Mark Waid spelled out his digital comics initiative a few weeks ago at WonderCon. This weekend, at C2E2 in Chicago, Waid returned with more details on his future with the digital comics initiative.
This panel was the highlight of the day, as Mark Waid stood before a fairly large crowd (especially considering the panel was held AFTER the convention) and explained to them why he felt digital comics were the way of the future. A particularly compelling argument came as he broke down the current cost of publishing and distributing a comic. Here’s the math, as laid out by Mark Waid:
A typical independent 32-page color comic sells for $3.99. The publisher sells it to the retailers at such a rate that the publisher gets 40% of that, or $1.60 per issue. Publishing typically runs around $0.80 to $0.90, meaning the publisher has $0.60 to $0.70 left with which to pay the writer, artist, inker, colorist and letterer.
Waid explained how he has friends that are A-list creators making comics for independent publishers that are actually losing money on a regular basis in the hopes that their books will get picked up for a movie or TV show adaptation.
So in an attempt to change the medium, on May 1st Mark Waid will unveil his new website, www.thrillbent.com which will be a digital publishing site with (for now) free content. Updates will initially be limited to one story comic a week with ancillary material such as sketches and looks into the creative process (similar to those currently available on www.markwaid.com )
Waid freely admitted that he doesn’t know exactly how he wants things to go, but emphasized the importance that something has to give, and gave a particularly telling quote about how big a success or catastrophe this foray could be: “I hope you appreciate that I’m willing to fail in the most spectacular way possible, right in front of you all.”
Thrillbent will initially just be the Mark Waid written story “Insufferable” with art by Peter Krause and Irredeemable colorist Nolan Woodard, with lettering by Troy Peteri. It will be a “Dramedy” about an ex superhero-team, in what Waid described as “What happens when you have a kid sidekick who grows up to be a d-bag… a self-aggrandizing Kanye West of a man… but then they get the one case where they have to put their heads back together.”
Waid then went on to discuss the difficulties of the medium as well as the strengths, and detail some of how he hopes digital comics will grow. He mentioned he does NOT want digital comics to become motion comics, because he feels it’s important that the reader READs, not watches; reading provides a level of engagement and depth that is important.
I asked what length we should expect in the weekly installments of Insufferable; the response was that the first installment would be 16-17 “screens” but that a typical installment would be 8-10 screens long. Peter Krause piped in and referred to it as exemplifying the “Satisfying chunk theory,” where you want things to be enough to keep people coming back on a weekly basis instead of going a month in between reads and letting things build up. It’s important to note that the screen they refer to is a 4:3 landscape shot that may or may not include multiple panels. Waid emphasized the importance of everything being landscape, since computer monitors are landscape and phones/tablets can also be used landscape, and trying to read a portrait comic page on a tablet or computer and scrolling through the page was described as “reading a comic through a cardboard tube.”
As things progress, more writers and artists will be on board; Waid already has several lined up, but the floodgates won’t open for public submissions until he has the framework of the website established. Once things are set up though, he will open things up so that people can submit work.
When asked how he planned to monetize things, Waid was quick to admit that he had no “magic ticket” for making things profitable yet; at first he plans to experiment. He suggested things potentially be ad-driven, and also mentioned corporate sponsorship on some comics, though unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to ask whether this meant inclusion of advertisements in the actual comics, ie. Community’s inclusion of Subway into their show, or if that just meant an extension of the ad-driven concept. He also mentioned the possibility down the road of having the first chapter and more recent chapter of a story available for free while having the middle chapters in a “vault” that you’d have to pay some fixed amount per issue for, suggesting somewhere around $0.99 to $1.50 as a reasonable price per installment–though to me, charging $0.99 for eight to ten screens isn’t really that much better than paying $2.99 for a printed DC comic, and at worst right on par with $1.99 for the discounted DC Digital comics, so I think Waid may need to rethink his pricing once it comes to that. Another potential way to monetize that Waid seemed enthusiastic about was merchandise; t-shirts etc. related to the site and the comics.
The subject of collecting the digital comics in a print trade inevitably came up as well, and Waid mentioned that one advantage of using the 4:3 landscape ratio for comics meant that stacking two screens on top of each other could lend itself well to the printed page. He later discussed how one advantage of the digital format was being able to tell things one screen at a time and deliver a surprise from one to the next, so it’s safe to assume there could be some loss in pacing going from digital to print with these comics.
A particularly exciting revelation for me was when Mark Waid mentioned that, unlike the Big Two who hoard the information about their digital download numbers, he will be completely transparent as to the number of downloads his work gets, the costs behind it etc.; he started that by discussing the numbers on his proof of concept comic, Luther, which had 6000 downloads on its largest day and in the first week had 25,000 downloads, which Waid felt (and I agree) was pretty good.
Overall I think that thrillbent.com is going to be an exciting project to follow, and I hope to talk to Mark Waid in a more personal setting on Saturday or Sunday.