“I Believe in This”: Scott Snyder on His Big New Deal with ComiXology Originals

It’s not often that a move in comics genuinely blows me away, but writer Scott Snyder’s recent deal with ComiXology Originals certainly qualifies. It’s a massive one, as the A-list writer is releasing eight new titles via the platform, each of which will eventually be released by Dark Horse in print, with each of the creators involved with those titles effectively getting at least a Big Two level page rate. 6 Oh, and they own all the rights to their books, it’s all starting in October, and each book will come as part of a subscription to ComiXology Unlimited. What are those books? They are:

  • Barnstormers with Tula Lotay and Dee Cunniffe
  • We Have Demons with Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion and Dave McCaig
  • Book of Evil with Jock
  • Canary with Dan Panosian
  • Clear with Francis Manapul
  • Duck and Cover with Rafael Albuquerque
  • Dudley Datson and the Forever Machine with Jamal Igle, Juan Castro and Chris Sotomayor
  • Night of the Ghoul with Francesco Francavilla

It’s a lot, but as I covered in my Comics Disassembled column, it strikes me as something that’s more impactful than just those eight titles. It’s a deal that has a broad influence on the larger industry, and it could create a lasting impact for a bevy of players. That was what I thought, at least, as I tweeted about the very idea last week. Shortly thereafter, Snyder reached out to me to chat, and once we did, I quickly realized that the potential impact of this deal was maybe even more significant than I believed, albeit in much different ways. You can find out just how different, and get a pretty deep inside scoop into Snyder’s mad scientist ways, by reading my longform interview with the scribe about the deal below.

Usual interview caveats apply, though, as the interview was edited for length and clarity after recording.

One of the things that stood out the most about the announcement is normally when a book is announced, let’s just say one book, the response is going to be pretty much about that book. But because there were so many titles announced and because it’s being done in such a uniquely different way, different groups probably would have responded in dramatically different ways from one another. What was the response like on your end?

Scott: I was ready for there to be a more complex response to it, but I’m not blowing smoke or trying to hype it in some way to say that I think we were all pretty overwhelmed with how positive the response was. I hope that it means that the landscape has changed in such a way that people are ready for this kind of a move. I think for a long time, digital and print had been kept competitive with each other for all these strange reasons, where some of it, I think, is just restrictive practices by corporate comics on digital itself, so it’s forced to be this distribution arm where the comics come out the same day, comics come out (at the) same price, same content, nothing different.

Which is silly to me. It’s like making these two mediums that really don’t have the same priorities compete in a way that forces them into conflict. Whereas my kids, they’re growing up with a much more fluid relationship to digital, print, streaming, all of these things. It’s just water they swim in, in a very different way where they see each thing in a more compartmentalized way when it comes to how they consume it or how they take it into their homes.

Like my son, for example, who’s 14. He loves manga, he’s on Crunchyroll, he’s on Shonen Jump all day. And then he’ll buy the manga to have on a shelf. He’ll buy the volumes because he likes the collectability of it. He likes the communal aspect of going to the store and buying it. And they work together that way. He’ll buy the expensive version of Death Note.

And same thing for my 10-year-old. He found Wolverine through Fortnite and then wound up falling in love with the character. We watched the movies, he bought the toys, and now he legitimately loves X-Men comics. There’s a very permeable membrane for them between these things and they understand the value of each thing existing both in a complementary way to each other, but also in an individually weighted way that’s fun.

Tula Lotay’s cover to Barnstormers

So you’re saying that the perception is that digital and print are competitive, but in your mind, they’re more collaborative.

Scott: 100%. That was the whole impetus when I spoke to Chip. 7 The way that it all really happened was this. I was going to do a few books in the direct market. I was going to try a couple of books, possibly digital first. I didn’t have any commitments anywhere yet. I had started talking to different people about different things and in the same breath was talking to another publisher about a different leg of the stool at Best Jackett. It’s devoted to emergent writers doing a line like Hill House, but (it) really foregrounds new voices.

So it was part of this whole ecosystem. Digital was one aspect of it. And the whole goal even then was to show the way in which these things don’t necessarily have to be pitted against each other. The digital aspect of Best Jackett could support the other aspects, and that something that came out digitally would then find a second life through the way we were going to publish it in a special hardcover. That’s why I was trying out Kickstarter.

What happened was the pandemic hit and my ability to make sure that the artists I was working with would be able to work consistently on the books and have a secure page rate and a livable wage fell apart. I didn’t know that I would have the money coming in. I didn’t know that the publishers that I thought I’d start with would have money coming in. Image was shut. A lot of jobs were going from DC and other places.

So it really became for a moment about, “Do we put this off or not?” I hadn’t spoken to Chip yet at ComiXology. But the word I was getting from Will Dennis, who’s my partner at Best Jackett, he edits all the books, was that they were really looking for a way to show how digital could be an on-ramp for print and how these things could work together, and they had just done this deal with Dark Horse. 8 And it was new, because this is all a year plus ago, so the deal, all of it was nascent.

I had a conversation with Chip, and Chip was amazing. He’s a long-time comics staple. 9 (He has) tremendous affection and affinity for retailers and he was telling me about all the things I knew that ComiXology had already been supporting, but other things I didn’t know about, like Thought Bubble and the Eisner (Awards). And he was like, “My goal is to show the ways in which these things can work together.”

And so, that really opened the door for our conversation to do something even more comprehensive. The message of ComiXology happens to be the thing that I was trying to show by doing ComiXology and print at the same time. To show you can do both. ComiXology itself is trying to show that there’s this symbiotic relationship between the two mediums. And it wound up just being the right place at the right time for us, where they were looking for big marquee titles to show the ways in which the digital could be a different experience than print, and then could support print.

So we’re the first books. If it’s in the noise of the announcement, I’m not sure if some of the real particulars of it were emphasized, but (that was) the most important thing to me about it as a line, outside of the creator aspect, (as in) creator rights, making sure we retained all the ancillary rights. Making sure that there was a really good wage for my artists and for me and that was secure throughout the more volatile times in the pandemic and the industry.

The structural, business aspect was exciting to me (in) that we could actually do books for digital that would be released in ways that weren’t monthly, weren’t necessarily just following the same format that they’d been following for a while in print. We can do things like the book I’m doing with Tula Lotay, (which) is going to be serialized like an old comic strip and then it’s going to come out in a beautiful hardcover format.

The book I’m doing with Greg Capullo, because it has a big direct market appeal, is going to have single issues. It’s going to have variant covers, it’s going to have all of that when it comes out for print. But in digital, it’ll be released in three big chunks that will come out sequentially. The book with Jock, which is more prose, is going to have a daily release schedule and then come out in book form. So (for) each project, Chip (said), “Let’s figure out an organic way to show the best way that this could be released digitally, to show the benefits of digital that it could be immersive and immediate. And then when we go to print, we can try something different for each book that would fit Dark Horse’s needs and the needs of the direct market.”

That’s interesting. You look at a lot of what DC is doing with digital first and you see some retailers complain about the fact that it’s being created for digital and then being slapped into comic form and that’s that. Whether or not that is necessarily a fair way to look at it is uncertain, but I do think it is interesting, because the way that you’re describing it, it strikes me as you and the rest of the creators on these books are almost simultaneously designing them specifically for the digital experience and specifically for print.

Scott: Yes.

Francis Manapul’s cover to Clear

That’s a fascinating bridge to create.

Scott: The reason that I chose these (titles) for ComiXology was because of this desire to show range, but to have that range be applicable to the ways in which we could distribute them digitally and create them and distribute them digitally and then print-wise. For example, Clear, it’s this idea I’ve had for a while about this future, where we connect to the internet neurologically, but more importantly, we can skin the world however we want, but the superstructure stays the same.

So if you want to look at the world and see like 1940s style noir, you’ll see that, but the basic structure of the world is the same. If you want to see Manga, that’s what it looks like. Whatever it is, that’s what you see privately. And so for that book, it’s this artist buffet for Francis 10 because you see the different things people see in a single setting.

What he’s doing for that book is for digital, he’s creating separate pages sometimes that you swipe and see the filters people are looking through.

Whoa.

Scott: Yeah, and then for print, he’s creating a spread, it’s totally different picture, so that it reads differently in print than it will in digital. Digital, you have aspects that you can play around with. And for example, with the Jock book, with Book of Evil, we’re talking to ComiXology about employing Audible and things like that, where we can make it a reading experience that’s particular to the digital format where you can read it and hear the voices of the characters, and so on.

And then in print, do it in such a way where Jock is literally designing the book. So the book itself will be a piece of art.

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  1. Although it’s been noted to me elsewhere that page rate isn’t the exact right term.

  2. Mosher, the person who runs ComiXology Originals.

  3. This is a deal between ComiXology Originals and Dark Horse, in which the latter puts together the print editions of releases by the former.

  4. Before ComiXology, Mosher worked at BOOM! Studios, amongst other places.

  5. Manapul, the artist on the title.

  6. Although it’s been noted to me elsewhere that page rate isn’t the exact right term.

  7. Mosher, the person who runs ComiXology Originals.

  8. This is a deal between ComiXology Originals and Dark Horse, in which the latter puts together the print editions of releases by the former.

  9. Before ComiXology, Mosher worked at BOOM! Studios, amongst other places.

  10. Manapul, the artist on the title.