Crowdfunding Review: “Dwarfs Versus Lion” (Bryan Butvidas, Juanito Sanabria)

Who do you think would win between 50 diesel-powered dwarfs and one monster lion? Would you be #TeamDwarf or #TeamLion? This campaign (and comic book) by Airith Saga creator, Brian Butvidas aims to answer that question.

This premise is based on a bar room discussion, of sorts. Characters, story details and the campaign set-up all derived from a live chat on the Airith YouTube channel, and I just happened to be there for most of it. I was #TeamDwarf from the beginning, it was hard not to get caught up in all of the excitement, but does the product live up to the hype? Read on to find out.

When looking at crowdfunding campaigns, we look at the following criteria:

  • Book Content and Quality
  • Communication and Fulfillment
  • Packaging and Shipping
  • Stretch Goals and Bonuses
What’s in the boxes?!

Book Content and Quality

The Dwarfs Versus Lion campaign closed on 8 March 2022 with 216 backers and $12,015 raised. This was not Butvidas’ first crowdfunding campaign, but it was the first campaign where he made it into a game, of sorts. Backers of the campaign would choose who they would want to advance in the story, and ultimately, who would become the ultimate victor. Butvidas and the rest of the creative team (Juanito Sanabria – artwork.; Oliver Lee Arce – colors and letters) made signature characters and moves based on real people in the YouTube live chat and inside jokes. Some of these moves became funding benchmarks on the campaign, and as some funding totals were achieved, certain power moves, armor, or weapons for both sides were unlocked. The opposite team would then have 48 hours to meet additional funding goals to determined whether those moves would work or fail. For example, moves such as the “sonic coom” would become unlocked if the over-all funding goal of $1,200 was made and whether it was effective against the lion was determined if the campaign reached $1,500. In this case, the campaign did not hit that mark and that particular attack ended in a sticky ball of dwarfs.

While intertwining the crowdfunding itself with a gaming approach was interesting in theory, trying to entice backers to determine the fate of the story, on the other hand, I am not sure how much of a success this venture was. Even I, who had a vested interest in the story, only backed the items I wanted more for the success of the campaign than the outcome of the story. I didn’t need additional copies of the book, and I wasn’t trying to back additional #TeamDwarf tiers to assure their victory, or the lion’s defeat. So, in whom did the fate of the story truly lie? New backers? Even as someone who watched the updates, I found it hard to follow or see the benefit of much hyped game aspects of the campaign.

It’s just like King Kong Versus Godzilla – if Kong was a flock of frightened pigeons

The book itself is 44-pages of story with a perfect bound spine. The cover has an embossed title and is prettied up with spot gloss blood spatter. While there was issue with the spot gloss during production, Butvidas made sure that backers received what he promised and worked to fix the issues, and it paid off. The glossy blood splatter was an excellent choice for the cover graphics.

This campaign had a lot to offer. Because they were catering to two separate factions, the creators did everything in duplicate. Whatever they made for the dwarfs, they made the same focusing on the lion. There were two variations of the cover; one in which the dwarfs had the upper hand and the other with the lion being the victor. They had multiple tiers: You could back either book without getting stretch goals or other bonuses; your teams’ box; both boxes as a “Crack Pack Box Set”; sketch cards from the creative team; t-shirts; and even advertising space. I backed a drawn-in tier (I was made into a battle dwarf), the “Crack Pack Box Set”, and two sketch cards from both Sanabria and Arce. As part of the drawn-in tier, I received a t-shirt that had my dwarf on it and because I was backer #1, that designation was immortalized on the sleeve of the shirt.

Betcha’ wish you had this shirt!

Sanabria’s art was a good fit with the dynamics of the many fight scenes. He did great to portray the motion and violence and loaded up on the humor despite the battle to the death. The layouts of the pages were diverse and interesting. He placed many easter eggs in the pages of the story, you can see Homer Simpson and SpongeBob in the stadium crowd as well as several nods to inside jokes and references to other comic book creators. The character designs were great and they certainly had a decent resemblance to the people on which they were based. While I adored the design of my dwarf, I was unsure of what happened to “me” in the book. It appears as though my groin area was unraveling? There was no blood or any otherwise obvious maiming. This didn’t seem like a finite enough of an end for my dwarf. Though this could have been done in a way to leave an opening for “my” potential return in the sequel.

The colors were a fitting complement to the art given the story that was being told. The palette was diverse with nothing crazy, sufficiently creating highlights and shadows to further accentuate the art.

The story was one with little meat. There was a giant battle with multiple clashes between the parties involved. Each dwarf or group of dwarfs would become brave and try their hand at beating the lion, which led to many gruesome and unique ways to die. The dialogue was hilarious, but it mostly consisted of references to inside jokes. I was glad to be “in the know” on the jokes, it did make the reading fun, but I could only imagine how some of these jokes would fall flat with someone who didn’t understand the references. For example, when a couple of the dwarfs die, the “Sixth Floor” elevator appears with a couple of gorgeous ladies carrying the dwarfs inside. I know it’s an elevator and I know the importance of the sixth floor and how it brings the beautiful ladies. But someone might wonder why the sixth floor and not be 100 percent sure that it’s an elevator (it could double as a gate – heaven’s gate). This could still work in the story, but knowing the additional details brings that much more humor to the reading experience.

“SHOM” indeed

Communication and Fulfillment

The communication from Butvidas in regards to the Dwarfs Versus Lion campaign was good. He had 25 updates which were informative and often included a panel of the art (or a small portion of a page). While he did not make these the focus, more like a page header image, it was a great tease as to what was coming. He titled the updates in a way where you didn’t even need to read the details to find the out what the big news was, and would discuss the details as to what moves either side unlocked and whether it worked or failed. While I did not particularly keep up with all the updates he sent, at no point did I wonder what was going on with the book. Granted, I did have insider information from watching YouTube and being a part of the chat during the YouTube brainstorming sessions for the ideas used in the book.

There were some delays in fulfillment, as Butvidas went overseas for printing and it went a bit longer despite a buffer zone that was put in place. The campaign was estimated to fulfill in July 2022, I did not receive my items until 20 September 2022. Nearly a couple months of delay did not worry me, though, as Butvidas was transparent with the process and what was going on.

Packaging and Shipping

I received several packages due to backing multiple times. My sketch cards, one of each option, arrived at the end of March 2022. My shirt, for backing a drawn in tier, arrived the middle of May. While I didn’t pay attention to how these were sent (usually I take pictures to recall later) they arrived with no damage. They were also nice teasers to the lead up of getting the books. I did receive tracking numbers for all shipments, and they all arrived about 4 days later, a consistently great shipping time from Arizona to Maine.

The “Crackpack” tier came with two shipping boxes bundled together in a large, sealed plastic “envelope” style wrap. The boxes were shrink-wrapped as well, so it provided double protection against water (although the shrink wrap did not cover 100% of the boxes).

When I saw this in my mailbox, I was crushed

I have previously purchased boxed packages from the Airith team, who thus far have done an impressive job with the orchestrating the cover art, and the boxes for Dwarfs Versus Lion did not disappoint. Unfortunately, the post office thought the boxes were a little sturdier, and during shipping the boxes received a couple crush points, some indentations, and several creases due to some weight being placed on top of them. I feel as though the boxes are part of the product backed, despite being a shipping container first, so I was a bit bummed that they did not arrive undamaged. However, they did do their job as the items inside the box was in great shape, and there was a lot to speak of inside.

Each box catered to the team it was representing, the art on the outside was impressive, but the pattern on the inside is what impressed me most as it was unexpected and perfectly themed.


Stretch Goals and Bonuses

The original goal was $6,969.00, and it only took 48 hours to meet it. I watched the launch party live and it had quite the momentum from those that were present. The first stretch goal was a cover upgrade which was met about 2 weeks later – the UV treated blood splatters to the already embossed cover. With another $4,000, they added more UV spot gloss to further enhance the liquid from the “coom cannon”. I did not find any change in the “coom,” but I am not sure where this was intended to be used. However, the UV blood splatter on the cover upped the coolness factor.

Aside from stretch goals, there were also “special unlocks” – “Crackhedz” would randomly unlock when random stretch goals or things happened on a stream. These Crackhedz were paper 3D characters from the book and five of them were unlocked before the end of the campaign. They were shipped flat, but you could assemble them for display. I have not assembled any of mine, but they are a nice touch and well done.

That’s a lot of extras.

The campaign offered several add-ons that I did not pick up. Backers did have the option to add on t-shirts, a hat, hoodie, a 3-inch 3D lion statue, a game cartridge (which have been an addition to Butvidas’ other campaigns), as well as his previous books.

Additional options on the campaign included a link to purchase NFTs of the dwarfs, which also provided additional perks for the owner based on the campaign. There was even a black and white animated version of the comic. While the beginning animation was pretty impressive, I have not seen an updated, final version.

Dwarfs Versus Lion specifically caters to those that know the personalities involved, the people upon whom the characters are based, and the references to the people, places and jokes that are used. I enjoyed the reading for that, but with the lack of true story, well, a story beyond the clashing, maiming, and death, there is very little to speak of. But what do you expect for a story that was hard to plan due to the fact that they couldn’t write it ahead of time? After all, it was all dependent on the backers, what was sold, and when. It was always just a game to decide who would win in the big ring. There was no back story and there was little going on besides the fighting. Dwarfs Versus Lion does have an ending that ties it to the Airith storyline and makes it part of the RADRverse. While the connection seems a little loose for now, I hope to see more in future issues, rather than it being a wacky world where anything happens.

While the story is lacking, Butvidas compensates with strong marketing know-how and innovation, which was an evident strength in the Dwarfs Versus Lion campaign. Lots of cool extras, details, and ways to engage those that he communicates with seems to be a theme in all his campaigns.

So… am I dead? I kind of look dead, right?

There is already work that is being done for the next Dwarfs Vs book. In their return, they battle the Junk Man, a protagonist from a book by 656 Comics – one of which Oliver Lee Arce is a part. If you’re interested in keeping up with that project, the sign-up is currently available at the Airith website here.

Overall Grade: C+

Thanks for reading!

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