A novel with soul (or at least half!)

By Kristen Ann Coulas

Part of our job at Library and Archives Canada is to keep up with the trends and changes in publishing. Of these trends, one of the most interesting has been crowd-funded publications.

Though admittedly representing a miniscule portion of what gets published overall, what crowd-funded publications lack in prevalence, they more than make up for in cultural capital. Works published via crowdfunding are done so at the patronage of their prospective audience; they are the direct result of their community.

Crowdfunding takes many forms, but perhaps the best known is Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website that hosts projects for everything from technology to theatrical performances and more. At the time of writing this blog post, Kickstarter offered the public the opportunity to back more than 44,000 publishing projects worldwide. One Canadian author and artist who has taken on this method of funding for her publications is Kelly Chen.

A coloured photograph of stacks of the graphic novel Halfsoul.

Stacks of the graphic novel Halfsoul. Photo credit: Kelly Chen

Kelly first started publishing her work on an open publishing platform called Tapas. The site allows users to publish and read the work there and aims to create and foster an online community. It is free to use the site and though tipping the creators is an option, it is not required.

In May 2018, after updating her webcomic, Halfsoul, on Tapas for over a year-and-a-half, Kelly created a Kickstarter project to fund turning her work into the first volume of what she envisions as a four-volume graphic novel series.

According to a 2017 CBC article on Canadian Kickstarter projects, those focused on the arts were most successful in reaching their funding goals. Of all Canadian Kickstarter projects between 2010 and 2016, comics enjoyed the second highest success rate with an average of 58.4%. This number may not seem impressive at first glance, but when you consider that only about a third of all Canadian Kickstarter projects are successfully funded, it is clear that crowdfunding is a very viable medium for graphic novel authors and artists. Kelly’s successful publication of Halfsoul is physical proof of that.

A black and white hand-drawn image of characters from the graphic novel Halfsoul

A page from the graphic novel Halfsoul. Photo credit: Kelly Chen

The graphic novel is set in a world where it’s possible to trade half of your soul to have a wish granted. But this turns you into a halfsoul, a being scorned by society. As it follows the journey of four halfsoul hunters, Halfsoul asks us to consider what it means to lose a part of yourself and if it is possible to reclaim the lost parts. Influenced by the author’s own experience with mental health, Kelly Chen explains that it is a story of vulnerability, mental illness and recovery:

While the graphic novel is based in a more fictional and metaphorical setting, it was written with mental health in mind. It was important to me that it wasn’t just another story about trauma that ended up in tragedy or ended up trivializing the struggle people go through. It was also important that hope for recovery could be found at the end. There’s not a single clear view of what recovery looks like, but I hope sharing a narrative informed by my own experiences struggling with PTSD will help others cope with their own battles with mental illness.

The Kickstarter campaign aimed to raise $7,000 to fund a 500-copy print run of the tale. It exceeded its goal in just 29 days. There is clearly something about the novel’s subject matter that strikes a chord with Kelly’s audience, so much so that they dedicated funds to support its very publication. This enthusiasm speaks to the cultural importance of Halfsoul itself. It is not simply a novel for an audience, it is a novel demanded by its audience. Kelly Chen clearly has a dedicated community of readers surrounding her work and we are very pleased and excited to be welcoming this fascinating new publication into our National Collection.

A multi-coloured pie chart demonstrating how much was spent on Kickstarter fees, comic printing, shipping and other rewards.

A graph depicting the breakdown in fees in Kelly Chen’s Kickstarter campaign. Photo credit: Kelly Chen.


Kristen Ann Coulas is an acquisitions librarian at Library and Archives Canada