How Do Substack Comic Creators Sleep At Night?

It turns out, very well indeed. At least, according to James Tynion IV, who posted on his the-moring-after-the-night-before Substack announcement.

James Tynion IV: Last night I slept for more consecutive hours than I have in a month. I woke up feeling a little drunk on sleep, and then stumbled over to the computer to see where we landed over the night. And the numbers are really freaking incredible. This whole thing is so exciting. I'm honestly overwhelmed and having difficulty processing how well this is going and what it means for the sorts of things I'll be able to create over the next few years.

Before putting the willies up DC Comics by saying he will be talking the talk over 5G. The launch this week of a number of comic creators Substack publishing channels has seen thousands of paying subscribers sign up to James Tynion IV, Jonathan Hickman, Scott Snyder, Molly Knox Ostertag, Skottie Young and now Chip Zdarsky's channels, with many more to come. We haven't even seen Nick Spencer's own plans yet. And Donny Cates has been very quiet. Jonathan Hickman also had a good night.

Jonathan Hickman: To say that today has gone well is a pretty big understatement. We're all incredibly grateful and — more importantly — excited about getting to share Three Worlds, Three Moons with you.  Our first couple of weeks are going to be a tasting menu of all of the different types of content we're going to be producing. So make sure to tell us what you like — and what you really like — and we'll keep that in mind.

Saladin Ahmed was pretty happy too!

Saladin Ahmed: Just wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for the wonderful response to Copper Bottle's launch! It has been overwhelming in the best way and I continue to be bowled over by the level of support I get from my readers! Lots more coming: Teases of our titles, artist interviews, answers to some of your most frequently asked questions, and more.

There has, however, been concern expressed about Substack as a publishing platform, given a number of transphobic writers who have found themselves banned from other social media, but welcomed, even funded on Substack. Molly Knox Ostertag and Chip Zdarsky have talked about their own fundraising plans in the opposite direction.

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."

But it was Scott Snyder who talked about waking up to Substack's success with the greatest verbosity, as well as talking about this thorny issue… and explain "Why Substack"?

Scott Snyder: It's Scott and I am waking up to an overwhelming amount of students for this class. I honestly cannot believe it. I am so so excited and grateful and cannot wait to get into that virtual classroom with you all. It's been way too long since I've been teaching, and I can't thank you enough for the opportunity to do it again—I'm gonna give it my all. I hope we have a real blast. And so, again, the class is for anyone that wants to take a comic writing course, whether you've written nothing ever in your life or you're a professional writer. It's interdisciplinary, so it brings in a lot of things I've learned from screenwriting and from fiction writing, and obviously from my career in comics. But even things that I've just read peripherally about playwriting—every technique that I think is worth learning about for the craft of comics and just storytelling in general is here in this class. So, I can't wait to share it all with you. I'm already brimming with ideas of what to use and who to bring in as guest stars and everything…

And I wanted to also talk a little bit about "Why Substack?" and why a lot of us are doing this, because one thing to understand is that it's not just the people announced yesterday. It really is a seismic thing—you're going to see so many great creators from all areas of comics announcing newsletters and all kinds of projects on Substack over the next three months. So, just to give you a sense of why James and I and some other people thought it was a good place for us to go to make things right now

Obviously, we're aware of the criticism. No platform is perfect. We're in conversation with people at Substack internally, and I know they're dedicated to making it a better place, as are we. But, ultimately, this initiative itself in comics beyond the platform as a whole, this specific project and mission is really about creator empowerment within comics. It's about injecting not just money but creative freedom into the lives of creators across the comic spectrum.

The grants that Substack is offering aren't just to make a book and then go publish it. I think that's the biggest misconception about it, and the thing to try to wrap your head around, as it took me a while, honestly, to understand it as well. But what Substack is doing, honestly, is giving us grants to essentially set up our own businesses—to set up the infrastructure of our own mini companies, where we're the ones producing characters, stories, teaching classes, products, merchandise, all the kinds of things that we usually have to give rights or cuts over to or get permission to do or all of that—giving us the ability to do that ourselves.

And it's not just something that's in the immediate. It's not about, "here some money, go do this, and then were done…" What everyone I know of that's involved in it are about is setting up sustainable models for ourselves to be able to not just make great things, things we're passionate about, free of any kind of constraints, not just have the rights to the things we we're making or be able to market or merchandise whatever we want or sell ancillary rights to whatever we want out of those things—it's also about creating a system that we can connect with you more directly and we can monetize our social media as we see fit to be able to continue to fund books and projects and all of this as we go forward.

Now I've already got a whole slate of creator owned-books brewing at Comixology and Dark Horse and Image–books I cannot wait to show you with amazing co-creators. So for me, this platform is a place to invest in the next generation of creators. First by teaching affordably, and second by helping rising star creators bring their comics to life. Because the money from Substack will help us at Best Jackett fund some 2022 projects by new voices in the medium. But more on that to come soon…

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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