Substack moves into comics with Tynion IV, Hickman, Ahmed + more

The email newsletter platform makes a big leap into digital comics this week with a deal that could ‘redefine the next few decades of our industry,’ according to James Tynion IV.

News broke today that several comics creators will begin publishing comics via Substack, the email newsletter platform that’s been making a concentrated push to recruit content creators of all sorts to its subscription-model service.

According to the New York Times, Jonathan Hickman, James Tynion IV, Saladin Ahmed, Molly Ostertag and Scott Snyder will publish new comic book stories, essays and how-to guides on the platform. Several of these creators already have existing newsletters on Substack, but starting today they’ll offer a paid option that will give you access to future creator-owned comics. Others, like Ostertag, launched their newsletter today.

As The Beat reported a couple of months ago, former Amazing Spider-Man writer Nick Spencer is involved, serving as a liaison between the creators and Substack. The creators will be paid by Substack, who will keep any revenue for the first year, and only 10 percent after that. According to Tynion, his deal is the kind “I was dreaming would fall out of the sky and into my lap,” he said in his Tiny Onion newsletter today.

“I think this is the best deal for creators the comics industry has ever seen, and with some ambition and some ingenuity, I think this deal, and deals like it, are going to redefine the next few decades of our industry,” Tynion said.

Blue Book by James Tynion IV and Michael Avon Oeming

He added that he plans to leave DC Comics as a result, so he can focus on creator-owned comics. His last issue of Batman will be #117 in November, and he’ll leave The Joker after issue #14 next April.

“DC had presented me with a three-year renewal of my exclusive contract, with the intent of me working on Batman for the bulk of that time. I was grateful of the offer, but I couldn’t help but look at the success of my original, creator owned titles and wonder if it was the right choice,” Tynion said. With Substack, he and his co-creators will own the material outright, with “Substack taking none of the intellectual property rights, or even the publishing rights.”

Tynion’s first project through Substack will be Blue Book, with artist Michael Avon Oeming, which is a story about UFOs.

Ahmed, whose Copper Bottle newsletter is sent through Substack, said all his creator-owned comics will debut through Substack first.

” … while buying comics can sometimes be confusing, the model here is simple: Each week, paid subscribers will get digital drops of my creator-owned comics — delivered right to your inbox or readable on this site,” Ahmed wrote. “All of my new creator-owned work will debut here, available exclusively to Copper Bottle subscribers.”

The NYT piece also emphasized that the creators will be sharing more than just new comics — Substack also gives them the opportunity to build “community,” ie connect directly with fans. Ahmed emphasized that as well in his newsletter today.

“What’s more, in addition to an unfettered home for new storytelling, Copper Bottle will allow me a space to just talk,” Ahmed said. “Thoughts about process and craft, glances back at crucial influences, capsule reviews about what’s out there now. In general, it will be a place to communicate directly with my dedicated readers that’s less toxic than social media.”

Hickman, the architect of the current X-Men regime, always thinks big, and his Substack wrok will be no different. He’s working with artists Mike del Mundo and Mike Huddleston on a new series, “Three Worlds, Three Moons,” which also involves writers Ram V., Tini Howard and Al Ewing, according to the NYT. “If someone is having a heavy week or a heavy month, someone else can pick up the slack,” Hickman told the Times.

So, yeah … this is a lot. One thing to note is that while the content will appear digitally on Substack, the creators still own all the rights, including print publication rights.

Substack has been ramping up their own content model for a while now, targeting journalists and writers with an avenue to publish their own newsletters without editorial oversight and make money at the same time. You can read more about it here, on Forbes, which ironically also offers their own content platform for journalists. The platform has not been without controversy, however — author Annalee Newitz called the Substack model “a scam,” while author Jude Ellison S. Doyle left the platform, saying it had transformed into “a haven for online transphobia.”

This is definitely a “developing” kind of story; I’m sure more details on upcoming comics, how the model works, how they’ll avoid piracy/”sharing” of content, etc. will become evident in the days and weeks ahead.