Is Substack the New Utopia for Independent Comic Creators?


Marvel and other studios are once again under fire for paying comics creators a pittance for their work. It’s being reported that Marvel Comics’ standard compensation for writers or artists whenever their creative work appears in a Marvel Studios film is a check for $5,000 and an invitation to the film premiere. But MCU red carpet invites isn’t the real issue with Disney and Marvel, rather it’s how the studio allegedly leaves the talent out of the entire process.


According to Gizmodo, “aside from one-off checks and premiere invites, Marvel also offers a ‘special character contract’ to certain creators guaranteeing different degrees of remuneration in the event of their work being adapted. The problem is, these contracts aren’t offered to creators as a rule, meaning that individuals have to take it upon themselves to ask for it, and there’s no guarantee the company will come through.”


A new report from the Guardian details how bad the situations at Disney/Marvel and DC/Warner Bros./AT&T have become for creatives.


“For some creators, work they did decades ago is providing vital income now as films bring their comics to a bigger audience; they reason—and the companies seem to agree—it’s only fair to pay them more. DC has a boilerplate internal contract, which the Guardian has seen, which guarantees payments to creators when their characters are used. Marvel’s contracts are similar, according to two sources with knowledge of them, but harder to find; some Marvel creators did not know they existed.” 



The Guardian report was going live in the wake of several heavy hitters ditching their contracts at Marvel and DC and headed to the newest platform for creatives, Substack. James Tynion IV has more or left DC Comics to build a comic book company of his own along with Johnathan Hickman to create an all-new shared universe with support from writers Al Ewing, Ram V, Tini Howard, and artists Mike Del Mundo and Mike Huddleston. Just last fall, Substack newsletters were growing exponentially in influence and numbers, and in many cases, became a no-brainer for marquee writers and reporters who wanted to make a comfortable salary—quite possibly a very comfortable one—without having a boss.


Now the platform is moving into the comics realm.



Tynion, who is currently writing Batman and the Joker for DC, said “I don’t think there’s ever been a better deal in comics than what Substack is offering. We have complete creative control, we retain all of the rights for publishing and other media with no restrictions, and we have the money to pay people the kind of rates they might expect at one of the larger corporate publishers,” Tynion said, pointing to an upfront financial guarantee provided by the Substack Pro program. “If the creators taking this deal play their cards right, it means that we can rewrite the rules of the entire comic book industry on our terms, not the publishers. I don’t think people are going to realize how big this can be right away, but if we’re smart about it, this could be the start of a whole new paradigm in creator-owned comics.”



But the platform isn’t just for established pros, as the creator of Shaun Gold, the first comic book for self-help and mental wellness called the YouTopian Journey, has proven . As a lifelong fan of comics, Gold wanted to create a story that not only entertains but inspires and motivates the reader to become the hero in their own life. He and artist Fernando Melek, originally attempted to go the traditional route of the independent comic book publisher, until Gold realized that Substack could give him the freedom and tools to do it on his own in a much more effective way.


More importantly, Substack allowed him to establish a following.



After learning about the major players from DC and Marvel announcing their own moves to Substack, Gold was not surprised. “I thought it was about time that creators made their own move. Comicbooks have long been part of a legacy company structure and the industry is ripe for disruption, especially for talented teams to create and own their own IPs.”  And without hesitation, Shaun knew why they came. “Freedom. Creators know their ideas best. They shouldn’t have to shelve a passion project because the publisher believes it won’t sell. The freedom to create what they want, when they want, and give it to their fans directly is something that has been happening in other mediums for years.”


Not every comics writer was thrilled with the news of Tynion and others making their comics exodus to Substack. One former comics writer, best known for an anthology story in Bitch Planet and a back-up in Batman, was livid over the news, and went on a lengthy tirade trashing the platform.



But like many indie creators, Gold believes the industry has been restricted by gatekeepers, which he says is “an obsolete model.” Now he is looking forward to new features that will better augment the experience when it comes to sequential art. “I can envision a variety of improvements that they can provide to augment and enhance the storytelling as well as the artwork.” Under the current setup, Gold releases individual panels to illustrate the key points that he’s conveying to the reader. 


As a new wave of readers sign up to Substack to check out their favorite Batman writers, they’ll likely explore multiple comics creators, as well as writers with other newsletters that pique their interest. Gold hopes to cross promote with other creators to showcase each of their unique visions and creations. “Certain characters can cameo in the art of my Substack and vice versa,” adds Gold. “This would cross pollinate and could help readers discover their new favorite creator and their unique stories.”




With Substack, the creator sets the mission and vision. Whether they want to create a free weekly Substack (which is how Gold’s YouTopian Journey is offered) or through a paid subscription that includes behind the scenes work, it is really up to the creator. Often a creator will offer certain issues for free with restricted access until that reader subscribes, which gains them access to more content.


Tynion and Hickman are offering three tiers of payment plans on their substacks. According to his latest newsletter, Hickman is offering three tiers of payment plans:


$8 a month, $80 annual or $250 Founding Member, with the following incentives:

  • The first 500 of you who sign up as annual subscribers can receive a Collector’s Card from one of the Three Worlds, signed by me, del Mundo, and Huddleston. Or you can take THE COIN and see what it gets you.
  • The first 250 of you can receive a Limited Edition Print, signed by me, del Mundo, and Huddleston. Or, you can take THE MAP, and see where it leads you.
  • The first 100 of you can get, when it’s ready, our very first printed Ashcan, signed by me, del Mundo, and Huddleston. We will only print 100 of these, ever. Or, you can take THE KEY instead, and see what new world opens up.
  • And for all you who subscribe this week, annual or monthly, you’re going to get THE INVITATION. I’m going to be having a conversation with someone I very much respect and admire about all this, and I want you to be there for it.
  • (Oh, and if you sign up for that founding member tier, you get all of this. And more. We’ll talk about it soon. God bless you.)



Like any independent creator, Shaun Gold’s goal is to provide fans with what they want at an affordable price, while maintaining the freedom to create.  And he’s hopeful for what this could mean for the future of comics “I believe the door is now open to every writer, artist, and dreamer to take a chance on themselves and create. YouTopian Journey is just the first project of mine. As a screenwriter, I have other IPs that are just waiting to be put into comic book form. I envision myself writing comics and having Fernando Melek bring them to life for years to come. “



BONUS: Check out this great discussion on Substack and comics from Wes Daugherty and Comic Perch below:

BIG DEAL? Everything You Need To Know About Substack & Comics


Avatar photo

Chris Braly

I'm one opinionated, based geek. I try to steer this tiny ship and can often be heard monthly on the Comic Book Page Previews Spotlight podcast with several fellow "comic book nerds." Follow me on Twitter @ChrisBraly. My preferred adjectives are brilliant/beautiful.