Finding a New Path

The shape of what a career as a direct market comics creator might be changing. Let’s look at what that means exactly.

Skottie Young loved Battle Chasers when it launched.

Joe Madureira was his “favorite artist of all time,” and Young wanted to know everything about the guy. The problem was the internet was “barely a thing” at this point. 10 The comic itself was effectively the only gateway to Madureira for a fan like Young, a major source of disappointment for the now cartoonist.

“If Joe Mad had a website,” Young said. “I would’ve bought every t-shirt, bookmark, sticker…everything.”

It was a completely different world at the turn of the century. These days, though, if a direct market-oriented creator like Madureira wanted to fulfill the dreams of a fan like Young — and fund his work while he was at it — it’s considerably easier to do. While opportunities have always been there for industrious, self-starting creators, Young says it’s “easier for everybody to implement almost anything they want” thanks to the robust, versatile options the world now has to offer.

Whether it’s online store architectures like Shopify or Big Cartel, crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter or Patreon, digital comics entities like Webtoon or Substack, or livestreaming options like Twitch or YouTube, it’s easier than ever for creators to bring their work to fans. Many have been taking advantage of this for years. But for those working within the structures of the direct market, 11 it’s been slower going. That’s for understandable reasons: the cycle of deadlines and finding new work always beckoned.

As someone once told me, direct market creators live on an eternal treadmill, endlessly trying to keep pace. It’s difficult to change the way you do things when your primary goal is surviving and succeeding within that loop. The value of these options was recognized, at least conceptually. But if you have pages or a script due, you focus on the task at hand. That’s why the treadmill needed to break for many to truly take advantage.

22 months ago, that happened. The pandemic hit, and just like that, the direct market changed. Distribution stopped. Publishing schedules halted. And, more crucially to this story, pencils were put down.

And creators had time.

“One of the pandemic effects was that people had a chance to catch that low hanging fruit. They fixed or improved their websites, they set up Ko-fis and Patreons or Etsy, Gumroad, and Shopify stores. Everybody had time stuck at home to level up their game,” The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald told me. “The truth is we have had all the tools. It was just limited by our time.

“And the pandemic gave us a lot of time at home sitting in front of the computer.”

With the direct market effectively on hold and its future deeply uncertain at that point, creators had a choice: wait to see what happens or find a new path. And waiting hardly seemed like an option for many.

That new path — a retrofitting of an enormous mix of tools and opportunities onto the job of making comics — is changing the shape of the direct market creator’s career. This is a look at that path, and how the breaking of that treadmill might have opened the door to a more sustainable future — for those interested in taking it.

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  1. Battle Chasers launched as part of Wildstorm’s Cliffhanger imprint in 1998.

  2. And by that, I mean the side of the industry built around comic shops.

  3. For a lot of newer creators, particularly book market and Webtoon/webcomic oriented ones, this is old hat. They’ve been on this for forever. That’s why this is direct market oriented, because they are, at least to a degree, later to the party.

  4. The short version of this deal is Dark Horse is now releasing ComiXology Originals titles in print after they are completed in digital form.

  5. It literally says “publisher” in the contract where they sign from what I understand.

  6. I’d say inarguable, but I don’t want anyone to yell at me. Also, this is the side of comics oriented around book stores, both online and off, and populated by major book publishers like Penguin Random House and Scholastic.

  7. Which she also co-owns.

  8. It’s honestly an insane amount of projects.

  9. Albeit not a direct market oriented one.

  10. Battle Chasers launched as part of Wildstorm’s Cliffhanger imprint in 1998.

  11. And by that, I mean the side of the industry built around comic shops.