The Marvel Digital panel Saturday afternoon here at New York Comic Con put the focus on motion comics and exclusive digital content, with John Dokes, John Cerilli. Christos Gage, Jim McCann, Ivan Brandon, Jay Faerber, Frank Tieri, Ryan Penagos, and Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley on stage, joined later by Joe Quesada, Brian Michael Bendis, and Alex Maleev.
The panel began with a slideshow overview introducing Marvel.com’s various content, including videos, games, Marvelkids.com, and Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. Cerilli then took over to discuss MDCU’s design, features, and exclusive content including “Astonishing Tales,” “American Eagle,: “Monsters, Myths, and Marvels,” and “Secret Invasion: Home Invasion.”
Cerilli also talked about “War of Kings: Warriors,” announced yesterday. The tie-ins will star Gladiator, Crystal, Blastaar, and Lilandra.
He then announced “Dark Reign: Made Men” from Frank Tieri. The five-issue online series will feature Attuma, Gamma Corps, The Enforcer, Spymaster, and Jack O’Lantern.
Joe Quesada then joined the panel for another major announcement. He began by setting the stage by recounting a conversation several years ago with Buckley about the potential of digital comics. A video played showing that Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s “Astonishing X-Men” #1-10 will be adapted into Motion Comics.
“It’s not quite comics, it’s not quite animation,” Quesada said of the hybrid nature of the project. Cassaday will be “directing” the adaptation. Buckley also added that this “wasn’t handing things off to a production studio and letting them run away with it everyone’s very involved.”
Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev then joined the panel. “I asked Joe about then taking the leap and doing all-new in-continuity comics using the motion comics technology,” Bendis said. “Spider-Woman” will be Marvel’s first in-continuity motion comic and will be coming out earlier than each issue of the printed comic. The series will be available on iTunes and Marvel.com.
“It’s going to be a step into new media,” Maleev said, after Bendis revealed that Maleev will be directing the motion comic addition.
“With the new medium comes a new storytelling language–it’s more than taking the images and moving them around the screen,” Bendis said. “We’re really excited to see where it takes us.” He also assured fans that there was no intention for motion comics to entirely replace regular issues.
Buckley then opened the floor to questions.
The first question was about Spider-Woman’s first story arc. “We pick her up the next day” after the events of “Secret Invasion,” Bendis said, and “she gets a job offer from Agent Brand to be the first agent of SWORD on Earth, hunting down some of the aliens running around including the Skrulls that did her wrong.” Other aspects of her past will also come into focus.
Buckley fielded a question about retailer concerns about premiering material in the digital format. “We are aware of it, and we are cognizant of it, and we will make sure our retail partners get benefit out of this,” he said, noting that there are plans in place but for now he’s focused on getting the content together.
Bendis then talked a bit about struggling newspapers and the comparison to comics. “All of us here work in print media, we want that to continue on, and we will do whatever we have to do to make that happen,” he said. “This will hopefully tease people who wouldn’t normally come into the store, to come into the store.”
For encouragement, the next audience member said, “I’m a retailer and I think it’s f—ing cool.”
Quesada also mentioned early fears that trade paperbacks would cut into comic shop sales, but said instead Marvel has found that “they feed into each other,” expanding the audience base.
“You have to either embrace technology, or grow old and grow extinct,” Quesada said. “The evidence for me is the iPhone I have in my pocket.
Cerilli followed up saying, “If you join our digital comics community, you will see that among the people who are reading them, the feedback is very positive.”
The next fan asked about how to draw in new readers with the digital content. “One of the benefits of having digital comics available is that it can drive people to the site to read more comics,” Dokes said, adding that MDCU’s advertising reach through banner ads is much greater than it would have been even a few years ago.
“We have Spider-Man who is a billion-dollar brand,” Buckley added, “we are lucky to have that. Combined with the technology of having that, gives us a unique opportunity to get people excited.” He added that, with online comics and the ubiquity of home computers, Marvel can “get people where they’re at.”
Buckley did add, though, that Marvel was still experimenting with format and packaging. A print comic is generally 22 pages, but this is not necessarily a requirement for digital comics.
The next question was to Maleev, asking whether “in-between panel” art would not make it into the printed comic, and “how he decides how much jiggle to put into Jessica.” The artist confirmed that there will be art left out of the printed version, and that “the best moments will be cherry picked.” He did not address the jiggling question, after Quesada said that “these will be PG-13 digital comics.”
Bendis said he wrote his scripts more like an animation screenplay with notes for the comic.
“What we consider is making a great comic first,” Cerilli said. “We are confident in our technology, we are confident in our Smart Panels, we think it will enhance the experience.”
One fan asked about Marvel’s efforts at combating piracy and that he did not like that MDCU’s interface is done in Flash. Buckley explained that streaming was much simpler than dealing with issues like digital rights management (DRM), and allowed Marvel to see what worked and what didn’t. He said eventually Marvel would like to be able to push its comics to any device, but that it would take time to resolve a way that this would work for both fans and pros.
Buckley became slightly combative when a fan asked about whether Marvel might use pirates’ scans and sell them. “No, not funny. That would be stealing.” He explained that this would be a tacit endorsement and pirated scans are not the best version of the product.
On the topic of webcomic creators who give away content and make money by selling other products, Buckley explained that “they’re trying to build a brand,” while Marvel is a publishing company responsible for making money well-known and valuable characters. “I totally respect what they’re doing, but it’s a different business model.”
The panel closed with another look at the “Astonishing X-Men” motion trailer.