Art of Games

Why Substack Is Suddenly One of the Most Important Comic Book Publishers

Why Substack Is Suddenly One of the Most Important Comic Book Publishers
Written by Noah Roy

2021 was full of big developments in the comic book industry, but the year’s most surprising twist didn’t involve traditional superhero icons like Batman or Spider-Man. Instead, it was the news that Substack is getting into the comics publishing game. A company best known as a platform for subscription newsletters is ready to take on Marvel and DC, and they’ve already snatched up some major creative talent. But while lining up superstar writers like James Tynion IV, Jonathan Hickman and Kelly Thompson is a start, fans have only seen small glimpses of what these creators have in store with their new Substack projects. That finally changes in 2022.

Substack is making its next big push into the comics arena starting on January 31. This is being treated as the real “launch day” for Substack’s comics line, with a number of creators either debuting new projects or making existing, subscriber-exclusive material free to read for all. The titles featured in this launch day push include:

  • Jonathan Hickman, Mike Del Mundo & Mike Huddleston’s Three Worlds/Three Moons
  • Chip Zdarsky’s Public Domain
  • James Tynion IV & Gavin Fullerton’s The Closet
  • Jeff Lemire & Stefano Simone’s The Last Days of Black Hammer
  • Kelly Thompson & Meredith McClaren’s The Black Cloak
  • Donny Cates & Ryan Stegman’s Vanish
  • Molly Ostertag’s Girl From the Sea
  • Rodney Barnes & Maan House’s 20 Degrees Past Rigor
  • Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s We Have Demons
  • Sophie Campbell’s Shadoweyes For Good

Check out the slideshow gallery below for more details on each announcement and links to each creator’s Substack page. Then read on to learn more about Substack’s ambitious push into comics from writer Nick Spencer and Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie.

Substack First Wave of Comics Revealed

Why Substack Is Getting Into Comics

The comics industry has been going through a lot of growing pains in recent years, particularly during the pandemic. DC made waves in 2020 by cutting ties with distributor Diamond Comics and forming its own distribution network. Marvel followed suit in 2021 by shifting from Diamond to Random House. These and other big changes have come as publishers attempt to adapt to a rapidly shifting marketplace and the rise of new digital comics services.

That’s basically where Substack comes in. The company is taking advantage of the growing trend of creators leaving behind traditional publishers and corporate franchises in favor of creator-owned projects and self-publishing. As McKenzie explains, it was Spencer who came to Substack with a plan for tapping into that growing self-published, digital-focused market.

“Nick sent a proposal to us about how comics could work in the Substack universe,” McKenzie tells IGN. “And it was really extremely well thought-out, well grounded and painted an exciting vision for how comics creators could get much more of a sense of ownership and much more of a sense of independence and therefore much more power, if we could make the Substack formula work really well for them.”

“We wanted to make sure that we were representing a wide range of comics and creators.”


Substack’s talent pool includes some major names who, until recently, were penning some of the most recognizable superhero comics on the stands. Tynion, until recently the writer of DC’s flagship Batman comic, is reported to have earned roughly half a million dollars to sign exclusively with Substack. As Spencer explains, the goal wasn’t just to attract the biggest names at Marvel and DC, but also creators from the YA and web comics scenes.

“We wanted to make sure that we were representing a wide range of comics and creators,” Spencer says. “That was one of the first priorities that we set. We wanted to make sure that not only did we have what we think of as the traditional superhero comics creator that then does some creator work. that, we also wanted to make sure that we had folks from web comics. think that folks will see more of that as well, going forward.”

How Substack’s Model Works

The “Substack Pro” business model is fairly simple. Creators charge a subscription fee for their newsletters, which generally include a mixture of digital comics, behind-the-scenes material and general blog posts. Substack, in turn, takes a cut of that subscription fee. Creators retain full rights to everything published through Substack, and it’s up to them whether or not to turn to other publishers to release print versions of these stories down the road.

The Substack model may not seem that different from competitors like Patreon, but there are certain major advantages. For one thing, Spencer himself serves as a sort of creative liaison, offering advice and helping creators bring in editors and designers where needed.

“We offer a wide variety of services that they can take advantage of,” Spencer says. “So we offer editorial and design support and things like that. If they want to take advantage of that, either we’ll make a recommendation to them or they can bring in anybody that they choose. We try to make sure that they’re put in a position where all they need to focus on is the work itself, where they’re not going to bog down in the details of those things. And so a big part of my job is helping alleviate any concerns that they might have. “

McKenzie also points to a significant advantage. Substack offers over rival services – the freedom for creators to take their subscriber base with them when and if they leave.

“In Patreon’s case, you do get the emails of the readers or the supporters that they choose to share them with, but there’s no guarantee you get everyone’s email and Substack you’ve got everyone’s email that your audience there is your beachhead. It’s that thing that you own. It’s the most valuable thing you can take it with you anytime you want.”

McKenzie continues, “And the other thing is on Substack, you even own the payments relationships. So the money, it puts Substack in a more vulnerable position, which is the right position to be in, because anyone can leave and take their whole business with them anytime they want their content, their mailing list, even their payments relationships, which they control through a Stripe account.

Substack’s Big Launch Day

Substack’s new comics initiative was first announced in August 2021. At that point, few of the creators involved had finished work to debut on the platform. Instead, many have opted for a “behind the scenes” approach to their first few months’ worth of newsletters. Hickman, Del Mundo and Huddleston’s Three Worlds/Three Moons is one notable example, with the creators offering glimpses of their early brainstorming sessions and sometimes even giving subscribers direct input into the development of this new universe.

In some ways, the first six months of Substack’s comics line could be compared to Steam’s Early Access program for PC games. Fans are paying for the privilege of seeing these projects take shape, but there hasn’t necessarily been a lot of finished content up till now. That’s why January 31 is being treated as a “launch day” for the comics line.

“It was very different from what people are used to, where a finished product is put in front of them,” Spencer says. “This was an opportunity for these creators to let folks in behind the curtain, let them see the making of these books, let them in on the process created in front of them. And I think a lot of readers have taken a lot from that , but now we’re getting to that place where those creators, are ready to show their work and are ready to do releases.”

Spencer continues, “We’re at that place now where we want to throw open the doors, welcome people back and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’ve been working on. And now you can read these things.’ So we’ve got new books to announce from Jonathan Hickman, with art by Mike del Mundo and Mike Huddleston, James Tynion has a new book, Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman are releasing the first chapter of their new book Vanish. the Black Hammer universe over here from Dark Horse’s first story called Last Days of Black Hammer. Kelly Thompson has the first full issue of the Black Cloak that she’s going to be releasing that day.”

According to Spencer, Substack is looking at Image Comics and its semi-annual Image Expo events as a model, with the emphasis on major creative talent and a flurry of announcements. The key difference, though, is that fans won’t have to wait several months for these books to see the light of day.

“Imagine some of this first Image Expos, except instead of ‘This book is going to be coming out in six months,’ this book is coming out today. You can read it today. It’s here right now.”

Will you be subscribing to any of these Substacks? Let us know in the comments below. And for more on what’s to come this year, find out what to expect from Marvel in 2022 and what to expect from DC in 2022, and find out why DC is killing nearly every member of the Justice League.

Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.

About the author

Noah Roy

Leave a Comment