The Phoenix Force isn’t the only thing crashing to earth at the kick start of Marvel Comics’ “Avengers Vs. X-Men” event. Heralding the cosmic fire bird’s return was the new version of teen hero Nova, introduced to readers in Marvel’s “Point One” one-shot early this year. Though for his second appearance, Nova took a futuristic turn in the form of Marvel’s first “Infinite Comic” — a digital first platform designed for tablet devices.
Readers who picked up “AvX” #1 also received a free download of “Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 Infinite,” though the digital savvy can also buy a copy via the Marvel Comics App for $0.99 cents. The story, by Mark Waid and Stuart Immonen, represents not just the arrival of Marvel’s big event for 2012 but also the arrival of a technology the publisher has been developing for the past few years.
To help unpack both how the story ties into the larger “AvX” tapestry and to see what new storytelling tools will be a part of the Infinite Comics rollout, CBR News went over “Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 Infinite” with Waid, Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada and Senior Editor Nick Lowe, who described how making a digitally formatted comic opened up new possibilities for collaboration, how physics and danger played equal roles in Nova’s journey, how digital can change the game for artists and what fans should look for next.
CBR News: Gents, to start let’s go back to the moment this Infinite Comics story was put on the schedule for “AvX.” As we learned before, you each had been thinking about experimenting with this kind of storytelling for a while. What were the things you HAD to have in this first Marvel digital story?
Joe Quesada: First and foremost, we had to have the audience. When I first started thinking about this technique, there was no such thing as an iPad, and people were just starting to embrace the digital reading revolution. So more than anything, that was the important thing. With respect to this particular inaugural story, what was all-important was that we two incredible storytellers working on the project — enter Mr. Waid and Mr. Immonen. The one thing that becomes very evident very quickly is that you have to have mad storytelling skills in order to be successful with the Infinite style of comic. The technique will weed out the weak very quickly. Here’s my prediction, if the Infinite Comics technique becomes the methodology of choice for digital comics, the world is going to change for artists. In today’s market, usually the guys with the coolest style and the greatest attention to detail become the most popular pencilers regardless of whether they can tell a story properly or not. In the future, I think it’s going to be the artist who can truly tell a story and innovate within the Infinite technique that will rise to the top. If they have a cool style, even better.
Mark Waid: We had to have a story, first and foremost. There had to be a conflict and a resolution, however compact, and it had to be a story that could best be told using the digital tools available to us. And speaking for myself, I had to have a creative partner who understood the challenges and opportunities involved in creating pages for digital as opposed to print.
All in all, it seems like this was a pretty collaborative effort. How different is the process of making comics for tablets than for magazine racks with regard to the creative team? How easily do you think a lot of the tools on display in Infinite Comics will spread to other creators?
Quesada: Like everything new, there is a learning curve, but I think once you’ve done one or two of these, creators will be catching on very quickly. Mark can speak to this better as he’s more of the comics historian (and considerably older than me), but there was a time when the comic book as we know it was first invented when publishers had to reconfigure work originally designed for the Sunday Funnies into the much smaller and narrower size of this new fangled comic book thing, not unlike how we’re taking traditional comic stories meant for print and reconfiguring them for the tablet. Well, back in the day, artists had to relearn how to draw to the proportions of the comic just as they will have to learn to draw to the tablet. Same thing, different day.
Waid: First off, let’s set the record straight. Joe’s actually older than I am, and if you don’t believe me, cut him open and count the rings. As to your question, it’s a great one that I could spend all day answering. The short response is that the process was hugely different. Comics is a collaborative medium where the writer and artist share equally in the story’s execution, but as we all start to learn (and invent!) the language of digital comics, it’s really going to be up to the artists to do more of the heavy lifting.
For example, with the Nova story, I talked it out extensively with Stuart before writing anything, then — instead of a full script with a panel-by-panel breakdown — I gave him a detailed scene-by-scene breakdown of the events — that’s all, no page-by-page outline — and encouraged him to pace them as he saw fit, making each scene as short or as long as he felt it needed to be, after which I went back and added dialogue. I’m not used to working that way — most writers aren’t — but I’m finding it’s the best way.
Taking a look at the shape of the story of Nova’s return to Earth, the opening brings our hero in from the vastness of space. It seems like one challenge here is to control the pace of a scene over what’s essentially one “widescreen” image. What kind of pace worked for this scene, and what ways did you work to guide the reader that’s different from a standard pamphlet page turn?
Waid: That three-panels-as-one-page opening works terrifically, I think, to give a sense of scale and expanse to the image before the reader regardless of the size of the screen. Also, it’s a deliberately slow-burn opening that erupts when Nova bursts into the shot.
Lowe: We tried to use as many tools as we could on this first story. Having three panels go left to right was the most simple, so we wanted to lead with that. Ease readers in. Later, we mess with that structure to, hopefully, good results, but the simplicity at the beginning was key to Stuart’s storytelling.
Our first big shot of Nova served as the kick-off teaser for this story because for all intents and purposes, it is our big hero splash page of the story. What does an artist like Stuart bring to a moment like this to make it work for this format? Are there any different rules for how and when you use one big splash like this?
Quesada: Let me state for the record that I hate Stuart, not because he’s a bad guy or owes me money, but because he does things on the drawing board that I wish I could do. The guy is just brilliant and his story instincts are beyond reproach. I pride myself as someone who studies story in all form and is constantly trying to get better at it, so guys like Stuart just piss me off because they’re so darn good.
Waid: No kidding. If there were twenty Stuarts in this industry, we’d all be out of jobs. I think the “big splash” is a tool you can use a little more liberally in this format because it really lets the art breathe.
Lowe: When we were planning on doing this story we bandied about a number of artists. At the early stages, Joe wanted to draw it himself, but was worried about the time commitment with his already insane schedule. At one point we talked about him laying it out and another artist drawing it. When I threw out Stuart’s name Joe said, “Well, he can do the whole thing. He doesn’t’ need me at all. Let’s do it. Also, give yourself a raise, Nick.” Pretty sure that was verbatim. Anyway, Stuart on this is a homerun and I knew it was going to work when he signed on.
A big character touchpoint throughout the story is Nova’s recalling the little things he’s try to save on Earth. It gives us some background on who this new Nova is, but for each of you, what are the qualities you associate with this character who Marvel U readers are just getting to meet?
Quesada: This is a tough question to answer on my end because we have big plans for Nova and you’re really not going to learn a lot about him just yet. There’s a lot of stuff on the horizon that will fill in who Nova is and what his back story is, but for now, AvX is going to show what he can do in the pitch of battle. We’re holding off on his origin and how he ended up in a Nova helmet.
Waid: What Joe said. I was asked to reveal a little but not a lot, but what I know and can’t tell is pretty cool. Keep your eyes open for Nova’s next appearance.
I think I’ve mentioned this a few times by now, but one of the deceptively simple storytelling tools that worked for me was the “auto-focus panel transition” like we get when we flashback to Nova’s encounter with the Phoenix. Was this the favorite new toy of the team? What kinds of moments does this move work best for?
Quesada: For my money, and Stuart might hate me for saying this because he’s busted his butt on every panel, but for me, the panel that made the whole piece just sing for me was the black screen after the crash. It was perfect and beautiful and symbolizes to me what you can do with an Infinite Comic in its most pure sense that is impossible with print. It’s also so simple that its elegance blows me away. You go from these incredibly violent, fast paced and tense scenes to this quite pause of darkness, it’s just wonderful.
Waid: Joe’s absolutely right that the black screen after the crash is a great moment and the kind of “black cat jumping out” surprise you can get in digital more often than in print. In print, the only time a reader can really be surprised is on the upper-left-hand corner of a left-hand page, because even if he’s trying not to read ahead, his peripheral vision can’t help but notice, say, the “surprise” zombie on the bottom of the next page. With digital, you can’t peek ahead. That’s a super-valuable tool. But, man, that rack-focus Stuart pulled off with the Phoenix and then later in shifting focus from Iron Man to Ms. Marvel — that’s astounding, too.
Lowe: I’ll jump in here. The rack-focus is definitely the most discussed part whenever I’d show this to someone. It’s one tool that print comics don’t use often because it doesn’t have the same effect with two images next to each other.
Mark, I’m not going to pretend to be smart enough to understand all the physics that were going on as Nova hit the atmosphere, but it didn’t really matter much in terms of my understanding the story. How well did your science nerd side team-up with your thematic writer side here?
Waid: [Laughs] Pretty well. Because with this first installment I was working “between the panels” of already-drawn pages for AvX #1 (Nova’s arrival and crash), there wasn’t a whole lot I could add visually — but as I said, I wanted to make this a story, not just a showy sequence of events, so I really had to think hard about Nova’s internal narrative and how to use that to showcase a genuine dilemma, a real inner conflict.
Having written my share of super-speedsters, I’ve always wanted to touch upon how their brains must be differently wired than ours. Imagine Quicksilver running across Texas. To his point of view, things have to be moving slowly enough where he can avoid them — but at the same time, not so slowly that the world seems frozen to him, because then from his perspective, it would take what seems like four days to make the trip and he’d be bored out of his mind. His brain has to be able to speed up and slow down constantly.
Now, extend that thought to a character like Nova who’s flying light-years in mere days. What happens to his mind in that absolute, sensory-deprived vacuum when time no longer seems to have any meaning? And how hard is it to put that mind back together in time to save lives?
As Nova lands in New York, we get a lot of visual changes to how images roll out on the page. These include panels that drop in the middle of the screen rather than left to right and one massive swing of a cityscape splash. How did the story open up for you here? Did some of these ideas come later in the editorial process?
Waid: All Stuart, all the time (with Joe chiming in).
Lowe: Yup, the methodology was all Stuart. We had some suggestions at times, but it was all that Canadian bird-loving chump.
We get a big moment when Nova swerves to miss the helicopter. There are lots of varied transition here including zoom in storytelling on the “red light” page and Stuart doing some variations on repeated images. What’s your favorite moment from this sequence and why?
Waid: It’s the subtlest of things that takes a few passes to pick up on: that moment where the helicopter seems to freeze in place before Nova’s very eyes. Stuart and I specifically chose a helicopter as his obstacle because a helicopter is one of the few things that, even on a comics page, looks different when it’s standing still than it does when it’s in motion.
We wrap with a brutal crash and a fade in on the Avengers. What did you need in this scene to make for an effective end to the story, and how seamless do you feel it flows into “AvX” #1?
Waid: Hopefully, it flows perfectly in — that was the goal. And to make that work, I needed the guidance of editor Nick Lowe, who made sure that we dovetailed smoothly into “AvX” #1 with identical moments and identical dialogue, just seen from Nova’s perspective.
Overall, what did you learn and enjoy the most in making this first Infinite Comic, and what of that experience do you think will show up on the second issue?
Quesada: On my end, I learned that, while I knew inherently that the Infinite Comics technique could offer the creators even more control in how they tell their story, I didn’t realize the magnitude of that ability until I saw Mark and Stuart really dig into it. It’s very much like directing a film where the writer and artist really start to feel like they’re combining to direct an epic.
Waid: I really enjoyed letting Stuart run unbridled with the pacing and following his lead. Infinite Comics is still comics. It’s still about turning pages and reading the story at your own pace. But it’s also about taking some storytelling risks and leading the eye around the page in some new and unique ways. And having seen how our next artist is interpreting our second installment in even more mind-blowing ways, let me just say that if you liked what we did here, you’ll love what’s coming.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on “AvX” and Marvel Infinite Comics.