He calls himself “the sidekick” a lot, but comics and TV writer John Rogers has a lot to bring to the table in his collaboration with Mark Waid, who aims to redefine digital comics with Thrillbent, an experimental new initiative beginning on May 1. Aside from a loyal base of fans who know Rogers from comics projects like Blue Beetle and Dungeons & Dragons, or from his successful TNT drama Leverage, he self-identifies as the one who nagged Waid until the veteran comic writer finally agreed that it was time to launch the project.
“Basically I had been just harassing Mark to do this digital stuff–I had been just on him for three years,” explained Rogers of his role in the venture. He told ComicBook.com that he’d been friends with Waid for years after meeting him through mutual acquaintances at Boom! Studios, and knew that the writer was one of the few creators in comics who could get a project like this off the ground, as his reputation would open a lot of doors. After encouraging Waid to do creator-owned work, and to transition to digital if that’s what interested him, Rogers told us he felt that he just kind of got sucked up in the wake of Waid’s enthusiasm for Thrillbent.
“And when he finally decided to launch it, he said ‘I want you to come in with me and partner on this,’ and how do you pass that up?”
In talking about his friend, who is the writer behind beloved runs on Captain America, Fantastic Four and The Flash as well as the best-selling DC Elseworlds story Kingdom Come, Rogers often sounds as starstruck as any other fan, noting again and again that he considers Waid one of the few people in comics with the skillset, the talent and the reputation to make an ambitious and far-reaching project like this work.
“You have to remember he’s been doing this a long, long time and as a result he’s got a lot more experience with all the different storytelling elements of comics in a very instinctive way that I don’t have and a lot of newer writers don’t have,” Rogers explained, saying that the writer’s confidence plays a huge role in his success in transitioning to the new storytelling style required by the shorter-form storytelling that Thrillbent is aiming for. “He’s a lot more free to play around with it, where I feel much more bound in making sure I don’t screw up comics as I try to bring these other techniques in because I’m just more comfortable in these other media than I am in comics.”
One of the things that Rogers and Waid are struggling with, of course, is a feeling on the part of direct market retailers that anyone advocating a major digital initiative is somehow against them, which he says couldn’t be further from the truth. He argues that most traditional, printed creator-owned books are simply not profitable and that the digital doesn’t have the fixed costs required for physical publishing.
“It’s not a matter of if you like digital better or if you hate physical comics–capitalism pushes you in that direction,” Rogers said. “If you want to do original, kind of off-market stuff, and you can’t get through the one distributor in your market, that’s where you’ve got to go.” He also stressed that both he and Waid love comic book retailers, and that the ultimate goal for these stories is to take the work to print in collected editions that would be distributed through traditional venues.
“I want to see this marketplace as full of healthy competition–of innovative and interesting ideas as possible,” Rogers said. “And if that means that this thing that we do utterly crashes and flames out but two years later somebody comes up with the right way to do it and says, ‘Yeah, I figured it out by looking at how MarkWaid.com laid down and died,’ that’s a win! That’s because it moved everyone twenty yards up the field, and that’s the goal here.”
He laughed, and added, “On the other hand, it would be nice if we didn’t flame out and die; I’d prefer that.”
Check back for more from our interview with John Rogers tomorrow, and hear the conversation Monday on our Panel Discussions podcast.