Baltimore Comic-Con 2012: Thrillbent Goes To 'Pilot Season' With Mark Waid

One of the best parts of Baltimore Comic-Con is the close interaction fans can get with big name creators. And on the first day of the Con, an intimate crowd filed into a - compared to NYCC or San Diego - small room to hear all about superstar writer Mark Waid’s digital platform, Thrillbent.

The casual chat - which Waid mentioned could be on Thrillbent, but also anything from his career - started off with the creator mentioning that the site was actually down this weekend, due to a hacker who’s been going after web comics websites. They hope to be back up soon, so CALM DOWN.

Then he talked a little bit about the history of the imprint. “If you’re DC or Marvel, you’re printing 30 to 40 thousand copies of the book,” said Waid. “If you’re doing a smaller run, the cost to print it is more expensive than everything else. That’s a dumb model.” So he set about starting digital first, build an audience, and then possibly move over to print. Waid added that, “the good news is, we’re popular enough to get hacked!”

He also noted that as of now, with the downloads of the torrents and PDFs Waid set up, they get numbers that would make him “over the moon” if they were print sales... But he’s just happy there are readers. “That has value. It’s not about the dollars and the cents you can make selling copies of the print comic... We get traffic from all over the world,” said Waid. The goal is to get to something new every day of the week, not just titles by Waid - they’re aiming to get there by the end of the year.

“The question becomes, how do we monetize this?” continued Waid, saying that with big name creators like John Rogers and Gail Simone, they can afford to experiment with different models. The first step will be launching the Thrillbent app, which may allow users to download comics in advance of their free internet release.

He added that despite this, they’re not looking to get rich, they just want to defray costs and do stories they want to do. “No one’s backing up a money truck to my house,” joked Waid. “We want to make a modest living, and do what we want to do. We all want to be rich, but end of the day we all want to get up every day and do what makes us happy, buy our groceries, and pay our rent.”

Then it was on to news! Here’s the big scoops!

- Because Top Cow felt like they can’t make enough money on print sales of their yearly “Pilot Season” program, they’ll be launching it this year through Thrillbent. The first week, they’ll launch six or seven digital comics. Over the next few weeks, the ones with the least votes will be whittled out, until a few are left that will go to (print) series.

- "Insufferable" is continuing, and will finish up its first arc soon.

- Gail Simone and Amanda Gould are doing a series called “Field Trip” about kids literally from Hell visiting Earth.

- Other titles include ‘The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood’, about a teacher working in prison, which Waid compared to “Breaking Bad”; ‘Working for Monday’ about the personal assistant to an insane super-villain; ‘And I Feel Fine’ about a zombie apocalypse; and ‘Arcanum’ by John Rogers, which is “24, but with magic instead of science.”

- There’s also five more titles coming out, by James Tynion IV, Kurt Busiek, and more!

Waid noted that though they led with a superhero title, he wants to do more books that have nothing to do with superheroes going forward. Then it was open to questions from the audience!

The first question was how the digital tricks used on Thrillbent will translate to print. Waid excitedly answered, saying that he thought going into it that a twenty-two page Thrillbent pages would translate to an eleven page print comic. But as he got more excited about what was possible in digital, he stopped caring about how it would translate to print until later.

Expounding more on that, he added, “I hate motion comics, I hate sound effects, I hate voiceovers... If you can make it work and still tell your story, god bless you. But what makes a comic a comic is that you’re in control of the story.” With the digital tools, even moves like racking focus, or text popping up is still up to the pace of the reader. He also noted that even when working on Marvel’s Infinite Comics, Joe Quesada told Waid not to worry about print when approaching them... Though they’re now looking at how to repurpose those stories to print, too.

Next, Waid was asked about his (very funny) story “When Cthulhu Calls,” which went online with looks at all parts of the process of making the comic, as well as annotations. The artist is collaborating with Waid on another six page print story made digital. “It makes Call of Cthulhu look like the Flinstones,” quipped Waid.

Then a fan asked the perennial breaking into comics question. Waid said that his answer has changed this year for the first time in twenty years, to just making your own web comic. “I don’t know if there’s a professional angle to it yet,” said Waid. “There’s just some of us that seem more professional.” He added that web comic is a more welcoming community than print comics, because they’re not competing for dollars in the same way as print publishers.

Asked about what has changed the most in the past twenty years in comics, Waid gestured emphatically at the screen displaying Thrillbent, to laughs from the crowd. On the other hand, though, he added that the basics haven’t changed: “You have to have characters that you care about, you have to have challenges that interest you, and you have to care about what they want, and you have to have some sort of resolution that makes people feel glad they spent time in your story.”

A fan then asked Waid what else would appear in his digital comics, with Waid clarifying that the transition tricks he’s used are pretty much it... Though he still wants to play around and figure out new ways of using the transitions. The fan further asked whether Waid had thought of hyperlinking Editor’s notes to the appropriate comics, with Waid saying that not only had he considered that, but also character bios by clicking on characters, and more.

The conversation then turned to Waid’s roll in Thrillbent, with him saying with a laugh that he has become even more of an Editor in Chief than perhaps his time at BOOM! - though he’s enjoyed it, because it’s a chance to share the info he’s learned about digital comics with his friends. He also added that with Thrillbent, his goal is that even if you don’t like a book, you will know that their comics are professionally done.

Then a fan asked how you can measure success in the comic book industry. “If you’re not selling six, seven thousand copies an issue, you’re not breaking even,” said Waid, adding that this wasn’t true with DC and Marvel. He continued, saying that with exceptions like The Walking Dead, and Saga, “By and large, we’re struggling to meet those levels.”

The same fan then asked about reaching out to a younger audience, with Waid saying that putting comics in places other than just comic book shops is a big step. He noted that they still need to see the comics, but iPads, phones, and more, are powerful tools for grabbing a newer audience for the form. Additionally, he announced that he is developing a Thrillbent for Kids, joking that he doesn’t particularly like that name, but is excited to pursue the project.

On the other hand? “As long as they’re making print comics, I’ll be writing print comics,” said Waid. And that was it! We’ll see you at the next panel, and back here for plenty more from Baltimore Comic-Con.