Substack Might Be A Huge Game-Changer For Future Comic Book Movies

Comic books may be in for one of the biggest shake-ups in some time. As a result, comic book movies may also be in for one heck of a dramatic shift. This is all thanks to the folks at Substack, who recently made waves by shelling out several truckloads of cash to get some of the biggest names in comics to create titles for its platform. Yet, they aren't asking for the rights to these books, which means the creators will be free to do with the rights as they please. And when Hollywood inevitably comes knocking, it could mean a whole lot of money for the creators of these characters/worlds. That is particularly important for Marvel and DC, if they want A-list creators to continue working for them in the long run.

There is much to discuss here, so let's dive in and break it down, shall we?

The (Potential) Shake-Up for Comic Book Movie Franchises

The Hollywood Reporter recently did a deep dive into the whole situation with Substack as it relates to the company's push into comic book publishing. Substack allows people to create subscription newsletters. They will now use that model for comic books. The company managed to entice big names such as James Tynion IV, who had been writing "Batman" for DC Comics, as well as Donny Cates, known for his work on "Thor" and "Venom" for Marvel, and Scott Snyder ("Justice League") among others.

These are some of the rockstars of modern comics. It's like Spotify getting the exclusive rights to whatever Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo want to do next. And getting them on board was no small feat. It also wasn't cheap. Tynion is said to have earned an eye-melting $500,000 fee upfront, in addition to what he earns from the books themselves down the line. While Substack will take 85 percent of the subscription fees ($7 per month) for the first year, they will be awarding 90 percent of that revenue to the creators after that year. Most importantly, Substack is not making any claims to the underlying intellectual property. One might think that's where the money would be for a company making a big comic book play. And yet, the creators will own what they make. Meaning any Hollywood dough that rolls through the door will be theirs for the taking. This is the key to the potential shake-up.

Substack had this to say in its initial announcement last month.

"There are few industries where we feel the Substack model could be more game-changing than in comics, where the gap in power and earning potential between publishers and for-hire creators is enormous, and where the creator of a story can spawn a nine-figure franchise and yet take home little more than a standard paycheck. On Substack, comics creators are their own publishers, and they are guaranteed full ownership of their intellectual property, content, and mailing lists, like any other publisher on the platform."

The Complicated Business of Comic Books and Adaptations

One can interpret what Substack is saying there as a bit of shade. Comic book creators who work for Marvel and DC get to play in those sandboxes. They get to make a name for themselves with a big audience and work with some of the most popular characters in all of pop culture. There is value in that. Unfortunately, as has been well documented, the money doesn't always follow. Even in the age of comic book properties being adapted left and right into mega franchises, these creators are not often financially rewarded for their work. Ed Brubaker, who wrote "The Winter Soldier" arc that would go on to inspire "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," has been very vocal about the fact that he's received very little for his contributions to the MCU. He is not alone.

That is what makes this Substack deal so potentially appealing for A-list creators. If you have a name and a following, why not take the cash and go nuts? Plus, Marvel is tied up at Disney. DC is tied up at Warner Bros. Every other studio in Hollywood wants to get in on the comic book franchise business. But it's slim pickings elsewhere and it's tough to find that diamond in the rough. Substack could — and we stress could — turn into a straight-up farm for future movie and TV franchises. And the creators will reap the rewards. Not the publishing company.

The Little (Ish) Guy Might Suffer

Creator-owned comics are not a new idea. Todd McFarlane famously launched Image Comics in the '90s. It has since become a haven for creators who want to own their work. The publisher is behind books like "Spawn," "The Walking Dead," and even Donny Cates' "Crossover." But these smaller (relative to Marvel and DC) publishers could find themselves in trouble if Substack's model pays off. Image and other companies simply can't compete with pockets that deep. Much like the current era of streaming dominance we are witnessing, everyone may not survive. Who will be the Quibi of comics?

But let's not get too ahead of ourselves just yet.

Will This Work?

This is the million, or perhaps even billion-dollar question. Will Substack's model work? Nobody knows! Shaking up an industry such as comics is tough. Marvel and DC dominate the landscape. Comic shops and digital distribution are how it's done. Will readers be willing to shell out for subscriptions to newsletters to read these books? Will enough creators churn out enough quality content to get Hollywood's attention? For now, we have more questions than answers.

That being said, the game-changing potential is there. The cash is already flowing. If Hollywood studios start calling, then we could be looking at the future. That is, assuming Substack finds a way to make money without getting in on those sweet, sweet intellectual property rights.