When Tracy Butler and Fable Siegel approached studios with the concept of an adult animation series, they were met repeatedly with the same response. The idea of Lackadaisy, a series that follows booze drinking cats as they indulged in crime against the backdrop of 1920’s Missouri was captivating. But according to producers, the project was too risky to finance. In Hollywood, studios believe that when it comes to adult animation, only the sitcom format sells.
Published online, Lackadaisy Cats has been a webcomic since 2006. Set in prohibition-era St. Louis, the narrative revolves around the fortunes of a prohibition-era speakeasy called The Lackadaisy. After the speakeasy’s founder is murdered, his widow must clumsily continue her husband’s legacy of conspiracy, murder, and crime to keep the bar afloat. And all of the characters? They’re anthropomorphic cats. Lackadaisy immerses readers into a world of sepia-toned crime, adventure, and occasional laughs.
Tracy says that when she first imagined Lackadaisy, she pictured the project as an animated film. She’d grown up watching Disney films, Looney Tunes, and Don Bluth features, and she dreamed of breathing that same animated and musical life into the story of the The Lackadaisy speakeasy. With her background as a game developer, graphic designer, and illustrator, Tracy knew that such a project would be complex and expensive.
It wasn’t until recent years that Tracy noticed an influx of independently-made animated films. She knew that there were modern animation tools and techniques available, the ability to fund projects through online campaigns, and a community of viewers eager for independently-created media. This combination of factors compelled Tracy to think seriously about adapting her established webcomic into the format that she always dreamed it would be.
After pitching to some networks who said that the project was too risky, Tracy and Fable turned to Lackadaisy’s dedicated audience. They decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign to fund a proof-of-concept, short animated film. They knew that if they were successful, the campaign would demonstrate not only an audience interested in seeing Tracy’s booze-loving cats on screen, it would demonstrate that audiences were ready for adult animation genres to diversify beyond sitcom comedy.
Crowdfunding campaigns have successfully funded an array of animated films and web series. In 2018, Vivienne Medrano’s Hazbin Hotel was launched through an ongoing Patreon campaign. An adult themed, dark comedy musical, the animated series has since published to Youtube a pilot episode that has amassed over 40 million views. More recently, the proposed animated series The Legend of Vox Machina raised over 11 million dollars in pledges on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. The funding is enough to cover the production costs of the entire 10 episode series, which is set to be released in the fall of 2020.
Examples like these demonstrate the potential of tapping into established audiences while working simultaneously to draw in new supporters. With the right PR and marketing, a crowdfunding campaign can broaden the reach of a project. Tracy and Fable knew that with a well-crafted campaign they could bypass studio financing and instead, create Lackadaisy through independent funding.
Tracy and Fable recognized that they had little experience with Kickstarter campaigns. So, they got in touch with, as Fable says, the “Queen of Kickstarter:” Spike Trotman. Spike is the cartoonist behind long-standing webcomic Templar, Arizona, and is the founder of comic publishing house Iron Circus Comics. Spike was an early adopter of Kickstarter and is considered a pioneer of the platform. Spike, and Iron Circus, have funded 24 projects through crowdfunding to date. Tracy and Fable knew that Spike’s involvement could be the key to a successful Lackadaisy campaign. When they pitched the concept to Spike, she agreed to come on board, and the team behind the campaign was complete.
Spike was an invaluable addition to the Lackadaisy team. She provided the campaign expertise that is essential to capturing the interest and support of an audience. She helped structure the pledge levels, set a funding goal, put together a marketing blitz, and got in touch with a publicist to help spread word about Lackadaisy. And, Spike attached her name to the project. According to Fable, Spike is a trusted entity on Kickstarter. Twenty two of the projects that Iron Circus has funded through Kickstarter have been fulfilled, and the other two are in progress. With Spike’s name behind the campaign, contributors were assured that Lackadaisy would be completed.
In early March, Tracy, Fable and Spike had put together the proposed production team, voice actors, schedule, funding goal and stretch goals. The campaign, Lackadaisy: The Animated Short Film launched, and in less than 24 hours they achieved their primary funding goal of $85,000. One month after launching, the campaign came to an end having reached nearly all of the team’s stretch goals. In total, they raised $330,000 in funding.
The wild success of Lackadaisy’s campaign has empowered Tracy and Fable in more ways than one. By independently funding the film, the team behind Lackadaisy has preserved their artistic authority over the project. Fable says that without the involvement of a network or Hollywood producer, they have the freedom to control every aspect of Lackadaisy, from the storyboarding to who they hire to animate or voice act. For example, Fable explains that the story includes Creole characters. It was important to the Lackadaisy team that the characters be represented by Creole actors. With full artistic control, this detail was one that they could ensure was fulfilled.
The animation style of Lackadaisy is another unique aspect that Tracy, Fable and their production team were able to choose thanks to their artistic freedom. They chose to animate the film in a style that mimics Xerox line animation, or xerography. Xerography is an animation tool that was notably used in Disney’s 101 Dalmations (1961), and The Secret of NIMH (1982) from Don Bluth Productions. The technique is known for its ability to transfer pencil lineart directly to animation cells and create a textured look. It was used consistently up until the 1980s, when studios replaced it with CAPS, an early computer-based program developed by Pixar that replaced inking and photocopying entirely.
Fable explains that they’ve chosen to composite their digital animation in the style of xerography because the technique has a look that reflects the nostalgia of Lackadaisy’s 1920s Saint Louis setting. This compositing technique makes the animation feel like a living drawing, which furthermore references Lackadaisy’s origin as a hand-drawn webcomic. Fable says this animation style gives the film more texture, life, and mood. It is reminiscent of the darker tone of Xerox era films, particularly from the 80s. This allows for a perfect mix of the setting’s dark atmosphere and nostalgia to be reflected on screen.
Now that Lackadaisy is funded and production is underway, Tracy and Fable are looking forward to sharing the finished film sometime in 2021. The film will first be premiered to the backers behind their Kickstarter campaign, and will then be made available to watch for free on Youtube. Tracy says that the immense response to the crowdfunding campaign, combined with the viewership numbers on the final film, might be the key to earning the attention of Hollywood studios. With the success of their Kickstarter and the film as a proof-of-concept, they’ll have proven that Lackadaisy is a risk worth taking. The dream is that the concept would then be picked up as a network series.
Although sitcom format has been the tried-and-true style of adult animation to date, audience expectations are changing. Films like Anomolisa (2015) and television series’ like Bojack Horseman demonstrate a growing interest in genres outside of comedy. Audience-driven successes like Lackadaisy, Hazbin Hotel, and The Legend of Vox Machina further reinforce the diversification of genre and storytelling that audiences want.
Regardless of whether Lackadaisy is picked up by a network, Tracy and Fable emphasize that this opportunity to make the short film is rewarding enough. They explain that the process of making the film with a passionate production team has been inspirational. And, they have the added bonus of sharing the film’s progress with a dedicated community of Kickstarter backers. When Lackadaisy premieres on YouTube, sometime in 2021, Tracy says it will be a testament to the opportunities that young creators have today. Thanks to technology, the internet, and online communities, animators, artists and other creators can bring projects to life by tapping into the power of crowdfunding and audiences.