In the Before Times, news streamed out of San Diego Comic-Con at the rate of water escaping a firehose desperately attempting to put out a four alarm fire.
Some companies learned to pre-announce their projects so as not to get lost in the barrage.
Let it be noted for the record that, in 2021, Comixology and Dark Horse won the convention by waiting until the day after the virtual convention ended to show their cards.
Today, they announced a series of eight different books written by Scott Snyder, featuring a bevy of people that Comics Twitter loves. (Seriously, was this deal done in a series of Twitter DMs?)
I have Hot Takes and Questions Galore on this news.
The books will be available on Comixology first. A monthly subscription there runs about the price of a single comic and will give readers access to everything. Sounds like a good deal.
It’s such a good deal that Scott Snyder mentioned it in his first interview. Imagine a Direct Market-popular comic creator telling his audience what a great deal digital comics can be!
This isn’t a declaration of war on Direct Market retailers by any stretch, but I bet a few will feel that way. (Cue the tweets, “Well, I wish we could sell those books for you Scott, but you won’t let us.” We’ll come back to this in a bit.)
Dark Horse will publish the comics in print after whatever exclusive window Comixology has. This is good for Dark Horse, which needs to find a new direction since they lost all their top-selling licensed comics in the last few years. I was hoping they’d move towards the European comics market and publishing more of those books, but this seems to be more the direction they’re taking. They’ve been working with Comixology on these kinds of deals a lot lately, so it’s become a thing for them.
It’s notable that this deal isn’t happening through Image. I’m guessing the reason is that Snyder doesn’t want to build up a whole company around him to handle the details of print publishing for so many books at the same time — Dark Horse offers that, freeing him up to concentrate on the creation of the books, instead. And, as previously mentioned, Dark Horse has a pre-existing path to print from Comixology’s offerings. That simplifies things a bit.
The Dirty Truth That Nobody Is Saying
The news was announced in The Hollywood Reporter and goes to great length to talk about the streaming possibilities of these properties.
At what point will the comics industry finally throw up its arms and admit out loud that there’s no (significant) money in comics publishing and that they’re all hoping for a big back end deal through Hollywood?
Why do we still play this game that we love creating comics for the sake of creating comics? That’s no way to make a living.
EVERY creator owned comic made today is a pitch document to Hollywood, which actually has money because it has a much larger audience in movies, television, and streaming.
Amazon, as owner of ComiXology, gets a First Look deal for these properties in exchange for some chunk of change which I imagine will fund the production of the books, if not more.
The interesting thing to note here is that Dark Horse isn’t getting any multimedia rights. They’re handling the publishing aspect for print, but they usually like to have their toes in the multimedia waters, as well. I guess they figure these books will sell well enough to make a profit and keep their people employed, plus giving them an opportunity to work with people that they’d like to do deals with down the road. (Then they can get the multimedia rights that they keep afloat with…)
Scott Snyder is a master of using his leverage with this deal. He wins on every conceivable detail.
What We Don’t Know (Yet)
Are these on-going series? Mini-series? Serials in digital form to be collected as issues in print? Original graphic novels? European album formatted graphic novels?
Is Snyder just helping to launch them, but then letting the artists take greater control while he steps back?
He can’t possibly write 8 books a month.
Does even Snyder know all the answers to those questions yet?
Update: Snyder, of course, made the rounds in talking about this deal in advance of the news dropped. Here’s something AIPTComics wrote after theirs:
Fans should expect different formats for each title, from collected editions to single issues, to titles being released in two or three extra-sized books and even comic strip style.
That sounds like fun to me. Also:
Snyder said some titles have already been written with others to be created and all eight will be released in staggered waves. More specifically they’ll be released in two waves, three to four titles at a time.
So, with careful scheduling and projects of different sizes and scopes, it’s not crazy to think of Snyder as the writer for everything.
What This Isn’t
It’s tempting to call it the SnyderVerse just for typing’s sake, but it’s not a valid term here.
These books don’t all magically connect in any way. Snyder doesn’t mention anything along those lines anywhere, at least, and the times and settings of the books seem far enough apart that they shouldn’t directly connect.
That’s a big part of the reason why this should work — you don’t need to buy them all. Just buy what you like, whether it’s for your favorite creators or genres or pitches. (Once you have the subscription, you’ve already bought all the books. It’s just a matter of which ones you have time for. The argument for limitation still stands, but along a different axis — time instead of money.)
I’m not a horror fan, so I can ignore some of the books, but “Barnstormers” with Tula Lotay and “Dudley Datson and the Forever Machine” with Jamal Igle will be must-reads at some point. I’m also interested in “Clear” with Francis Manapul, “Canary” with Dan Panosian (a western with backgrounds colored by the team from Lucky Luke?), and “Duck and Cover” with Rafael Albuquerque.
The book with Greg Capullo looks the second least interesting(*) to me, but I like Capullo’s art enough to give it a shot. That’s doubly true if I’m already paying for a subscription, anyway.
See? The system works!
(* “The Book of Evil” is least interesting. That’s the prose one.)
Speaking of the Direct Market
Are retailers going to be angry about this? Are we going to hear the gnashing of teeth about how The Direct Market Retailers Made Scott Snyder Who He Is and How Dare He Turn His Back On Us Like This?
The DM will eventually get the books in print. We know that digital comics has been additive so far. Could these digital comics add readers to the Direct Market?
Is the fact that there are clear plans to bring these books to print from the outset enough to mollify the retailers?
We hear constantly that original graphic novels don’t make sense because the serializations — even when they lose money — help subsidize the costs of making the book in the first place. I’m betting Amazon’s First Look took care of that cost, but did Dark Horse pony any thing up at all, too? Surely, there was a lot of interest in a line of books like this from other publishers, too. Is the previous track record of working with Comixology enough to make this deal happen on its own? Or is Dark Horse even part of the package that Comixology offers creators?
What were the stakes in that bidding war, if there was one, I wonder? Once you remove the multimedia rights, what does that leave the non-Image publishers to profit from? Non-Hollywood ancillary rights? (“We’ll publish your book, but we want the rights to the action figures as part of our next market expansion.”)
Oh, Yeah, the Positive Stuff
Good for Scott Snyder in putting this all together. He gets to work with amazing creators, tells the stories he wants to tell, spread some success and option money around, and make a big splash while doing it.
It’s not an entirely new way of funding a comic book, but it is the biggest scale that this model has seen put to use.
It also has to be simpler than putting out a Kickstarter.
Will it wind up being that Kickstarters work better for more independent creators with more time than money and smaller but very loyal audiences, while a model like this is more attractive to a creator with a much larger audience (and connections in Hollywood) who can afford to lose some points off the top to have a publisher handle the print and distribution details that so often take up far too much time and energy?
He’s also pioneering a publishing model here. Others have created a series here or there to go in this route, but not a single big name creator like Snyder to this degree.
So, who’s next?!? How many more comics creators can snag big deals with the streamers and the big tech companies before that market collapses? HURRY UP, PEOPLE!