I enjoy Mark Waid’s comics reasonably well, but I don’t enjoy his comics as much as I enjoy comics by some other people.
Whenever I see that Mark Waid is doing something online, though, particularly whenever I see that he is talking, or writing, about his process of making comics — and by “making” I mean conceiving, writing, editing, publishing, and marketing — I am totally there.
Very few established professionals are as capable and willing to take apart their own assumptions and share their own experiences as thoroughly as he is. I learned a lot from him about editing comics, and positioning them in the marketplace, for example, by listening to the podcast he did while he was the editor-in-chief at Boom! Studios. It was like a master class in impresario-dom, conducted in fifteen-minute, super-casual soundbites. What makes a good first issue. What makes a good cover. And so on.
Now that he’s launched his own webcomic site, he’s blogging about what he thinks he’s learning during the process. I don’t always agree with the conclusions he comes to, but that’s not what is important, either. We are all still learning about this stuff. What’s important is that digital media requires a producer to always be willing to throw away his assumptions — assumptions he’s held for decades, maybe, or assumptions he’s held for weeks or days — in order to take advantage of new opportunities and create new, carefully attenuated, assumptions.
Digital is never settled. It will not become a new form of Business As Usual, ever. The people who try to tell you that they’ve discovered the One True Business Model for Digital Comics (and I swear to God, some of these people actually capitalize the phrase Webcomic Business Model unironically), though well-intentioned, are fooling themselves. The models are always changing. Most of the very small handful of self-sustaining, fiscally-viable webcomic sites currently in existence were launched, for example, before there was an iPad or even an iPhone. Most were launched before Facebook, or Twitter, or YouTube. Many of them — probably not most, but a few very prominent comics — were launched before there was a Google.
I know this because I was there.
The environment in which these “hit comics” were able to take hold and thrive is very different from today’s environment. Tomorrow’s will be different still. You can’t create a hit digital property based on the assumptions that made sense five or ten years ago. You can’t even create a hit based on the assumptions that made sense last week.
So yeah. It takes constant changeability, a need to experiment, and the intelligence to analyze those experiments in a meaningful way, to really succeed in digital media. It takes sure-footedness on ground that is subject to a perpetual earthquake. I’m sure there are plenty of people in comics with all of these characteristics. Mark Waid is one of the few who of them is willing to share his analyses in public, as he’s in the middle of his experiment (Warren Ellis is another). Being able to walk in an earthquake and talk about it at the same time is the rarest of skills.
Am I especially interested in the comics he’s publishing? Not yet. Not especially. I like Insufferable reasonably well (that’s not meant to damn with faint praise — it’s meant to praise with faint praise). But I love getting to hear Mark Waid think aloud while he publishes these comics. That’s what Mark Waid is for, for me.