Hello again, friends! It’s Kate, and the universe has conspired to give me the best comics story of all time during this week’s news roundup.
No, I’m not talking about the article in The Guardian that revealed how badly Marvel is compensating the creators that are making their billion-dollar Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the fact that Marvel is (badly) editing artists’ signatures out of their artwork to make merchandise. I’m also not talking about the fact that Wizard World is selling their comic cons to Fan Expo, or that Todd MacFarlane’s King Spawn has sold 500,000 copies, making it the biggest Image Comics release in 25 years, which. What?
It’s not even the Substack “revolution,” although I do want to take a few sentences to talk about this. To me, the conversation about Substack has highlighted how every time a person decides to consume media, in any way, by any creator, they make a decision based on personal ethics. And as we, as a society, continue to have more transparent and informed conversations that acknowledge the ethical aspect of our consumption, we are also asking for the creators we want to support to acknowledge that choosing where to publish is also an ethical decision, and, for better or for worse, what the creator says about their reasons for publishing somewhere factors into our ethical decisions about whether to support those creators on platforms that have garnered legitimate criticism for their business practices. And especially when they double down on some of those questionable practices. And it is absolutely shitty that we, as consumers, have to ask ourselves questions like, “does supporting this creator improve the working conditions of other creators now or in the future?” But that’s where we are.
Several creators — Molly Ostertag, Saladin Ahmed, and Chip Zdarsky, as of this writing — have read the room and been honest about their awareness of the criticism against Substack as a platform and why they are choosing to publish there. Ahmed wrote a very interesting statement about what publishing on a platform like Substack means for him when it is supporting his family and also publishing white supremacists at the same time, and I appreciate the nuance with which he writes about the situation in public to the people who are paying him to essentially promote the platform. While not addressing the concerns about Substack, Ostertag has stated they will be donating their Substack grant money to a number of charities, and Zdarsky has said he will be donating his to the Rainbow Railroad. Many of the others, including Nick Spencer, who, according to this NYT article, is the reason why so many comics creators are doing this Substack thing, have not.
I think what I find so emotionally exhausting about the Substack conversation is that Substack is not the solution to the broken Diamond direct market any more than Diamond hiring a VP of Sales & Marketing from Penguin Random House is going to fix the broken Diamond direct market. But Substack is also not the solution to the aforementioned shitty working conditions in comics at the big two, with no health insurance subsidies, abysmal page rates, and a culture of sudden series cancellation based on whether or not mercury is in retrograde or something else just as random. Oh, and companies who actively erase the signatures of artists on reproduced art in order to reduce royalties to that artist. So what Substack ends up being is just another publishing platform for the consumer to have to make these decisions on a creator-by-creator basis instead of being what the consumer really wants: fair and equitable labor conditions for everyone in comics.
And now, I am going to take the rest of this article to focus on the biggest story in comics this week.
That’s right. I’m talking about Tim Drake becoming the first canonically queer Robin.
Sometimes the universe conspires to give you everything you’ve ever wanted. And it’s my week to write about the news.
In Batman Urban Legends #6, physical copies of which are now sold out everywhere, Tim Drake has an important conversation with his friend Bernard, who has been absent from Robin continuity probably for as long as I haven’t been reading Robin continuity.
I get particularly sentimental about Tim Drake because he was one of the reasons I started reading comics. My gay friend sat me down 15 years ago and gave me Teen Titans (by Geoff Johns and Mike McKone) and that was it. It was all over. So really, it’s all because of Tim (and Kon) that I’m here, today, writing this. A lot of lives have been changed, most of all my own, because my younger bisexual self adored Tim Drake. And now Tim is canonically queer and possibly bisexual and my younger bisexual self would never have believed it. And my older bisexual self will not be shutting up about it anytime soon and RTing my favorite Robin fanart tweets.
— Lorelei Esther (@LoreleiEsther) August 12, 2021
Take care, everyone. And if you are reveling in the Robin feels, check out my interview with Lauren O’Connor about her book on Robins which was also published this week.