The online consumer is an audience Marvel actively courts as it continues its goals to innovate in the field of digital comics. During Comic-Con International in San Diego, moderator and Executive Editorial Director of Digital Media Ryan Penagos was joined by SVP of Creator & Content Development C.B. Cebulski; VP of Production, Games TQ Jefferson; and, making her first panel appearance, Vice President CRM Daniele Campbell to discuss the latest happenings from the digital media arm of Marvel Entertainment.
Before introducing the panelists, Ryan showed an episode from Marvel’s stop-motion animated webseries “Marvel Super Heroes: What The–?!” starring Daredevil as he attempts to defend Wonder Man against a charge of property damage against Jennifer Walters, aka She-Hulk, the highlight of which was a series of barbs between Walters and Matt Murdock and the identity of the court stenographer.
The focus was first on Marvel AR, the app that brings bonus features (like interviews with scientists about how superpowers might work in real life) to your comics, not unlike a Blu-ray or DVD, and the Marvel Comics App. Campbell noted that with the help of online technology, it’s never been easier to access Marvel’s titles with its large back issue catalog and new issues both available the same day they hit your local shop. “You can find almost any issue we’ve published any time, day or night.”
Penagos encouraged sharing the digital download codes that come with the physical issues. He gives them to friends or to whoever’s fastest on Twitter. It’s beneficial both from a sharing standpoint and a business one. “I’ll give them issue 12, and they have to go back and buy 6 through 11.” Campbell added that the apps always offer free issues to encourage more reading and better exposure to different titles.
Penagos is a big fan of the Marvel Unlimited App, which he described as being “like Netflix for comics.” You can download up to twelve issues to read offline, and there are reading guides for those who want to know where to jump into a series or storyline.
For more dedicated fans, there is Marvel Unlimited Plus — for an annual fee of $99, you get the unlimited access as well as a special, exclusive gift, aka a “premium.” This year, it was a gold variant figure that Penagos was told by several people has been bought or sold for $200 online. He also quickly put the kibosh on Campbell talking about the next one. “Do not. Reveal. That. Premium.”
Next up was a look at Marvel’s latest innovation, Adaptive Audio, which provides a specialized sound design to go with your online comic. Cebulski said that there were a lot of skeptics until they showed the tests at the Marvel Retreat. Penagos likened it to the audio in a video game that changes depending on the action and environment. “When you go back and forth and scroll, the sound follows.”
They’ve added Jonathan Hickman’s “Avengers” run and the “Guardians of the Galaxy” comics to Marvel Unlimited, and continue to expand on the original, made-for-digital Marvel Infinite Comics, including a free “Ultimate Spider-Man” comic based on the Disney XD cartoon.
There will be a Infinite comic starring Sam Wilson as Captain America in addition to the “All-New Captain America” title. few unfinished panels by artist Szymon Kudranski were shown. Written by Dennis Hopeless, the story brides the gap between “Captain America” #25 and “All-New Captain America” #1. All six issues will be coming out in October, Penagos said, once again citing Netflix as a great lesson in how immediate availability works to your advantage. He added that the Thanos series offered all of its issues at the same time, and the sales for it were very steady.
Next, they showed a trailer for “Marvel: Tales To Astonish,” a documentary series developed by Penagos and John Cerilli. The documentary looks at “Civil War” and how prophetic it was, among other topics. It features interviews across a broad spectrum of celebrities, from Tucker Carlson to Joss Whedon to Stan Lee.
Jefferson talked about the Marvel Gaming Universe, which has built a cohesive gaming world. The latest title is “Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon,” featuring an original story penned by Dan Abnett. “It’s 5 bucks, but once you buy it, you don’t need the Internet ,and there are no in-app purchases,” Jefferson stated emphatically. There will be new content for it in the future. You can also unlock characters from the movie and from the comics, including Korath, Nebula, and Jefferson’s favorite, Wraith. “He’s a ghost zombie with a poncho in space. It’s just ridiculous.”
When Penagos asked how he developed the connective games, Jefferson responded in deadpan, “We built this city. We built it on rock and roll. No one got that. I just dated myself.”
“Avengers Initiative” kicked off the idea of a Marvel Gaming Universe but “Avengers Alliance,” “Winter Soldier,” “War of Heroes,” “Marvel Puzzle Quest” and “Iron Man 3” all have some sort of association. Some connect to movies, others dig deep into the Marvel Universe.
The next project they discussed was “Marvel 75 Years,” a series of hour-long videos exploring the histories of different Marvel ages decade by decade available on their website.
Marvel also offers two weekly podcasts: “This Week in Marvel,” and the recently launched “Women of Marvel,” both available on iTunes. “TWiM,” hosted by Penagos and Associate Editor Ben Morse, covers all sorts of news from all fronts. “Women of Marvel” is hosted by Adri Cowan and Judy Stephens and all features comic Editors Sana Amanat and Jeanine Schaefer as they discuss various Marvel happenings and interview special guests.
Opening the panel to questions from the floor, the first person, who said his 14-year-old daughter uses the Marvel Unlimited App “four times more” than he does, asked about the lackluster appearance of the collection feature in the app. Campbell stated they’re already working on improvements.
The second question was about the possibility of multimedia comics supplanting physical books.”Technology will be evolving and so will we,” Cebulski said. “A lot of these new readers are coming in [from digital].” However, despite the great leaps, physical books will never be totally replaced. Campbell added that some kids don’t know how to approach reading comics, but may do better with the app presentation.
The final question asked if Twitter and fan requests for more women and diversity actually make an impact. Penagos said he reads everything that comes to him and he’ll have a discussion with an editor about what he’s read: “Hey, I saw a lot of things about Thor and the design of her armor.” While it varies from case to case, Marvel does listen and appreciate the feedback.
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