Recently, Substack announced a number of comic book creator premium subscriber launches, using the medium to not just talk about comics but to publish them, digitally. Substack has paid premium advances to these creators, recruited by Nick Spencer, and James Tynion IV has even stated that he is quitting writing Batman to work on Substack, and it looks like Jonathan Hickman is doing the same on X-Men after Inferno and Moira X. But there is considerable concern regarding Substack's choices of other premium writers on the site, a number who have been excluded from other social media platforms over their writing, specifically those with a transphobic focus. Jude Doyle, writer of the upcoming horror comic book Maw from Boom Studios in September, wrote an article a while back called Substack Is Not a Neutral Platform, stating that he had…
"been on the platform since early 2018, when I was recruited by co-founder Hamish McKenzie, who promised me that Toast founders Daniel Lavery and Nicole Cliffe were satisfied users. Yet, over the past several months, I had watched as the platform morphed into a haven for online transphobia, and when I hit my limit, I hit it hard… They look, in other words, very much like the TERF movement that has achieved mainstream legitimacy in the U.K., defining the conversation around trans rights and leading to a rollback of those rights. Last September the British government decreed that trans people lacked the right to legally self-identify and in December the British High Court banned gender-affirming health care such as puberty blockers for those under 16. There is every reason to believe that, by allowing this set of writers to define and shape a media consensus against trans people's humanity and right to define ourselves, we are setting ourselves up for the same progression in the States."
The article was shared by comics writer and producer Alex De Campi who also stated
"Please read this before you consider paying for Substack content; there is an absolutely straight line between giving that company clicks / money and funding anti-trans hate speech. There are ethical ways to create and disseminate your work and Substack is not it. If you want to develop a paid newsletter model, there are several options (Buttondown the leading one) that do not fund harassment of marginalized people by hatred influencers. "oh but it doesn't hurt ME" buddy there's a whole Twilight Zone episode about that. "oh but I'm donating the subscription money" still keeping that six-figure grant, tho."
That last was seemingly directed at Molly Knox Ostertag and Chip Zdarsky, whose substacks state that donations will be made from subscriptions to LGBTQ and trans-related organisations.
- Molly Knox Ostertag: Some housekeeping: I'll be sharing pieces from this series every Thursday, and sharing random drawings and posts every Monday. I will be matching all money earned from paid subscriptions and donating it to various trans charities. To begin, I'll be giving to The Trans Lifeline's Microgrant program, which provides funds for gender-affirming surgery and legal work, with a focus on BIPOC and incarcerated trans folk.
- Chip Zdarsky: I noticed fellow Substack Professional Molly Ostertag is donating her subscriber money to charity and I think that's a swell idea. So I'm going to do the same. Because this year has been generously funded by a Substack grant, I'm going to donate my portion of the year's subscription money to Rainbow Railroad, a great non-profit that works to help LGBTQI+ people who face persecution globally find safety. It's a great organization."
Editor and comics writer Alejandro A. Arbona tweeted out;
"This substack thing leaves a foul taste in my mouth. Creators may want it as a way to talk to readers directly and grow the reach of comics, but all I see is a short-lived cash grab. And I'm not about to pay for a newsletter as costly as a movie streaming site to read one comic. I hear substack is bankrolling their creators' first year while they attract subscribers, so every exciting "I've teamed up with substack" announcement you see just represents them cashing a big payday and asking you to sign up so that substack won't take a bath on their deal. Folks, substack just showed up at my door hefting a big canvas sack with a dollar sign on it so I'm excited to announce that I've teamed up with substack for my next creator-owned comic book, so please sign up to my newsletter and "directly support" the "creators" you "love"."
Marc Andreyko replied "I cannot see this business model succeeding. I hope it does, but the odds are not in their favor." Comics creator Fraser Campbell had a little to say on his own non-substack newsletter, saying
"I won't be subscribing, even to creators I might want to support. Substack not only platform a variety of right-wing loonballs, transphobes and general creeps, they pay them to be there. Obviously traditional comics publishers aren't exactly paragons of virtue, but they generally don't deliberately hire bigots to attack the marginalised for cash."
Comics creator Ramon Villalobos tweeted out his take, with responses from comics creator Phil Hester and writer Donny Cates in a say-you've-got-a-substack-to-announce-without-saying-you've-got-a-substack-to-announce fashion;
- Ramon Villalobos: amused by certain types of comics substack grant people trying to circle the square between being lovable and relatable online personalities and now getting hundreds of thousands of dollars to post and everyone knows it. "gosh excited about this new adventure were going on gang!" a lot of them have cultivated parasocial relationships with readers not knowing this moment would ever come but now that it has, and it has paid off, what does the harvest look like. very exciting to watch."
- Phillip Hester: I would be excited about sudden wealth!
- Ramon Villalobos: im different, i've always been a miserable and volatile piece of sh-t. rich or poor!
- Phillip Hester: But let's test it.
- Ramon Villalobos: with peace and love, i talk a lot about the plight of migrant workers and people being held in concentration camps at the border and nobody cares. I gotta get my engagement up some how.
- Donny Cates: Yeah it'd be cooler if hot Twitter takes paid the bills. I'd love to see how you complain about that for attention.
- Ramon Villalobos: im sure i'd find a way, donny
- Donny Cates: Well it's going super great,bud. Shitting on the success of your peer group that has always had your back is getting you a lot of them sweet sweet clicks.
- Ramon Villalobos: bro i am not sh-tting on anyone's success. im genuinely happy for everyone, i just find the dynamics of the fan interaction interesting. im sorry if that's hurtful to point out. i have friends who got approached to do that and said you should absolutely do it but also encouraged them to think critically about it as well. I dont think I've been unfair about any of this
- Donny Cates: Alright man. You're right. Whatever. I must be imagining things. As you were.
Donny Cates, say you have a substack subscription to announce without saying you have a substack subscription to announce. Jen Bartel may have one too, according to my Twitter alerts. But I am also aware of people grabbing such addresses just to stop other people potentially posing as them on Substack…
Fanboy Rampage was a blog by Graeme "Graham" McMillan dedicated to comic book back-and-forths online. McMillan has moved on now, becoming a proper journalist for the likes of The Hollywood Reporter and Wired but he gave permission to Bleeding Cool to revive his great creation.