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Chip Zdarsky on the freedoms of Substack and his future in comics

Comic Books

Chip Zdarsky on the freedoms of Substack and his future in comics

Plus, whether he’ll stay with DC and Marvel, fan engagement, and much more.

On Monday, a slew of creators announced plans to collaborate with Substack for a series of creator-owned projects. That list includes James Tynion IV, Saladin Ahmed, Jonathan Hickman, and more. This potentially giant news rocked fans and creators alike, and demonstrated that comics could be experiencing a significant sea change. Or, at the very least, a shot in the arm to the tried and true publishing model.

Not to be outdone, writer-artist Chip Zdarsky is now hopping on board. In an exclusive interview with AIPT, the Daredevil scribe explains his comics-centric endeavor, addressing which series he’ll bring back and the kinds of stories he’ll tell via the platform, what he’s learned from other creators’ launch experiences, what this project means for his work with both DC and Marvel, and other thoughts on Substack’s rise in the comics-sphere.

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If you’re a fan of Zdarsky, this Q&A provides some exciting insight into the weird and wonderful plans he’s got in store.

Chip Zdarsky on the freedoms of Substack and his future in comics

Courtesy of writer.

AIPT: Substack, what does the platform mean for you and your storytelling? How long have you been in development with this whole process

Chip Zdarsky: It’s been a few months of talking. Honestly, my first five or six conversations were me trying to poke holes in the idea, but the more I talked and thought about it, the more I realized this was exactly the kind of setup I was looking for: a home on the internet where I, uh, didn’t have to deal with randos (sorry, randos!). It may sound stupid, but I like the idea that nobody is going to pay to come yell at me!

There’s a lot of freedom here, a lot of throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. I like that I’m not just banking an arc of a book and seeing it get released months and months later. We’re essentially making these books live, which is exciting.

AIPT: There was a lot of worry around James Tynion’s announcement, would you like to set the record straight on whether you will continue writing Red Batman (Daredevil), and continuing to work at DC Comics? Would you ever want to transition away entirely if this were successful enough?

CZ: Look, James Tynion is a coward who needs “sleep” and spending time with “loved ones.” I’m still on Daredevil and I’m still working on DC projects like a goddamn hero to the people.

As for down the road, I think almost every comic writer has a shelf life with the Big Two. Sometimes it comes down to public tastes, sometimes it’s just that you’ve written all the characters or titles you wanted to. Or sometimes editors just fuckin’ hate you and the fact that you took the last slice of pizza at a Marvel retreat even though they already had two slices which was one more than you because Dan Slott wouldn’t stop talking to you about why you’re writing Aunt May wrong and you couldn’t get to the pizza table in time.

What I’m saying is, one day I’ll be done at Marvel and DC and it may be my choice and it may not be. So it’s important to always be thinking about and pushing your creator-owned projects.

AIPT: Since you’re launching your Substack a little later than other high-profile creators like Jonathan Hickman, James Tynion IV, and Saladin Ahmed, have you learned anything in how you’re unveiling things?

CZ: Well, I’m scrapping my circle-centric sci-fi epic now, so THANKS, HICKMAN.

So far I’m pretty excited with what I’ve seen from everyone. I haven’t learned anything, because I’m not good at learning, but seeing the great reaction to the initial wave has been fantastic.

AIPT: I think some folks have raised concerns about what they might be paying for each month. Are you concerned at all about delivering “content” regularly or remain accountable?

Oh god, it’s always my concern on everything I do. Fraction and I used to joke that we spent so long on each issue of Sex Criminals because we each felt guilty that readers were spending $4.99 a month on our brand of trash.

So, yeah, I think about it a lot. But anyone who’s seen my standard newsletter hopefully knows that I like to make sure it’s always entertaining. And with the subscription newsletter, I’m going to be able to amp that up with much more content.

AIPT: A lot of folks want to know what kind of output creators will have. What might a reader expect from your Substack?

CZ: Oh boy, it’s a lot. We’re bringing back my Image book with Kagan McLeod, Kaptara! We’ll also be doing new Kaptara shorts with other fun creators!

I’m going to be writing and illustrating a new series, my first since Sex Criminals, called Public Domain! It’s about a family of comic creators dealing with the ramifications of their creations. I’m really excited to start showing people this one.

I’ll be doing instructional videos, exclusive signings, exclusive variants, giveaway sketches, all sorts of fun stuff! Also, I’m getting the fuck off of Twitter for a while so if you want to come yell at me, well, again, you have to pay to do it now! How many of you cowards will rise to that challenge?

Chip Zdarsky on the freedoms of Substack and his future in comics

Public Domain cover. Courtesy Chip Zdarsky

AIPT: What sparked your decision for Substack in the first place? Did any other creators sell you on the prospect at all?

CZ: I think I was one of the first to enter talks with them? Maybe? Every conversation sent me away excited and thinking of how I would build a thing like this up. I really only started talking to other creators about it after they signed on, and even then it was barely anyone because Substack couldn’t tell us who was doing the deal, so we had to sniff around a bit.

AIPT: Is Substack just a place for comics, or do you think it’s a different channel from, say, Instagram or Twitter to engage and communicate with fans/readers?

CZ: To be perfectly honest, I know I joked earlier about people having to pay to yell at me, but really that’s a huge thing. I like the idea of having a nice little walled garden to call my own, where I can have conversations with readers who are actually interested in the work. I’ve met some great people on Twitter and have learned a lot, but there’s a lot of mental damage being done there to all of us I think. So this is a step back for me. I’m sure I’ll be back at some point, but for now, I’m tending to this nice little garden that hopefully others will enjoy as well.

AIPT: Have you thought at all about oversaturation for these Substack-esque campaigns? Do you think there’s actually a lot of room for a whole suite of artists/writers/etc.?

CZ: Look, I’m worried about oversaturation in comics, full stop. I think the wave of big Marvel/DC creators will be like Batman comics from DC. Yeah, there are a lot of them, but there’s a reason: people are buying them. Maybe some of the Batman titles, like “Batman & Hawkman: One Flies One Doesn’t” won’t ultimately make it in this Substack metaphor landscape I’m conjuring here. But there will be dozens of non-Batman comics on the stand that will do just great. Does that make sense? I’m really tired.

I think as new Substack Pro creators are announced, you’ll see a nice cross-section of content that will have audiences who won’t give a rat’s ass about what “the great Jonathan Hickman’s” doing. Like me!!!!!

Everyone will just be making decisions on where to put their money the way we all do with our Patreon and Kickstarter funding. Every month I’m charged $30 for my Patreon backings and I average $20-30 a month on Kickstarters. I think Substack will be like that for a lot of people.

Chip Zdarsky on the freedoms of Substack and his future in comics

Kaptara #6 cover.
Courtesy Chip Zdarsky

AIPT: You’ve been both a writer and an artist (and sometimes both simultaneously!) Do you think that gives you an advantage, of sorts, and can we expect “solo” work to be the main output or more collaborative projects?

CZ: I think it helps, sure. I’m looking forward to drawing more, and I hope fans of SEX CRIMINALS want to see more sequentials from me! Oh god, I hope they do…

AIPT: Are you signed up for any Substacks of your favorite creators?

Yes. I won’t name them or else the others will get mad at me.

AIPT: Is Substack an option for younger creators, or is this only something you think you could do as a more established creator?

CZ: I think it’s as much an option as other crowdfunding platforms, sure. As a part of this first wave, I definitely feel a responsibility to launch big, to show Substack and the world that this works for comics. I already have a sneak peek at subsequent waves and I think everyone’s going to really love what’s coming.

Also I’m doing personalized thank you videos for everyone who subscribes at the annual tier in the first 24 hours. Nobody will love it, but they’re getting one anyway.

Find Chip Zdarsky’s Substack here.

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