Crowdfunding Review: “Tales from the Stacks” (Aspirational Comics, Festival of Dread Special)

Welcome back to the Festival of Dread, The Splintering’s month-long celebration of all things tricks and treats.

Today we’re going to take a look at Michael Critzer’s Tales from the Stacks, a black-and-white horror anthology written by Critzer and featuring artwork by multiple creators.

As a “crowdfunding review”, it will cover the following criteria:

  • Book Content and Quality
  • Communication and Fulfillment
  • Packaging and Shipping
  • Stretch Goals and Bonuses

So let’s get on with this horror story, shall we?

Book Content and Quality

As mentioned above, Tales from the Stacks is a horror anthology featuring black-and-white artwork. There are three short stories included, along with introductions and interludes from an unnamed librarian character who acts as the book’s “horror host.”

Each of the three stories are brief, thematically-linked morality tales. My take? The dangers of lust and desire can cost you your relationships, your life, or even worse. Each of the stories are engaging enough, but honestly, they aren’t terribly scary. Sure, the plots all have a creepy element to them, but they’re far more titillating than anything else. There is no full nudity, as all of the naughty bits are cleverly covered by word balloons, wisps of hair, background objects, or slightly out of frame. It’s all sexy stuff, (especially Keung Lee’s last story, Discovering Evelyn. Hay-chihuahua!), but it didn’t quite deliver on the horror.

Is that tingling feeling fear, or something else?

Given that there are three separate stories and the interludes with the librarian, each by different artists, the quality of art varied throughout the book. As I mentioned above, Keung Lee’s art contributions were the stuff that wet dreams are made of, and Illustrator Monk’s story A Fire in Wynter wasn’t far behind in delivering some sultry visuals. Ralph del Mundo illustrated the first story The Lady Inanna and Dave T provided the art for the opening and interludes, both of whom have styles that are well suited for horror work, but as I already mentioned, there simply wasn’t much horror to go around.

On the subject of the artists, however, each artist was not specifically credited for his own contribution – only a generic listing for “artists”, which also included the cover art. If you aren’t aware of each artist’s style, you will have to refer back to the campaign page to see which artist illustrated which parts of the book. Not a significant flaw from the reader’s standpoint, but still a bizarre oversight.

The book itself had a thick, rubbery cover stock (which I suppose is easy to both grip and clean, eh?), and the paper had a standard weight to it. While I didn’t notice too many editing mistakes, there was one typo so massive that I honestly don’t know how it was missed (“II” instead of “I” at the beginning of a sentence on page 3).

Sure, I knew the Indiegogo page made it abundantly clear that Tales from the Stacks would be a sexy horror book. In any case, it’s better described as a “horrific sensual” book than it is a “sexy horror” book, and I was hoping for the latter. If you were shopping for the former, you definitely got what you paid for.

Grade: B-

Communication and Fulfillment

I sent Michael Critzer an email at one point before fulfillment, because I was concerned that I was not receiving any updates on the project. He responded quickly and set my mind at ease. Much later, I found that he actually was providing updates, but that they were done almost exclusively through the “updates” tab on the Indiegogo page. By the end of the campaign, I did not find a single update in my email aside from the notification that the book had shipped.

I know some people prefer to have project updates primarily on the Indiegogo page rather than sent to their email. But as someone who backs a lot of campaigns, I strongly prefer the updates shot directly to my inbox rather than clicking randomly through dozens of campaign pages to see whether there’s been an update. Looking back at the updates on the Indiegogo page, it turns out that Critzer sent out a bonus digital copy of Tales from the Stacks to all backers around November 2019. Since I never saw that update, I didn’t know to look for the digital copy, and I think it goes without saying at this point that I never found it in my inbox, either (hence a few imperfect images in this review). Good on him for offering something as a consolation for the book being so late, for what that’s worth.

How about now? Scared yet?

Perhaps the most keenly annoying turn of events in the Tales from the Stacks experience was that Critzer launched a campaign for a “special edition” of the book roughly nine months before fulfillment began on the first campaign (the one I backed. This “special edition” included a number of bonuses that were not available to the backers of the initial offering, so I felt as though I got screwed over by buying into the first campaign – “early adopting” – if you will. In my mind, when creators launch secondary crowdfunding campaigns like this, it often means that they have mismanaged funds and need a secondary influx of cash to fulfill the first campaign. I certainly can’t say with any certainty that this is what happened with Tales from the Stacks, but it still didn’t settle well with me. I don’t know why this has to be said, but don’t launch a second campaign for a better version of the same book before you fulfill the first campaign. It looks really shady, and at least some of your “early adopters” will feel hoodwinked.

Grade: D-

The two variant covers – doubly scared?

Packaging and Shipping

The book was shipped in a hard back envelope, and the extras were boarded. This was frankly insufficient for protecting the book. My copy arrived severely bent along the spine, and while I was able to press out some of it, the creases marred the front and back cover. At least the interior pages were spared any noticeable damage.

Tales from the Stacks did not arrive in my mailbox until 9 December 2020, and it was originally scheduled to arrive sometime in September 2019, which is several months early enough for the whole COVID thing to not be an excuse.

More than a year late and the most beat-up book I’ve ever received from a crowdfunded project? The only thing saving this from a flat “F” is that I got a tracking number when it shipped.

Grade: D-

Still not scared?

Stretch Goals and Bonuses

The Tales from the Stacks campaign unlocked a stretch goal for a bookmark featuring one of the book’s lovely ladies illustrated by Pablo Romero (I got the ravishing redhead, Evelyn), and it was a standard quality, no-frills bookmark. The most unique bonus however, was the old-fashioned library checkout card, with a simple black and white illustration on it, which was also a campaign stretch goal. The book was also signed by Critzer on the interior cover.

The Tales from the Stacks campaign didn’t reach the upper stratosphere in terms of funding, but the bonus items it delivered were unique, fun additions that were consistent with book’s theme. I also appreciate the signature, which is always a welcome addition when I drop $20 or more on a single book.

Grade: B

The signed interior and library card

Would I back again? Quite simply – No. At least not before Critzer has delivered on another project or two that can be described as true success stories. That second “special edition” campaign really burned me something fierce, too. By the time Tales from the Stacks finally landed in my mailbox, it was too little horror, and definitely too late for me to care.

Had everything gone perfectly with the shipping, timing, and fulfillment, the book is still more risqué than horror, at least more than I expected, so take that for what it’s worth. If you are looking for some sexy art with a few thin horror stories to tie it together, Tales from the Stacks provides that. In any case, Critzer’s next campaign has some serious lessons to apply if it has any chance of sealing the deal with me.

Critzer still runs a very good YouTube channel though (Professor Geek), and it’s definitely worth a subscribe for his insightful commentary on comics and storytelling in general.

Overall Grade: D+

Thanks for reading!

You can check out more of our Festival of Dread content here, and please consider following The Splintering on social media or bookmarking the site for more independent entertainment news, views, and commentary!

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