Writers and artists focusing more of their efforts on creator-owned series could spell big trouble for publishers like DC Comics and Marvel Comics. There is an ongoing trend that has been building to a crescendo recently, one which has been led by the digital publisher, Substack. It started out as a subscription-based platform where writers could send out newsletters to their fans. However, now Substack is getting into the comics game by allowing creators to directly create content that fans pay for.
Described as a way to “make it simple for writers to start a subscription publication,” Substack is an enticing way for writers and artists to release comic books as it acts under a very similar model to how comic books are published by DC and Marvel. It’s all heavily reliant on reader interest. However, with Substack fans subscribe on a monthly model, like streaming services, rather than having readers make the choice of buying an issue or not. It’s a rather simple, but effective model that guarantees a certain amount of money generated each month.
However, with times changing, some big creators have finally decided to jump ship from publishers like DC and Marvel. And it has the potential to be a very smart move on their behalf. The big name that kicked off this recent trend was James Tynion IV, who recently announced that he will be leaving Batman to write creator-owned comics. He is leaving his presumably very reasonable paycheck over at DC for Substack, which has offered him something far more enticing.: an opportunity to write comics and retain complete control over every choice that happens during the writing process and afterwards. Many other creators like Chip Zdarsky, Scott Snyder, Ram V, and Brian Michael Bendis have also announced new deals to focus on creator-owned comics. All of them will have much less time to focus on their efforts at DC and Marvel if their ventures into the creator-owned world are successful.
Moving To Substack Is Enticing For Comics Creators
The jump to creator-owned series means that writers and artists are able to retain the copyright to their creations, reaping heavy rewards for successful series. Alternatively, being a creator at DC or Marvel only allows for a certain level of monitored creativity. All creators at the Big Two operate on a work-for-hire basis where they have to fit their ideas into the editorial mandates of those in charge. There have been many stories about DC’s editorial team blocking things from playing out how creators intended them to. For instance, Birds of Prey writer Gail Simone had wanted to give Batgirl a Batcave during her New 52 run but was denied, despite characters like Green Arrow getting cool hideouts akin to the Batcave.
Over at DC and Marvel, creators get paid a certain amount of money to write, draw, letter or color series’. However, they don’t retain any residual rights for what they’ve created, meaning that they barely ever earn anything other than the initial paycheck given to them. If a movie based on their characters and stories makes $1 billion at the box office, they don’t get a cut. Tynion’s choice to transition over to Substack was a no-brainer for him as “there is nobody you need to get permission from to do what you want to do. Make the books you most want to make, the books you think should exist, the ones that it has driven you crazy that nobody is making. Make them yourself.”
Will Comics Fans Follow Their Favorite Creators?
It’s clear that the future of comics lies with creator-owned services like Substack. It’s just a matter of time before other companies offer lucrative and enticing deals like Tynion and other creators have received. It follows suit with the rise of streaming platforms in the world of film and television, which gives filmmakers more freedom to explore more out-there ideas that major studios might reject due to fear of audiences not responding.
Obviously, those who have the most success with their creator-owned comics, at least at first, will be the creators who are already established. As services like Substack rely on fan subscriptions, a creator like Tynion will draw in a larger crowd of fans who are more willing to sign up for any book he publishes. That’s what makes it worth it for a company like Substack because they can be assured that big creators will garner big followings. It’s less likely that up-and-coming creators will be offered lucrative contracts similar to people like James Tynion IV. This is because they are yet to establish a following that will guarantee people coming over and subscribing.
How DC And Marvel Will Respond
The rise in creator-owned comics could have a bright side for the Big Two publishers. It could lead to more up-and-coming writers and artists getting drawn into DC and Marvel as those publishers lose their already-established creators. This would allow lots of new talent will finally get their shot at some of the world’s most established characters with built-in fan bases. They will be able to make a name for themselves among readers, which could lead to some new creative choices that the past generation was unable to achieve. However, there is a big downside for DC and Marvel as they could become more desperate to retain creators and readers. Likewise, there is a major risk that fans of certain creators will drop the series that they are reading. They will be searching for the next series by their favorite artist or writer where they are guaranteed to get the same quality that they used to get at those publishers but in their rawest, unfiltered form.
The ramifications for the comic book industry could be huge, depending on how readers respond to online publishing platforms like Substack. It seems like it’s the future, but don’t count out DC and Marvel just yet as it also opens up new avenues for creative storytelling from new creators. However, there is the potential for a loop, whereby new creators become established and then leave like Tynion to be able to write their own creator-owned books, abandoning the big publishers and the cycle begins again. DC and Marvel will have to adapt, but it seems pretty clear that platforms like Substack are shaking things up.