Marvel Comics editor in chief Joe Quesada, presented the Canadian premier two of their new motion comics. This is part of the company’s investment into what they are calling the next phase in graphic story telling. This format takes the form of still graphics enhanced digitally to include sounds effects, voice acting, and moving elements. This is an attempt translate the comic book experience into a portable video format that plays nice with popular media downloading services (currently iTunes).
First on the agenda was Spider-Woman written by Brian Michael Bendis, with art by Alex Maleev. Spider-Woman was dark and gritty visually and thematically. The type of story lent itself well to this medium as it was told from Jessica Drew’s perspective with little dialog from other characters. Enhanced elements were subtle and well matched to this format. It wasn’t surprising to hear afterwards that the piece had been designed primarily as a motion comic first with the limitations and advantages in mind.
The next motion comic displayed was an adaptation of the Eisner-Award winning Astonishing X-men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday. Produced by another studio using an entirely different technic the contrast went on from there. Astonishing was a printed comic first later made into a motion comic, this might explain why it felt so stiff and unnatural. The animated elements turned out more like a cheap South Park knock-off rather then a moving storyboard. Also for what ever reason they decided to animate as much of the images as possible including flapping jaws and shifting facial expressions. For me it looked silly and cheap. The overdone motion elements distracted me from the story in the end.
Marvel plans to start rolling out the six episode Spider-Woman motion comic sometime this October with a new episode hitting iTunes every two weeks. Fans can expect to pay .99 (USD) cents for a limited time for the first episode with the price going up to $1.99 (USD) for the remaining episodes. In all likelyhood only fans using iTunes will get the chance to grabs these as they release. Other media networks (not specifically mentioned by name) are being considered but it’s doubtful they’ll be available there for the launch of the product.
If we can count on Marvel learning it’s lesson from this experiment and producing more motion comics like Spider-Woman rather then X-men I think fans have cause for excitement. Not only is this format great for new fans not familiar with the printed works, I think it offers a fresh enough look at the genre for regular fans. With Spider-Woman they were able to maintain the feel of a comic without crossing the line and becoming a half-assed cartoon (like X-men). Motion comics is another big step towards the digitalization of medium while leaving little of the experience of a comic behind. This format is highly portable and above all does not require trips to the comic store or large amounts of space for storage.
Another perk to this type of delivery became obvious to me as I sat in a large room watching these videos with one hundred and fifty of my closest Con going friends. Now the experience of the comic can become a shared experience not unlike a television show or a movie. Friends and family can experience the same stories at the same time while sitting in proximity to each other. This is something subtle but not available with the printed counterpart. This is a big deal for a family man like me as I’ve never really mastered the art of reading a comic aloud to someone else in the room. This format creates the possibility of making what was previously a personal experience into a social one.
Marvel is doing good work in trying to roll out this format. They are staying true to the original material while delivering a product that is right for the changing times. While I don’t believe that there will be hundreds or even dozens of titles available by the end of the year I do think this idea will take off eventually. Although I’m a little worried about how slow this is bound to catch on since Marvel really doesn’t have any competition in this area yet. I’m sure the other publishers will be forced to take notice soon enough. I’m looking forward to seeing how far things have progressed for Fan Expo 2010.
Follow the conversation about the viability of motion comics on a Joss Whedon fan site (who were gracious enough to link to us) here.