Turtle Club Newsletter 9–IS THE COMICS BUSINESS CHANGING FOREVER?!
Comics will never change. Comics are always changing.
News has been coming fast and furious about comic creators bucking the conventional comics market, publishers smashing the monopoly of Diamond Distributors, and generally figuring out new ways of doing stuff. Now I’m not a comics journalist, nor am I accredited in business; I consider myself a critic of art, not markets. But I am an informed observer, and there has been lots to observe, though I can’t say I think much of it is quite as groundbreaking or paradigm shifting as the press around any of the given items are—mostly.
SO let’s take a look.
First, Scott Snyder has embarked on a new venture with ComiXology to produce original series for their ComiXology Unlimited service. Now, ComiXology making originals isn’t new, they’ve been doing it for a while, but Snyder’s the first big name, and, reportedly, they are paying him and his many collaborators on those eight (COUNT ‘EM!) books competitive rates! And he owns the stuff! That’s cool!
While these titles are going to be digital first, Snyder will also be printing them through Dark Horse—who appear to be making moves to get its market share back up and make a name for itself as a publishing house for creator owned books to rival Image and Boom. Take for example, the recent announcement that Dark Horse is the new home of Brian Bendis’ Jinxworld line of creator owned books.
Next, the big Substack hoopla which has seen James Tynion IV, Chip Zdarsky, Jonathan Hickman, Scott Snyder (mr. comics deals over here), Skottie Young, and more, all get essentially a blank check to do whatever they want as long as they write an undisclosed number of newsletters a month. It sounds like a sweetheart of a deal, a one-year grant that gives creators the financial freedom to just do what they want to do, get new books off the ground where the startup funds would have to come from their own pockets. Quite a thing!
We’ve also got DC Comics partnering with WebToon, the online comics giant, to create original content for the site/app. I’ll speak more to this in a minute.
Finally, ever since the pandemic ground the shipment of weekly periodicals to a halt, Marvel and DC both seemed to reevaluate the very idea of having only one comics distributor control all functions of the comics market, essentially. Marvel and DC have both teamed with new partners for printing and distributing, though still offering some flexibility for shops to work with Diamond. Like all things comics business, David Harper on Sktchd is the man to look to for understanding this. I’m going to link to his articles on a lot of these industry things the next few paragraphs, because he understands it all better than me and has access to people who can shed some light on the business end. So try a subscription so you can read these pieces!
It seems important, but how much it really impacts anything is hard to say. Some shops are happy to see the Diamond reins loosen, others are annoyed that they have to manage their orders from more than one place. (God forbid a business have to do normal business things.) But it is another change amid a flood of change in how comics are made and put into people’s hands.
All of these things feel important because they are new, but I don’t think that’s particularly true in most of these cases. Substack, ultimately, is a VC effort from a tech startup with no business model to actually make money. The creators get a nice payday to do whatever they want for a year. But the engine is still the comics periodicals. That’s where the cash will come. Sure people are signing up and subscribing but will it be profitable without the up front grant long term? Nah, and I think they all know it. But they get money and security for a year. That’s good! And then they can go back to freelance and work for hire and whatever with a year of doing whatever they wanted, the cost of creating a new title or two covered. For the creatives, there’s very little downside here. The hardest part, getting the book made, funded, distributed, paid for, and paying collaborators, is done for them.
For Substack, the actual distribution of these books will be eventual collected editions, no one is pretending otherwise. So it is unlikely to fundamentally shift how people can get their hands on it. The draw for the platform, theoretically, is the manufacturing of the content around the comics. Snyder is not even doing comics through this grant but instead offering writing courses (which I signed up for, the only Substack thing I have decided to pay for). These books will be in readers hands physically eventually, probably through Image. (Funnily enough no one seems to know how they are actually going to be distributing these substack pages. Have they not ever heard of a CBZ file?? The only good way to read a digital comic?) Hickman is, as far as I know, the first one to share pages, this morning, and they were just embedded in the free newsletter.
I didn’t like it.
Digital comic books are nothing new, either, and Scott Snyder’s deal with ComiXology is interesting because they are prioritizing the creation of those books as digital. Again, I don’t think this is particularly huge because ComiXology has been around for a long time now. It has not fundamentally dismantled the direct market and comics shops. Hopefully what this does is make new roads for other creators to see ComiXology as a viable route to getting their books made and more are able to get paid! But still—the print is king.
With all these news items you might think—shops are dead and dying! Yet despite all odds it appears comic shops had a banner year! That’s good—small businesses staying afloat in these hard times. Most of these new deals are not peeling people away, they are offering comic shop goers new ways to augment their hobby. They are not revolutionary in part because they ARE in fact aimed at comics faithful—not at drawing new people into the medium and expanding the market. I don’t see how a substack newsletter comic gets anyone into comics for the first time. It is for existing fans.
Webtoon though. That’s a big deal. And the one I find most interesting. Webtoon haas the largest comics reading audience in the world. If DC is truly investing talent and resources into producing webtoon specific content that can appeal to readers who have never stepped foot in a comic book store, even a tiny portion of that massive audience could be a monumental sales boost. It’s a big deal. But I’m afraid I cannot fully grasp how big a deal or even what makes webtoon unique because I have no experience with it…my wife on the other hand, spent her whole summer vacation a year back addicted to a series on there. And she does not read regular comics! So that says something about them doing things right. I read this piece on Sktchd and my jaw kind of dropped reading about their audience reach. It’s wild! I hope DC is able to create content that is friendly for new readers and piques their interest to get into comics more broadly.
As I said, I don’t think most of these things, no matter how the people involved try to spin it, are that big a deal. Reader tastes change and have always changed. Comic shops seem pretty secure. The digital front has been here for a long time chugging along. Anecdotally, I do not see that any of this really impacts my relationship with the act of reading comics.
Personally, I am finding myself moving more to digital as getting to the comic shop proves to be more and more inconvenient and as I realize I just don’t have the space for physical books—floppies or collected editions.
But, just because these things are not changing the industry, that doesn’t mean they are not good or important. They all, in a variety of ways, seem good for the creatives and creators! It allows for more freedom, more creative control, and more competition between publishers new and old. And when creators and consumers have more choice, everyone wins.
Random Comic Panel of the Week
Departures and Pauses, OR: Why Do Comics Hate Me?
X-Men Loses its Head
So the big buzz on my twitter feed lately is the Head of X himself, Jonathan Hickman leaving the X-Men titles after Inferno. This bums me out because I was drawn into this new status quo and this world by Hickman’s big vision and his hints at future stories, and seeing how he pays off the threads and threats in Powers of X in particular. His exit really deflated my interest in what happens in the mutant world— I’m more invested in Hickman’s story threads than in the Krakoa status quo in general, and while many feel The state of the X-line is strong the only non Hickman book that truly has excited me is Duggan’s Marauders. I’ve been left fairly cold on basically every other title I’ve read. The divergence into obscure Captain Britain lore in Excalibur and X of Swords continues to annoy me, and the rest just do not follow characters I care much about. I’m two issues behind on Way of X but after a stunning debut issues 2 & 3 left me cold. Planet Size X-Men felt like it should have been as breathtaking as HoXPoX but the way it was handled there really baffled me and the continual focus on the Arakko mutants, all of whom I find completely uninteresting, really dropped my interest.
With his exit I don’t see myself being too invested with what comes next.
Laila Starr is Dead
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr is another incredible entry by Boom in their impressive march toward a creator owned powerhouse. The story by Ram V is magical and fantastical, an adult and contemporary fairy tale that feels timeless and funny, sad and poignant. Felipe Andrade’s delicate lines and the moody colors of the book are incredible. As far as tone goes, it fits square in the middle of my taste, the combination of the Profound and the Absurd.
It is ending at issue 5—IN SEPTEMBER! Better to end and be amazing than drag and stink eventually. But this book is a shiny little diamond and, well, I kind of wish it could go forever.
The Nice House on a Hiatus
You might remember The Nice House on the Lake, a series on the short list for my book of the year, from my very long academic exploration of its implementation of semiotics. An amazing book of postmodern, post-covid trauma and paranoia, Nice House is beautifully and meticulously illustrated by Alvaro Martinez Bueno, and while I absolutely do not want to see him compromise the quality of the work or see another artist step in, how do I live without this book for six months come November?? TYNION!! WHY! HAVE! YOU! FORSAKEN! ME!
Is it because I didn’t pay for your newsletter comics?
Random Comic Panel of (Last) Week
Infinite Frontier by Joshua Williamson and seemingly every artist at DC is just so much fun—Bringing back many wonderful elements of DC history long ignored or disposed of. Big concepts and fantastic character work, including the creation of a Flashpoint Batman that I actually care about and with a real narrative arc????
Nick Spencer’s Spider-Man is, blessedly, almost over…but my hopes are not high for what comes next given that a lot of my grievances with his run do not sit at his feet alone. But that’s for next time.
I mentioned last newsletter I was threatening to write about a sprite comic and I am. I want to try and get through at least most of the archives before diving super deep. It is keeping me entertained during my 2am Baby Feedings and once I’m done CHILDREN OF DUNE as my bed time reading I might spend more time with it.
If you’re interested in supporting me on Ko-Fi you can get an exclusive preview for backers.
Some stray thoughts: this is a very silly and very stupid comic, and there are parts that simply do not age well… Things that you’d expect to find from a college-age dude in the year 2000 that I think even the author would agree today were probably in poor taste. Anyway—I think it is a culturally important thing for internet people to devote time to it, so I am looking forward to finishing my reread and giving it a proper evaluation.
I haven’t read much in the ways of comics lately—Babies take a lot of time!! I am playing Kingdom Hearts! I am trying to read books! How can anyone find time to do anything!?!
I have lost my marbles!