Inside new Substack comic projects from Tom King, Brian K. Vaughan, Grant Morrison, and more
A new frontier has opened for comics on Substack. As so many creative industries (like music and TV) have been disrupted by new technologies and platforms over the past decade, comic books have stayed mostly the same in terms of production and distribution. Even digital comics sites like Comixology haven't much altered the routine of picking up graphic novels from your local comic shop or bookstore.
But now, something new may be on the horizon.
Last year, several well-known comic creators (including House of X mastermind Jonathan Hickman and current Best Writer Eisner Award winner James Tynion IV) stepped back from their high-profile gigs at Marvel and DC to launch new comic projects on Substack.
EW can exclusively reveal that even more big-name creators are launching six new comics on Substack this week: An independent publication from Grant Morrison; a joint project from Brian K. Vaughan (Saga) and Niko Henrichon; a solo project by Jen Bartel; a collaboration between Tom King (Batman, Strange Adventures) and Elsa Charretier (November); a new publication from Khary Randolph; and a newsletter from the Mangasplaining podcast. Those aforementioned projects from last year are also adding new features: Two new comics are being added to Hickman's 3 Worlds / 3 Moons project; Tynion is beginning publication of his new graphic novella The Closet; and Jeff Lemire is bringing his Black Hammer superhero universe to Substack.
We spoke with King, Charretier, Vaughan, Henrichon, and Morrison about their new projects and the creative opportunities offered by the new platform. Read their thoughts below.
Tom King is one of the most acclaimed mainstream comic writers of the past decade. He won back-to-back Best Writer Eisner Awards in 2018 and 2019 (sharing the first with Monstress mastermind Marjorie Liu) and earned two spots on EW's own Best Comics of the Decade list. Yet all his comics up until now have been either for DC or Marvel (in the case of The Vision, which had a strong influence on WandaVision). Here on Substack, King is finally working on his first creator-owned comic, Love Everlasting, co-created with artist Elsa Charretier. Matt Hollingsworth is the colorist and Clayton Cowles does the lettering.
"I reached out to Tom," says Charretier. "I had been wanting to work with him for a long time, but I had decided to leave mainstream comics, so I wasn't envisioning a project at DC or Marvel with him. I wanted to do a creator-owned book and he had never done one. I was wondering why, and it turns out no one had ever asked!"
King adds, "this is a new project designed by Elsa and I. We talked about what we wanted to work on, what genres, and I stared at Elsa's artwork for a long time, imagining the best things I could write for her to draw. Elsa is one of these artists where their art doesn't look like the past, but what you wish the past looked like. It's like watching an episode of Mad Men where you're like, 'I know the '60s weren't like this, but the dream of the '60s was like this.' Elsa captures that just beautifully. The best part about that kind of art is if you have the dream, then you can make the nightmare too."
Charretier previously worked with Matt Fraction on the four-part graphic novel series November, which bounced around in time for its story of three women coming together under mysterious and violent circumstances. That has prepared her well for Love Everlasting, which also moves around in space and time for a deconstruction of the history of one of the form's forgotten sub-genres: romance comics.
"Love Everlasting is a deconstruction/reconstruction of romance comics, which were a quarter of the industry for 30 years and have now been forgotten in dustbins or made fun of by Lichtenstein," King says. "We're reclaiming a lost aspect of the comic industry and turning it into something modern, new, and cool."
Last year, Charretier launched a new YouTube series called Case Study, in which she analyzes iconic comics like her former collaborator's Hawkeye run or Mike Mignola's Hellboy saga. These exercises have in turn enhanced her own understanding of the form.
"I've learned a tremendous amount of craft working on those videos," Charretier says. "It's completely changed my way of thinking about comics, about what is right and what is wrong, because by dissecting stuff you realize that, 'oh this should be wrong, and yet it works. So why does it work?' It's challenged my assumptions about comics, and it's making me a better artist."
The pair are not shy about their artistic ambitions for Love Everlasting, either, with King explicitly invoking a comparison to one of the greatest comics ever.
"This isn't just my first creator-owned comic, it's my first ongoing comic since Batman," King says. "The goal here is to do what Neil Gaiman did with Sandman, looking at all of world literature through the lens of horror. We're gonna do that through the lens of romance. It's sort of Elsa and my version of Sandman."
In 2003, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Niko Henrichon collaborated on the graphic novel Pride of Baghdad, which followed a group of lions who escape from the Iraqi capital's zoo after an American bombing raid. They tell EW they've been looking to team up on another graphic novel ever since, and Vaughan was well aware of the potential of digital-first comics after his work with Marcos Martin at The Panel Syndicate.
"We started talking a while ago about doing another graphic novel," Vaughan says. "Graphic novels are hard to do artistically, creatively, financially. They're tricky. The Panel Syndicate, the pay-what-you-want site I run with Marcos Martin, has worked so well for many series, but for a lot of reasons, didn't feel like it was a good fit for graphic novels. I love Image Comics, I think they're the only game in town for doing a serialized epic like Saga. If I ever do another ongoing book it'll only be with Image, but for a graphic novel we were like, what are we gonna do? We talked about taking it around to traditional publishers, but we had our fears there because this book is definitely graphic in every sense of the word. It feels like mainstream publishers are really set up to do young adult graphic novels at the moment, which is great, but we worried about what we would have to sacrifice. So we've been looking for a home for this thing and then Substack emerged. We were like wow, this is the perfect timing, the perfect way to be able to do this. So we're really excited."
Their new graphic novel is called Spectators, and is about sex and violence. Other than that, Vaughan and Henrichon are staying mum about what the story will entail. Since Vaughan is American and Henrichon is French, you can expect them to explore cultural divides over those two subjects — such as the fact that Americans are notoriously more comfortable with depictions of brutal violence than with seeing sex in media.
"Violence is pretty accepted in American media," Henrichon says. "That's the funny part for French people, is that th violence is so omnipresent but anything sexual, even just a nipple, is a nipple too much for an American movie. But if you look at French movies, they're all over the place and it's very sexual, you know? So this comic explores themes of violence and sex. I don't want to spoil anything, but when I talk to people about this project I say it's something I've never seen before in American comics, a story like this."
Vaughan brings up a recent example from his other work: "That's definitely something Fiona Staples and I have seen in Saga. Even the most recent issue has a really horrific, disturbing suicide bomb. For me, that part was just so wildly uncomfortable to write and to look at. Yet the feedback, which has been super positive, is still mostly shock at the sex scene between two consenting adults. It's amazing to me that we have such an endless appetite for violence. Even watching what my kids get to watch, I feel like my kids have seen endless amounts of beheadings. But yeah, any degree of human nudity is seen as strange."
Spectators will be published in chunks of a few pages per week, which are accessible to anyone. Paid subscribers will get access to behind-the-scenes content, making-of footage, and more. During EW's Zoom interview with the creators, Henrichon showed off his camera set-up, primed to record his work process. The weekly dose of content also invokes classic newspaper comic strips, though since Vaughan and Henrichon retain the publishing rights to their work, they may publish Spectators in physical, collected form once it's finished.
"It's almost like we're going back to the strip comics in newspapers, by artists like Milton Caniff," Henrichon says. "They were adventure comics, but you just got a small dose every time, and the story progressed. So it's almost like we're going back to this kind of comic, which was the early form of the art form."
Vaughan adds, "I love that you mentioned Milton Caniff, I've been thinking so much about his Terry and the Pirates and reading those old strips and you're 100 percent right. That's how I'm thinking of it. I think when people hear they're only getting three pages at a time, there's this sense that we'll have to make it so dense for readers to get their money's worth, like 20-panel pages. But you read these beautiful old comic strips and you would get so much from even just a few panels a day, you would really be sucked into this world. I've been thinking a lot about balancing both old school comic strips and sort of new school graphic novels. We hope this hybrid form will please people."
Grant Morrison is one of the most influential comic book writers of the 21st century, having redefined iconic superheroes like Superman, Batman, and the X-Men for the new millennium. But they recently announced a withdrawal from mainstream comics, with Superman and the Authority as their final DC comic for the foreseeable future. But now, Morrison will be launching a new Substack comic project called In Xanaduum..., described as a "high concept sci-fi ghost story with a sting in the tail and a big autobiographical element!"
"It was a chance to step away from the mainstream of superhero comics and try something a bit different and a little more ambitious in terms of storytelling and theme," Morrison tells EW. "I saw an opportunity to use the basic newsletter format as a way to deliver a different take on narrative, where the basic throughline of a spooky twist ending story could form the backbone of a more elaborate and personal story structure."
Morrison adds that this Substack innovation is a good way to cut against the current NFT craze that obsesses over value and scarcity when it comes to online content.
"Substack offers an opportunity to communicate more directly and intimately with my readership," Morrison says. "I'm loving the opportunity to create my own artwork for the first time in a long while and see this as a creatively reinvigorating lo-fi DIY return to my earliest days making punk fanzines with scissors and glue. The hands-on physicality of the work I'm making is very much in an anti-NFT spirit too!"
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