The Most Interesting Part of Comics Day on Substack Wasn’t the Big Names

Let’s talk about a curiosity from the aspiring digital comics giant's latest announcements.

Grant Morrison.

Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon.

Jen Bartel.

Elsa Charretier and Tom King.

Khary Randolph and Joanne Starer.

Mangasplaining.

Those six people, pairs or entities were the big reveals from Comics Day on Substack, as each launched their own presences on the email newsletter platform with varying comics and amenities in tow. Those are obviously notable names in comics in one way, shape or form, and enough to get everyone talking about Substack again. That’s after a relatively fallow period for the digital entity and its relationship with comics, as we had seen an extended stretch with no announcements, having to live off of previous launches from Jonathan Hickman, James Tynion IV, ND Stevenson, Scott Snyder, and an assortment of others. Luckily for them, that’s a pretty strong open.

But in both 2022 and in comics, most everything comes down to “What have you done for me lately?” Without new announcements, Substack’s positioning as a platform for comics creators felt as if it was being lost, to a degree, especially when you consider what the it actually is. It’s not a comics publisher.

The creators themselves are. It even says that in the Substack Pro grant paperwork, right where they sign. The deal is, effectively, that these giant names get a significant sum of money and carte blanche to do what they want while keeping the rights to their work, in exchange for posting a certain number of times a week and acting as an advertisement for how other creators, both inside and outside of comics, could start using Substack themselves. They don’t have to do anything deliberate. 6 There’s no need to pitch people. Merely by existing as a living billboard, of a sort, they’re fulfilling their side of the bargain. One might even call them influencers, showcasing the potential of what the platform is capable of to their peers and anyone else who happens to see it. And now, Substack has a lot more influencers.

This comes nearly six months after the first wave arrived in early August 2021, and it’s fascinating to see how the approach has changed since launch. I’m sure the reasons for that are multifaceted. Creators talk, and everyone who arrived this week likely asked the early adopters a million questions about what’s working and what isn’t. Substack itself likely has opinions about the content that connects on their platform, as they’re a data driven company and if there’s one thing they have, it’s a lot of data. Plus, each person who was announced yesterday has their own thoughts and feelings on the matter, coloring their approach to the platform. New approaches are to be expected.

Combing through each announcement, though, one element stood out above the rest — and it wasn’t the creators. While the bright and shiny part for fans and websites alike is undeniably the names involved – for good reason! that’s an incredible list of writers and artists and entities alike! – that’s not the most interesting aspect to me. How much many of the comics cost to read is.

“Free,” was the word of the day, as many of the comics from Substackers both new and old were (or will be) made free to read. Not all of them, of course, and some only temporarily. But new and upcoming comics like Tynion and Isaac Goodhart’s The Oddly Pedestrian Life of Christopher Chaos, King and Charretier’s Love Everlasting, Vaughan and Henrichon’s Spectators, both titles from Randolph and Starer’s Glass Eye Studios, and Hickman and Jason Howard’s The Vallars: The Original Adventuring Family! are each going to be free. Or, at the very least, free for the foreseeable future.

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