Art by Mike Acosta from Terrorwar

The idea of serializing comics on Substack — the controversial paid newsletter platform — has been floating around for a few months, but today the curtains were pulled back on the venture and it’s impressive.

George Gustines in the NY Times had the exclusive reveal  of the initiative, which was spearheaded by writer Nick Spencer. Among the creators signed up — besides James Tynion IVSaladin Ahmed, Dave Acosta, Jonathan Hickman, Molly Ostertag and Scott Snyder. Hickman will be doing a shared universe series, Three Worlds, Three Moons, with contributions from artists Mike del Mundo and Mike Huddleston and writers Tini Howard and Ram V. Fans will also have a say in the storytelling, he says.

Ahmed and Acosta are teaming on Terrorwar (above) a SF comic “where residents of the future must confront the physical manifestation of their fears.”

The actual content of the venture will be comics, essays and more delivered in newsletter format, with varying paid subscription models. Snyder’s deal includes comics writing advice.

According to various posts on Twitter, the comics will eventually be published, although every creator will be free to make their own deal wherever they want. In essence, this is yet another model to serialize comics.

While the NYT piece is brief, Tynion’s newsletter about his book, gives some idea of why writers like Hickman et al have moved to the platform:

And then I received another contract. The best I’ve ever been given in a decade as a professional comic book writer. A grant from Substack to create a new slate of original comic book properties directly on their platform, that my co-creators and I would own completely, with Substack taking none of the intellectual property rights, or even the publishing rights.

As it has with well known prose and politics writers, Substack is just throwing gobs of money at comics writers to use the platform to make comics with no strings attached. Substack will take most of the subscription proceeds in the first year, but in the second will take 10% — still a small amount.

Who could turn down such a deal?

The NYT piece does reveal just how Spencer got involved with the project; given his controversial profile, he seemed an unlikely choice. But apparently, it was Spencer who approached Substack with the idea:

He said he approached Chris Best, a Substack founder, with the idea last year, when the pandemic was keeping many fans out of the comic book shops and the creators were looking for new ways to connect with readers.

The disruption of last year’s Diamond shutdown (doubtless with the added topping of the pandemic induced soul searching we’ve all experienced) was part of what led Hickman to take on the venture, reminding us again that this event continues to have many unexpected ripple effects on the industry.

Jonathan Hickman, who recently helped revitalize Marvel’s X-Men franchise, said he thought a lot about digital comics during the early days of the pandemic, when distribution was temporarily halted.

“I found the things you can potentially do with it to be very fascinating,” he said. “I love the idea of surprising the reader again.”

Given the controversy over Substack and Spencer, at least one creator is donating their proceeds to charities, as Molly Ostertag announced on Twitter:



Doubtless we’ll have more disclosures throughout the days to come about the projects that these creators are working on, but suffice to say that the week in comics has started out with a bang….and it ain’t over yet!


  1. Substack – the controversial paid newsletter platform

    The NY Times piece does reveal just how Spencer got involved with the project – given his controversial profile, he seemed an unlikely choice.

    I’m not sure how anyone who knows the reasons Substack is controversial, and the reasons Spencer is controversial, would consider Spencer an “unlikely choice” for Substack.

  2. I had never heard of Substack until they got SlateStarCodex to come back by paying him a whole bunch of money and giving him total freedom. – I never heard anyone else mention Substack until Tynion this morning. And then Hickman. I have not heard any controversy about Substack (or Nick Spencer for that matter) which suggests it’s bullshit non-existent controversy manufactured solely by loud SJW’s on Twitter. Which, in all honeslty, only makes me like Substack more.

  3. To second James’ comment above: interesting.

    I’m curious to see what everyone involved, including Nick Spencer, conceives of and crafts alongside their collaborators. I am also curious as to how (or even if) other publishers shift their practice in light of the “gobs of money” Substack is offering.

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