Hey publishers: I think I’ve got this whole ‘how to be a success in the digital age’ thing all figured out. It’s pretty simple, actually: all you need to do is maintain a cultishly adored, critically acclaimed daily webcomic for close to a decade, supporting yourself along the way by selling fans of your comic merchandise that is as smart and funny as the strip that inspired it. Then, once you’ve got all that just about sorted out, you can launch a Kickstarter for the project of your choosing and watch as your loyal fanbase takes it to its goal of $20,000 within three and a half hours, taking it to nearly nine times said goal within a week.
At least, that approach seems to have worked for Ryan North, who’s taken the same mix of erudite reference points, gleefully silly child-like enthusiasm and BOUTS OF EMPHATIC UNPUNCTUATED CAPITALISATION YOU GUYS OH MY GOODNESS that he’s applied to his wonderful Dinosaur Comics on a near-daily basis since early 2003 and used it to tackle Shakespeare. Thanks to the success of that previously referenced Kickstarter, the writer is preparing to publish the very North-sounding To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure, an illustrated version of Hamlet retold as a ‘chooseable-path’ book (in North’s words: ‘”Chooseable-path” you may recognize as a trademark-skirting version of a phrase and book series you remember from childhood. Remember? Books in which… an adventure is chosen??‘).
Whilst North indicates canonical plot points that Shakespeare himself wrote with a handy Yorick skull, there are also several decidedly non-canonical decisions for readers who dare stray from the path of Harold Bloom, like fighting pirates, playing as Hamlet’s father and investigating your own murder or playing as Ophelia, here portrayed as ‘a smart, self-sufficient woman who knows what she wants and is totally rad 100% of the time, and also you are dating a PRINCE. You can choose what you want to do with your life: help your boyfriend who’s crying about a spooky ghost, or I don’t know TAKE DOWN INTERNATIONAL TERRORISTS INSTEAD??’
Whilst all of this is precisely the kind of amiably high-toned goofery that North’s fans would pay for regardless, 10% of all money raised also goes toward the Canadian Cancer Society, a choice of charity particularly close to North’s heart following his wife Jenn’s diagnosis with Hodgkin’s lymphoma earlier in the year. The book is already written and ready to go, and the Kickstarter determines not only how much money goes to charity but how many of the book’s 110 possible deaths have illustrations to go with them from the likes of Hark! A Vagrant’s Kate Beaton, XKCD’s Randall Munroe and Axe Cop’s Ethan Nicolle. Basically, this is the best possible thing you could be doing with your money right now in every conceivable way.
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.