Especially now that we’ve gone with the subscription model, I get a lot of (very fair and good) questions about how we choose what to run when, how we choose where series “breaks” happen, all that sort of thing.
Sometimes, bad luck trips us up–Troy Peteri’s been down with the flu for days now, but the next chapters of THE DAMNATION OF CHARLIE WORMWOOD will be up any moment now, as will the next THE HOUSE IN THE WALL. Troy’s lettering adds so much to those strips that over his own protestations, I’m not going to hand the work over to someone else and I’m banking on our fans giving us that leeway in this case.
That said, by and large, we’ve been every bit as diligent about hitting our deadlines as we’ve been all along, and I’m proud of us for that. For reasons that are equally editorial/publishing and budgetary, we tend to run each of our ongoing series anywhere from eight to sixteen chapters in a row (each set of chapters comprising one volume). In general, we schedule brief breaks in between volumes to (a) buy some time to get ahead of deadlines and (b) allow for new series to be rotated in as we gradually build our catalog of monthly offerings. That 8-to-16 number is hardly hard-and-fast, but that might help give you an idea why we take planned breaks with series like INSUFFERABLE, breaks that are built around strong, gut-punching cliffhangers.
The overall goal is to give subscribers far more than one standard print comic’s worth of content each month in exchange for their $3.99 subscription fee, and I feel confident we’re doing just that–and there’s much more to come. When I can finally come up for air, we’ll finally post the long-promised “upcoming” calendar to the site and app so you can see just how much you’re getting and when (and you’ll be pleasantly surprised).
Also, Troy just texted to say that he came back from Urgent Care armed with meds and cough super-suppressant and that he was jumping on WORMWOOD later tonight, but I told him to rest, for God’s sake. Thanks for understanding. We don’t and won’t abuse your trust in Thrillbent!
Well, that couldn’t have gone better. Seriously.
As announced in a previous blogpost, Thrillbent opened up the pitching process at San Diego Comic-Con this year. The rules were simple: we’d take the best pitch for a single short story and develop it for release on Thrillbent later this year–we’d pay for production, you’d own the story–but your pitch had to clock in at no more than 15 seconds.
We began our panel with a quick recap of who we were and what we did while tyros started lining up at the microphone. To show we could play by our own rules, our panelists–James Tynion IV, Christy Blanch, Chris Mancini, Todd Harris, Becky Tinker and myself–each pitched what we were doing for Thrillbent in that same 15-second space, to wit:
“EMPIRE is a science-fiction GAME OF THRONES where a supervillain has taken over the Earth. He’s trying to maintain his reign only to find out that once you’ve consolidated all the world’s power on one throne, there is no more dangerous place to sit.”
“INSUFFERABLE is about father-and-son crimefighters where the son grew up to be a jerk, went solo, and broke up the team. Now an ex-villain is trying to pull them back together for one last case.”
“The year is 1812, and VALENTINE is one of the few soldiers left of Napoleon’s once-mighty army felled by the Russian winter. Given a mysterious package by a dying general with orders to see it safely back to France, Valentine finds himself pursued through the snow by blood-eyed monsters who intent on stopping him.”
“ARCANUM follows the adventures of the secret government agency using creatures of myth and legend as its agents to fight invading arcane forces that bullets and rocket launchers are useless against. It’s 24 by way of Once Upon A Time.”
And so on.
We blew through our entire slide presentation in six minutes, including the various announcements we’ll share with you later this week. Success. Then we turned to the waiting contestants. Going in, I figured we’d have 15, maybe 20, and that the panelists and I would have time to ask some follow-up questions and discuss the merits of the pitches amongst ourselves.
I was informed just before we began that we’d had to cut the line at 100.
That didn’t leave much room for back-and-forth; it was pretty rat-a-tat-tat. Fifteen seconds isn’t a whole lot of time. But here were the things that amazed me:
First, there weren’t any terrible pitches. Not one. As someone who’s been an editor for over thirty years, I’m here to tell you that this is statistically impossible. Yes, there were some worn and tired ideas. Yes, there were some unintentionally derivative pitches. But I kept waiting for someone to step up and give me “A werewolf wakes up on the TITANIC” or “Turns out they’re all vampires,” or (BOOM! founder Ross Richie’s classic go-to example for hollow ideas) “A monkey punches a robot.” This didn’t happen. Everyone who got up to pitch–everyone, without fail–was prepared and rehearsed. Most people had written their pitches down to read. No one made me doubt the existence of God. Joe Casey asked me yesterday if I’d experienced anything recently that gave me faith that the future of comics is secure, and I told him about those pitches.
Second, there was an encouraging amount of diversity at play. Despite the fact that it was open-call, were most of the volunteers of the white-male demographic? Yes. But by no means was that majority a wide majority. I was thrilled at the number of women in line, at the number of men who didn’t look like cracked-mirror versions of me…and they all had stories to tell. Fantasy tales. Crime tales. Romans a clef. Stories of joy, of darkness, of hope. So many, many good pitches.
As we went, I answered most every pitch with an off-the-top-of-the-head comment/snap judgment (seemed to me like these people ought to hear why their pitches did or didn’t work for me–fair is fair and, besides, this was intended as a teaching process as much as a pitch session). A lot of them were good ideas that were too big for the short-story one-off space we were offering; I encouraged these writers to develop them as longer pieces or mini-series for someone. Many of them were good ideas that would be better served in another medium; there was a great one about worldwide body-swapping that, given the relatively internal nature of the conflicts it created, wasn’t terribly visual–but as I said as I rejected it, if it were a novel, I’d read the hell out of it. Some of them were just too close to things we were already publishing or were planning on rolling out. And a couple of them just didn’t strike me. (As I likewise warned everyone going in, just because I don’t like your story doesn’t mean it’s a bad story. One of the realities of publishing is that you have no idea going in how tired I might already be that day of hearing zombie pitches or vampire pitches or what have you. Nothing you can do about that; just pitch.)
As we went, we got through more than half the contestants (!) and pulled aside ten or so as potential winners. When we’d just flat out run out of time, I chose the story (congratulations, Paul O’Connor!) that all the panelists felt had the greatest potential to use the unique tools of digital storytelling well, but that was a tough call, because all the semi-finalists had dynamite pitches (especially Josh Southall, Suzy Stein and Fernando Perez, and Richard Stouvenel). I told them all to give us their contact info so that if Paul gets hit by a bus tomorrow, they can step up.
Then I went out in the hall and listened to the rest of the pitches. Everyone understood that we’d already picked a winner, but since we’d had no idea how many contestant would show up and thus hadn’t limited the number of slots, those remaining shouldn’t be penalized. Again: some amazing pitches. No dumb ones. Some I’d publish tomorrow if we had the time and resources. Only one guy whose heart visibly shattered into pieces when I told him, wincing, that his idea was too close to a Greg Rucka comic already in print. Two pitches that would have made the semi-finals easily. One that might well have won. By every measure, the panel was a rousing success, so keep visiting the Thrillbent site and reading the blog (scroll to the bottom of the page to sign up for the mailing list!) to see when and where we’ll do this again, because I can’t wait. (I know what you’re asking, and yes: we will eventually open up this site to unsolicited submissions outside of conventions, hopefully later this year, but right now we simply don’t have the peoplepower. But do keep watching the site and sign up for the mailing list so you’ll know when we throw open the gates.)
Thank you so much to everyone who came out for this. Thanks for being good sports, thanks for the good will. And watch for Paul O’Connor’s detective noir tale 4 SECONDS coming soon!
Every week, we here at Thrillbent HQ receive many, many inquiries about story submissions from new creators looking to break into comics — particularly digital comics. The short answer remains that we still don’t have the time-and-energy resources to take submissions, though we still hope to later this year. BUT —
— the slightly longer answer is that if you happen to be attending San Diego Comic-Con this year, we will be holding an open pitch session at our presentation/Q&A panel — Thursday, July 24, 5:30pm, Room 8 — where my intrepid crew and I will accept ONE PITCH to develop and, if the final story is good, host on Thrillbent. If you’re an artist/writer, that’s awesome: step up. If you’re a writer and we like your story, we will find you an artist if you need one. We will pay for production (art/lettering/coloring) and you and the artist will share the copyright — this isn’t work for hire. It’s a showcase for your short story.
Anyone is welcome to participate, absolutely anyone, but there are some ground rules:
- You must be physically present at the panel to deliver the pitch.
- You’re pitching ONE STORY. Not a sprawling ongoing series, not a 52-week arc. Look at any chapter of anything we have up on Thrillbent.com and/or the Thrillbent app and you’ll get some sense of how long it should be — thirty to forty pages, TOPS.
- You must be able to deliver your story pitch in no more than 15 seconds. We will have a timer. If you go past that time limit, your entry will be INVALID.
- No visual aids. You must be able to describe your story well enough so we can begin to see it in our heads.
- If my friends and I have further questions about your characters, plot, or what-have-you, you should be able to answer them. CONCISELY.
- By stepping up to the mike, you’re gonna have to trust that neither we nor the 500 other people in the audience will steal your idea. That may worry you, but it’s a risk you’re going to have to take throughout the length of your creative career. The hard truth is that ideas are easy; it’s what you do with them that’s the magic. But everything starts with an idea.
- We retain the option to put more rules on the table before showtime if need be or if we realize we’ve not covered our butts legally on something. But the first six are the important rules.
Fifteen seconds is not a lot of time, but as I’ve been saying since before you were born, comics is about THE ECONOMY OF STORYTELLING. Get in, make every word and every image count, get out. If it takes you as long or longer to verbally pitch your story as it would take to read it, you should be working in another medium. Brevity. Brvty. Brv.
Things to bear in mind that will help you immensely:
Know what a story is. A story is not an anecdote. (“A little girl gets taken by a tornado to a magical realm, the end.”) A story is someone wants something, and something is in his or her way. (“A little girl gets taken by a tornado to a magical realm and the only way to get home is to defeat an evil witch.” “An explorer is searching for the Ark of the Covenant, but so are the Nazis.” “A scientist craves recognition, but he knows his breakthrough discovery could endanger the world.”)
Little Miss Muffet is not a story. Little Miss Muffet is a setup and no punchline. Girl wants to eat, spider frightens her away, the end. It becomes a story if, win or lose, she (or the spider) takes some sort of action and ends up different in some way as a result. Conflict/resolution. That’s a story.
Pitch a story that works well in the Thrillbent digital format. “We see one event from two simultaneous points of view side-by-side.” “This story takes place somewhere visually interesting.” “As the scene progresses, some of the scenery begins to fade from view.” And so on. Be imaginative. But at the rock bottom minimum, have a premise that is visually interesting.
Remember at all times that your final story can be no longer than about thirty to forty pages, TOPS. Extra points for fewer pages.
For the six million of you who will not be at San Diego Comic-Con, I apologize in advance, but right now, this is the best we can do; we are a very lean crew and we are getting to open-submissions as fast as we can. For those who are attending, once again: our panel is on Thursday, July 24 at 5:30pm in Room 8. If you have (concise) questions regarding the pitch session, send them to lori (at) thrillbent (dot) com. Do NOT send her pitches ahead of time; they will be rejected instantly.
See you in San Diego!
If you like THE EIGHTH SEAL, this is a very good day for you.
Writer James Tynion IV (Eighth Seal, Batman Eternal, The Woods) today launches the first chapter in his new Thrillbent horror series, THE HOUSE IN THE WALL. Joining him are co-writer Noah J. Yuenkel, artist Eryk Donovan, and colorist Fred Stresing, and together they creep me the hell out. Or, rather, their work does. You know what I mean. I’m sure they’re lovely people. I am willing to overlook the fact that James frequently, frequently giggles with a pitch, tone and volume identical to everything that ever gave you a nightmare when you were five. On the plus side, his table manners are impeccable.
THE HOUSE IN THE WALL is a ghost story stripped of all the hoary tropes and infused with a macabre edge familiar to Tynion’s fans. It’s about a recurring dream, a series of corridors, an impossible house, and a very brave woman scrambling to survive. It is awesome. And, like EMPIRE, it comes to subscribers every two weeks. For your $3.99 a month, that’s yet another comic delivered under the Thrillbent banner to join THE DAMNATION OF CHARLIE WORMWOOD, EMPIRE, ALBERT THE ALIEN, our full 300+ library of “back issues” of our various other series… and more new series to be announced in the next couple of weeks. I would pay that just to read one James Tynion IV comic, and I’m saying that with utter sincerity. Given all that comes with that… you shouldn’t miss this. THE HOUSE IN THE WALL. Check it out here.
Fourteen years later….
In 2000, artist/collaborator/friend Barry Kitson and I launched a mini-series called EMPIRE, which answered the question, “What happens to the world if the bad guys win?” EMPIRE was the story of Golgoth, an armored despot who succeeds where every other super-villain in history has failed. Before the series even opens, Golgoth has conquered the world. He’s eliminated all his enemies, he’s snuffed out all opposition, and now he rules the Earth from a vast citadel sitting in what used to be Central Park. Now his enemies come not from without but from within; his counselors and court ministers, all bound to his side by a mysterious and hyper-addictive performance-enhancing drug called Eucharist, plot against him. His teenage daughter, innocent and guileless, has her own ideas about what the future ought to be. And an alien race who has been patiently waiting for Golgoth to finish consolidating Earth’s power under one crown now prepares to make its move.
It was a 192-page Eisner-nominated ride–our futuristic science-fiction Game of Thrones, if you will–that was a blast and one of the best things I’ve ever written. Unfortunately (and staggeringly), the collected edition has been out of print for years, but Barry and I have finally reclaimed the publishing rights and, as we’d always planned, are launching its sequel, a story over a decade in the making.
And we’re launching it here, today, at Thrillbent, as a flagship of our redesigned site–the first of many new launches in the upcoming weeks. Subscribe now for the price of one monthly print comic (the same as you’d pay for EMPIRE VOLUME TWO in print, if that existed) and not only will you get new chapters of EMPIRE VOLUME TWO every other Wednesday, you’ll have access to:
- Weekly installments of our ongoing Thrillbent series THE DAMNATION OF CHARLIE WORMWOOD (every Monday), ALBERT THE ALIEN (every Tuesday), and THE ENDLING (every Thursday);
- Extra-length chapters of the creepy horror chiller THE EIGHTH SEAL by James Tynion IV and Jeremy Rock;
- Tynion’s new series, THE HOUSE IN THE WALL, which launches Friday, June 20th;
- EVERSTAR, a jaw-droppingly great comic about an eleven-year-old girl who’s the bravest starship captain you’ll ever meet, launching August 1st;
- The first-ever comics series by the acclaimed novelist Seanan McGuire;
- The third volume of INSUFFERABLE, at which Peter Krause, Nolan Woodard, Troy Peteri and I are already hard at work;
- More new series to be announced in the coming weeks;
- And, of course, full access to our library of the 300-or-so comics we’ve published on Thrillbent since we launched more than two years ago.
Oh–and, for subscribers–remember how I mentioned that EMPIRE VOLUME ONE was long out-of-print? Subscribe now and you’ll get a downloadable, DRM-free PDF of the ENTIRE Volume One collection immediately.
Frankly, that seems like a pretty sweet bargain to me, and we think you’ll agree. You get all that for $3.99 a month, the price of one print comic, and you can subscribe through our website–or, if you have an iPad, you can download our Thrillbent app and sign up there, whichever you prefer.
Enjoy Empire. We can’t wait for you to see what Barry and I have been cooking up for Golgoth these past fourteen years….
This is neat. Because our own Christy Blanch is a guest this coming weekend at Motor City ComiCon–in part thanks to her work with Chris Carr and Chee on THE DAMNATION OF CHARLIE WORMWOOD–she wanted to have something in-hand that she could use as a sales and promotion tool to target fans unfamilar with Thrillbent or WORMWOOD. So we did a little (okay, a lot of) production work to assemble the first five digital chapters of the Blanch/Carr/Chee masterpiece THE DAMNATION OF CHARLIE WORMWOOD into a 32-page print comic.
It’s a small run of 300 because as I keep saying, print is expensive. Plus, we had to pay a high premium for a rush job (because we were learning the finer points of print production as we went, on the fly, and that took time). I bring this up not to complain (or to taunt completists who have no way to buy a copy because they’re not at Motor City), but to explain why we don’t (yet) have print copies for sale beyond those 300–
–and because next week sometime, I plan to write a comprehensive blogpost about how we retro-engineered from digital to print given all the non-duplicable digital techniques Chee uses. It was a fascinating process, even if it did shave years off my life. I’ll run some compare-and-contrast examples. Stay tuned. And in the meantime, if you’re at Motor City (or in Muncie at our store, Alter Ego Comics, co-publishers of the print comic), feel free to purchase a signed copy, and we thank you for your support.
When I was in high school, I understudied for the lead in BYE BYE, BIRDIE. The reason you can’t picture me in a Dick Van Dyke role is because I was, at the time, 130 pounds soaking wet, and ten of that was hair. Also, I would have been terrible. I can’t act. But I still know all the songs and I can’t hear the name “Albert” without humming “An English Teacher” and OH, MY GOD, WHAT IS HE TALKING ABOUT AND WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH THRILLBENT AND WHO THE HELL IS “BIRDIE” sorry, it’s just that this is about school and (another) Albert.
Faithful Thrillbent visitors have been following the serialized adventures of ALBERT THE ALIEN for some time now. It’s great work, funny and charming. Trevor Mueller and Gabriel Bautista are a good team. And now they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign for a print edition, and I heartily endorse it and implore you to check it out. It contains bonus content including new stories in addition to those you’ve read here, sketches and behind-the-scenes looks, and more. Anything you can contribute to the campaign is welcome, whether you want one of the books or simply want to show your support to some of Thrillbent’s hard-working creative partners. Check it out.
Man, I wouldn’t want to be Comixology this week.
Let me preface what I’m about to say by reminding you that I am friends with many of the Comixology crew, and I hold them and what they’ve built in great respect. I don’t always agree with their business decisions or strategies, but they don’t always agree with mine, either. Moreover, beyond the personal affiliation, they’ve been good business partners to Thrillbent; we’ve been selling collected editions through their app and website as well as through our own for over a year now, and they’ve been very eager to work with us as we’ve experimented, in ways none of their other partners yet has, with strategies (like pay-what-you-want) which don’t fit the Comixology business model at all. No reason that needs to change. I really value those folks.
But I would not want to be them this week.
On Saturday, years after having repeatedly established itself as one of Apple’s top-grossing iOS apps but about a month after having been purchased by Apple rival Amazon, Comixology sent out a blanket surprise e-mail to its thousands and thousands of customers. Effective immediately, we were told, the iOS app was being retired and replaced with one that stripped out (a) the easy, one-tap ability to make in-app purchases, (b) referrals to other comics you might also like to buy with one button-tap, (c) any indication of what you ought to read next if you were in the middle of a multi-issue storyline, and (d) everything that made the Comixology app a gateway for new and casual readers of comics. You have an iPad and you want to buy some of these comics and graphic novels you’ve been hearing about with your iTunes account? Sucks to be you.
Within hours, Comixology’s customer base revolted, and given the way corporations work, there was only so much spinning they could do. I don’t know this for a fact, but I cannot imagine this was a decision enthusiastically embraced by the Comixology masterminds. This had to have been handed down either by Amazon or by Apple. No content distributor or provider, particularly one that’s been at the forefront of consumer outreach for an entire medium (and, seriously, we should all be grateful for that), deliberately (much less abruptly) seeks to remove functionality from its system. The objective of any commerce, web-based or brick-and-mortar, is to reduce friction and make purchasing as easy as possible. I repeat, no one with an internet business intentionally makes it harder to buy from them unless they’re not getting a say in the matter. This wasn’t done on a whim, and whether you like what they do or not, Comixology’s creators are smart and, in my opinion, ethical men. Whatever their decisions may be going forward, they’re made under the combined weight of Apple’s sometimes-Byzantine policies, the policies of their new corporate overlords, the impending possibility that Marvel will pull away from them, and other factors we’re not privy to.
In the long term, this development may be a mere blip. Make comics harder to buy through Apple, but make them easier to buy through Android, which outside the States makes up at least 70% of the mobile market. Sure. In theory, this will eventually be a net gain. But in the short term, it’s a disaster because it cold-shoulders an impossibly large number of potential new customers for comics.
Yes, I’ve heard over the last two days from dozens of fans who “don’t get the big deal” and sneer that “smart” comics readers have always bought from the website anyway and so it’s a few extra steps to get your comics, so what? If you’re one of those voices, if I were strong enough to lift your massive sense of smug self-entitlement, I would beat your high horse to death with it. You already buy comics online? Good for you. You’re not the ones we need to be worried about.
Seriously, you can look down your nose all you want at in-app purchasers and gloat to your heart’s content that only Luddites couldn’t figure out how to go find the website and then set up an account and shop through the website and then download their comics separately through the app, it’s not all that hard, that’s how the Kindle buying works on my iPad, yes?, and you’re absolutely right, it’s not that hard, but guess what? That doesn’t matter. What matters is that it makes buying comics–makes finding comics–more difficult for new readers discovering the medium, not easier, and that is pretty much the last thing anyone in comics needs right now. Long-term, because this means Apple no longer gets their 30% cut off of comics bought off an iPad because you can’t buy them that way anymore, that means more money for comics publishers and comics creators. That’s great. It’s also something that no casual consumer gives a rip about. Short-term–and I will happily report back to you if I’m wrong–there’s no way that 30% bump will compensate for the sudden loss of impulse buyers who were buying with one button tap and/or using iTunes cards because they’re too young to have credit cards or PayPal accounts.
This will probably change and stabilize somewhat in the months and years to come–one hopes–as Amazon continues its march to ubiquity. If it somehow streamlines the comics-buying experience internationally, I know I wouldn’t turn down that money. And, admirably, Comixology is working overtime to suggest as many workarounds as possible to readers. And they still have a brilliant user experience interface in place. Don’t not go there. We like them. They have done a lot, a lot of good things for this medium.
But I would not want to be them this week.
A couple of takeaways for you:
One: Over the past two years, we’ve amassed nearly 300 comics on the Thrillbent site and–I swear this is not a dig, I just don’t know any other way to say it–we’ve moved Heaven and Earth to make buying and reading it as friction-free a process as we know how (and we’re still refining it). If you’re a subscriber who’s deep-diving all-access through our material, we’re not only making it easy to join, we’re offering you a free 191-page EMPIRE graphic novel (by myself and Barry Kitson) for signing up. If you’re eager to read offline, you can purchase inexpensive Thrillbent PDFs here that (like EMPIRE) are DRM-free and yours to own. I repeat, this is in no way a slam at Comixology–their business model isn’t our business model–but I would be failing all our fine Thrillbent contributors if I didn’t take a moment to remind you that you can subscribe or purchase some great comics directly from us. We truly appreciate your business, especially as we continue to push new formats, new distribution models, and experimental comics that require your support to see fruition. Thank you for helping us create.
Two: If you’re chuckling over all this because you think it proves something about print’s stability, enjoy your print comics while you can–because if you don’t think Amazon’s Comixology acquisition was their first step towards building some Kindle-like comics-reading hardware to replace brick-and-mortar stores, you’re nuts. Print comics are still pretty healthy right now, absolutely; talk to me in a couple of years when they’re all 4.99, but Amazon’s selling downloads for half that and swallowing the margin loss in order to sell hardware.
Three: We, on the other hand, love you and will always be here for you. Subscribe.
Two years ago, we launched Thrillbent.com, a curated platform/foundry for state-of-the-art comics in digital form. Looking back, I honestly can’t believe we’ve come as far as we have, but…wow. With the help, support, and enthusiasm of some of the most forward-thinking creators in comics, we’ve helped define what digital comics should be—can be—and we’re constantly inventing new storytelling techniques for the medium (mostly because I’ve been smart enough to ally Thrillbent with visionaries like Balak, Alex DeCampi, Tim Gibson, Jeremy Rock and others—you can see the full list here).
I’ve always been open with you, our readers, about not only our successes but our challenges—chief among them, how to pay for all this. How to streamline that social contract between us, the content providers, and our fans, who are willing to pay a fair price for what we provide so that we can keep bringing the new.