Zdarsky/McKelvie

Two new newsletters to note, one live, one not:

Writer/artist Chip Zdarsky launched a weekly newsletter a few weeks back, and it’s really very good. Chip is extremely smart, but he’s also nuts, so, you know, take a look. Scroll down to the bottom for the subscription link, apparently, because i dunno life isn’t hard enough or something.

zdarsky.substack.com

Writer/artist Jamie McKelvie just finished WICKED AND THE DIVINE, and is planning new things. He’s created a newsletter to talk about all that, but he hasn’t sent one yet, because he has a hangover because he’s waiting for the right moment to announce his new plans. Sign up now. You will get good art soon.

mckelvie.substack.com

Newsletter Development: 5

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Newsletter Development

So, I finally – after completing the Three Month Work Sprint From Hell And Back Again – have a little more time to think about my newsletter, and newsletters in general. As I said at the top of the chain:

“I need to think about what kind of thing it is, and how I should develop it going forward. It needs different voices in it — I’ve tested that in the past with good effects — and it needs to be a bit less work for me.”

None of this has gone well. I managed to convince Lordess Foudre, bless her, to let me run four pieces of new art across four editions of the newsletter, to publicise her online print shop operation. Matthew Naftzger kindly did me a WORKSPACES piece. All other attempts to convince people to let me catch a break have not worked out.

What even is the newsletter, in my conception of it?

Let me tell you a thing that defined the way I operate in public, long before we had the idea of agalmic internet attention economies.

When Alan Moore was writing the lead comic for a Marvel UK magazine called THE DAREDEVILS, he also convinced the publisher to release space for a page where he could review fanzines and stripzines – what are now called mini-comics. He did this on the following understanding — if, for whatever reason, he’d been given a position where people were going to listen to what he said, then he should use that to direct attention to people who didn’t have any. You don’t pull the ladder up. You reach over and help the next people.

And early teenage me, reading Alan Moore comics and devouring Jack Kerouac novels, learned from that page Alan wrote every month that there was a comics creator in the town down the road from me, Southend, doing comics like Jack Kerouac. And that’s how I discovered the work of Eddie Campbell.

So if I can introduce you to one new thing you might like, every week, from somebody who may not otherwise have the ability to get your attention, then I’ve done one good thing that week.

It would be nice for that to be easier. But, you know, maybe it’s not supposed to be.

Newsletter Development: 4

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Newsletter Development

The moving parts of the newsletter. Or, at least, my newsletter.

I got into the habit, some years ago, of breaking it into sections. At one point, it was a ten-section operation, and I had the ten pieces listed on a piece of paper taped to my office wall. Right now, due to pressure of time, it’s around seven sections, sitting as a template in Campaign Monitor.

It’s a fluid thing right now, decided by time as much as mood. On occasion I throw the template out and just write one or two long rants and call it done. But, at the moment, it breaks down into:

  • Intro. “Hello from out here on the Thames Delta.”
  • News. If I have any. Which, these days, I tend not to have too much of, because most of my work is in television, on long production schedules, where announcements and updates are controlled by the studio or network.
  • “Feature.” Space for a complete thought, or a long piece of rambling writing, or a book review, or, if I’m very lucky, somebody else would like the space to say something. Tends to get thrown overboard these days.
  • The template currently has a space for WORKSPACES, where I convince creative comrades to show me a photo or two of their current workspace and a hundred words or so about it. Have not been too successful at this of late.
  • THE NEWS. A very new section, which, for four weeks, will feature a new piece of art by digital artist Lordess Foudre. It’s a space I’d like to continue after Lordess finishes up. It’s nice to be able to put new artists in front of 22,000 people.
  • SPEKTRMODULE: the title of my ambient podcast that I never get time to do any more, a point in the newsletter where I link to new music I like.
  • Repeating section where I introduce myself, run a short bio, personal links, built into template.
  • Outro, where I thank you for reading and try to make you feel better about having wasted all that time on the above.

As you can see, unless I can convince someone to do WORKSPACES or THE NEWS, it’s all me. (I’ve almost given up on persuading anyone to make use of the Feature space.)

In times past, I could use Feature to do a recurring THREE QUESTIONS section where I ask a creative comrade, imaginatively, three questions. I never seem to have the personal bandwidth to get that done, these days, and everybody is very busy anyway.

Now, here’s a question: do people sign up for the newsletter for me, or for the things I bring them? Because I think it’s the latter, and I think it ties into thinking over the previous 10/15 years about Attention Economy and Agalmic Economy.

Newsletter Development: 3

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Newsletter Development

A newsletter (just the term we’ve got) can be many different things. There’s no One Way to do them. If there were, every newsletter would be a Goop-style jumpstation of artfully decorated links, because it’s so hugely successful. That is not for me. I dislike Goop for many reasons, not the least of which is that the newsletter has no actual content, only links out to their website. I still like a newsletter to be, in some form, a letter, which means there has to be significant fields of actual writing in it.

That said: I have ideal situations I want to work towards, and the thinking-this-through of it is why I started this blogchain in the first place, to get my thinking out in front of me where I can see it.

I daydream of the newsletter as small magazine. I’ve long been fascinated by the phenomenon of writers who run journals. Also, I like the idea of not having to write every damn thing in the newsletter every week. And when I look at this, the first thing I think of is Kieron Gillen running a contents list at the top of each of his newsletters:

It would give me pleasure to… have a logo, hahah. It would give me pleasure to be organised enough to start off with a short list of contents for a short magazine-like newsletter. Even though the newsletter, because it scrolls, presents as a single page – which also puts me in mind of a broadside sheet.

As previously noted – 22,000 readers. Also £200 a month in costs, likely to go up next year. I don’t have a war chest in place for such a thing, and newsletters are tough to tastefully monetise. I use Amazon Affiliate links, which knocks out maybe a quarter of the associated costs, and I’m even conflicted about them. But I daydream. And it leads me to think about the various moving parts of the newsletter.

Newsletter Development: 2

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Newsletter Development

This bit is more about background and setup than development.

“Newsletters” is just the term. They’re often anything but, and to sustain themselves over months and years, need to be anything but.

I use the term “Republic of Newsletters” to evoke the Republic of Letters. From Wikipedia, because why not, I’m busy:

The Republic of Letters emerged in the 17th century as a self-proclaimed community of scholars and literary figures that stretched across national boundaries but respected differences in language and culture. These communities that transcended national boundaries formed the basis of a metaphysical Republic.

The first known occurrence of the term in its Latin form (Respublica literaria) is in a letter by Francesco Barbaro to Poggio Bracciolini dated July 6, 1417; it was used increasingly in the 16th and 17th, so that by the end of that century it featured in the titles of several important journals. Currently, the consensus is that Pierre Bayle first translated the term in his journal Nouvelles de la République des Lettres in 1684. But there are some historians who disagree and some have gone so far as to say that its origin dates back to Plato’s Republic. Part of the difficulty in determining its origin is that, unlike an academy or literary society, it existed only in the minds of its members.

It existed only in the minds of its members. That’s me, right there. That’s us.

They are, most often, just letters.

(I could also invoke Alastair Cook’s London Letter and Letter From America here. Which were short radio broadcasts, not letters, but still in the zone.)

I said the other day that “thinking of them as “newsletters” is usually bad and wrong. It’s just the term we’ve got. It’s not the model.” The model is the letter. Never forget that you’re writing to someone. It’s a letter from home, a letter from the road or from HQ or from out here on the Thames Delta. But it’s still a letter. (Never use the personalisation system some pro newsletter operations offer — so many people do not plug their actual names into the system that your friendly “Hi, ($name)! becomes “Hi (quite a lot of space here, or even just NAME) !” which just creates weird distance between you and your reader and makes you look like a robot scam artist.

Oh. Speaking of not a robot. When I was setting up Orbital Operations, many years ago, the system told me it would send a note to subscribers to let them know their subscription had worked, and what would I like it to say? Very late at night when I’m doing this. Very tired. So I just typed something like “yes that worked but unfortunately i know where you live now sorry.”

Funny joke about surveillance culture and internets yes, not a robot at all, absolutely dated dad-humour human here, press save. What the fuck ever, it was the middle of the night and I got it done. And never ever thought about it again, because of course I don’t get those emails. Until a couple of months ago, when a female friend emailed to tell me that a female friend of hers signed up and got that email and was instantly nooooooope fuck that, that is creepy and wrong. Which, obviously, it can absolutely present as. So I listened and went straight into the system and spent twenty minutes trying to find the fucking setting and then fixed it. I’m an idiot.

You’re writing a letter. Be human. Be welcoming. Do not set this shit up when you’re tired and just trying to get it done. Double-check every line and intent when you’re setting up. And don’t make stupid fucking jokes about knowing where people live and then forget all about it thirty minutes later and leave it there for several years ffs

sorry everybody

Newsletter Development: 1

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Newsletter Development

Which needs a better title, but this is a blogchain (thanks again for that term/process, Venkatesh) about developing out Orbital Operations and adding new things to it.

I have just starting batching newsletter production, setting four editions in motion at once. This is a worrying turn towards “professionalism,” for something that is often slapped together at the last minute because, hey, it’s 10pm on a Saturday night and oh shit I haven’t started Sunday’s newsletter yet OH SHIT OH SHIT

Which happens, well, since this is me we’re talking about here, about as often as you’d expect.

Anyway. I’ve started the next four. For reasons.

I have always done newsletters, since I discovered the technology in the 1990s. They’ve gone through various names and iterations over the years. For the last several years, it has been Orbital Operations, always going out on a Sunday. I’ve had to schedule in skip weeks and the very occasional skip month, before, but it always comes out when I’ve said it’s coming out. As of right now, it has 21,783 subscribers. The tracker logs its open rate at around 60%, but testing indicates that the open rate is far higher and that readers defeat the tracker in various ways.

It costs me two hundred quid a month to run, plus the hosting for the most basic landing page in human history.

I happened to follow a link to something today and ran into myself. “This newsletter is the creation of graphic novelist and writer Warren Ellis and it’s likely the most unique newsletter on this list. It’s a direct feed into the brain of a really smart, really interesting guy.”

So that’s ne. It’s not a vast GOOP-scale audience, but it’s also not a newsletter that just links out to blog posts. I think it’s probably a confusing read for many, who come to me as comics readers or book readers or Netflix watchers or saw me speak somewhere or read an essay or saw my robots clicking on Twitter or whatever. I’m interested in a lot of different things, I do a lot of different things, and the foci of the newsletter are kind of tidal. And 21K people have hung on throughout all my meandering bullshit, so I think I can accept now that Orbital Operations is its own thing with its own life.

I need to get my thinking out in front of me now so I can see it. I need to think about what kind of thing it is, and how I should develop it going forward. It needs different voices in it — I’ve tested that in the past with good effects — and it needs to be a bit less work for me, and it would be nice if it at least paid for itself but let’s not go nuts Warren.

This, then, is me thinking about newsletters, and Orbital Operations, and considering its next steps. Maybe it’ll be useful to someone else, and that would be nice, but it mostly needs to be useful to me. We will see, reader, we will see.

A thought about newsletters in general: thinking of them as “newsletters” is usually bad and wrong. It’s just the term we’ve got. It’s not the model.

REPUBLIC: Yumna Al-Arashi

One of Yumna Al-Arashi’s newsletters popped up today. They’re irregular, but well worth the subscription click.

I’m stealing a quote from the new one:

For many years, I’ve been creating self-portraiture as a means, not only, for expressing myself, but also, to take ownership of my body when it so often feels as though it is not my own. There’s a need to claim women’s bodies and the act of using it as a tool for expression feels like an act of defiance.


Photography became my freedom. I could define myself, through all of my selves.  My decision to photograph myself was my most political act. I am presenting how I’d like to be seen to the world, on my own terms. I am protesting media’s representation of those like me. I am protesting identity in itself. 


The funny thing I’ve learned about identity is that it does not exist in one dimension. It is evolving, confused, colorful, nonsensical, and weird. It surely isn’t just a token. I could never fully explain Identity to you because it simply has no real weight. The more I feed into the notion of it, the less it makes sense. And so, I wonder why we always keep the question of identity at the forefront of our minds in the first place.


How can we fairly represent one another without exploiting each others mere humanity? I so often carry these questions with me through every project of mine, openly admitting that I do not have the answers. Reminding us all: what is most important is that we are asking them. 

THE REPUBLIC OF NEWSLETTERS: Lemire, Mod

Graphic novelist Jeff Lemire returns to the Republic with a weekly newsletter, Tales From The Farm.

Craig Mod’s excellent RIDGELINE hits 12 issues, all nicely archived for you.

(My intent here is to actually try and remember to note down the newsletters I like, building a map of my personal region of the Republic. I also like that “The Republic of Newsletters” seems to have stuck with some people, the way Nabil Maynard’s “Isle of Blogging” stuck with me)