Matt Crotts is a Tampa, FL artist and a past winner of the Society of Illustrators Student Competition John Klammer and Norman Rockwell Museum awards. Earlier this month, Crotts launched a modest $500 Kickstarter campaign for KYRIE, a short comic set in Roman era North Africa. As of this morning, the campaign has earned over 200% of its initial goal. I spoke to Crotts via email about KYRIE, the Kickstarter campaign and his future plans.
Christian Hoffer: What is the basic premise for KYRIE?
Matt Crotts: KYRIE is a short story about a band of thieves operating in the volatile city of Alexandria, Egypt. They must choose between survival and compassion, while staying a step ahead of the villainous authorities.
Hoffer: Why did you decide to set KYRIE in North Africa during the Roman era?
Crotts: Sounds random, I know! I've always enjoyed period stories, and I have a particular obsession with all things ancient. But I knew I couldn't write a modern story without it turning into Indiana Jones. So I needed to find an older, non-modern period in which to set it, but one which would still be relatable to the average readers today. And to me, the Romans always seemed very similar to us modern day Westerners, and for good historical reasons of course. They were about as far back as I could go without loosing relatability, I think. Finally, the late Roman period has some really interesting clothing, and a declining empire is always more interesting than a rising one. So it was off to the 250s CE!
Hoffer: What sort of research did you do while writing KYRIE?
Crotts: Too much, really. I have a row of my bookshelf filled with just reference and snobbish publishing on the Romans, Ancient Egyptians, and a lot of other relevant things besides. I've also been talking with a scholar in England who's done a lot of work on Alexander the Great in Egypt. Research is of course a rabbit trail that can ruin a good story if not not reigned properly, so I have to make an effort to limit myself. But it certainly is fun!
Hoffer: While KYRIE is set in a Roman province, the word "kyrie" is derived from the Greek. How did you decide on the title for the book?
Crotts: There's an interesting but very nerdy reason for that. My comic is set in one of the areas of the world that the Macedonian Alexander the Great conquered in the 4th century BCE, so Greek was one of the dominant languages in Egypt from then right up until the 7th century CE. The 'Greek World' of the Roman Empire included Egypt, Turkey, Palestine and much of the Mediterranean besides, for a good millennium. I get excited about cultural layering, and a story about Greek-speaking Romans traveling through ancient Egypt just seemed irresistible.
Hoffer: Do you intend KYRIE to be an ongoing story, or is this a "one and done" type of story?
Crotts: Though it reads as a stand-alone story, I'm planning for this comic to be the first chapter in a more epic, properly thick graphic novel that I'll work on down the road. I'm making KYRIE to gauge interest and to just finish something small before trying anything too big.
Hoffer: You mentioned that you intend to finish KYRIE before you go to medical school. Are you planning on continuing to illustrate during medical school?
Crotts: Yes, a little. That is the plan at least - but there are so many horror stories about the busy-ness of medical school, so I didn't want to make promises to myself that I couldn't keep. Actually I'm going to medical school for an MS in Medical Illustration, so if I'm not able to work on further chapters of KYRIE for a while, it'll be because I'm swamped animating aortic vale replacements lol.
Hoffer: I noticed that several of the character designs displayed on KYRIE's Kickstarter page are done in watercolors. Are watercolors used at all in the comic?
Crotts: Oh no! Nothing is actually in watercolors lol. It's all digital, though I use some tweaked, texture-y brushes to get that feel. I love traditional painting and watercolors, but I'm not confident enough to paint the final panels without some kind of Ctrl-Z to back me up.
Hoffer: Why did you decide to use Kickstarter to fund KYRIE?
Crotts: I looked into other options (like Patreon), but Kickstarter seemed to be the most well known, easy-to-use crowdfunding medium out there. I'd also heard tons of podcast interviews with successful Kickstarter campaigners about what to do or not do, so I felt I had a fighting chance to both get the word out and avoid some common first-timer mistakes if I went with Kickstarter.
Hoffer: How did you promote the Kickstarter campaign and build a backing base for the campaign?
Crotts: I've been posting on Facebook, but of course that is never enough. I've been building up a decent presence for several months on sites like Twitter, Devianart and LinkedIn, knowing that I'd need to use every available outlet once the campaign started. Fortunately each site seems to have helped a little. I also wrote my backers and asked them to share the campaign if they hadn't already. They've been kind enough to do that, which I think has helped even more.
Hoffer: Were you surprised that KYRIE reached its funding goal of $500 so quickly?
Crotts: Definitely! I put a low goal at the start, because I just didn't know what to expect, and unlike other campaigns I only needed to fund a week's worth of production on the project to finish it. But people have been very generous, and I'm so excited to get it into everyone's hands.
Hoffer: Do you plan on distributing KYRIE beyond your Kickstarter backers?
Crotts: I think so. The comic is currently promised to everyone who donates $1 or more. I would like to get it into print eventually, but either way I will probably be looking into Comixology or something and looking to sell it for $1 there.
Hoffer: Do you have any upcoming projects besides KYRIE?
Crotts: Nothing at the moment, because I've basically been living and breathing KYRIE for the past 6 months lol. The longer story that will play out after KYRIE still needs to be nailed down and written, and it's big enough and interesting enough to keep me happily occupied for a while yet.