Print is dead. Mark (Indestructible Hulk and Industry-Acclaimed Daredevil) Waid and John (Blue Beetle and Dungeons and Dragons and Leverage) Rogers announced their latest plans to bring comics out of a future where the rising cost of physically printing books makes it impossible for anyone who isn’t sponsored by Disney or Warner Bros as an IP farm to make comics happen. Last year, they announced Thrillbent at WonderCon, a website that wouldn’t just host webcomics, but innovate the market by making comics designed to use their medium of being displayed on monitors and phones and tablets rather than displaying “photographs of comics.”
Waid and Rogers then went on at length about how this is the end result of three years of experimenting with the form, with the medium, of dissecting how comics work and coming up with a way to do digital comics that wasn’t just putting scans on a screen, or making half-assed cartoons with motion comics. So, after a year of Waid and Peter Krause’s Insufferable, which has been a fun take on “What if Robin grew up to be an insufferable jerk?” as Waid explained to the audience, the website would get a major overhaul on Monday and include a new interface that was more user-friendly and would make going back and rereading the entire archives of a comic much simpler.
More importantly though, an embeddable reader that you could post into your blog if you still have one, your Facebook feed, a discussion page for a popular comic journalism site, and allow others to directly see the comic there rather than just posting a link to the site that someone would then have to follow. Much like the Youtube embeddable feature, you’d have the ability to choose the size of the window that would appear, all designed to make it easier to share the comics. Waid reminded the panel that Thrillbent seeds torrents of all their titles, and that they have had success by treating their customers as partners, not as potential criminals.
The preview of the embeddable reader was fantastic, and I wish I had the code to show you how it worked because this is seriously cool.
Insufferable by Waid and Krause will return on Wednesdays with the next arc in the saga of the father/son superheroes who just can’t get along. Along with the following new titles scheduled to premiere in the near future:
Arcanum, by John Rogers and Todd Harris has been long in the making, given that it was announced last year as one of the first titles for Thrillbent. Better late than never right? Especially when the result is a long-form comic series by Rogers, about what happens when Earth is invaded not by aliens, but by magic. Eldritch, frightening beings and powers from the Mythic Faelands, which are pits of illogical magical horror. Our protagonists are the government team assigned to deal with the sinister return of magic to the world. This is inspired by the old alien invasion TV series UFO of all things, and was a TV series that Rogers wanted to do for years but now will be making as a weekly webcomic premiering on Mondays.
I can not say enough good things about John Rogers as a comic writer.
The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood by writer Christy Blanch and artist Chee. Blanch is probably better known for that upcoming online course on comics and gender that has a bunch of big name industry talent associated with it. Damnation is a hardboiled prison drama about a professor who teaches at a prison and after deciding to help make ends meet for his family by doing some small jobs for the inmates, finds himself pulled into a corrupt system and try to work it to his advantage without being overwhelmed. “It’s Breaking Bad meets Oz meets History Boys” said Rogers, who smiled at the two people who got the last part of that reference. Damnation will be a launch title for the new Thrillbent, serialized on Fridays.
Other titles will be showing up on Thrillbent when they are ready, as they can wait for sufficient pages to show up to have a buffer, and not need to concern themselves with solicitation deadlines and the such. Here are the titles that were announced at WonderCon.
Last Vegas by Eric Heisserer and Clay Kronke will be set in the parts of Vegas where gambling isn’t done with cash or chips, but with more supernatural stakes. Your fathers approval, the resurrection of a loved one. It’s a tale of opportunities lost and gained.
The Incapeables, which sounds like it should be written by Mark Waid but is actually written by Kevin Levy and drawn by Nate Watson is about a team of washed out superheroes who are powerless in some form or another. The analogy given was that it’s like being a young promising athlete who blows out his knee, and then has to make something of himself. Of being a big deal of a teenage superhero who then loses his powers and what you do next. The promo picture shows what is presumably our entire team wrapped up in cables and captured by a giant mechanical spider, so this should be a bit more light hearted and less maudlin than the synopsis would suggest.
The Eighth Seal by Talon and Batman writer James Tynion IV and artist Jeremy Rock is going to be fantastic. Waid approved the book based solely on the premise, “Rosemary’s Baby meets the West Wing.” This book is far enough in production that previews of the first installment were shown. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe how chilling it was to mime swiping the screen and then seeing it shift, and that shift be some horrifying craziness. This lead to a discussion of the fact that the nature of these digital comics works great for horror, since you can do more shocking reveals here than you can in print where the only time you can pull one off is when you turn the page. Here, we saw some radical shifts that were fantastically paced and well, I can only say DAMN.
The Endling by writer J.T. Larsen and artist Cecilia Latella deals with a woman who created a virtual simulation of the end of the human race, and what the last human on Earth would be like. Then that digital model of a woman looked at her through the monitor and asked to be set free. It’s a dark Pinocchio story, about bringing a creation to life and finding out that she may not be a good person. “This series will be great. The consequences will be dire.” riffed Waid.
Working For Monday, by writer Lori Matsumoto and artist Ben Dewey is about a woman who has a really bad job. She’s the personal assistant to a supervillain, a Professor Monday by name. Someone has to manage his schedule and ensure that he finds time to go to the dentist to get that toothache looked at between heists and ensure the henchmen get paid and all the basic logistical needs of the profession. Inspired by Matsumoto’s own turn as a personal assistant, the protagonist isn’t necessarily enthusiastic about working for a supervillain, but it’s a living right?
There are plans to expand the depths of Thrillbent to allow other webcomic creators to migrate their titles over, and allow Thrillbent to handle the conversion of their comic to fit their custom reader software, so that they can take advantage of synergy between titles, as well as opening up to submissions from other people wanting to take advantage of Thrillbent‘s concepts of making digital comics that work best on a digital format and aren’t fancy scans. Waid believes that widescreen format comics are superior, in as much that he hates having to scroll up or down to read a comic on his monitor, and likened it to trying to read a comic through a cardboard tube. The widescreen format will also help towards eventual streaming of comics via Xbox Live or Netflix or the such so that the video game market can also be grabbed.
Thrillbent isn’t making money yet. There are collections of comics being sold on Comixology, either to people who only check that site/app and have no idea that the comics were available for free elsewhere, or to folks who just want to pay to support the comics they love. There’s talk about experimenting with revenue streams, with looking into subscription models or selling PDF bundles or merchandising (and it’s always odd to me to see people discuss this as if there aren’t tons of professional webcomics who give away their product but make their money back on merchandising, advertising and selling collected print editions. Serious. Check out Homestuck or Order of the Stick!) but for now, Thrillbent is a means for John Rogers to lose money. As for why he’s using a significant amount of his personal funds, on top of the money Waid raised by auctioning off his comic collection, to fund Thrillbent at a loss, Rogers explained: “I wrote Catwoman. This is my penance to the comics world.”