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Newsletter #163: Taking a Big Swing

Newsletter #163: Taking a Big Swing

Analyzing the NYCC announcements, what they say about the comics industry, and where I fit in

Hey guys, it's Scott.

It is Friday, October 20th, and my voice is finally coming back. All my human parts are alive again. And I'm just sort of so excited by everything that happened in New York Comic Con. I'm going to talk about it in a minute. Not the con itself, but what I think it speaks to at this moment in comics. My sister's birthday is tomorrow on the 21st, along with one of my great friends, Scott Tuft, who did Severed, a deep-cut book from Image early in my career.

Severed #3 (2011) | Cover by Attila Futaki

And it always reminds me Halloween is just like, 10 days away as of tomorrow, which is crazy. I love Halloween. It's my favorite holiday. Quinn has three costumes. He's got a Batman costume and he wanted to be Buzz Lightyear, both of which feel weirdly personal to me—Batman for obvious reasons, but I was Buzz Lightyear at Disney World. That was my mainstay costume back when I worked there because it was foam and a lot of people didn’t like it because it was sort of stiff and they wanted to be actors and dancers and all that kind of stuff, so it didn’t allow a lot of mobility. But it was like being a fucking superhero, man. And the kids loved him and it was when Toy Story 2 had come out, and so he had a stamp also, so he didn't have to sign autographs. And it was just like, you pose with your hands on your hips, feel their muscle. “Whoa, you're so strong!” It was just awesome. So he's two things from my past and then like, one that's completely random. He decided he also wanted to be Sully from Monsters Inc. But the costume is like, mercilessly cute. I'll post a picture when he's in it.

Anyway, the writers' room, the Wytches writers room starts on Monday. So my week has just been frantic preparation, but really I’m just excited. My co-showrunner, Marion Dayre, of Better Call Saul and Curb Your Enthusiasm and many, many great shows, and I started meeting back in August just to prepare in case the strike ended. And then Jeff Howard, who's our lead writer on the show with us, who did tons of great stuff with Mike Flanagan and other things, too, started meeting with us really regularly. So we met pretty much every day for a couple hours and we're ahead on schedule. And the show has just taken shape. I couldn't be prouder of it. When you know you're writing your own favorite thing, that's the golden rule of our class and all of it. But you have to write your own favorite story. You have to write the one you'd love to pick up and read at that moment.

This show, to me, I don't want to say it's like better better than the book. But the book was written at a time when I was really afraid of being a parent. And that's what that book is about. I'm no longer really afraid of being a parent. I'm afraid of growing apart from my kids as one of them is 16, the age that Sailor is in the in the original book. And I still have a lot of selfish feelings. So the show is an expansion. The show has all of the stuff that's in the book, but it also has the kid's point of view and the fears have matured. It's also like, straight-up body horror on top of all the emotionality. It is vicious, man. Like the sucklers, the people that worship wytches in it, use tinctures on people. And these tinctures do horrible things to you. So you only get a glimpse of it in the book, but in this one, like, they'll throw one and your bones grow. So they poke out of your skin and kill you. It's going to be awesome. So I can't wait. Monday is our day back. It's been almost six months and we're ahead of schedule. We're going to rock out. I'll post things here, especially for paid subscribers as we go, just giving you updates.

But the thing I wanted to do for posts today, I was going to do Two Questions Tuesday, delayed till now, but a bunch of the questions were about what I thought of announcements at Comic-Con, like Ghost Machine and Rick Remender locking up a bunch of people in a good way for Giant Generator and all that stuff. So I wanted to kind of do a bit of a broader post because I've been thinking a lot about this subject of this moment in comics and something like ‘the big swing.’ So for me I've lived through not as many as many of my friends, but lots of declarations that comics are dying. You can always point to evidence that things are not well here or there. And yet, comics are always adapting and changing. And right now, as much as people want to decry it, it's really thriving. And that's not me being a bullshit artist. It's sales, like, actual sales. There are things that are unhealthy about the market. There are things that need to be corrected 100%. But it's also chugging along well. But I think moving 30,000 feet up and taking a look at the last, like, five years of comics as a lead up to this moment right now, like New York Comic Con and what people are doing with things like Ghost Machine, I just wanted to speak to that for a moment.

For me, I feel like 2019 into 2020, those were great years for comics. When I say comics, I mean Western comics. I'm not talking about manga, but indie companies and the Big Two. You had big events, we had a blast doing Metal, Marvel was doing big stuff like House of X, all that kind of stuff, too. You had big hits at Image, you had a lot of companies popping up that were making noise. And then the pandemic hit. And strangely, it pumped money into comics because people returned to their kid hobbies at times of stress. And in those moments, they love to rediscover those things. At the same time, grownups, a lot of the time, want to monetize those hobbies. So I saw it when I went to baseball card shops with my kid, Emmett.

I've said it many times, my 12 year-old loves baseball and baseball cards. But you go to these stores and they were flush with money all of a sudden. And they were all excited about this kind of new market in baseball cards where essentially people were speculating. People wanted to go back to baseball cards, their kid hobby, but now the companies leaned into this whole idea of gambling. So you might get a chip off Babe Ruth’s bat worth thousands of dollars in one of them. You had tons of autographs in packs all of a sudden. It really was like you should get something in every five packs. It was very different than collecting the people, betting on the people themselves as future or current stars. And comics was similar. And I saw it with Nocterra. I saw it with lots of series I was doing at that time, where suddenly you'd find this crazy audience coming in and shooting books up to 100,000 copies because they were buying the first issue because they were hoping it would become a movie and this would be valuable. It gives grownups sometimes an excuse to rediscover their hobbies, to think that they can have some fiduciary component to them that makes it not just a hobby.

And so the last couple of years, I think 2020 into 2022, really, and just to the beginning of 2023, were a huge boom. A lot of it because of speculation, a lot of it because of this kind of interest in new fans or relapsed fans that had come back during COVID. But also because there was actual flush money from streaming companies. So there was tremendous interest in comics from all of these companies that were in a streaming war before streaming sort of began to collapse in 2023. And the idea is some companies depend on their relationships or a big part, and I wouldn't say depend, but a lot of their relationship and health is based on their relationship with parent companies like Netflix or Amazon or some of this stuff. Other people are completely independent but are hoping that some of the comics they do, if those comics are awesome, will be optioned or bought for TV and film and that will help finance what they're giving comic creators. And those are all fine business models. But you saw an influx of money, right? We saw it with everything from Substack to publishers, from foreign publishers injecting money to tech people injecting money. All of it. The expansion of Comixology, all of that stuff. Everybody was thinking that comics are growing and bursting in a fun way.

And then after things kind of resumed in 2023 and fans started to stop with the speculation and all of that stuff and streaming began to sort of decline or crater in some places, it's been a corrective market. So it's been one that has been more difficult to pierce the veil and have a big hit. Numbers are down for debut issues in the indie world, but they're down to like, normal numbers, not crazy numbers in that way. So to me, it's sort of a healthy moment to look at the industry and say, “we're sort of back to baseline. Now what do we do? What do we do as an industry and what do you want to do individually?”

So that kind of brings me to where we are now. For me during the pandemic, I think a lot of people felt the same, but what I did was I really needed a break from DC. All I was able to do for a long time was superheroes. And just for the brain space, it takes a lot to deal in that world because you're dealing with so many different calculations, so many different departments and groups. And it was also a really wild time at DC. Up until 2020, a lot of pressures, a lot of volatility at times. A lot of great people, but still just times with a lot of cross currents.

The point is, I needed to get away. And when the pandemic hit, for me, the point was that what I wanted to do was just do a walkabout and explore every creative thing I've ever wanted to do in comics and do it in a way where I could share that stuff with co-creators that would build it with me and make it better than I could and have it be their own. I’d own the rights with them and just explore and not worry about being the biggest person in comics, not worry about those things. Not that I worried about that, but just trying to let any of that stuff not factor in and just do the best books you can. Books that push you into a new creative space with people that you're excited to work with and completely just experiment. And I was so lucky to have a partner like Comixology and Dark Horse and Image, people that I believe in and that believed in me.

But with Comixology in particular, I have a deep belief that we need to be digitally browsable in comics. We need to have a big digital presence and a subscription-based program where people with Marvel and DC, I hope, have them soon, too, in more robust ways. And Image, where people can come in, browse tons of shit, find what they love, and then buy the physicals in their stores, buy special editions of the physicals, all that stuff. But the more you can immerse yourself the way my kids do with manga on Shonen Jump and Crunchyroll, the healthier I think the industry will be.

So, being a part of Comixology, I'm so excited and I'm so proud, genuinely, of all of the things that we were saying and promoting. And I'm still deeply proud of that association. I think the frustration there was that Amazon as a parent company decided to contract Comixology because they were cutting jobs across the world. And that company itself, to me, is one of those ones that not only was growing and doing well financially when they did that and expanding its programs, which I was excited to be a part of, but was also could have been like hyper-profitable with with just a few adjustments as well to the ancillary rights. And this is deep in the weeds, but my point is, I think with a slightly different rights deal that gave them an option to hold on to TV and film a little bit more stringently if they wanted, they could have really skyrocketed in different ways.

But the point is, the last couple years have been trying new things that you think are good for comics, like doing a class instead of publishing more comics this way, because I have other venues to do that. Doing the class, doing this, trying to do the best books I can, the books that really inspire me. Not worrying about whether they're going to be TV or film, but owning the rights with my friends and just doing that. And I think a lot of creators the last couple of years have been doing that. COVID made everybody rethink their lives in all kinds of ways. And I think there's a creative self-reflection that went on with almost everybody I know, most of my friends. Do I want to do superheroes? Do I want to do my own stuff? Do I want to form a new company? Do I want to leave comics? And so I think there's been this searching period for the last couple of years and I think it's produced some incredible work.

And what I think right now is people are coming back and they're kind of like, now I've sort of had my time to decide what I want to do and I'm going to take my biggest swing. I think the mentality going around with different creators is I'm coming home to comics to do something that I believe in. And that thing might be creating an independent company that's exclusive to those creators where there's a collective financial pot and it's all based on how each book does. Like Ghost Machine, I'm so excited for them, for Geoff and for Francis and Jason and I mean I'm friends with those guys and I'm so happy to see it and catch up and toast with Francis at the Harveys. It might mean deciding I'm just betting on myself and I'm just creating stuff with my friends the way Rick is with Giant Generator.

Rick’s putting out exciting titles from superstar creators like Bengal and Brian Posehn

It might be something like Robert Kirkman is doing where, you know what, I want to take my childhood things that I love and get those licenses and make a universe with them that's exciting to me now. Transformers, G.I. Joe, Universal Monsters, all that stuff. And I think it's amazing what he's doing. It might be what Sean Murphy is doing. You know what I want to do? I want to try a new publishing model where I license something, a property that's in a while, like Zorro, reinvigorate it, behelm that thing, and also publish it in an untraditional way where I can draw attention to it and then put it out in the direct market. Everyone is sort of coming in now, not more exploring, but taking that swing, pointing to the fence, and going to hit the ball. And that's exciting to me. That's really exciting.

So what does this mean for me, this kind of big swing idea? I feel like I got to experiment for the last couple of years, do books that are intensely special to me that allowed me to go to these creative places that I didn't know I could go. Writing a western with cosmic horror, or a historical fiction, or an all-ages book. Doing creator-owned with people I'd never tried it with before, even if we had a long history in superheroes together. All of it. For me, it was just getting to flex all these creative muscles and try things, and do it at places that I believe were pushing comics forward, like I said, with Comixology and all this stuff. Now it means having gotten to do all of that, coming back and focusing in on a few series, smaller plate, but coming back to some of the stuff I love best and know is my comfort zone like horror, and it's no secret that I've been talking about doing some superhero stuff. I'm not going to say if I've decided to do it, where I'm doing it, how I'm doing it, what, but superheroes in some way, the idea of coming home to the things that you love doing and know you can do, but doing them in the biggest way as possible. That's my 2024 in that way.

So the thing I would say, I just want to make one last comment. So to me, it's a very exciting moment. It's a moment when everybody seems to be taking their biggest swing because we've all kind of come back to comics after exploring who we wanted to be what we wanted to do what things were available to us all that stuff—how do we push comics forward? How do we use all this kind of money that's flush in comics to do things that we're proud of and we think help the industry make things we love? Now it feels like the industry has settled and it's kind of into its zone. Things are good. Now it's kind of like how in that thing, coming home, do we do the things that we think are going to really explode and give us a creative home within this thing that's going to be super exciting to us and also, again, help comics?

Here's what I'd say. I think when you look around and say, “what's Ghost Machine? What's Robert Kirkman doing? What's Scott doing?” The thing I'd say is there were a couple times I had conversations at the con where I feel like people are also nervous. And sometimes you bump into people that are like, “why would you do licensed stuff?” Or “why would you go back?” Or “why would you do superheroes?” “Why would you only focus in on a couple series? You've got a million IP now. You've got all this stuff you can take out for TV and film.” And we have. We've taken them out and everything we've taken out has got an option. It's been great. But sometimes people come in and question why you would do what you do. And they start from a place of skepticism.

And the thing I'd say I had, usually there's a blind spot with people that are arguing that stuff. They'll say, “you know what I think? The only thing that really helps comics is to do what I'm doing, only to do ongoing books, to do them at indie publishers and this.” And what I would always say back is that I think that makes for a really unhealthy industry. I think the whole point is for creators to be doing the things that excite them the most and that they believe will put the best books on the stand and make people excited. That might mean modular books, it might be ongoing books, etc. If somebody says, “I can't believe it, why would you do licensed stuff again? Why would you go superheroes…” if I'm going to do it or whatever. Usually that person's already doing licensed stuff or has done it before. But on top of that, what I'd say back is when you do what you're doing, me and my friends usually try and come at it with the attitude of, “hey, I really love this creator. What they're doing, I'll bet, is something they're super excited about and doing because they think it'll bring a lot of people into stores, or if not, traditional stores push people into comics in really interesting ways.”

And that's what I think we need to do for each other right now. Because the point is not to come at anybody skeptically, because I think it's easy to be like, “what is Ghost Machine? Why Transformers? Blah, blah, blah.”

Just look at the exciting work Skybound’s Energon Universe is prepping with Duke and Cobra Commander by brother Joshua Williamson!

I hear some of that. And what I'd say is instead, look at the whole thing and say, “these people are creators I trust or whose work I love.” And especially if we're in the community we should say that now is the time because people are taking their biggest swings, clearly, to go out there and give them the benefit of the doubt and support the shit out of those things. To be the first online to say, “I think this is going to be great and I think it's cool you're doing it.” Of course, if it's something that like, genuinely offends you and thinks you think it's going to ruin comics, feel free to say. But what I'm arguing is, I hope you approach everything as a fan and as a creator right now. And I saw 99% of this with enthusiasm for the moment where you see creators saying, “I'm going to do something that I think is really big and going to help people in comics in big ways and do awesome stuff.” Because that's what I see all over. I see it in Tynion's stuff. James, my god, his plans.

Speaking of James, make sure to pick up the first issue of his Dracula comic next week. It’s awesome.

Like, everybody is thinking big right now after an exploratory few years. And that, to me, is thrilling. And the one thing I'd say again, come with it by being like, nobody would do these things. Like what Tynion, Rick, Geoff are planning, what everybody's planning. I know that everyone's coming in being like, “this is good for me creatively, I'm doing something that I think is going to be my best work, and I think this is what this is really going to help comics.” And again, the healthiest industry to me is a bunch of creators out there doing the things that inspire them the most, whether they're short, long, ongoing, superheroes, licensed, non-superheroes, total indie, digital, whatever it is, with the most enthusiasm possible, the most varied, diverse, exciting lineup of books and creators possible, but everybody going into it with complete passion. And that's what I feel is happening right now. And it's exciting to see. So anyway, I think it's a moment of really big swings. That was one question. That was one of my two questions, It’s One Question Tuesday this time. But I hope you agree with me.

Next week, we're going to have a conversation with Tom King. It's going to be awesome. I'll tell you the date and time later for paid subscribers. Again, never a better time to sign up. $7 a month. We get all our classes, all that stuff. Thank you to everybody again in the Black Jackett Club who came to that dinner. I still keep thinking about it. It was great. We're going to have merch beyond the limited stock given out to Black Jackett members last weekend. We’ll be producing more shirts that you can get for Best Jackett. We're going to have Wytches stuff, we're going to have all kinds of stuff. I'm going to start putting up signed books up there, too, if you ever want to just order a signed book for me. And people in the paid Best Jackett tier, at the end of this month into next month, people in the Black Jackett Club first. We're going to tell you where to send your 10 books to get signed free from me, and you just pay the shipping. And then right after that, sometime around Christmas, everybody in the paid regular tier, the $7 a month tier, we're going to tell you where to send your two books. Same thing. I'll sign whatever you want, trade, floppy, whatever, and send it back to you. So I got a lot of signing coming up. It'll be a lot of fun for all of us. And thank you guys again for everything!


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