Sunday, March 18, 2012

Infinite Comics--Marvel's Next Big Thing

At a recent South by Southwest (SXSW) event, Marvel revealed two major new digital initiatives as part of what they are dubbing the Marvel ReEvolution. Billed as the “future of comic publishing,” the ReEvolution aims to provide a deeper experience to comic readers, and to add value to both the print and digital versions of Marvel’s comics. Both of the announced digital initiatives will be kicking off alongside Marvel’s upcoming Avengers vs. X-Men event. In this article, I’m going to focus on the first digital initiative, called Infinite Comics, and then I’ll come back in a second one to talk about Marvel AR, the second initiative. 

Marvel’s Infinite Comics is a new line of digital comics that are built specifically with tablet viewing in mind. Currently, most digital comics are electronic versions of their print counterparts, resized or cut into panels for viewing on a tablet device. Based on the size of the device used for reading, seeing a whole page often involves scrolling or zooming out. With Infinite Comics, the creators will design stories for the digital platform from the beginning, which allows them to both ensure readers are seeing the whole picture as well as use time as a tool to enhance the way a reader experiences the story. It sounds more complicated than it is, and it’s also easier to conceptualize when you see it. Mark Waid recently wrote an article showing off some tech he’s been working on, and I think this is basically what you’ll see with Infinite Comics (Be warned though, it's for mature audiences only):

 

I think having Mark Waid intimately involved with Marvel’s new digital initiative makes a ton of sense, as he’s been one of the creators who’s really embraced the idea of digital comics and their possibilities for a while now. And from the quotes coming out of that panel at SXSW, it’s clear that Marvel considers this initiative to be their Next Big Thing. Here’s a couple snippets from Quesada and Waid:

Waid: "I think it [will help] casual readers understand more fully the power of the medium," Waid expresses. "What we’re doing isn’t bargain basement animation or print pages simply transcribed to the screen—it’s all the storytelling tools of comics still under the reader’s control. Page composition and design are still super important, as they’ve always been, but allowing artists to design for a more intimate space allows for the possibility of a surprise with every click."

Quesada: "Also, we’re no longer confined by the limitations of the page. While we still are confined in a way by the size of a tablet screen in the same way that we have to deal with the physical size of a page, the screen is capable of so much more. You can layer your story in ways that are impossible with a physical comic." 

As someone who has followed the rise of digital comics pretty closely, I’m excited by the fact that Marvel is really starting to embrace the idea and potential of digital. This particular initiative seems to be geared much more to bringing in new readers than converting print readers to digital. What Marvel seems to be minimizing here is that existing print comic readers like the whole-page format, and may look at this new format as a fundamental change in the way they like to read their comics. For me personally, I think this is just one of the ways to use digital, and there are other great examples out there as well. As I raved about before, Four Star Studios’ Double Feature comics offer the full-page experience, as well as creator commentary and the ability to toggle between pencils, inks and letters on the fly. I’ve still yet to see a good implementation of audio into a digital comic, and I think there’s tons of potential there as well. My point is, there’s room for a lot of innovation when it comes to digital comics, and it’s good to see Marvel joining the fray. Just don’t let them fool you into believing they are the leaders of the digital revolution, as the party started well before they got there.

Next time, I’ll take a look at Marvel’s other big announcement from SXSW, Marvel AR, which I think is aimed much more at existing print readers as well as comic retailers.

Note: The first offering from Infinite Comics will be AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #1 INFINITE, a tie-in story starring Nova, written by Mark Waid with art by Stuart Immonen and Marte Gracia, available for purchase on the Marvel Comics app free with the redemption code found in print copies of AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #1 or included with the purchase of the digital version. It will also be available to purchase on its own for 99 cents.