For writer Ron Marz and Studio 414, it all comes down to making the right moves-especially in regards to the team’s latest project, “Valkyrie,” an all-new original motion comic built from the ground up and slated for a potential Spring 2010 release.
Studio 414 most recently worked on an adaption of “Street Fighter: Round One Fight!” and “Voltron” for Eagle One Media-both of which currently air on the SyFy Channel’s Ani-Monday programming block-but for their newest project the graphic designers wanted to develop an original story rather than translate an already existing property. Enter Marz, who joins the graphic design studio as the creator and writer behind the company’s latest foray into the motion comic medium.
“For me it was a no-brainer that, for motion comics to continue to grow, we need to tell original stories,” said Studio 414’s Art Director Joseph Whiteaker. “I hate to say this because I don’t want to date him, but Ron has been in the business for quite a while, and I know that he’s done a lot of work outside of comics in video games and stuff like that. So, he has experience writing in different formats.”
A story told throughout two time periods, “Valkyrie” rides a line between past and present, following the lives of a late 1930’s adventurer, his Nazi adversary and their modern day counterparts. “What happens in the past comes back to effect what’s going on in the present in a very distinct way,” explained Marz. “In the past, we’re introduced to a guy who was essentially a pulp hero, an adventurer from that era, and his adversary from that era is a Nazi saboteur who has been planted in the United States to wreck havoc at the right time. We get into their conflict and their relationship, but that comes back to affect the people in the present.”
As for the name of the comic, Marz said “Valkyrie” serves two purposes. First, it refers to a suit of armor, codenamed the Valkyrie, that belongs to the saboteur and references the legendary female warriors of Valhalla from Nordic Mythology, concepts that the Third Reich twisted and warped to use as propaganda. Second, Valkyrie also serves as a play on the name of the modern day protagonist. “Of course, it’s Valerie not Valkyrie,” said Marz. “So, the title has two meanings, but it’s also a cool sounding word.
“Val is a bit of a tomboy, a bit of a grease monkey,” continued Marz. “She’s not in the popular clique in school. She’s a bit more of an individual than most of her peers. Her opposite number, the girl who is essentially the queen bee of their high school, the mean girl of the school, named Roxanne, just like the song or Cyrano’s true love.”
Marz went on to describe Val and Roxanne’s relationship as “very much adversarial” considering the character’s social standings within the high school hierarchy. Marz said he feels some readers might relate more to Val as opposed to Roxanne and that this identification might get them to check out the story. However, the two’s typical high school rivalry gets taken to a new level after age-old secrets arise. “It all takes place in the same coastal town, so the location [between past and present] is the same,” said Marz. “Without wanting to give away too much, some pieces of what made the pulp hero and the Nazi what they were surface in the present day and Val and Roxanne get a hold of respective elements.”
When it comes to writing the motion comic, Marz pointed out slight differences compared to scripting regular comics, mostly regarding the concept of movement. “We don’t want to do endless scenes of talking heads because that’s not the most exciting thing to sit down and watch,” he said. “It’s fine, ultimately, in a comic if you have people sitting at a table having a conversation, but it’s not terribly interesting to watch the same damn headshot over and over. I try to make sure that the script lends itself naturally to a lot of movement and the elements that look cool when they do the motion comic procedure.”
The birth of motion comics has created a bridge between traditional print and full on animation. With movement involved, many question where the distinction lies between a motion comic and an animated project. According to Marz, besides the obvious cost-effective production measures of motion comics, what exactly moves on the screen plays a big role. “Motion comics are more about camera movement than actual animation,” said Marz. “There are certain animated elements in it, and they’ve done some really neat stuff with flowing water and rain and leaves floating across the scene. That kind of stuff turns out to be not terribly hard to do but really effective. So, I’ve even tried to work some of that into the story so we’d have stuff that had a certain sense of motion to them without it actually being fully animated.
“It’s all slightly different, but ultimately you’re still telling stories with pictures. Whether you’re doing full-scale animation, or a motion comic, or just a regular comic, it all comes down to the same thing: telling stories with pictures and figuring out how to tell that story in the most visual manner possible,” he continued. “Obviously some of the visual tricks you do are different. In a regular comic, you pace things for the turn of the page and that’s how you drive the readers through the story. You have big panels and small panels to break up the pacing. All those rhythms are not available in a motion comic, because essentially, all your panels are the same size. You don’t have the ability of putting in a splash page or a double-page spread to alert the audience of a big deal. So, you have to find ways to lead readers through the story. On an overall level, it’s the same thing of telling stories with pictures-you just use different tools from your toolbox.”
Beyond the necessary cinematic movement that comes with the medium, the upcoming “Valkyrie” employs the use of another growing trend in motion comics: a full voice cast. Both Whiteaker and the other creative half of Studio 414, David Rodriguez, work in the video game business and have access to voice talent, which made casting especially easy. Although earlier motion comics took the “books on tape” approach to voice acting, with one person providing all the voices, Whiteaker stressed the value of multiple, individual voices. “While I think that they did an admirable job with ‘Watchmen,’ it was hard for me to get into because it was only voiced by one person,” said Whiteaker. “While I’m not saying he didn’t go a good job, I wasn’t engaged by it. I never bought into it. What we try to do is that, we try to cast every character with as unique as possible a voice and try to augment that experience and have more of a cinematic feel to it.”
It remains unknown what, exactly, the advent of motion comics means for the future of the industry as a whole. However, Whiteaker feels that motion comics simply provide another means of telling a story, and rather than replace comics only try to introduce new fans to the industry. “I see it as another way to tell these great stories and, hopefully it will allow for people to be pulled into regular comics,” said Whiteaker. “They could download and see it on television and think, ‘I really liked that. I wonder what happens next,’ and they go out and get those books. In this case, while we are creating a new story specifically for this medium, there’s nothing stopping us from printing ‘The Further Adventures of Valkyrie’ as a standard comics. So, hopefully there’s a lot of cross pollinization of both mediums.”
Marz expressed similar sentiments and said he sees motion comics as a different type of visual storytelling, complete with its own benefits and core audience. “It’s a different flavor of comics. You can go to Ben & Jerry’s and get vanilla, or chocolate, or Cherry Garcia, depending on what you’re on the mood for,” said Marz. “People who are online or checking things out on TV are maybe more prone to digging the motion comics because that appeals to them more. Whereas the more hardcore comic readers are likely to cling to the print books because that’s what they want. I think if we can offer up both, the industry as a whole can be better.
“It’s a bit of a halfway house for people who aren’t familiar with comics and who aren’t fluent in that type of storytelling language. This is something a bit more passive. It might be something that leads people to check out print comics or comics online. Maybe this is the kind of gateway comic that lead people into checking out the industry as a whole.”