Mark Waid is fearless.
Two years ago, at the Harvey Awards ceremony I was emceeing, I introduced Mark as a keynote speaker. During his speech, Mark told a crowd of comic industry professionals that it was silly to fear the oncoming digital revolution. That there was power in this technology and that instead of fighting it, the industry should embrace it. That “giving it away” was something worth trying out.
He didn’t make it back to his table before being accosted, literally, by a very angry and fearful member of the comic book community.
Since then I’ve seen industry pros and comic book retailers paint Mark Waid as the devil for championing the reach, and potential benefits of embracing digital comics. This is despite the fact that Mark continues to excel at working within the existing monopolistic “direct market.” He’s getting knocked up side the head by retailers for being anti-print comics while knocking it out of the park with his work on Marvel’s Daredevil monthly. Quite frankly, the vitriol I’m seeing coming from the retail community towards Mark can be described as “infantile” at best. It’s ridiculous.
This has not kept Mark from painting a future for himself with bold strokes. At the recent C2E2 convention in Chicago, Mark and his business partner John Rogers (co-creator of the TV series Leverage) announced that their new digital comics hub, Thrillbent, would be launching May 1st. Mark and John intend to create a collective where new creators and industry veterans can create and distribute their digital comics.
This is something I’ve been warning my friends in webcomics about for a while now. That eventually, someone famous from the comic book industry would figure out that they should try what we’ve been doing for the last fifteen years or so, and would follow suit. All it would take is one or two high-profile creators succeeding at being “webcomicers” and suddenly everyone would jump over.
And the term “webcomic” will finally die and just become “comic.”
Webcomicers have had a strong advantage for a while now: we’ve been the only people who truly believe in the business model of giving content away up front, building an audience, and then monetizing that audience. Up until this point, everyone in the comic book industry has been trying to sell digital comics. You pay to read. And you pay as much as print comics to read. Comixology, iVerse, Graphica.ly, etc. None of them really do what we do. Those companies make money for two entities: Themselves and Apple. The syndicates certainly don’t understand how it works. Their heads are so far up their asses they can’t hear the radio anymore. And the major comic book publishers are a tiered system of dedicated creators who love the artform, working for companies content to keep the direct market alive to fuel their movie making engines. Everyone is easily 15 years behind us. They’re just now starting to examine what we did back in the late 90’s.
Until now? Until Mark Waid started figuring it out? Maybe?
Here’s what excites and scares me about Mark Waid. He’s not afraid to experiment. He’s not afraid to fail, or look foolish. He doesn’t care if he pisses off retailers or publishers or other professionals. He’s going for it. Fortune favors the bold and Mark Waid is looking to be bold. He’s going to throw things up against the wall and see what sticks. And once something sticks…well…woe betide the webcomicer who hasn’t established a corner of the web for themselves. Because if Mark can make Thrillbent stick then everything changes. Everyone up to this point has been too scared to follow us. They have too much to lose. Mark Waid doesn’t give a shit. He’s going for it.
I think it’s official. We have our first legit compeitor for our readers attention and dollars outside our own community. Mark my words (pun intended).
Thinking of starting a webcomic? Now more than ever the most important thing to focus on is the quality of your work. Worry not about tee shirts, advertising networks, website design, posters or convention appearances. Only the best will be noticed. Words and pictures, my friends. You better figure out how to combine those things in very interesting ways. You better have compelling ideas to share. Because the people who are really, really good at such things are starting to notice us over here. They’re coming.
And if Mark Waid makes Thrillbent work, they’re coming very soon.