PopCultivator gives fans part-ownership stake in the business while connecting comic book creators with publishers. Credit: courtesy PopCultivator

As the pandemic disrupted the comic book industry in April 2020, Devil’s Due Comics founder Josh Blaylock could see changes on the horizon. Creators previously resistant to experimenting with technology or crowdfunding sites suddenly needed income as publishers called for “pencils down.”

“COVID forced a lot of creators to start using platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon, and they found out they could be successful,” Blaylock says. “It was a great ripping off of the veil of any gatekeeper model or barrier that had existed before.”

Out of this destruction, Blaylock’s self-described “hybrid agency/studio” PopCultivator was born. To be clear, PopCultivator is not a comic book publisher. Instead, it exists as a crowdfunded management entity that gives fans part-ownership stake in the business while connecting comic book creators with publishers.

“We’re not beholden to any publisher, and we’re not trying to create our own universe. We’re artists,” Blaylock says. “We look at each comic on a case-by-case basis and decide what’s the best route for that title to take.”

For the modern comic book creator, the number of those routes alone can be overwhelming. One path is creating an independent webcomic. Another is taking three completed issues to a publisher like Image Comics. PopCultivator’s potential strength lies in its ability to approach comics that creates a win-win situation for both comic creators and publishers.

“From the creative side, PopCultivator can fund the artist being able to produce the rest of the book without any stress. We bring in an entire team with expertise in different areas to help develop the property,” Blaylock says. “From the publishing side, PopCultivator is bringing a book that’s ready to go, with a vetted creator that’s already being funded and marketed.”

In this new venture, Blaylock is acting as CEO. His surrounding team—which he describes as “the Avengers of the comic book/pop culture world”—includes chief business development officer Michael Horn, COO Stuart Bernstein, director of all-ages content Jose Garibaldi, talent management director/contributing editor Kit Caoagas, events director Alma Silva, entertainment development director/story editor Shawn DePasquale, accounting vice president Debbie Davis, and consulting editor Mark Powers.

Each person brings a range of experience with them. Garibaldi has worked in animation on Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dav Pilkey’s The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants. Powers is a former senior editor from Marvel Comics. Horn has previously licensed merchandise with properties such as South Park and G.I. Joe.

Like the rest of the PopCultivator team, Horn says he has “been in and out of the comic-book business my entire career.” When approached by his longtime friend Blaylock, Horn was intrigued by the crowdfunded model.

“We’re rewriting the rules, and saying, ‘We can do whatever we want with this,’” Horn says. “At the end of the day, it’s about creating great content. What you do with that content is unlimited.”

To date, PopCultivator has raised nearly $100,000 through its WeFunder website. That money will be spent on four books, including Blaylock’s Arkworld and The Encoded, as well as Garibaldi’s kid-friendly Gabby G.E.A.R.S. and History as Written by Victor.

Sketches of characters from the all-ages comic book Gabby G.E.A.R.S.Credit: Jose Garibaldi

For Garibaldi, the creative freedom piqued his interests. Throughout his career, the creator-artist has worked for brands and companies tied to shifting trends, budgets, and creative pipelines. For example, while working as a character designer for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he couldn’t create elaborate creatures. Instead, executives, editors, and producers would make notes on designs, keeping an eye on budgets and if the content would track well with certain age groups. Working with PopCultivator, he has certain standards he’ll follow due to the nature of his books being available for all ages. Other than those guidelines, Garibaldi has free reign.

“PopCultivator gives me freedom and more space to work on my characters,” Garibaldi says. “Working on a creator-owned project and having it crowdfunded, it’s nice to be able to see how far I can take some ideas.”

The next six months will be devoted to “buckling down and making comics,” Blaylock says. Fans who donated will get updates through the WeFunder page. If PopCultivator isn’t making good on what has been promised, Blaylock hopes fans will keep everyone in check.

“At the end of the day, if we’re not doing good deals with those creators or not monitoring the situation, we’ll hear about it from our investors,” Blaylock says. “These aren’t random stockholders. All the people involved in the company are true comic book fans, making this a true check-and-balance-type system.”

How far PopCultivator can go will be a matter of time. Horn, the optimistic entrepreneur, is already imagining a world full of the company’s brands.

“I’d love to see it become an IP powerhouse where the business creates brand after brand after brand, and the comics are simply the launching point,” Horn says. “I’d love to go sit in a movie theater and see the PopCultivator logo on the screen, or go into Target and see action figures for sale . . . That’s the goal.”  v