Marvel @ SXSW: A Digital "ReEvolution" Augments "AvX"

This weekend, Marvel Comics took its Digital Media Group to the South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas for the first time to show off new products including the incoming "Ultimate Spider-Man" cartoon and, as CBR has learned, a new suit of digital products coming under the banner of "Marvel ReEvolution." At the heart of this rollout are two new tie-ins to the incoming "Avengers Vs. X-Men" event - an augmented reality app called Marvel AR offering new features for "AvX" #1 and on as well as brand-new original digital stories labeled Marvel Infinite Comics starting with a Nova story from Mark Waid and Stuart Immonen.

CBR News spoke to the principals involved in Marvel ReEvolution as they prepared to demo both Marvel AR and the first Infinite Comics story this Sunday at SXSW's Arcade Stage at the Palmer Events Center.

"Decades ago, Stan Lee introduced the letters pages as a way of directly engaging the reader and building a comics-reading community. That was a major innovation at the time, and we're taking it to the next stage with AR app features that will engage the reader in ways they haven't been before," Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso said. "Our AR app features provide added-value story content that will enhance the reading experience in ways we're still cooking up."

SVP & GM of the Marvel Digital Media Group Peter Phillips added that "One of the most important things is that this is going to be an application that allows print comics readers to get an incremental experience with the 'AvX storyline. For example, you may have story and cover recaps in hand. You may have extra bonus content. You may suddenly get a new two-minute video from the Editor-in-Chief talking about how one scene is important or what's happening at a given time. We're really trying to bring the story a lot closer to print comic readers."

Marvel AR will be a free application promoted on the cover of "AvX" so anyone who picks the book up in a comic shop can download the app and dive into the added content. "There is nothing that we're doing that means you have to spend more money to enjoy it. In fact, for the same amount of money, I'd say you're getting a lot more value," Phillips said. "The AR app is really targeted towards the print comics reader. It's really keying off the print comic itself. There's no Augmented Reality for a digital comic. Will we get there? Yeah, we'll get there. But this is the start of a much bigger initiative, and the piece we're kicking off with is the print AR app. The way it works is that there are certain image throughout the story where you can take your phone or whatever device you're using to key off that image and get the augmented experience. And for now, that's restricted to the print comic. We are still proudly selling our digital comic, and we've also got an enhancement for that for 'AvX' with the Infinite Comics."

Alonso noted that the original stories created for Marvel Infinite Comics and on sale via the company's comiXology-powered app will take advantage of the story possibilities inherent in tablet technology. "Infinite Comics utilize the tools of digital world while preserving all the features that make a comic book reading experience unique," he said. "The tablet provides a new canvas for comic book storytelling. It provides new ways for us to tell stories, and for you to read them. This is comics storytelling like you've never seen before - not print comics, but also not animation. Familiar comic conventions - like word balloons, caption and panel borders - still exist, and the reader still controls the pacing of the reading experience, just like he would if he were turning a page. But this new canvas allows for a sense of motion not available to the printed page. 'AvX' will feature out first 'Infinite Comics' outing, a story by Mark Waid and Stuart Immonen that ties direcly into 'AvX' #1 and features Nova, and it is eye-popping, trust me. It will definitely enhance the reading experience of anyone who picks up 'AVX.' Expect more stories like this, and expect stories that will be best told using this new canvas."

For more on Infinite Comics, check out our interviews with Joe Quesada about the history and potential of the format and with Mark Waid about his experimentation leading to the Nova comic.

As for the full scope of Marvel ReEvolution, Phillips promised more new digital content to be prepped in the months ahead once Marvel AR has gotten underway with "AvX." "I've been here less than a year, and the reason I came to this company is because Marvel doesn't look at things as being in 'print publishing' or 'digital publishing.' It's just publishing, and digital and print are together. We're trying to combine it all as one piece, and this is an experience that leverages the digital capacity and really enhances the storylines that we're telling in 'AvX' starting on April 4," he said. "This ReEvolution has a lot to it. This digital innovation is just a subset of that. My goal is for people to have a better experience. If you're a classic comics reader and you don't want to hear anything about this and just read your book, you can still do that. But this is there for people who are into the enhanced experience."

Overall, Phillips said that Marvel took their wares to SXSW with an eye towards broadening the readership for the heavily promoted "Avengers Vs. X-Men" series. "South By Southwest has been a growing destination for a lot of innovation and for a lot of important announcements. There's been a lot of creative people there, and frankly, we dominate the presence at traditional comic cons, but we're also very much already with our own kind there. I think that what's important now is that we're trying to go more mainstream with what we're doing. Marvel characters and stories are so applicable to a broad demographic, so I think it's important that we go to an innovative, mainstream show. That's why we decided to do this, and we've got some exciting things to preview on Sunday."

"Marvel has always been, especially for a publishing company, on the edge of digital content," Phillips concluded. "I come from a digital product background. I used to run product development for Fandango and some digital businesses since then, and my goal is to improve simplicity, accessibility and innovation. What I like about this and a lot of the things we've done since I've been here is that we try to make comics even more fun, even more accessible and even more simple to enjoy. Those were my prerogatives coming in here, and while I feel we've made some great strides, I also feel like we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg for what we're going to be doing over the next several years."

Read more about Marvel at SXSW now on CBR!

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