Earlier this year, Marvel Comics launched their new “Infinite Comics” format — a digital first platform that alters the storytelling tools of sequential art to take advantage of the screens of tablets like the iPad. Meanwhile, indie cartoonist Matt Kindt has spent years crafting cutting edge comics that play with the comics form on the printed page.
Today, both those ideas collide in a new Spider-Man story, and the results are free to sample all weekend long.
This morning at the 2012 New York Comic Con, Marvel announced “Ultimate Spider-Man: Final Exam” — a new “Infinite Comic” set in the world of Disney XD’s “Ultimate Spider-Man” cartoon and guest-starring New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The comic is written by Kindt and drawn by artist Ramon Bachs, and it is immediately available for download on the Marvel Comics App, and will be free during the entire convention. (Starting Monday, October 15, the book will be priced at $1.99)
CBR News spoke to Kindt about the challenge of making an Infinite Comic as his first Marvel work, his love for Spider-Man, his respect for young readers and how teaming with Bachs brought out the funny in him.
CBR News: Matt, word has it you’re writing a Spider-Man comic. It’s one of Marvel’s tricked out “Infinite” digital comics. It ties into the “Ultimate Spider-Man” cartoon series.
Matt Kindt: I’m friends with Cullen Bunn, and I guess through him I met some of the editors at Marvel. So I’ve been talking with Stephen Wacker, and I said, “If something comes up, I’m up for doing some writing.” I’m doing “Mind MGMT” for Dark Horse right now, so I don’t have time to draw anything else, but the writing doesn’t take as much time. Not to slight writers, but it’s just the less time-consuming part of the process. So then this Infinite Comic came up, and I think Steve asked me because of some of the weird stuff I’ve done with my comics. I’m always trying to do different things with comics, and I thought this sounded like a lot of fun. It just happened to be an “Ultimate Spider-Man” thing.
Tell me about your experience with digital comics. Like you say, you’ve played with the form of comics in a lot of interesting ways, though I also get the sense that you’re somewhat old school in your process of making pages.
Yeah. You know, I enjoy the process of drawing — just ink on paper. I enjoy that physical aspect of it. I’ve no real interest in generating art through the computer. I’ll run some stuff through Photoshop and tweak things or change colors, but for the most part, I like to start with ink on paper like when I was ten years old. I still love that process. But honestly, I also feel like it’s fun to play with different mediums, and it’s fun to let the medium dictate how the story is going to be told.
I’ve done some things in the past like my “Super Spy” graphic novel which was serialized online, and I actually formatted that to be read on the Playstation Portable as a thing you click through one panel at a time on screen. In a way, that was like a precursor to the Infinite Comics where you’re just doing these page swipes. To a lesser degree, I’d already played with things like panning the camera and playing with zooming in on things that you could do instead of a physical page turn. And then I did this really crazy online only comic that was like a pirate/spy story that you could read forward or backwards and scroll all around the screen. It was basically a big map of a comic that you could move around on.
So I’d done a few things like that, and doing this was a lot of fun. It seemed more official because it was Marvel and Spider-Man. It was fun to dig into and see what you can do.
I’ve been told by Mark Waid and some others who have worked on this format that the process is a lot less “I write a script, you draw it” and necessitates a lot more direct collaboration because so much of the story turns have to be discovered while it’s being drawn. Was that your experience with Ramon Bachs?
Yeah. I’d never worked with him before. A bunch of these guys I’d never known or worked with, and I’m sure they didn’t know me. [Laughs] We were sort of thrown together, and the process was really fun. I wrote a two-page outline of what the story was that I wanted to tell. I put some little directorial notes in there with different ideas or different layouts where we could present the story. Then the layouts came back, and he’d broken down the whole story into page turns. It was almost like a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby thing where I broke down the plot, and then the layouts came in where I scripted over them and added things here or there. It was definitely a true collaboration. It wasn’t like I gave him a script with panel-by-panel descriptions Alan Moore style and just waited for him to turn in pages. We went back and forth. I think everybody was excited to make comics in this Infinite medium and see what it can do.
The other challenge here is that you’re writing a kids comic that’s inspired by the tone of a TV show currently on cable. I don’t know if a lot of people would say “all ages superhero comic” and think of you immediately. Do you watch these cartoons at all, or did you play catch up to learn the tone you’re going for?
It’s funny. I always feel like my books are all ages until someone gets shot in the head. [Laughter] I mean, there’s not a lot of strong language or sex. There’s just a point where something horrible has to happen, and that keeps it from being for kids. But I don’t believe in writing down to kids. I know that when I was a kid, I didn’t feel like the comics I read were written for me as an eight-year-old or a ten-year-old. They were written for someone a bit older, and I was reading up to understand. The same thing was true with kids books. And I think that the tendency now is to write things targeted to eight-to-ten year old, and I don’t really believe in that. I think kids are smarter and are willing to learn. They want to pick up more.
I was just trying to tell a good Spider-Man story. I wasn’t concerned with it being for kids or adults. That said, I did go and watch a bunch of the “Ultimate Spider-Man” cartoons just to get the vibe. I wanted to make sure that if we were putting that label on it that it fit into that Spider-Man universe. It’s different from the Spider-Man I read when I was a kid. And I’ll say, I wasn’t watching “Ultimate Spider-Man” cartoon before they asked me to do this, but I was watching the new “Avengers” cartoon, and I think that’s pretty awesome. So I do watch cartoons, and it is fun. I have a nine year old daughter, and it’s fun to do something that’s successful with kids and for kids. But ultimately, this is just as much for adults who loved Spider-Man when they were kids.
Finally, is there anything overall from the issue that stands out in your mind that made this all gel together between the tone of the show, the tools of the Infinite Comic format and just making a cool Spidey story that involves the mayor of New York City?
I think it’s actually kind of funny — literally funny. I’ve never written Spider-Man before, but I’ve read him a bunch, and I thought, “I could never do a funny character.” There’s not a lot of humor in my comics. Just maybe someone will get blown up in a funny way. [Laughs] But writing this, I started to have fun. Spider-Man has his own voice that you’ve grown up with. He’s inherently got this wise ass humor to him.
And doing the story with the Infinite Comic format where you can play with the pace a bit means you’re not dealing with whole page layouts with five-panel pages. You’re controlling what the reader sees panel-by-panel and even with the balloons and lettering and how those will appear. You can even use a page swipe to get to the next line of dialogue. In doing that, you can almost get more control. And so I think, if anything, this is a super nerdy “guy who makes comics” thing to say, but the way the word balloons and panel placement come out make it funnier than if you just put it in a print comic and read it. There are moments where you’re reading, and you need to swipe the page to get to the next line of dialogue, and I think that little pause in between makes it a bit funnier and it makes Spider-Man a bit more of a smart ass than in a regular comic.
The “Ultimate Spider-Man: Final Exam” comic will be available for free all weekend long on the Marvel Comics App.