The Ninjabot

Interview: Mark Waid talks Thrillbent and “Insufferable”

Posted on November 21, 2014 at 9:30 am by Tyler Waterman

The rise of digital comics has brought an unprecedented level of innovation to the medium, and no one knows that better than Mark Waid. Of course, Waid is more than familiar with innovation. He’s turned the superhero and supervillain tropes on their ears with books like Irredeemable and Empire, redefined one of Marvel’s most iconic heroes with his run on Daredevil, and created a legend in Kingdom Come. But where Waid’s commitment to innovation truly shines is with Thrillbent, a digital comic service co-founded by Waid and television producer John Rogers, showcasing some of the best digital offerings from some of the biggest names in comics. Even better, every book in the Thrillbent library is available for a monthly fee of only $3.99; that’s dozens of books for the price of a single issue from the other publishers.

One of the books included in that fee is Insufferable, the latest collaboration between Waid and artist extraordinaire Peter Krause (Irredeemable, Daredevil: Road Warrior). The premise of Insufferable is simple enough; what happens when a kid sidekick decides he’s outgrown his partner (who happens to be his father) and strikes out on his own, and not politely? The ensuing story is anything but simple, however, as a collaboration of villains forces the two to work together, whether they like it or not. (Spoiler: they don’t.)

Waid was kind enough to take some time to talk with Geek Legacy about Insufferable, the future of Thrillbent (including their new partnership with IDW), and the future of digital comics as a medium.

Geek Legacy: The big news coming out of Thrillbent is your partnership with IDW, bringing your digital-only books into print form. How did that come about, and how exciting is that for you folks at Thrillbent?

Mark Waid: It’s really exciting! Print has always been on the radar for us, but as I’ve always said, until you have a solid backlog of material, it can be a scary proposition to go out there and launch new material. We were looking for a print partner and were approached by several companies, all of which I like a lot, but what made the difference with IDW is not only their commitment to quality, but their genuine enthusiasm. We aren’t just another licensing deal for them, they really want to partner up and make something together, as opposed to just signing on for a distribution deal or something. They really want to help us get in there and do what we do, and do it better.

GL: You’ve really been one of the biggest pioneers of digital comics, really seizing it from the get-go. Do you think that digital comics will ever be the main form of distribution? I don’t think print will ever go away, but do you think we’ll see a time with more digital books than print?

MW: I think there probably will be. I’m with you, I don’t think that print will ever go away altogether, just because if nothing else the people who want a souvenir to sign at conventions, you know, that alone will probably keep print comics in business. And there’s also no real substitute for it, I mean, I still enjoy print very much. I like the portability and the heft of it in my hand. But we deal with this problem all the time, where we have so few comic stores in America that some people have to drive a hundred miles just to get to one, and that’s not the same as pulling up an iPad or and Android device and pulling up a website with digital comics. That’s what will help solidify digital as the main way we see comics in the years to come.

GL: As digital comics evolve we see lots of innovations in digital comics, with “action panels” and “action sounds” or even musical accompaniment. What do you think is next for digital comics?

MW: That’s a great question. I think we’ve kind of cracked the level we needed to crack, I don’t know that there’s much to improve as far as the technology of it. Part of it is going to be awareness, driving the awareness that we exist and that we’re viable. Even when I go to conventions there’s this sort of lingering idea that if it’s not a print comic it isn’t “real” somehow, like it’s kind of ephemeral. The overlap between the print audience and the digital audience isn’t quite what I’d hoped it would be, so we’ve got to find that way of letting print readers know that we’re out here too. They sort of know, but I think that’s the next step for digital comics, less technological and more creating a presence.

GL: My favorite part of digital comics are definitely those “action panels,” like the piranhas popping in in the first chapter of Insufferable or Man-Bull filling out in Daredevil: Road Warrior. It’s so cool and so immersive, but is it difficult to take panels like that and convert them to a print form?

MW: It’s a bear! It really is translating one medium to the other, and it’s tricky because you want to tell the same story but you can’t do it in the same way. I’ve always been cautious about trying to serve both masters at once, I didn’t want to go into digital afraid to try something new because I didn’t know how it would replicate into print. I still think it was a good decision, but now I am reaping the whirlwind. Now I’m paying the price for that decision as we sometimes sit down with a glue stick and scissors cutting and pasting panels, trying to arrange them in a print format. As we go further and we work with people like Barry Kitson on Empire or Peter Krause, people who have a foot in both print and digital pretty deeply, they’re pretty good at thinking ahead and trying to solve those problems in advance. That’s part of why it’s taking so long to get in print, but IDW is there to help with that as well.

GL: One of the strengths of Thrillbent, one of the things that brought it to the forefront right away, was the support of a small army’s worth of household name creators. Was there any difficulty bringing in these big names to something that was new and unheard of at the time?

MW: People were really right on board. They understood that it was an experiment and that it was a new place to play. What was really appealing about it to those people was really the same thing that was appealing to me, which was “let’s invent some new stuff.” Let’s try and experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. Everybody was on board pretty quickly, and now we’re at the point where I’m being approached by people rather than having to approach them, which is great. I’m being approached by more people who are incredibly well known in comics, who see what we’re doing and want to play along, so we’ll be rolling out more things in the next six to eight months along those lines.

GL: Talking specifically about Insufferable, I have to say I dig this book. I’m a huge Batman guy, and we have that parallel there. When you started this story, did you go into having that “Batman and Robin” framework, was this your opportunity to reinvent that idea? Or did it naturally evolve out of the general story you were trying to tell?

MW: With Batman and Robin as a starting point, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that wasn’t at least a touchstone going in, although the idea of kid sidekicks in comics is sort of a staple that transcends just Batman and Robin. I really did come at this with the idea of what happens when your kid sidekick becomes an adult and ends up being kind of a jerk, ungrateful for all you’ve done and egomaniacal, that’s what appealed to me. And frankly, it really wasn’t until we got to the end of chapter one, and I was writing the end of chapter one, when I really realized that it would be better if they were father and son and not just partners, and that ended up giving the whole series an emotional layer that it really didn’t have before.

GL: Now you’re famous for creating great characters, and lots of writers are, but you’re really famous for creating whole worlds. Everything you makes seems to have an entire world around it, with twenty or thirty surrounding characters. It’s really impressive, the scope of everything you do. Is that something you set out to do, or do you start with a small cast and it starts to build out?

MW: That’s really more like it. I’m not much of a world-builder as far as doing it from scratch. Really to me it always starts with the emotional core of the story and the basic idea, and then building out from there as you realize you need a world for these people to operate in, and then you’ve got to populate it. And that’s fun, but I really discover a lot of this stuff along with you, and as you’re reading along with it I’m kind of making it up as I go, so we discover it together.

GL: This is another collaboration for you with Peter Krause; what is it about him that keeps you coming back for more?

MW: He’s a magnificent story teller, he’s a total pro, and what he does that’s so beautiful is that not only does he do action and thinks about choreography and making sure every page is interesting to look at, but really his real gift is the subtle human stuff. The more quiet moments, the facial expressions, he’s so good with that, I know I can always count on him to sell the emotional beats.

GL: You’re writing a book where you know every portion is going to come out weekly, which seems to be a trend right now, and a lot of those books that I read seem to really benefit from that. I feel like stories flesh out more when you know you can visit the reader weekly instead of once every thirty days. Is it more of a challenge, or does it give you more room to work with?

MW: It’s more of a challenge first off because you don’t have any runway, you know it has to be out at four times the usual pace. But beyond that, it changes delivery, because you can tell it in shorter bursts. As long as you hit one solid emotional beat once every episode, than you’ve got something. It’s a very good question, and I don’t know how to explain it more than that. It really lets me focus on the emotional beats and not lose them, because that’s the soapbox that’s going to bring people back week to week.

Interested in Thrillbent? With an outstanding lineup of talent and titles, and all available for only $3.99 a month, you should be! You can check out everything Thrillbent has to offer at their website, Thrillbent.com, including the new season of Insufferable which kicked off this week!

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