By Matt O’Keefe
Over ten years in the making, Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s Empire is finally back. Volume 2 just debuted as on Thrillbent as a comic. I spoke to Mark about transitioning the series and updates on Thrillbent’s iOS app and new subscription model service.
Can you describe Empire for those who haven’t read it?
Empire is the story of what happens when a bad guy wins. Empire is the story of Golgoth, an armored despot who has supreme power and had a ten year plan to take over and earth and rule it in totality, and in eight years he knew two things for certain. One was that he was going to win and the other was that he didn’t want the job anymore because once he assimilates all the power onto one throne that makes him the target. That makes the throne the most deadly place in the world.
Golgoth is ruler of all he surveys, and there’s no opposition. There is no Justice League or Avengers to topple his rule. He’s won flat-out, but the question now is what happens next. What do you for an encore once you’re conquered the world?
What drove you to continue a print series as part of Thrillbent instead of create a new concept?
Ever since Barry Kitson and I did the original Empire back in the early-2000s we’ve wanted to do a sequel, but we had to wait until the right time when we were both available, and after we reclaimed the rights from DC. Now that we have it back, we’re full steam ahead. The reason we’re going to Thrillbent is because I own it, and as a publishing platform it was the perfect place for us. When you couple that with us rebranding Thrillbent as a premium subscription service for creator-owned books, Empire was a no-brainer as a flagship, because every store signing, every convention I’m asked when will more Empire come out. Well that day is tomorrow.
Is Empire Volume 2 in the Thrillbent format?
Yeah. It’s taking advantage of everything Thrillbent can do on a digital platform.
Had you started scripting it in traditional comics format?
No. We had a bunch of notes we had a bunch of ideas half-written ideas and half-written emails and notes written on napkins but really it wasn’t until we reclaimed the rights that we got very serious about it. Thankfully it was very easy to step back into that world which bodes well for us.
How has a comics veteran like Barry Kitson transitioned to the new format?
Very well. By his own admission he was nervous about it but Barry is a very, very smart man and he’s a brilliant storyteller so it really wasn’t much of a challenge for him at all. He got it right off the bat and he’s adapting very well to what digital can do and bringing a surprise to every page turn.
And Troy Peteri is lettering the book?
Yep. And Chris Sotomayor, who colored the original Empire, is back on board to join us with this.
Troy Peteri letters a big portion of the Thrillbent line. Has that that consistency helped the comics-making process?
Yeah he’s an invaluable part of the Thrillbent team. It’s not just that he gives us consistency, it’s that he understands every part of the process and he understands what digital can do. He’s not just treating it like a side job and instead treating it like a vocation and I’m thrilled about that.
Is Empire Volume 2 a finite story?
Yes, but not a short one. At least as long as Volume 1. You can certainly pick up Volume 2 without reading Volume 1 if you’re so inclined because we recap in those first few pages. But if you want to delve into volume 1 which is out-of-print and not easily accessible, when you subscribe to Thrillbent we are throwing in the Volume 1 192-page edition as well.
Why did you decide to stop offering downloads on Thrillbent?
We actually had been offering the files as downloads on the site and we were doing that specifically because we were building an audience. The reason we were offering the files as downloads was because people were going to pirate and share them anyway so we figured we may as well give them a quality copy that had our names on it. We did that for a few years and that served its purpose in getting the word out, but we’re moving into a new phase.
I’ll be brutally honest with you. We’re at a point that if we want to keep doing what we’re doing and keep pushing forward like we have been and keep producing new material that is going to attract an increasingly sizeable audience, we need to create a mechanism by which we can sell people early access to material that will eventually be free on the site–the Hulu/Hulu Plus model, if you will. That said, we’re bending over backward to give you way, way, way more in value than we are asking for in compensation. Even if you’re reading Empire and nothing else on Thrillbent you’re getting $3.99 worth of content every month. If you add to the other Thrillbent series you have access to, and our 300+ comic back catalogue, and the free 192-page Empire graphic novel, I think your $3.99 is well-spent.
What’s surprised you about the response to the Thrillbent app?
That people are embracing it like you wouldn’t believe. I was nervous that people would look at this and go, “Oh wait, you’re charging now? Well then i’m not interested” and certainly that made me nervous, but what pleasantly surprised me was the number of fans who stepped up and said that they appreciated getting two years worth of content so far and “how can we help you keep delivering that content at a fair price?” That was awesome.
And Insufferable is returning soon?
Yes, Insufferable will be coming back with Volume 3. We haven’t set a date; it will almost certainly be coming out after San Diego at this point. But in the meantime we have James Tynion who has been writing Batman Eternal over at DC writing a new series for us called The House in the Wall which will premiere next month. We have a brand-new series from a fantasy writer named Seanan McGuire. She’s terrific. She brings a whole new audience to Thrillbent because frankly her fan base is bigger than mine so, Seanan, please come aboard. She’ll be doing new material for us next month as well, and we’ll have many more announcements to roll out over the summer.
You can now read Empire with a subscription on the app or at thrillbent.com.