NYCC '09 - Brian Bendis on Spider-Woman Motion Comics

Before each issue of Marvel's new Spider-Woman comic book series hits shelves at comic shops, every month's story will be available on iTunes as a motion comic.

As announced at New York Comic Con by Marvel Comics, the Spider-Woman ongoing series beginning in April by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev is also being produced as a motion comic for purchase on iTunes. The motion comic, which will feature live actors voicing the characters each month, will be an ongoing series of episodes, with the planned release of each episode preceding the print comic's release.

The price of the motion comic download is still being determined, and there may be additional sites besides iTunes where the ongoing series will be available. Although Marvel Comics Publisher Dan Buckley said the release of each episode should precede the print comic by a week or two, Marvel's Vice President of Online Operations, John Dokes, told Newsarama that the exact timing of the motion comic's release compared to the print comic's street date is still being figured out.

Buckley also indicated there are future plans to involve print comic retailers in the endeavor somehow, saying there will be opportunities for them to "make money off of this" down the road. Future plans also include the production of Joss Whedon's run on Astonishing X-Men as a motion comic, although Spider-Woman will come out first and will be unique because it will be a current, in-continuity comic story.

The development of motion comics is not a new thing, as Newsarama recently detailed upon the release of Sparks, the first motion comic for iPhone, by actor William Katt's Catastrophic Comics. But outside that release by a truly small press publisher, motion comics with live actors is a fledgling art form that is just barely being explored by larger publishers like Image Comics with its superhero series Invincible, Marvel's motion comic of Steven King's short story N, and the release of DC Comics' Watchmen by the recently launched Warner Premiere Motion Comics.

However, as stated previously, Spider-Woman is the first ongoing, current, in-continuity motion comic. A similar move toward original online content was made by Marvel in September when their Digital Comics Unlimited service started to offer new, exclusive content for their online customers. The subscription service had formerly only offered back issues for view.

Newsarama caught Bendis on the con floor and talked to him about the Spider-Woman motion comic book and what this means for the future of the comic book industry.

Newsarama: Let's just start by asking the basics, Brian. What is the Spider-Woman motion comic?

Brian Bendis: It's the first ongoing, in-continuity, Marvel series in motion comics form. And I'm very, very happy that Marvel didn't wait for everybody else to do it. They jumped in while everything's fresh and new. I am very obsessed with what that language is. What's the language of motion comics? With every new medium, there's a different language. It's not animation; it's not print media comics; it's something else.

So we thought this really is a perfect character and a perfect artist to try to make that bridge. Some of the other motion comics that have come out so far are taking something and wiggling it that was supposed to wiggle. It wasn't made for that. So in my opinion, there's always a tiny bit of disconnect because you're just watching it move around, and you've never seen it move around before. Whereas something like Stephen King's N that Alex did with Marc Guggenheim -- that was an original digital comic, and it had emotion and had a good conspiracy feel to it.

And that's something to think about. What's the emotion of a motion comic? How do you get people to stop looking and start thinking and getting into the story? And what is that emotion that you can get across? When Jessica starts her series, she's in such a bad place. She's so pissed off that it's a very appealing emotion to use for this digital endeavor. She's very angry. It's punk rock rage right there on your screen.

NRAMA: Are the motion comics the same Spider-Woman story we're getting in comic shops?

BMB: It's the same story told in two different media. It's being created for both media at the same time. There will be differences; there will be stuff that happens in one that doesn't happen in the other just because of the nature of the medium. And I think that's going to be interesting for fans of Alex and fans of the character to examine the two and see what one feels like and one doesn't feel like.

NRAMA: You said that you think this is the perfect character and perfect artist for this medium. You mentioned that Jessica is in a low place emotionally. Is that why she's perfect for a motion comic right now? And why is Alex a perfect artist for this?

BMB: It's that emotional place, but also because she's coming off of Secret Invasion, and she's starting fresh in a new world. She is an icon character, and it's in continuity. I think that's an important part of it. If companies want to take this seriously, they have to do stories that matter. It can't just be something that's going to be thrown away online. No, here's something that's affecting the Avengers and affecting the other books. And her travel will affect the Marvel Universe.

As far as Alex is concerned, going back to where we were on Daredevil, going back even seven years, nobody knew he was producing Daredevil artwork digitally. There was no physical artwork on many, many of those issues. Every once in awhile, he would draw something only because he felt like drawing it. But you can't tell. It didn't have those digital thumbprints where you say as soon as you look at it, oh, I can tell that's digital. There are no weird digital stiffness or gradations. He's a true artist and he was using digital as his tool, as his paintbrush. So he was already ahead of everybody as far as this stuff goes.

So Dan and I were having these discussions about what it would be and what it would feel like. And Alex is one of the artists -- or maybe the artist -- that can bridge where we are to where we might end up. And he's already doing it. So let's give him a challenge, and that's what this is.

NRAMA: You said there are some things that work in one medium that maybe don't work in the other. Can you share what some of those are?

BMB: Well, we're still at the infant stages, so I could probably answer that a little better later on. But my scripts look different. I'm not writing them the same. And I've worked in animation. I've written animation scripts. They don't look like that either. There's something completely else that's happening. It's a hard question to answer because we're still putting it together.

And thinking about it, I kind of want the audience to put that together themselves. I'm curious to what people think are the differences between the two media. I have theories of what I think the differences are, but I don't want to plant the seeds. It's such a baby that I want to let it get out there.

NRAMA: Let's talk about some of the logistics. Are there a variety of actors doing this? Or is it read by a narrator with one voice telling the story?

BMB: Well, you know, it's from Jessica's point of view, not unlike Alias was, so we're in her head. It's a character study. So it's her voice, but there is conversation. If it was just her voice all the time, it would be a little too much, no matter who it was. We're looking at the world through her angry eyes and all the reactions are skewed toward her because we're with her. But she's interacting with the Avengers and other characters. You'll get to hear them talk. There won't be word balloons. It's a different language. There will be word balloons on the comic, but you'll just hear the voices on the motion comic.

We were actually working with the actors [on Thursday] to get it just right. We have our Jessica. We have our Agent Brand. We have our Madame Hydra.

NRAMA: Is each episode of the motion comic a complete comic book?

BMB: Yes, every episode is a complete issue. It's basically the story you see in the print comic.

NRAMA: If you're giving the digital reader the whole comic each month, what incentive do they have to come into the comic shop to buy more?

BMB: Desire to read more than just this one story. If you go, OK, here's only two-thirds of the story so you have to go to the shop now to read the rest, people will just get annoyed. So we're going to tell the whole story, and hopefully we'll dazzle people and make them want to come in and buy more.

NRAMA: And this is an ongoing series for iTunes?

BMB: Yeah, I've already written 10 episodes. The length of the episodes is like a comic book experience. Because it's digital, we wouldn't go below a certain amount of time for the money. But we also can go as long as we have to.

They'll be sold on iTunes. I don't think we've finalized everything about where else it might be available or how much it will cost. I try to stay out of it because I just care what the story is.

NRAMA: You seem pretty excited about this. Are you enjoying the opportunity to work in this medium?

BMB: Definitely. It's as exciting an endeavor as I could imagine. It goes against a lot of the grain of what Marvel has done in the past where they wait for everyone else to do it, then they do it. Like way before the Bill Jemas days, you know, Marvel was the last people to make trade paperbacks. And the fact that Dan [Buckley] is so gung-ho about going forward is exciting. I'm proud of him, I'm proud of it, I'm happy it's happening. A lot of hurdles had to be jumped, but it's happening, and I'm very proud of it.

NRAMA: As more and more publishers start moving toward things like digital comics and motion comics, what impact will it have on the future of print comics?

BMB: Look, I know some people will be worried this is the beginning of the end for comic books. It's not. I make my living in print comics. I'm not looking to kill them. I would like more people to read comics. I don't want to be part of the ghetto of print. I want to be part of the revolution of print.

You know, when we were kids, the comics would be at 7-11, and we would be at 7-11, or the drug store or whatever. And that's how you got hooked in.

NRAMA: Back then, you were there anyway, playing video games.

BMB: Exactly, and you're hanging out with your Slurpee. We're dating ourselves terribly here. But what happened is there was a gateway situation where we would get into comics. And that gateway has happened in a lot of places in the world. Not everywhere, because some people say, "Well, I see comics in my Barnes and Noble." But that's not everywhere. I live in Portland which is a cultural utopia, but then you leave there and comic books are not out there.

NRAMA: And even if they are, the kids aren't out there like they used to be. They're home playing video games or hanging out online.

BMB: Exactly. Everyone's online. And everyone's on iTunes. And what we want to do is create material that might interest them, excite them, enough to get that feeling we've all had. Anyone on Newsarama has had that feeling where they're like, "Must go to comics store! Get more!" We want to get that feeling because we've shown you something cool, and we want you to get more, and get the Spider-Woman comic book because you want to keep it. Or then move on to whatever else that you've seen. That's what we're trying to do.

I know some retailers will see this and start shaking their fist, and I totally get it. And I know some fans will be like, "I like 'em the way I like 'em!" And I understand that too. I like 'em that way too. Again, my whole day is consumed with just making those print comics. But I'm also very, very concerned about the fact that every day, a newspaper goes out of business. I mean, every day. I used to work at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and I hear from my friends that, like, 50 people got laid off this week. There are 45 newspapers that are up for sale right now that if they don't get buyers, they're going away. That was on Drudge Report; that's not me making up numbers. And every day, a magazine falls because there's all this information online.

What I want to do with comics is push it the other way. If these last two years have proven anything, it's that the characters are very exciting to an audience. I mean, Batman made a billion dollars. It's up to us to make the medium appealing and separate ourselves from the dying print media. Books will never go away. They won't. So let's be part of that, not the other thing. And that's what something like this can help do. It's not the solution, but it's helping to move toward it.

More New York Comic Con 2009 Coverage:

NYCC '09 Video Page

NYCC '09 Mini-Site

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