Substack targets top Marvel and DC Comics writers in Hollywood push – The Hollywood Reporter


On August 9, a shot across the arc was fired at DC Comics as Batman star writer James Tynion IV left his longtime publishing house in the WarnerMedia division for the platform. newsletter form reached Substack Pro. To hear Tynion say it – which he did, on Substack – the writer had a choice: sign a new exclusive three-year contract with DC or a contract with the San Francisco-based platform. “I remember sending it to my lawyer to ask if it could be real because it was exactly the kind of offer I dreamed it would fall from the sky and on my knees,” he said. writes about Substack’s offering.

Sources tell Hollywood journalist that Tynion landed around $ 500,000 for an upfront fee, and most importantly, Substack does not claim any intellectual property created during that time. This means that in addition to income spread over a subscription of $ 7 per month, Tynion holds the right to sell the intellectual property to the studios for future film or TV adaptations. His first comic for Substack, Blue book, starts later in September.

This deal may mark a paradigm shift for top creators who work at large studio-owned comic book companies such as Marvel and DC, known in the industry as Big Two, as well as Tier editors. intermediate. Just as Substack’s lucrative offers to top journalists have invited a wave of media professionals in media outlets like The New York Times or Vox Media to become independent operators and earn upfront payments to launch subscription newsletters, Hollywood could be Substack’s next target. The venture-funded newsletter platform is investing heavily in recruiting creators for its push into original comics, with one source fixing the figure north of $ 30 million over the next several years.

Following Tynion’s decision, several other creators signed with Substack, including Jonathan Hickman, the author who re-energized Marvel’s X Men in 2019, and Justice League and Iron Man: Noir writer Scott Snyder, who signed a deal with Substack Pro to start an online comic book writing course. The Substack initiative is led by Nick Spencer, a longtime writer who has worked on titles such as Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America and who is leading awareness after joining the company in June. “Better than doing research, he’s actually had the experience as a comic book creator and fully understands the perspective and needs of his industry peers,” said the co-founder of Substack. , Hamish McKenzie, about Spencer in an email.

Substack is part of a wave of platforms – including Amazon-owned ComiXology – looking to create comics for the digital age as the medium is booming. In 2020, sales of graphic novels and comics in North America totaled about $ 1.28 billion, up 6% year-on-year, according to industry analysts Milton Griepp and John Jackson Miller.

On Substack Pro, the best creators receive a one-time upfront payment from the company with no expectation of results beyond the publication of a set number of newsletters available only to paid subscribers. Substack takes 85 percent of all revenue generated from paid subscriptions, leaving the remaining amount to the creators. After a year, this distribution is essentially reversed, with Substack taking 10 percent of the revenue generated and creators receiving 90 percent. More interestingly, any intellectual content created using Substack funds remains the exclusive property of its creators. McKenzie adds that the company wants to “allow comic book creators to have full ownership of their work, mailing lists and more.”

This offer may be attractive to some. “People work at DC or Marvel because they love the characters and want to be exposed,” says a Big Two insider, adding that the best talents of the two may well be in the six figures. This source, however, concedes that Substack’s money is becoming the equivalent of Netflix dough for creatives when the streamer initially courted top Hollywood talent as he dabbled in programming. “They have deep pockets,” said another source, a comic book creator who was approached by Substack, noting, “They pay for names.”

While Marvel or DC may choose to counter-offer and retain their top talent with new offerings, Substack’s new offerings may impact mid-level publishers like Image Comics, Dark Horse, Boom! Studios, Vault or Aftershock, which houses titles like The walking dead, Lumberjanes, Umbrella Academy and Barbaric.

These editors try to nurture talent and give both emerging writers and established writers a place to create original properties, which can then be reclaimed by Hollywood. Some of these publishers depend on studio options money and producer fees and may have their own dedicated divisions to handle adaptations. An executive at a comic book company, commenting on Substack’s lucrative entry into space, warns, “This is a message to publishers: ‘Justify your existence! “”

However, another executive believes the death knell is premature. “Not everyone can be a Tynion,” says a senior comic book executive who believes “creators will find that managing everything on their own isn’t easy.” Many observers, however, agree that companies will need to find ways to lock in talent in ways they didn’t have before, either by getting poached by DC and Marvel or by being drawn to it. Substack or its rivals.

This would include Amazon’s digital comics platform ComiXology, which has been posting original content since 2018. ComiXology’s business model – which allows readers to purchase individual comics in addition to subscribing to a service monthly giving access to an organized reading list – is more traditional than The Substack approach, with ComiXology acting as both retailer and publisher. “We see the benefit of making a long-term investment with creators, especially those who create exciting and challenging work across multiple genres. Great content always resonates and we bet on the future, ”says Chip Mosher, Content Manager at ComiXology. A clear benefit for investing in original comic book content is a synergistic benefit for Amazon, with its studios division developing two ComiXology titles for Prime Video: Curt Pires and Alex Diotto’s Youth and Chip Zdarsky and Jason Loo The White Night.

Meanwhile, Substack’s business – aside from the lucrative upfront payments – may look like a new twist of a player revenue model in place on a platform that has been home to comic book creators for many years. : Kickstarter. To date in 2021, $ 18.6 million has been raised this year alone for comic book creators, with 1,253 projects successfully funded, according to the company. This approach, however, can be primarily open to well-known and even emerging creators “with a sophisticated crowdfunding strategy that leverages strong public support from a dedicated fan base,” notes Oriana Leckert, director of the publication and distribution of the comic at Kickstarter.

While Substack may start to make a splash in Hollywood, there can be no assurance that the newsletter’s comic format will be adopted. Recent history is littered with companies that have attempted to shake up the status quo – Tekno Comix, Crossgen Comics, Virgin Comics – by luring talent with big bucks to ignite without a long-term business model. And without incidental income from film or TV adaptations, the question remains as to how much time Substack will want to spend a lot on the best comic book creators. But there is also a lot of optimism in the industry, even among those who will be disturbed. Says a source who works for a traditional publisher, “The experimentation in distribution, the money going into the industry, everything is good for the business.

A version of this story first appeared in the September 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.


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