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SUBSTACK To Pay $30,000,000 To MARVEL COMICS And DC COMICS Creators!

by 09.08.2021




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Substack Moves on Hollywood With Top Marvel, DC Writers Targeted

On Aug. 9, a shot across the bow was fired at DC Comics as star Batman writer James Tynion left his longtime publishing home at the WarnerMedia division for the upstart newsletter platform Substack Pro. To hear Tynion tell it — which he did, on Substack — the writer had a choice: Sign a new three-year exclusive contract with DC or a contract with the San Francisco-based platform. “I remember sending it to my lawyer asking if it could be real because it was exactly the kind of offer I was dreaming would fall out of the sky and into my lap,” he wrote of Substack’s offer.

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Tynion nabbed around $500,000 for an upfront fee, with, importantly, Substack making no claim to the intellectual property created during that time. Meaning, in addition to a revenue split on a $7-a-month subscription fee, Tynion holds rights to sell IP to studios for future film or TV adaptations. His first comic for Substack, Blue Book, begins later in September.

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That deal may mark a paradigm shift for top creators who work at major comics firms like studio-owned Marvel and DC, known within the industry as the Big Two, as well as those at mid level publishers. Just as Substack’s lucrative offers to top journalists invited a wave of media pros at outlets like The New York Times or Vox Media to become independent operators and decamp for upfront payments to start subscription-based newsletters, Hollywood may be the next target for Substack. The venture capital-funded newsletter platform is investing heavily in enlisting creators for its push into original comic books, with one source pegging the figure north of $30 million over the next few years.

In the wake of Tynion’s move, several other creators have signed with Substack, including Jonathan Hickman, the author who reinvigorated Marvel’s X-Men line in 2019, and Justice League and Iron Man: Noir writer Scott Snyder, who signed a Substack Pro deal to launch an online comics writing class. Substack’s initiative is headed by Nick Spencer, a longtime writer who has worked on such titles as Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America and who is leading the outreach after joining the company in June. “Better than doing research, he has actually lived the experience as a comics creator and fully understands the perspective and needs of his peers in the industry,” Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie says of Spencer in an email.

Substack is part of a wave of platforms — including Amazon-owned ComiXology — that are seeking to create comics for the digital age as the medium is booming. In 2020, graphic novel and comic sales in North America totaled about $1.28 billion, up 6 percent year-over-year, per industry analysts Milton Griepp and John Jackson Miller.

On Substack Pro, top creators receive a one-time upfront payment from the company with no expectation of output beyond the publication of a set number of newsletters available only to paying subscribers. Substack takes 85 percent of all revenue generated by the paid subscriptions, leaving the remaining amount to the creators. At the end of one year, that split essentially reverses, with Substack taking 10 percent of generated revenue and creators receiving 90 percent. Most enticingly, whatever intellectual content is created using the Substack funds remains the sole ownership of its creators. McKenzie adds that the company wants to “enable comic creators to have full ownership of their work, mailing lists, and more.”

That offer may prove appealing for some. “People work at DC or Marvel because they love the characters and want the exposure,” says one insider at the Big Two, adding that top talent at both can make well into the six figures. This source, however, concedes that Substack money is becoming the writer equivalent of Netflix dough to creatives when the streamer initially courted Hollywood’s top talent extravagantly as it jumped into programming. “They have deep pockets,” says another source, a comics creator who was approached by Substack, noting, “They are paying for names.”

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