By Todd Allen
Mark Waid’s been threatening to go digital for quite some time. He’s also had a history of exploring options outside of DC and Marvel. Waid spent some time at Crossgen, launched his creator-owned Empire with Barry Kitson over at Image under the tragically short-lived Gorilla imprint, did Hunter/Killer with Marc Silvestri for Top Cow and spent some time as E-I-C at BOOM!, where he launched a few books with Irredeemable as his flagship title. Now he’s finally combining those longstanding threats and his independent work with “Thrillbent.”
Thrillbent is Waid’s digital comics site/platform, co-masterminded with John Rogers (comics-wise: Blue Beetle, Dungeons & Dragons; film-wise: Transformers; TV-wise: Leverage). There will be multiple strips on the site, one is teased for a May 9 debut, but right now the site is launching with “Insufferable.”
Insufferable is a deadpan deconstruction of the sidekick role. Where Empire was “what if the bad guy really took over the world?” and Irredeemable was “what if Superman went insane?” Insufferable is “what if Robin grew up to be a douchebag?” Judging by the first installment, which is less of a farce than it sounds like, this is a *slightly* less dark twist on superhero tropes, while still being in the general spirit of Waid’s better known independent efforts.
Appropriately, he’s joined on the art by Peter Krause, the original and primary artist on Irredeemable. So, pretty clearly, if you liked Irredeemable, Insufferable is probably something you should give a look.
The revenue model for Thrillbent isn’t clear yet. I’m not seeing ads or merchandising on the site, but it is common for that to get filled in a little later with webcomics. (You have to generate content before you can make merchandise from it.) That aside, this is causing more than a little commotion because Waid is arguably the highest profile print comics creator to make a big move over to the webcomics side of the fence.
He is not the first creator to move to web. Phil Foglio has been the gold standard for that, taking Girl Genius online several years ago. Girl Genius was not a big seller in the Direct Market. It’s been a wild success online. Waid is currently writing Daredevil and has a list of popular titles the length of an East-West block in Manhattan. He’s pulled with him an artist for a title that was one of the highest selling creator-owned indies when it launched. Nobody’s really sure what kind of traffic or traction to expect on this.
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).
I don’t know how much the game is changing until I see how the commerce is implemented. I’d expected to see $0.99 downloads, but Waid states in the blog that a chapter of Insufferable will be up each Wednesday for free. If that’s the case and he goes for the usual advertising/merchandise revenue mix, it’s not business model competition, it’s competition from a higher profile creator. It also may not be quite as much competition as the majority of top webcomics are comic strip-based and more gag than story. Thrillbent looks similar to Avatar’s webcomics efforts, like Freak Angels. Freak Angels is odd, in that it was successful, but seemed to exist outside the normal webcomics conversation. It’s entirely possible we’re seeing the build out of a slightly different format. One closer to the comic book experience than the comic strip experience. And that might mean a slightly different audience. Waid seems to bridging the gap between mainstream print and web a bit more dramatically with the announcement.
But that’s the beauty of Thrillbent. It’s just launched and we really don’t know where it’s going yet. It will be interesting to see what these other strips are and who else Waid is bringing along for the ride. It will also be interesting to see how print and web popular compare in the long run. These aren’t necessarily the same audiences.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.