Sunday Substack Comics Rack

for Sunday, September 12, 2021

This is a public post for now, but starting October the “Sunday Substack Comics Rack” will be for subscribers only!

Read on for:

  • This newsletter’s schedule updates

  • “News” from the world of Comics Substacks (at least that I’m following)

  • Sone thoughts about a few (FEW) short (SHORT) comics debuting on creators’ Substacks

Sundays and Thursdays in Your Inbox!

We’re solidifying into a schedule here at the Comics Syllabus Substack. Inboxes get jam-packed and we aim to deliver informative and thoughtful commentary on comics topics. So here’s the current plan:

SUNDAYS, I’ll send my amassed news, views, reviews, and… uh… “choose”? “Chews”?… about comics on Substack here on this “Sunday Substack Comics Rack.” Initially, these will all be public. Over time, they’ll be for subscribers only.

EVERY OTHER THURSDAY (for now), I’ll send out the latest Comics Syllabus Podcast episode, a few days earlier for Substack subscribers than the general public at Multiversity Comics. Eventually, when we hit ten supporting subscribers, I’ll change the podcasting to weekly. But EVERY THURSDAY, I’ll send a summary newsletter email with new content on the Substack, because…

OCCASIONALLY, I’ll post about comics and teaching, the Long Read (e.g. “Y the Last Man” for this month), the Infinite Unlimited, and other insights, but I won’t have them delivered to your Inboxes. Instead, I’ll sum up and link them on the Thursday Podcast or non-Podcast email newsletter. That way, I won’t clog up your inboxes too much. Deal?

Alright. On with the content!


SUNDAY SUBSTACK COMICS RACK “Newwwwssssssssssss”

This is not really a news site. I don’t really know how to do that. But “news” is shorter than “highly subjective bullet points of things I read and noted in my following of comics Substacks.”

  • Over at SKTCHD’s Off-Panel, David Harper talks to Heidi McDonald this week about general industry updates in the wake of the Substack comics boom (which McDonald judges as probably ephemeral) along with other industry moves. My takeaway is that these two astute industry watchers are attuned to this spate of late-pandemic happenings, such as the DC/Webtoons deal, Marvel’s withdrawal from Diamond, and Comixology further swallowed up into Amazon, of which this here Substack rush is part and parcel. These shifts might expedite the ways that slow-to-adapt traditional industry infrastructure becomes more marginal. But readers still want books, stores who roll with the tide may still see a net gain from a broadening base of readers, and creators will find more direct connections to their audiences.

  • Speaking of digital, at Kelly Thompon’s (still free) newsletter, she mentions the Jeff the Landshark comic on the ALL NEW ALL DIFFERENT ALL IMPROVED ALL NO-LONGER-HANGING-WHEN-YOU-TRY-TO-OPEN-A-COMIC-MAYBE? MARVEL UNLIMITED App. As if it wasn’t already indispensable and the best value in comics, now Marvel Unlimited features exclusive “Infinity” Comics (no, not another Jim Starlin sequel, but more like the infinite canvas McCloud used to go on about, which we’re actually seeing in widely used WebToon and Tapas realms of comics). Some new comics are popping up there with exciting creators like Thompson and Gurihiru on Jeff the Landshark (LOL) or Jay Edidin and Nico Leon on Captain America (🤩) or Hickman and Shalvey on X-Men (!). But there are also a few repurposed titles, chopped into Infinity format. Nonetheless, it’s an exciting new foray. And Thompson’s always a delight to read.

    Marvel Unlimited: updated interface, new content, and WOW the creators are actually listed in the appropriate order! Revolutionary! Featuring “It’s Jeff Infinity Comic” by Kelly Thompson and Gurihiru

  • Back in the print world, for subscribers, James Tynion IV’s “Empire of the Tiny Onion” has been continuing its “Thinking Bat Thoughts” weekly feature, where JT4 (is that a thing? Does anyone call him that?) really lifts the curtain on his Batman writing, the behind-the-scenes discussions, the pitches and rejections, the vagaries of superhero universe negotiating with editors. It’s all pretty intriguing, the inside baseball, even for me who hasn’t kept up with “Batman” regularly since Tom King’s run. At this stage, it’s at least an illuminating picture of how many plans change when something like DC’s 5G plan collapses under its own weight.

  • For subscribers, Saladin Ahmed’s “Copper Bottle” features one of the better pieces I’ve seen as far as text content on these Comics Substacks: an interview between Ahmed and Spencer Ackerman, a Pulitzer winning journalist, about X-Men and intersectionality, Kamala and non-carceral alternatives, and rights and wrongs in post-9/11 America, especially for Muslim-Americans, and much more. Ahmed talks about some of his experiences as a Dearborn, MI-based Muslim-American that are pretty remarkable. And both thread connections between comics and society that read like a smart treatment of Ahmed’s themes. A taste:

    “The reaction to 9/11 really gave permission for a hardened police security state in this country, and a mentality, a conditioning, a brainwashing, essentially, that normalizes spying on your neighbors, that normalizes this constant suspicion, and the sense that, “well, if they're messing with you, you must have done something wrong.” As you say, it's not just policy, it's culture. To bring it back to the comic stuff and the storytelling stuff, part of the job is deprogramming. I mean, the programming comes through, and with superheroes in particular, when you're talking about extrajudicial agents that are supposed to be righting wrongs, you've got to think about how you're writing that. What are you saying is okay?”

    -Saladin Ahmed, from his 9/9/21 “Copper Bottle” interview with Spencer Ackerman

    There’s a lot of good substance there, so I encourage you to check it out if you can be a subscriber.

  • For subscribers, over at Best Jackett Press, Scott Snyder’s outfit, in addition to the writing classes and the high-enrollment but still-solidfying Discord community growing up around it, Snyder’s also talking up his upcoming books with Comixology, as Brian Salvatore covered well at Multiversity. You can hear his usual pitchman’s enthusiasm in the Multiversity piece AND in Snyder’s Best Jackett Substack promotion for “Scottober” on Comixology. (His series with Capullo, Manapul, and Francavilla all debut in October on Comixology Unlimited… and as he sorta admits, it really should be “CapuManaFrancapulloScottober”… but no, it really shouldn’t).

    What’s interesting to me, listening to Snyder’s rationales, is that he knows the role he plays in explaining the movements toward digital to a direct market audience he holds such sway over. So his thoughts on why he’s investing such energy into the digital market— creator control and ancillary rights, Webtoon and Marvel Unlimited and Substack, freedom from editorial, etc etc— might sound labored and unnecessary to an early adopter like me. But it helps me understand what some fans may need to make the psychological leap to read digital comics. I get that. I’m curious how it lands. I guess that’s part of the point of this whole Substack.

    (Snyder also talks about a Todd MacFarlane page folks have spotted on his wall behind him in videos, and how the Toddfather sold it wayyyy under asking price to a 12 year-old Snyder whose dad brought him to a con on his birthday. It’s a sweet story. I also couldn’t help but smh and think, “man… privilege…”

  • MIKE DAWSON, folks! One of my favorite cartoonists who talks to cartoonists, Mike Dawson, one half of the “Process Party” podcast, Eisner winner, creator of graphic novels and many great shorts on outlets like the Nib… is now on Substack too! This is promising to me because Dawson’s more from the corners of comics where I feel at home (versus, say, someone like Snyder or JT4). Well, actually, Dawson’s “Mike’s Cartoon Diary” has been on Substack for a while, and he was posting regular diary comics. But he’s back at it now for subscribers, and just posted “It’s Hard to Imagine: Twenty Years Since 9/11” with some reflections as we approach the anniversary.

  • One of the few Substacks from prominent US comics creators that I haven’t paid to subscribe to is KLC Press, the Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman-headed newsletter. They deliver comics, podcasts, and events and lots of chill hang-out vibes. KLC stands for “Kids Love Chains,” an homage to the 90s era stuff that folks of my cohort grew up on. They seem to be having a blast and are super super prolific over there.

    Why am I not subscribing? (At least on paid tiers?) I can see the virtues of Cates and Stegman’s work, but both have always given off vibes to me of the segments of American comics fans (maybe even a plurality?) who were the cool guys I’d be standing in line behind at comic shops or were hanging out at conventions or movie premiers, who made a lot of noise about things I loved too (Spawn! Chains!), but for whom I was invisible at best and unwelcome more often. To be clear, those two seem like pretty nice dudes, I guess. Maybe it’s just me. (And infinitely more people will enjoy reading their mad fun than listen to my weird musings, hands down.)

    I’m just going to leave that there.

So what else is new in Substackland? Or comicsland generally? Subscribers, chime in below in the comments about what’s exciting or interesting going on. Or was there something significant you want to hear about that I missed? COMMENTS! We’d LOVE COMMENTS!


Substack has Comics! How were they this week?

As the weekdays wound down, I was preparing to enter the weekend with a shrug and a sad report of “still no comics.” Then, on Friday, we got a trickle that hints at what’s to come. Which is still not yet feeling like the value or volume of comics I think most anticipated

But amid the grumbling in some Substacks’ comments that these subscriptions weren’t paying off yet, that three pages of actual finished comics was not what they expected from their $7, I could start to see that optimistically, if this Substack thing has legs, it may involve a different way of enjoying this work.

What we’re paying for is a little bit of the insider-y experience of enjoying cultural products, not just the consumer or end-user experience. Analogy: The vast, vast majority of movie goers don’t care what draft a screenplay is in, which surprise performer pops up on set, or what the CGI budget is. They want two hours of entertainment, excitement, emotion, in their theater seat or couch or on their phones. For lots of people, watching the slow sausage-making and getting the story in drips and drabs actually detracts from the experience.

I think even for craftspeople who are curious about peers’ processes, or obsessives who love all the behind-the-scenes vagaries or venerate their artist heroes, it’s hard to appreciate the ingredients until you’ve tasted the dish. That’s why the backmatter is, well, in the back.

So Sophie Campbell posed a really relevant question that sums up this dilemma for the artist: do y’all supporters want the pieces as they come, or do you want the finished whole first?

For most, including the subscriber-access “Fishflies” by Jeff Lemire, “Blue Book” from James Tynion IV and Michael Avon Oeming, and new “Kaptara” chapter by Chip Zdarsky and Kagan MacLeod, which were the new comics I got this week, the answer seems to be a balance of some bits of process reporting (ideas, sketches, backstory, teasers), and then a few pages of comics at a time on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly schedule.

This schedule makes sense to the process of making comics, but I’d wager will feel frustrating to the way most like to consume them. Even the 22-page monthly issue feels like a format that strains the bingeing habits of our media-saturated times. Substack seems to be banking on attention spans and story consumption habits akin to readers on WEBTOON or something like that. But those three comics I linked above, while they’re enticing and hint at the storytelling gifts of their exceptional creators, will be an even harder sell to general audiences than monthly single issues, it seems to me.

Perhaps a lot rides on how well this Panels app integration works. If I subscribe to “3 Moons/3 Worlds” (and to me, Hickman projects are the ultimate in “I can’t understand these three pages. I need to read the whole thing at once.”), will the pages accumulate in the Panels app once I’ve synced up my subscription so that once every two months, I can tap it open, and just immerse myself in that storyworld for a large swath of pages? Or will I be searching my inbox, downloading three page PDFs, transferring them to the app, checking for missing pages, and… giving up completely?

Because before I even try to review the elegiac Essex County energy of “Fish Flies” (in its first three pages) or the three-page reminder of the zippy weirdness I liked about “Kaptara” volume 1 but couldn’t possibly connect to if I hadn’t recently reread it (free for subscribers!)…

I feel like I need to understand what I’m signing up for. What’s the bargain?

But I can imagine a world where readers adapt. Where invested fans engage with the process as deeply as they choose, and savvy readers know how deep they’ll go, which emails to skip and which to dip and which to dive into.

I’m still hopeful because the idea that this all hinges on a devotion and a kind of arts patronage for creators who have drawn fans and interest? That makes me feel like Substack comics will have a niche. And they won’t likely replace the brick and mortar shop or Amazon, but maybe auger a new relationship between creators and their admirers.

Time will tell.


Speaking of subscribers and supporting work-in-progress, THANK YOU for being one, whether you’re a free signup or a paying supporter.

So far, we’re still well shy of the 10 paid subs I hoped would push us to a weekly Comics Syllabus podcast. If you’re getting something from this, even as you tolerate my fits and starts, would you let someone know about it? Or broadcast to your many followers on your socials?

Thank you, friends.

Share Comics Syllabus Newsletter by Paul Lai