Unfortunately, there’s little novelty to the implosion of an independent publishing project funded on Kickstarter — but what makes Off Into The Sunset unusual is that the end of the anthology wasn’t the end of the story.
As the name might suggest, Brentt Harshman’s Off Into The Sunset was announced as “a collection of stories inspired by Westerns.” Originally asking for $20,000, the campaign was fully funded mid-May 2021, eventually settling on a $22,085 haul from almost 600 backers by the time of the campaign’s end. At the time, Harshman posted an update to the campaign page, writing, “Without the passion of the comics community, this anthology would not have gotten funded and I am incredibly humbled.” He continued, “We got a ton of work to do now. We gotta get this book made, printed, and into your hands. The goal is to have the book off to printers by July. Hopefully that's realistic.”
The July 2021 deadline proved to be optimistic, to say the least. By October, Harshman was updating backers, “I’ll be completely honest, I 100% underestimated the time needed and that’s my bad.” Three months later, he was sharing that he’d “had to pump the brakes on [the book] while I got my life sorted.”
By early June 2022, the digital version of the book was completed and had been shared with backers. On July 6, Harshman updated again, promising, “I will be starting the printing process within the next couple days.” On July 22, he posted that he was waiting for the print proof, and then, nothing… until October 30, when Harshman posted the following:
“I am sorry. Between the billions of delays and my lack of communication, I have let all of you down. I am not going to paint a sob story or anything but I will share the truth of the matter. My miscalculations and underestimations of what this book would cost in the long run has really screwed me up.” The statement continues as Hershman mentions additional costs in terms of “insane taxes I’m paying out of pocket” and “the insane cost of printing and shipping” — which add up to somewhere in the region of $11,000 — before repeating, “the book will be made and the promises will be delivered upon, unfortunately at this time I don’t have an ETA.”
Popverse reached out to Harshman for comment, but no response has been received at time of writing.
In an email exchange with Popverse, Rio Burton — one of the contributors to the anthology — said that he’d been “left in the dark” by Harshman with regards to any delays on the project. “I know that books can take a while to produce and I have been in several anthologies so it gets a little difficult to keep tabs on everything going on. I try not to stress over a book taking a while and concentrate on current projects instead,” he wrote. “Earlier this year Off Into the Sunset crossed my mind and I wondered where it was at progress wise so I checked on the Kickstarter. That's when I realized there were problems.”
Another contributor to the project, Mario Candelaria, told Popverse that communication between Harshman and creators "was not ideal," explaining that "backers and other creators I knew personally would reach out to me for an update from time to time, and I would then reach out to brentt urging him to do a project update to address concerns others were coming to me with. sometimes he did, sometimes he did not."
While creators had not been kept in the loop about the problems with the anthology's production, Candelaria says, "once the whisper networks and subtweets started going this week, it really felt like everyone jumped on to this with talks of dropping their stories on twitter as soon as the first person voiced their intent to do so." As a result, he says, creators “are united in ensuring quality storytelling in independent circles reaches audiences, and we banded together to do that not just in the immediate sense, but with common purpose in hopefully seeing it in solidarity in print.”
The reference to “the immediate sense” refers to the fact that, since news of the project’s delay (or, perhaps, outright suspension) has broken, creators have started to share their work on social media.
It’s one way for creators affected by the collapse of the project to take back some level of control over the experience — and, in the process, get to share their work with the world, given the possible alternative of having the work simply disappear for good. That said, according to Candelaria, there are still hopes that Off Into The Sunset could ride again… albeit under different leadership, perhaps. “We have a team of creators that are both willing to fulfill the book together or develop it for direct market release,” he explained. “We invite any publisher or independent investor to contact us.”
You can see some of the stories from the anthology posted onto Twitter below.
TW: bloody comic!— Rio Burton 🐺 (@RioBurtonArtist) October 31, 2022
As promised this is my contribution to Off Into the Sunset. I feel like I’ve developed so much since doing these pages!
Art by me
Written by Rob Burton
Lettered by Brentt Harshman pic.twitter.com/OGWFOk0KUM
I am very upset about the fate of OFF INTO THE SUNSET, I was proud of my story in the book and was blown away by the others I read.— 🌮Don Cardenas🌮 (@DonCardenasArt) October 30, 2022
Here is a link to my story, THE DEBT, for free. I hope you enjoy it. I put everything I had into it. https://t.co/crwFXn2feq
"Seeing Red" - My short dialogue-free Western originally created for #OffIntoTheSunset/#OITS anthology.— Brent Fisher (@carolcollector) October 31, 2022
Blood is sometimes more than vengeance.
It is a promise kept.
Artwork: @lianakangas / @SkyePatridge
LINK: https://t.co/PuhcogMosj pic.twitter.com/3EL5LrxcGy
~~~~~ Redemption is an eternal empty grave ~~~~~— Brittany Matter - Editing commissions open! (@BrittanyMatter) October 31, 2022
I'm proud to share BURN THE BREEZE, our 6-page cattle punk short created for the #OffIntoTheSunset anthology 1/3
Special thanks to @riqkquinn pic.twitter.com/WnethdZCn1
There's something strange about the folks of Lonely Hollow... Pleased to present our 4-pager, SILVER LINING, a supernatural western originally created for #OffIntoTheSunset #OITS! Happy Howl-oween!— Amy Thunderjam (@IfSheBeWorthy) October 31, 2022
Script/Story: @IfSheBeWorthy pic.twitter.com/Dv3K49ADKz
From the now-defunct OFF INTO THE SUNSET anthology is our story THE TREATY OF DOS COLINAS. I'm pretty proud of this one.— Jarred Luján (@jarredlujan) October 31, 2022
Written by myself
Art by @HeyJJLopez
Letters by @micahmyers
FINAL PAGE IN THE THE NEXT TWEET pic.twitter.com/PnjUjD0nII
My story from the in-limbo OFF INTO THE SUNSET anthology is “The Last Canteen.” Four pages of fights, falls, and irony for your reading pleasure!— Ben Humeniuk (@BenHumeniuk) October 31, 2022
There are plenty of other Western shorts from this book on Twitter today— keep an eye out for more tales that deserve to be seen! 🤠 pic.twitter.com/Vykdf5FMs3
In support of all the awesome creators sharing their #OffIntoTheSunset stories, I’m re-posting the cover for the anthology. I know all the creators appreciate the support we all received during this journey so thank you to everyone! #OITS pic.twitter.com/Sc46bGOYC3— Jimmy Kucaj (@jimmykucajart) October 31, 2022
Wondering just how Kickstarter works for independent comics publishing? The company’s director of comics outreach Oriana Leckert talked about the subject earlier this year.