Mark Waid Talks Digital Comics, the Direct Market, and Lois Lane

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Panel from Everstar, a new all-ages female-led digital comic by female creators launched Wednesday by Thrillbent.com. Image courtesy Thrillbent.com

“Digital is the newsstand of the 21st Century.”

That’s the view of Mark Waid, award-winning comic creator and co-founder of Thrillbent.com. I spoke to Waid last week about the new Thrillbent series, Everstar, a webseries that features an 11-year-old girl having adventures aboard an alien spaceship that is launching Friday, August 8, at Thrillbent.com.

Waid said Thrillbent was pleased to add an all-ages comic, particularly one aimed at girls, to the lineup at the site, which features over a dozen webseries diverse in subject and creators.

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Empire, Vol. 2, Waid and Barry Kitson’s story of a dystopian future run by a super villain, now appearing on Thrillbent.com (Image: Thrillbent.com)

But I also took the chance to ask him about the future of comics in general, both in the direct market and digital, and about a comment he made last year that “Lois Lane couldn’t support her own comic.”

Waid views digital, with Thrillbent a part of it, as the wave of the comics-reading future. “Right now, it’s easier to find a Hallmark store than a comic books store.”

Digital, he said, offers the chance to get comics in the hands of kids, like with Everstar, or other markets that print comics aren’t reaching.

“Comics are a medium, and we’re not hitting enough of the audience in general.”

Everstar will feature its first chapter free beginning Friday. Later chapters will be available, like the rest of those on Thrillbent, as part of the $3.99 monthly subscription cost.

It’s difficult to obtain hard sales numbers on digital downloads, even from major sites such as Comixology, which offers only an overall download number, rather than specific sales per issues or how much money is made per issue, so I asked Waid about Thrillbent’s numbers.

“It is neither a money tree nor a money pit. The first rule of new methods is that nobody gets rich. But we are working towards a reasonable revenue stream for everyone involved,” he said.

Waid said Thrillbent is growing in revenue, especially with its new app, and that the site’s retention rate is phenomenal, with the site only have three percent churn of those who click onto the site.

“When they click on our site, they’re serious about it,” he said.

Waid is right—digital offers a seemingly limitless audience, if creators can reach it, an audience not served by the direct print market.

But the “if” part is big as it’s definitely a marketing issue in the great wide world of the internet. Thrillbent has Waid and co-founder John Rogers to increase its profile, but that isn’t the case with every webcomic. However, Waid said he doesn’t think print comics will ever go completely away, pointing out that readers value print in a way they don’t digital, especially the readers who bring their hard copies to be signed at conventions and comic store events.

But, he said, the print market has limits. Awareness of the limits of that market is what led Waid to make his somewhat infamous comment last year—as part of the Super MOOC on social issues in comics—that a Lois Lane comic wouldn’t sell. He stands by that comment but only as it applies to the direct market.

“A Lois Lane comic would be amazing but the way DC is set up in the market and given the material, it wouldn’t sell,” he said, noting that DC and Marvel both have self-limited their market to a mainly male, mainly younger audience. He said he wished the big publishers were less “terrified” of the female audience.

He pointed out that “half” of Marvel’s editorial staff is female and that is obviously driving more of their recent decisions, like the successful launch of the new Ms. Marvel. “I would love to be proven wrong [on Lois Lane],” Waid said. “A great Lois comic would be awesome.”

But he still believes that if such a comic were to succeed, it would be in digital form, where it can reach the female audience that doesn’t shop at the local comic store.

He may be right. The best Lois Lane being currently written, in my opinion, is part of the digital-first Smallville series, written by Bryan Q. Miller. Rich Johnson of Bleeding Cool reported last month that Ms. Marvel sells more in digital than in print.

If that’s correct, the digital marketplace that Waid champions may already be winning the battle.

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Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.