Award-winning writer Mark Waid certainly has a lot on his plate — beyond his comics work, which includes Marvel’s recently-relaunched “Daredevil” and “Hulk,” he also owns Alter Ego Comics in Muncie, Indiana and serves as a co-founder and writer for digital comics platform Thrillbent.
Waid stopped by the CBR Tiki Room at WonderCon 2014 to discuss the latest developments in his career and answering questions about the challenge of opening a brick-and-mortar comic book store, how both “Daredevil” and “Hulk” have parallels to his own life, the renumbering and relaunch of both Marvel series and more. Plus, Waid reveals new announcements for Thrillbent, including the launch of the publisher’s first iOS app, a subscription service and the return of his “Empire” with Barry Kitson.
On the challenge of running his recently-purchased comic shop: It’s going fine. It’s not making money hand over fist, but it’s not meant to at this point. We’re still building off an existing customer base that was there. We bought into the store, we moved the store to a different location in Muncie, Indiana — Alter Ego Comics in Muncie, Indiana. It’s expanding because we’re making more of an outreach. It’s a university town, so it gives us a lot more opportunity there, we do a lot more events, Magic tournaments on Monday nights, and films. We’ve got a big screen in the store, so before the movie comes out at midnight, we’ll show the previous one — same with Thor, same with any movies like that. We get the customers in and build a community there. Sales-wise, everything’s going fine! I’m still learning the ropes, and every time you throw that Previews catalogue at me, it’s like the Book of Revelation. It’s like the Necronomicon.
On the parallel between “Daredevil,” “Hulk” and his own life: I hadn’t thought about it in terms of Hulk, but you’re right — if you take the Hulk-goes-to-SHIELD analogy and map it to Mark-starts-Thrillbent, it really is the kind of same journey of, “I want to do something different. I don’t want my legacy to be what other people tell me to do all the time.” With “Daredevil,” it’s much more mappable in my head, because I’ve been no stranger about this, I’ve dealt with depression issues in the past and stuff, and I still do with that. But the first thing you have to come to realize is that it’s a chronic thing, like diabetes or any other long-term — it’s a chemical imbalance and illness. So, mapping that onto Daredevil, that he’s clearly got some depressive issues, but the way you deal with that is you make a conscious choice to get up every morning and live the best life you can. Nobody’s first thought in the morning is, “How do I make Jonah’s life better today?” It’s great if it’s their second or third thought, but only you have that responsibility. What I find heroic as a reader in fiction, especially in superhero fiction, is not watching characters wallow in their misery or wallow in the situations that they’re in, but rather, face them, move on and triumph.
On the possibly unnecessary renumbering of “Hulk” #1: That is not an unfair assessment. I will plead that these decisions are made above my pay grade, obviously. In this case, the thing we’ve been suffering with Hulk for the last year or so is that we had a different artist every nine pages, just through the fortuitousness of scheduling. Now that we have [Mark] Bagley locked down for the foreseeable future, it felt like if you’re going to restart, this is a good place to dig your heels in and say, “A standing creative team.” That did dictate, to some degree, that I do something a little different with the book so it feels like there’s a reason for it.
We all say we don’t want #1s, we don’t want relaunches, we don’t want reboots, but I know what sells — and when that stops selling and that stops getting your numbers back up, then DC and Marvel will find other ways of doing it. But as long as it works, as long as retailers are buying that way and fans are buying that way, it’s not going to stop. … My job is to make sure it reads like there’s a reason to do that.
On the new Thrillbent subscription model, and bringing “Empire” back: We launched Thrillbent — coming up on three years [ago] now — and it’s been going great. We’ve got over a million views and now we’ve got over 250 separate comics in the library. Next step becomes, “How do we push it out even further?” What we have now is Hulu, if you will — you come to the site, there’s plenty of stuff to view for free. What we’re building and announcing this weekend is the Thrillbent iOS App, which is the Hulu Plus model, if you will. We’re launching a bunch of new content in the next couple of weeks — things you’ll recognize by a bunch of really good creative people — and in order to make sure we can build as much of a backlog of a material so we don’t run into a [situation] where we get three weeks and then somebody gets the flu and they have to take off. I like the idea to build enough inventory so the reader knows they can binge-watch. They can get into a series and just go. We’re setting up a subscription model; you can absolutely still read Thrillbent for free, and there will always be free material to read on Thrillbent. If you want to get ahead of the curve and read the stuff we’ll put up in the next few months now, then for $3.99 a month — the price of one comic — you’ll get access to the whole library plus you’ll get the return of “Insufferable” by myself and Peter Krause; you’ll get the return of “Damnation of Charlie Wormwood”; you will get “Empire” by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson. Barry and I are relaunching “Empire” and working on a second “Empire” volume. Barry’s working away, he’s been working away for weeks. Sometime in the next few weeks, we’ll make a big ballyhoo announcement about it.
I’m sort of banking on the idea that there are enough people that would be willing to read one of my comics for $3.99 a month that they’d be willing to come to Thrillbent, spend that same $3.99, get two or three of my comics plus all this other original new material. As a special bonus for first month subscribers, “Empire” the graphic novel has been out of print forever. Barry and I have the rights back to it, so for the first month or so, subscribe to the site and we’ll give you the free download of the graphic novel. Come, spend $3.99, then go away forever, but you’ve bought a 192-page graphic novel that’s been out of print for 10 years. This is the big thing this weekend for us.