This week’s column feels unusually positive and comic thought focused this week. That’s not a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a thing. So, of course, let’s start this week’s edition of Comics Disassembled on the industry side with some mixed or lower feelings leading the way. Alas.
1. Jinxworld, On Substack
In news that felt pre-destined in several ways, Brian Michael Bendis relaunched his Jinxworld imprint on Substack. The writer already had an existing Substack, so it in some ways only seemed like a matter of time until the Substack Pro Grant fairies came calling. Now, here we are, with the legendary writer rolling out a new run on his comic Fortune & Glory with artist Bill Walko (which will cover Bendis’ time working on Spider-Man’s musical, the much-maligned Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark), a live and evolving follow-up to his comics textbook Words for Pictures called Creation: The Series, a Masterclass for aspiring creators, and a whole lot more. I even saw Bendis allude to the idea that this could see the rebirth of a variant of the old Bendis Boards there, a sure to be popular decision amongst vets of that domain.
It’s a lot, both in terms of ideas and execution. He’s even got Substack vets in Ethan S. Parker and Griffin Sheridan – two of the secret powers behind the creators operating in this space – helping him out. That means it’s one of the biggest names in comics rolling deep in a whole new way, with teammates to help him make the magic happen. That has to be a big deal, right?
Seemingly, the answer is no.
One of the biggest curiosities of the marriage of comics and Substack has been how little conversation there has been about those efforts outside the platform itself. Part of that was by design. It reoriented the conversation into these creator-centric ecosystems. But the difficulty there is it creates zero buzz when even a name as notable as Bendis announces he’s launching there. And I’m not deliberately downplaying it either. I found one article – from Smash Pages, of all sites – about it, and there’s effectively zero conversation about it on Twitter. That isn’t everything of course, and it’s entirely possible that this has been a massive success for Bendis already. That reframing of the conversation onto Substack itself may be the reason the conversation is muted.
But it’s genuinely amazing how quickly public-facing interest in these endeavors has evaporated. It’s the comics internet equivalent of the tree falling in the forest, if said tree was given a five or six figure grant to commit to that action. I hope it goes well for all who have subscribed, and I’m happy to see Bendis focusing on the teaching and an old favorite work of his. And yet, the most interesting part to me is the lack of perceived interest, which is a wild thing to say about a substantial move featuring one of the biggest names in comics from the past two decades. Again, it could be there. Maybe it’s just on Substack. But it feels like something different, a reflection of a time when a once big swing has seemingly lost a substantial amount of heat and one when any single thing struggles to stand out in a sea of competition.
2. That Attrition Problem, Popping Up
Recently, I wrote about the acceleration of attrition in the direct market – or, in short, how single issue comic titles decrease in orders issue-by-issue – and how it is impacting shops and publishers. I also noted how this trend “gives new titles a lot less rope to survive on, with the path from a strong start to barely passable numbers being frighteningly short,” with no specific examples in hand to support that. Unfortunately, we now have one, as cartoonist Liam Sharp recently wrote a thread on Twitter about how his Image title StarHenge had started at 39,000+ orders for #1 (although those orders were heavily influenced by variants) and is already down to 8,870 with #5, and how it’s on the precipice of no longer making any money…or worse.
While that’s actually a much better situation than many (most?) direct titles face — 39k is a dream for a lot of titles outside of Marvel and DC, and maintaining profitability into issue #5 often is too for creators telling their own stories — it’s still a massive thing to show because if a renowned talent like Sharp with many notable credits to his name of late is struggling with this, almost everyone is. Now, StarHenge isn’t necessarily for everyone — no comic is, really — and there are other contributing factors assuredly. But it’s still the face of this issue now, because it underlines the difficulties the direct market is seeing right now with strong starts turning into nightmares quickly.
Retailer Joe Field spoke to this, emphasizing a point I made in my attrition feature, which was that the size of the market and the number of titles being published is a crucial part of this equation. It used to be easier to stand out. In the market of 2011 – or even 2020, when the number of titles being published were far lower for obvious reasons – StarHenge could have been a much bigger and much more consistent seller. But each week of releases and final order cutoff finds every title and publisher battling for real estate and quantity ordered from shops, even as customers are finding it easier and easier to let titles go after #1. That’s a difficult position for everyone to find themselves in. I’m not sure what the answer is, but you better believe this is a situation everyone in comics is considering — and has been for a while now.