Nearly every creative medium is going through an unsettling period right now, as COVID-19 disrupts literary events, prompts the canceling of concerts, and shutters movie theaters. It’s arguable that the comics world may the most affected by the pandemic, however — the current distribution model for physical comics is facing an existential threat. And while there are some impressive digital-first spaces for comics producing memorable work, including The Nib and Quarantine Comix, digital-first comics might not yet have its Saga or The Walking Dead — i.e. a heavily buzzed-about comic that also grabs readers on an issue-by-issue basis.
That “yet” is a big one, though, as a new title debuting this week might well be the answer to that question. Friday, a new series written by Ed Brubaker with art by Marcos Martin and colors Muntsa Vincente, just debuted via the digital platform Panel Syndicate. For those familiar with Brubaker’s work — which includes the fantastic noir series Criminal and collaborating with Nicholas Winding Refn on the television series Too Old to Die Young — hearing that the first issue offers a tantalizing mystery will come as little surprise. Martin and Vincente’s work here is evocative; there’s an aerial view of the series’s setting which immediately creates a lived-in feeling for the book, and the character work here is precise and kinetic.
In an essay at the end of the issue, Brubaker describes the project as “post-YA” — in this case, protagonist Friday Fitzhugh and her onetime associate Lancelot Jones are onetime kid sleuths. Friday has attempted to move on with her life — she’s back from college for a visit when the issue opens — but soon finds herself drawn into a bizarre case with possible occult connections.
Brubaker says that his approach to working in this corner of the medium offered more space for atmosphere. “I think the main thing that I’m doing differently on Friday, is that because it’s on Panel Syndicate and not printed, I just let the chapters be as long as they need to be,” he said. “Sometimes knowing you can only go 20 or 24 pages, you end up condensing things or cutting things, and for this book I wanted each chapter to just be like a chapter in a novel. So they will vary in length a bit.”
For the writer, that allowed him to create a space that’s distinctive within his bibliography. “That lets the story breath a bit more, and gives more room for Marcos and Muntsa to create the world of the book, and really nail the mood,” he says. “By the end of chapter one, I feel like I have a sense of the town of Kings Hill already, and what its shops and neighborhoods will look like.”
As for Martin — also the founder of Panel Syndicate — the model allows for a potential shift in the way people can approach comics. “One of the things that attracted me the most about the Panel Syndicate model was that it established a new, more direct relationship between readers and creators in which they both share equal responsibility for the success of the work,” he notes. “As creators, we are responsible for creating quality products to the best of our abilities and the reader is responsible for deciding the value he / she thinks that product has, according to each one’s perception, possibilities and personal circumstances.”
That shift also applies to how comics are paid for. “And digital distribution allows the product to be cheaper (in our case to the point of being free if you prefer) and instantly accessible anywhere in the world,” Martin says. “Our hope was that would bring in much needed new readers which would in turn benefit traditional print comics.”
Some of Martin’s other work — including Private Eye and Barrier, both collaborations with Saga‘s Brian K. Vaughn, first appeared on Panel Syndicate before appearing in print editions via Image Comics.
“I think the honesty behind our proposal has helped establish a sort of grassroots support that has allowed us to still be around seven years after our launch,” Martin says. “And I must say we’ve never experienced any backlash from traditional stores and retailers who have never been wary of our project, quite the opposite in fact. After all, our model would allow both them and the publishers to make more sensible and informed decisions in regards to the product they wanted to print and put out physically.”
Will Friday be a game-changer in the comics world? One way or another, it’s a gripping read — and a place to see a host of talented creators working at the peak of their powers.
Artwork courtesy of Panel Syndicate