Putting "The Protectors" Motion Book Into Motion

I've never really been a fan of motion comics. Many of them seem to be neither fish nor fowl, not quite a comic and not quite animation, reminding me of the Marvel limited animation cartoons from the '60s. You know, "Tony Stark makes you feel, he's a cool exec with a heart of steel..."

Introducing movement to comic art, especially to figures, falls in something of an uncanny valley, bastardizing the sequential form of comics, and yet not fully embracing the possibilities of animation. But what Madefire does is something different. It's not about making Batman's stiff arm move at the shoulder like an action figure. It's about camera movement and pacing, along with judicious use of music, sound effects and special effects. It's about enhancing the sequential experience, not trying to turn it into something it's not meant to be.

This week, the series I've been working on for Athlitacomics, "The Protectors," made its debut on Madefire and Apple TV. The first episode, as well as a #0 episode and a "Marvel Handbook"-style Heroes Handbook, are now available for free. Ensuing episodes, released each Wednesday through March 23, will be 99 cents.

"The Protectors" is the brainchild of Israel Idonije, former defensive end for the Chicago Bears, and a lifelong comics fan. Izzy came up with the concept and characters for "The Protectors" during Bears training camp a few years ago. It's a superhero story not all that different from an Avengers or Justice League tale, with heroes taking on a menace from beyond that intends to dominate humanity. The unusual aspect is that the five Protectors are professional athletes in their "alter ego" lives.

The sports angle might raise some eyebrows. Cue snarky "NFL SuperPro" comment here. Sports have traditionally never translated well to comics. At face value, that seems a bit counterintuitive; the traditional action of superhero comics is not that far removed from the power and speed of most sports. To some extent, the devil is in the details. The uniforms and equipment and have to be depicted accurately, or they come off as lazy forgery. Some real knowledge of how the sport is played also helps, and honestly, it doesn't seem like there are a great many hardcore sports fans creating comics. I recall reading a football sequence in a mainstream superhero book a few years ago, and it was painfully obvious neither the writer nor the artist had any understanding of how the game was actually played, or even how many players belonged on a side. But more than anything, sports are about motion, and comics are static. That's a big gap to bridge.

Saying "The Protectors" is a comic about sports is akin to saying Superman is a comic about journalism. Sports is merely an element, but one that needed to be executed realistically on the page. Izzy and I started working together to turn his story into comics after being introduced by a mutual friend. I suggested my friend Bart Sears to draw the series, because I knew Bart would be able to translate both the superhero and sports action into believable visuals. Bart brought in versatile veteran Mark Pennington as his inker, and the amazing Neeraj Menon as colorist. Troy Peteri, who has lettered the majority of my work since my CrossGen days, handled letters.

The entire team is proud of "The Protectors," so it's a pleasure to finally show it off to a wide audience. One of the aspects that pleases me most is that the heroes are diverse: two African-American men, a Latino, and a woman are four of the five main characters.

We've completed five issues, the first "season" of the series, 118 total pages, along with covers and character shots of the bio pages. In comics, the monthly schedule is always nipping at your heels, always turning the creative experience into a grind, especially for the art team. It's been an incredible luxury to be able to complete all five issues before ever releasing the first.

The five issues have been turned into 15 episodes on Madefire. The real revelation for me was how much I enjoyed the translation of traditional comic pages into a Motion Book. I helped supervise the process after Bart had gotten the ball rolling, working with Cody Garcia, Adam Birch and Izzy's brother, Emmanuel Idonije, who executed the builds. On the Madefire end, Kevin Buckley was our liaison, getting the sound builds completed.

Mine is not an unbiased opinion, of course, but I find finished episodes infinitely watchable/readable. It's an entirely different species than the primitive "Digital Comic Series" for "Sojourn," "Scion" and "Way of the Rat" that I half-storyboarded for CrossGen.

The pages are deconstructed into panels, and reconstructed into a different experience, adding the music, sound effects and special effects. The experience is still built upon panel-to-panel reading, just like a traditional comic, it's just the stage that's different. Not better, not worse, just different.

We opted for a "less is more" approach to the movement and sound, pulling back from too many bells and whistles. Bart's storytelling tends to be more dense in terms of panels per page, which gives us more pieces to play with in translating to a Motion Book. I also found that the camera movement and pacing worked nicely with the sports sequences, helping to bridge that motion gap.

I still love print comics. To me, there's nothing better than a lavish hardcover edition. The stack of "Hellboy" Library Editions and IDW Artist's Editions in my office are testament to that. But what Madefire does on a wide range of titles, from "Testament" by Dave Gibbons, to DC's "Injustice," to "Hellboy" and now to "Protectors," provides another way to read comics, another way to bring people into the tent.

There are print editions of "The Protectors" #0 and #1 issues that were available as limited C2E2 exclusives. They're among my favorite things. But the full story will be told on Madefire. I hope you'll Join the Fight.

Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Witchblade" and the graphic novel series "Ravine" for Top Cow, "The Protectors" for Athleta Comics, his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image, and Sunday-style strips "The Mucker" and "Korak" for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.

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