Marvel Comics’ “Amazing Spider-Man” series follows the adventures of a singular protagonist, but he lives in an awfully big world. In the thrice-monthly shipping title, Spidey interacts with a gigantic supporting cast that includes his friends, family, co-workers, important New York City figures, and adversaries; so his schedule is pretty packed and there’s not always time or space to introduce new characters or put the spotlight on older ones. So, this November, Spider-Man’s adventures will expand into a new medium; an online original series that will be featured on Marvel Comics Digital Unlimited. CBR News spoke with writer Bob Gale about the series, which was announced at Marvel’s Cup O’ Joe Panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
The seeds for Gale’s online Spider-Man story were planted last fall when his editor, Steve Wacker, asked him if he’d be interested in creating some original Spider-Man material for Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. The writer agreed, and the project became a reality when Wacker tasked Gale with developing an idea he pitched at a recent meeting with his fellow Webheads (the collective name for the “Amazing Spider-Man” creative teams) as a story that would premier online.
“The parameters were that it would be serialized, with a certain number of pages (4-8) presented either weekly or bi-weekly, and each chapter needed some sort of hook or cliffhanger to keep the reader wanting to come back,” Gale told CBR News. “After I worked out a reasonably coherent story, I started thinking about how it should be presented. Steve had said to basically think of it as comic that’ll be seen first on the web and later in print, but that didn’t sit right with me. I always get excited when I have some new tools to play with, and I’m a great believer in playing to the strengths of a particular medium, so I figured there had to be a better way to use the internet to tell a comics story than just scanning in normal comics pages.”
Gale found viewing normal comic pages on the internet to be somewhat frustrating. He felt that on most monitors, either you couldn’t fit an entire comic page on the screen, or if you could, it was too small. So the writer was looking for a way to present a comic page that didn’t involve scrolling down. “That led to me wonder, why not simply present the story one panel at a time? The panels can be different sizes on the screen, but as long as you never have to scroll, you’re playing to the medium’s strength,” Gale said. “And that adds another cool element which we can do in movies and TV, but has been thus far impossible in comics: surprise. With this approach, because you can’t see a whole page, you won’t know what’s coming next. You won’t be able to thumb through the whole book and ‘accidentally’ see the last page, and thereby ruin what the storytellers intended as a big surprise.”
Gale and his collaborators are also experimenting with several other elements in attempt to use the online medium to its fullest. “For example, we may not present every word balloon in a panel at the same time. You’ll click, and get the next balloon, so that should create a more enjoyable staccato banter than you’d get in print. We may try interactive footnotes. For example, if someone didn’t know JJJ was Mayor of NYC, you could click on a link somewhere and you’d open up a window with some details about that, along with the covers of the comics where that information is,” the writer stated. “Let me say that we’re not animating anything in this. It’s not a limited animation cartoon. It’s a comic, just designed a bit differently – just as DC’s ‘Wednesday Comics’ are comics designed differently for their different sized format.”
Gale’s Digital Spider-Man story will be serialized and run six to eight chapters. The first installment is slated to hit November 9th, and new chapters will follow every other Monday. “At the moment, I’m dealing with one serialized story. The first installment will be longer than the subsequent installments – like the old movie serials where Chapter 1 was always a little longer,” the writer explained. “Chapter 1 is the equivalent of 13 pages of a comic, and the subsequent chapters will probably be equivalent to between 6 and 9 pages. And that’s another thing that’s exciting about this for me – each week, we’ll use whatever the right number of panels we need to tell the story in the best way possible. No padding, no vamping, no filler. If one chapter needs to be a shade longer or shorter, so be it – the storytelling will dictate the optimum length.”
November is also when “The Gauntlet,” an overarching plotline of interconnected story arcs, begins in “Amazing Spider-Man.” Gale’s Digital Spider-Man story will reflect current continuity, but it won’t tie into “The Gauntlet.” ” When I flushed out the story, the intention was to bring it out in July or August, way before ‘Gauntlet.’ But there was some stuff on Marvel’s end that needed to be figured out – I don’t even know exactly what – so we got pushed back. Steve, being the mensch that he is, didn’t tell me to rewrite it to make it dovetail into or out of ‘Gauntlet,’ because who’s to say something else might not disrupt the cart down the road.” Gale remarked. “The idea was always to make this stand on its own, regardless of whether you’re reading the print book. It was always ‘tell a good, entertaining Spidey tale.’ And that’s the mission statement: good entertainment, presented in the best way possible for the medium. Which is basically the mission statement in any entertainment medium!”
The supporting cast of Gale’s online Spider-Man story includes a mix of established and brand new characters. “For this story arc, I’m introducing some new characters whose actions will affect Spidey and Pete. There will be a new villain as well, but he’ll be secondary to the overall thrust of the arc,” the writer said. “One of my all time favorite series was Kurt Busiek’s ‘Marvels’. I loved how he explored the effect that superheroes have on normal folks, so that’s a key aspect to this. Jonah and the Anti-Spider Squad play a big part in it, Norah Winters is involved too.”
Artist Pat Olliffe will bring Gale’s online Spidey adventure to life. ” He’s really taking this experiment seriously, and I’m thrilled with what I’m seeing,” Gale remarked. “And even though he’s still laying things out on ‘pages,’ he’s totally on board with the ‘one panel at a time’ approach.”
Gale is currently slated to just do one Spider-Man story for Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, but the artist would love to do more, because he’s having a blast writing comics specifically meant for the online medium. Gale expects his story will eventually be published in print form as well, but feels that readers waiting for that version of the story will experience it differently. “That version will be a compromise to our original intent, like watching a wide-screen movie in a pan-and-scan version to fit your TV screen is a compromise. You still get the story, but you don’t experience it the way the creators intended,” the writer said.”I think the entertainment experience should always be optimized for the premiere medium – the ‘early adapters’ if you will. For example, a movie always looks better in a good theater than it does on DVD. It’s better on DVD than on HBO, and better on HBO than when it ends up on NBC with commercials. The sooner you see it, the better the presentation. So the very best way to experience Spidey Digital will be to read it online!
“I recognize that with comics, often the presentation in a collected edition is better than in the original comic. (No commercials!),” Gale continued. “But I assure you, that will NOT be the case here. No commercials in the middle of this story!”