Email newsletter platform Substack has announced a major investment in comics creators, offering another means to deliver strips to readers.
Substack, which allows writers to send digital newsletters directly to their readers and monetise their work by putting it behind a paywall, has been growing steadily ever since its launch in 2017, with Forbes noting the platform now has more than 250,000 paying subscribers earlier this year. It’s now seeking to grow still further by actively supporting comic creation, with creators such as James Tynion IV actively backing the project.
We’ve noted some concerns raised, but suggest it’s another way of getting your creator-owned comics out there, alongside other means like crowdfunding (dominated by Kickstarter), Comixology (owned by Amazon), Comichaus (owned independently right here in the UK), GetMyComics (ditto), Tapas (Korean) and WebToon (Korean), Patreon (US), and more – and Facebook will soon be in on the act, too.
“We started Substack four years ago with the belief that by changing the rules of the media economy – specifically, by putting writers and readers in charge – we could perhaps trigger an explosion of new creative work,” says the company’s Hamish McKenzie, announcing the move.
“We have been pleased to see the Substack model succeed for many thousands of journalists, bloggers, academics, and analysts, but we think there is potential for much, much more.
“There are few industries where we feel the Substack model could be more game-changing than in comics,” he continues, “where the gap in power and earning potential between publishers and for-hire creators is enormous, and where the creator of a story can spawn a nine-figure franchise and yet take home little more than a standard paycheck. On Substack, comics creators are their own publishers, and they are guaranteed full ownership of their intellectual property, content, and mailing lists, like any other publisher on the platform.”
While creators such as Howard Chaykin and Russian creator Nikita Petrov already use Substack, this week has already seen the launch of a slew of Substacks published by creators that include Eisner Award-winning writer Saladin Ahmed (author of Throne of the Crescent Moon), Ignatz- and Prism Award-winning graphic novelist Molly Knox Ostertag (author of The Witch Boy and The Girl from the Sea, and artist for the webcomic Strong Female Protagonist, who will be donating monies raised for her often 18+ work to donating to The Trans Lifeline’s Microgrant program, which provides funds for gender affirming surgery and legal work), and multiple Eisner Award winner Scott Snyder (author of Voodoo Heart, and writer of Batman, Wytches, and American Vampire).
“These creators are supported by Substack Pro packages designed to kickstart going independent and remove the risks of starting a publishing enterprise,” says Hamish. “We do that by providing a financial guarantee combined with access to services, support, and community. These packages include upfront grants, design and editing services of the creators’ choosing that Substack subsidises, and monthly stipends to help out with the costs of health insurance.
“The freedom and independence that the deals offer are lasting,” he continues. “The grants give these creators the best possible runway to build their own audiences. At the end of the Pro program, creators are free to leave and take those audiences with them if they want to (it’s up to us to build an ecosystem good enough that they won’t).
James Tynion IV, until now the lead writer on Batman, who has been looking to move to creator owned work for some time, notes that when it comes to your own stories “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. Produce works by people whose work you absolutely love. Will them into the world.”
Also enthused is Scott Snyder, who reveals via his Substack, that his new imprint Best Jackett Press is already up and running.”Right now, I have ten books of my own coming out soon with some terrific co-creators that I’m sure you are already fans of,” he teased, also sharing some promotional imagery.
“No one benefits more from creators’ freedom than their audiences,” feels Hamish McKenzie.”Substack’s direct-to-audience model means creators will be empowered to experiment freely in form and genre. Work that might never find a home at a traditional publisher can thrive here. We’re eliminating all the constraints and giving these creators a limitless canvas… To succeed with the Substack model, you don’t need millions of pageviews, you don’t need to play by the rules determined by an opaque social media algorithm, and you don’t have to submit to a corporate publisher’s conditions. Instead, you get rewarded for doing great work that you believe in.
“We can’t wait to see comics creators unleash their full potential and use this platform to bring to life new stories, concepts, and worlds that were never before possible.”
Reaction to the announcement has been pretty positive, although beyond Substack itself, some are more cautious.
“This is the biggest venture capital push into comics in history,” notes comic creator Seth Jacob, author of Holy West, currently seeking crowdfunding on Kickstarter, who feels the move is not one that will “democratise” comics. “Substack has huge investment and is valued at 650 mil. That’s what signing these names is about. Substack has to grow in subscribers/revenue, and show Silicon Valley investment that they’re worth it. They’re subsidizing huge names so that they can capture a % of the total comics market. Because comics doesn’t pay competitively, it’s an attractive industry to invade if you can dole out huge sums of money to creators.
“The big names will make a lot of money. But is there a future for comics on Substack? Comics made roughly 0 on Substack last year. Comics made 25 million on Kickstarter in 2020, and are on course to make 30 in 2021. To me, it seems obvious which is the better bet for growth.”
Comic creator EKO, also already on Substack, is enthused, however, comparing the platform with the successful comics platform Webtoon.
“Years ago Scott McCloud challenged the industry and its creators to think about comics outside of the traditional page or strip format,” EKO notes. “Webcomics paved the way and many have posted panels on social, but I believe the email newsletter (straight to your inbox!) is the perfect way to consume such an intimate medium. Edith has proven this over the past 1-2 years with her incredible Drawing Links series. It’s inspired me to start drawing my own illustrated substack. Here’s to more creators building audiences (and businesses) around their craft.”