Writer, creator and former BOOM! Studios Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid shared his vision for the future of the comic book industry at Comic-Con International in San Diego as he promoted upcoming titles from his new website, Thrillbent and his thoughts about digital comics as a storytelling medium.
Waid was introduced by Comic-Con’s Gary Sassaman, who added an Inkpot award to the trio of Eisners that the writer won for “Daredevil.”
“This is a huge and unexpected honor,” said Waid. “I can win no more awards for the rest of my life. I think I’ve exhausted my quota.”
The writer credited his success to the fans that have supported him over the years and thanked those that attended his panel. Shortly after, the writer began the panel by talking about Thrillbent, the newly launched digital comics producer.
“It’s a little something that I started with my friend John Rogers,” said Waid. “John’s been after me for a long long time to be more proactive in the digital space.”
Thrillbent was designed to be a tent for artists and writers to come together to bypass the barriers of entering the print market and produce digital comics. Waid’s newest project “Insufferable” is hosted on the website.
“One of the things that’s been most flattering to me is that Top Cow came to us a few months ago,” said Waid. Top Cow is known for its “Pilot Season” series of books, which tests out several titles and allows the readers to choose which become an ongoing series. “This year, they said we want to do that on a digital realm.” As a result, Top Cow has teamed up with Thrillbent to do a digital “Pilot Season” this fall and will be running anywhere between eight and ten series a week.
Beyond the digital “Pilot Season,” Waid gave a rundown on upcoming Thrillbent books that should hit the virtual shelves later in the year. “Field Trip,” by Gail Simone and Amanda Gould, centers around a ragtag group of demons taking a vacation from Hell to wreck some havoc on Earth. “It’s manic, and it’s creepy, and it’s bloody. It’s all the stuff I associate with Gail,” joked Waid.
“The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood” by Christy Blanch, Chris Carr and Chee is about a college instructor moonlighting to teach classes at a prison, realizing along the way he can learn a few things from his incarcerated students.
“If you like Breaking Bad, you’re going to really like ‘The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood,'” said Waid.
From Lori Matsumoto and Benjamin Dewey comes “Working for Monday,” which tells the story of a personal assistant to a super villain and all the problems that come with it.
“Arcanum” is said to be a suspenseful fantasy story by John Rogers.
“He describes it as ’24’ in a world of magic and sorcery, rather than a world of science and technology,” said Waid. “I’m not really sure what that means, but John has sold many successful television shows and movies so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Other projects include “And I Feel Fine” by Troy Peteri and Derec Donovan; “Clown Tales” by Tom Peyer; “The Eighth Seal” by James Tynion IV; “The Gas Kat Prows” by Kurt Busiek; “Incapeables” by Kevin Levy and Nate Watson; and “Last Vegas” by Eric Heisserer.
While there’s no confirmed release date for the new titles yet, Waid said the creators want to get a good head start to make sure there aren’t any future delays.
“We want this stuff once it comes out to be out on a regular basis,” he said.
Waid is breaking new ground in the digital frontier with Thrillbent as the site attempts to adapt the traditional comic book model to the Internet Age. Digital piracy is an ongoing issue for all entertainment mediums and the traditional response has been increasingly complex copy protection. Waid, however, says Thrillbent is taking a different philosophy when it comes to their work being torrented.
“Instead of being mad about it, I think it’s great,” said Waid. “We get a breakdown on traffic on the international market that’s incredible… We can’t stop you from doing it, so let’s just turn that to our advantage.”
The writer allows torrents of his Thrillbent work to be shared across the Internet with a single page of advertising asking the reader to visit Thrillbent.com for more free content. Interestingly, those who torrent the files do not bother altering them to remove the page.
“Every torrented file I see out there has that page on it,” said Waid.
While some Thrillbent titles may be free, Waid says that the digital publisher is open to experiment with a variety of different ways to make comics and still pay creators.
“With so much different new property coming out … we can experiment around,” said Waid. “Maybe ‘Insufferable’ stays free forever. Maybe the next thing John does, say it’s free this month, but if you want next month’s ahead of time for 99 cents, we’ll do that. If you like what you see here and you feel like kicking in 99 cents, feel free. We’ll set up that mechanism for you through PayPal or some other pay site. I think those are valid options and I want to see what will work.”
Opening up the panel to Q&A, the first question asked if Waid was dedicated to doing purely digital comics with Thrillbent or if print runs will be available later on.
“I think that’s actually smart,” said Waid. “Eventually people are going to want that physical copy to hold.”
Waid, who has taken criticism for his observations about the print medium and his push towards digital comics, took the opportunity to clarify his view of the situation.
“I don’t want the print medium to die because I like the print medium, but all indications … you shake the magic eight ball and it always says, ‘Dire Times Ahead,'” said Waid. “The reality of it is that print continues to be a medium that suffers. We’ve successfully taken a mass medium and turned it into a niche market.”
With the technology of digital comics advancing, the next questioner asked if he would be opposed to the industry adding things like music and animation to the format.
“Yes, yes, yes. I’m hideously opposed to music and animation in comics,” said Waid. “To me, what makes comics comics, and I could be wrong and this is my feeling, but what makes comics comics is that you control the pace that you read the story. With comics, I need to be able to control how we turn the pages.”
As tablet computers become more common, Waid teased a Thrillbent app in the works for the iPad.
“John Rogers and his crack team of specialists are working on an app now,” said Waid, who admitted that working out distribution deals with Apple is the hardest part of the app design. “Getting through Apple is like storming the gates. It’s not easy.”
Wondering exactly how Thrillbent intends to generate revenue, the next question asked if advertising was going to be put up on the website.
“There’s no actual advertising on the Thrillbent site at this moment,” said Waid. “We could get hooked up with GoogleAds this afternoon, but it’s not so profitable for us to reformat the page to do that.”
Waid has been personally funding Thrillbent by putting his own comic book collection up for auction.
“Every time you read another Thrillbent comic, another Green Lantern comic goes out of my collection,” he joked.
As a life-long comic book fan, Waid said he wasn’t sad about trading his comic book past for a comic book future by selling his massive collection to fund Thrillbent.
“All I want to do is be able to pay my creators a fair wage so they can do what they do and own what they do,” he said. Waid’s push towards the digital has been something of a controversy among the comic book industry, especially from retailors, which Waid took the opportunity to clarify.
“I love comic stores and I want them to exist, but there are a lot of them that saw it as an attack on what they do,” said Waid. “I don’t think I did a good enough job of framing that when I started, which is it’s not digital vs. print. It’s digital and print.”
By reversing the print to digital trend, Waid hopes it may help inject new life into the print industry. “Print doesn’t have to go away with this,” he said. “The escalating costs of print are just so astronomical that I didn’t see a way to start with print and then go digital.”
Instead of creating print comics and putting them on the web, Waid plans to start with digital comics to pay for the production costs first and then moving on to print. Being at the forefront of a new method of creating comics, Waid also explained the digital process.
“It’s the easiest thing in the world. All you’re doing is making JPEGs,” said Waid. “You’re making JPEGs and laying them on top of each other.”
Before running out of time during the panel, Waid made a point to plug BPAL, who created a special scent exclusively for the “Nerd Flu Prevention Kits” that Waid had been passing out to questioners.
“They’ve been a big supporter of Thrillbent all along,” said Waid.
Even though the panel ran out of time, Waid wasn’t finished meeting with his fans. Not wanting to leave before answering everybody’s questions, Waid and his audience moved out into the hallway and continued where they left off.
One fan interested in getting in on the Thrillbent action asked Waid for advice on how to find a collaborator for a comic project. Waid directed him to his own website at www.markwaid.com.
“We’ve got message boards there where there are artists seeking writers and writers seeking artists,” said Waid.
Waid’s also answered questions about his recently completed saga “Irredeemable,” specifically whether it was intended to be a bash on DC Comics and Superman.
“There’s no way for me to bash Superman. It would undermine every fundament of my reality to bash Superman,” said Waid, “I’m not happy with DC comics sometimes, but I would never bash Superman.”
When asked what his biggest professional regret was, Waid said he didn’t regret any projects specifically beyond the mindset he had while entering them.
“There have been times that I’ve taken assignments that I wasn’t passionate about because I thought the payday would be good,” said Waid. “That never worked out.”
Finally, Waid was asked how irredeemable he considered making Superman in “Kingdom Come.”
“He could never be irredeemable,” said Waid. “The moment he’s irredeemable, he’s not Superman anymore. The hardest thing about Kingdom Come for me was writing a story where Superman made a bad mistake.”
Shortly after, Waid’s hallway spillover panel dispersed, but added some extra time to a revealing session about Mark Waid, Thrillbent and the future of comics.