in 2016. This week as the series sequel, Barbaric: Born in Blood, launches, we spoke with Vault Comics' CCO/editor-in-chief Adrian Wassel and CEO/publisher Damian Wassel about the unique marketing campaign around the series, which also happens to be the first step of a major initiative within the company.

As Popverse first reported in March 2024, Barbaric: Born in Blood is the first series to be part of a 'Crowdbuilding campaign' done as part of a new partnership between Vault and the crowdfunding website Zoop. The campaign includes first chance at buying Barbaric merch, advance looks at upcoming issues, and even the opportunity to read the first issue of Barbaric: Born in Blood #1 before it went on sale this week.

Here is our full conversation with the Wassel brothers about Barbaric: Born in Blood and Vault's new Crowdbuilding Campaigns:

Popverse: This new initiative seems to be about organizing a fanbase - in this case Barbaric - in one place in a modern, digital way. Where did this idea come from?

Adrian Wassel: Vault is always working to bring new readers to our stories and creators while rewarding our existing fans. This Crowdbuilding Campaign is another endeavor to do both. At Vault, we pride ourselves on coupling our focused, curated catalog with market innovation. So, broadly speaking, it came from that vision.

"...our best innovations come from asking smarter questions" - Adrian Wassel

More narrowly, we had a list of specific questions we wanted to try to answer. I won’t divulge them all because our best innovations come from asking smarter questions. But some are obvious. What are publishers doing to create fans, not just books? How can publishers amass a fandom for a focused window of time without attaching a funding goal, showing instead that we’re already fully committed? For years I’ve given away our comics for free on social media, so how do we do this in a better way where the access point is not following me, a weird editor you may not know ever worked on the books you love?

At this point, it’s safe to say Vault has a reputation for offering up solutions in a market that can get fixated on just yelling that there are problems. That’s what we’re up to again.

Barbaric: Born in Blood #1 is also Vault's free-to-retailers model. How do you feel this program and that will overlap?

Barbaric: Born in Blood
Image credit: Vault Comics

Adrian Wassel: The overlap is a massive part of this program. Born in Blood is a new era of Barbaric, our best-selling series. It’s a great place for new readers to jump in, for fans who’ve fallen a little behind to catch up, and for diehard fans to meet little kid Owen. We wanted to use this as a real opportunity to keep building momentum, not just wave our hands at it.

We’re equipping retailers with free issue #1s so that they can capture fans who want a physical copy. We’re also supplying retailers with $10 Volume 1 trade paperbacks and bundled discounting. This way, they’re ready for a surge of fans from the Crowdbuilding Campaign; meanwhile, the fans who walk out of a store with a free #1 and discover Barbaric for the first time there can open their phone, punch the title into their search bar, and sign up to get a free Barbaric playlist or phone background, maybe even grab a t-shirt.

I've noticed you calling the Barbaric fanbase the "Barbaric horde.' Where did that term originate, and what does it say about Vault's aspirations for this as a franchise?

Adrian Wassel: More than anything, we just went with the classic horde of Barbarians' because it fits the tone.

Barbaric: Born in Blood
Image credit: Vault Comics

In your press release, you say Vault will unlock more "treasures" based on the size of the people joining this 'Crowdbuilding campaign.' What are the levels, and what will it unlock?

Damian Wassel: The rewards come early and often, and they range from special behind the scenes looks at how Barbaric came together, to other digital goodies and extras, to unlocking other exclusive premium items, and more. But let’s not spoil it.

Adrian Wassel: I’ll let Damian spill only as many beans as we wants to.

Also part of this is an exclusive shopping opportunity, which will include "exclusive covers, exclusive merchandise, and more" that members will get first dibs on, even before retailers. What do you have planned?

Damian Wassel: We’ve got the basics like some exclusive covers of single issues and collected editions, some limited apparel and other goodies, and a few other Barbaric-related things I don’t want to spoil. Of course, none of this is competitive with folks who like to buy their comics from their local comic shop, where we’ll be giving retailers Barbaric: Born In Blood #1 as part of our free-to-retailer program.

Barbaric: Born in Blood
Image credit: Vault Comics

Zoop is known for doing crowdfunding and the fulfillment part of things, in some ways acting as a defacto publisher. What is Zoop doing for Vault here?

"Comics and comics fans deserve more interesting, more innovative, more fun marketing efforts from publishers." - Damian Wassel

Damian Wassel: Zoop has built a platform with a lot of functionality that isn’t typically packed into a traditional e-commerce website build. On top of that, they’re a marketplace for discovery for folks who come to comics, first and foremost, via the internet. So, they’ve helped us to create the technical front end required to execute this campaign, and they’re working with us to help ensure it gets in front of lots of different comics fans.

Additionally they’ll be helping us manage customer support for folks who participate in the campaign on their platform. Behind the scenes we’ll be making our books and overseeing fulfillment to our customers, as usual.

I've noticed you've marked the term "Crowdbuilding Campaign" as trademarked. That isn't cheap. Is this something Vault is looking to do more with than just this one-off Barbaric: Born in Blood #1?

Damian Wassel: There’s a difference between asserting a mark and registering a mark, and it’s sort of a one step at a time process. Putting aside the vagaries of the USPTO’s policies, which I now know far more about than I ever wanted to, the answer is ‘yes.’

Comics and comics fans deserve more interesting, more innovative, more fun marketing efforts from publishers. This is just one of several things we’re going to be experimenting with over the next 12-24 months.

Adrian Wassel: Yes, we have lots of plans.

Get into the vibrant world of comics with our guide to buying digital comics, how to make the most out of comic shops, our comprehensive guide to the upcoming comics, manga, and graphic novels you should be looking for, and everything you need to know about Free Comic Book Day and Local Comic Shop Day.

Chris Arrant

Chris Arrant: Chris Arrant is the Popverse's Editor-in-Chief. He has written about pop culture for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel, Newsarama, CBR, and more. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. (He/him)


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