SDCC 09: Motion Comics: Graphic Novels in the Digital Age
Inside Warner Motion Comics
DC Comics got their long weekend of presentations in San Diego at Comic-Con International off to a promising start with the launch of several new motion comics which adapt several of the company’s popular comic book properties—Batman: Black & White, Batgirl: Year One, and Superman: Red Son—into a hybrid mixture of comic book artistry and animated storytelling. Motion comics combine short-form videos with limited movement, voice-overs, musical scoring, and comic book artwork to create a unique visual experience similar to a cartoon.
The panel, moderated by Greg Novak (DC Comics) hosted a number of people who have been integral to DC’s work with motion comics; including: Paul Levitz, Dave Gibbons, and Paul Dini (DC Comics); Lydia Antonini (Warner Premiere); Dylan Coburn (Superman: Red Son) and Stephen Fedasz (Perpetual Motion)--all of whom discussed the potential of using storyboard animatics/ storyboarding, a tool used for decades in advertising, for producing new experiences reinterpret the experience of enjoying comic books.
The panel started with the debut of two Batman: Black & White clips—which garnered a round of applause from the Thursday morning audience. Discussion of the process of translating older comic material into a motion comic began quickly. Issues involving maintaining the integrity of the source material discussed at length with a number of the panelists using DC’s Watchmen Motion Comic as a primary example. Lydia Antonini contrasted Watchmen’s use of a single narrator in conjunction with Batman: Black & White utilizing a full cast of voiceover actors. She explained, “We really felt the need to maintain the voice of the narrator in Watchmen—because it kept the project true to the source,” she added, “[…] the difference being—with Batman: Black & White—the cast of voiceover actors allow this project to be entirely unique to something more expository like Watchmen.” Dave Gibbons supported her statement, “[The Watchmen Motion Comic] really seemed more like an audio-book—because of the single narrator.”
Paul Dini praised the collaboration, “There are a number of challenges presented with translating a comic book into a medium like animation,” adding, “[…] scripting for the two can be vastly different because the use of drama exposition in print is exchanged in animation with tone of voice.” Paul Levitz asked if Dini utilized television-styled dialoging techniques in his comic scripting. Dini responded by explaining how the two projects involved a different way of managing the content; he cited a Batman: Black & White short as an example in which he managed a scene with a case study differently than how it was displayed originally in its comic book form—he explained, “[The scene] seemed more natural—like real case study with chunks of interviews and files.”
Greg Novak reiterated the importance of tone as a storytelling mechanism which garnered another response from Paul Dini who pondered the use of motion comics as a tool for cross-promotion in line with upcoming projects like the Jonah Hex movie adaptation later this year. The audience and the panel seemed to perk up in agreement at this notion to which he added, “You know, it just seems like common sense to have one hand washing the other.”
The panel was asked about the conversion process as it related to High-Definition performance and if there were challenges. Stephen Fedasz addressed the question with a lengthy explanation of the process that he summed up neatly by saying “It’s much easier to go from smaller to larger.”
The discussion turned to the process of adapting the story—and the challenges presented in transforming something sequential into something not quite fully animated. The panel agreed that the importance of the source was crucial. Levitz added, “The real challenge wasn’t in the process of animating each project—with Batman: Black & White, for example—the real challenge came from the variations of the spirit of Batman from story to story and how each unique tale provided a different facet of Batman’s character.” He went on to explain, “One of the best aspects of all of this is the remarkable phenomena of the audience and how we can ask you what’s good and what’s bad—because we know that you’ll all support the best ones and reject the worst,” adding, “There’s this sort of hive-mind in fandom that’s so amazing—it’s like if we took a poll of ‘The Ten Best Batman Stories’—seven or eight of those would probably be the same from each individual.”
The panel was then asked about larger projects and the potential for more motion comics the magnitude of Watchmen. Levitz and Dini mentioned Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight; Levitz responded, “You can’t just go out and do something like Dark Knight—you have to build small and go from there. There’s a lot of planning and coordination that goes into this.”
Dave Gibbons spoke about his personal challenge with the translation of Watchmen to motion comic; initially mentioning his difficulty with reading versus viewing. He spoke, “I was sort of disturbed when I realized how long it took to actually read one comic book page—it’s like 10 seconds.” Garnering a chuckle from the audience, he continued, “This is the beginning of two mediums evolving together and potentially becoming one medium down the road. There is still so much to this process that is going to have to be explored.”
Levitz continued on the topic, “There is a huge challenge is deciding how to reformat the presentation of the content,” citing the challenge of converting comic pages to for viewing on an iPhone as a chief example. He asked rhetorically, “Where do you cut? How many balloons do you use? How do you fit all that text—from something like Watchmen—on such a little screen?” Lydia Antonini continued, “The translation aspect is difficult—because we are constantly aware that we might change the story.”
Using Batman: Black & White again as an example, Stephen Fedasz added, “I was happy to do the individual stories with varying styles because you would never be able to explore a range of styles like they are displayed in the Batman: Black & White comics in a single season of a cartoon series.” He added, “This method of storytelling allows for so much versatility.”
The panel paused to show a clip of Batgirl: Year One which garnered another huge response from the audience. An animator in the audience spoke about the use of Animatics and his experience with the style as an advertiser over a number of years and he spoke favorably about the usage of the device for creating a unique experience for comics. Lydia Antonini agreed and spoke, “We’re trying to create something akin to a throwback to older serials, but the variations in the actual level of animation will vary from project to project.” She cited the difference in relation to the projects shown in direct comparison to the Peanuts projects being produced by Warner Premiere that are almost full animation projects. She reiterated, “We’re focused on the core text but we’re translating it into new material in a sense—we have a foundation that these projects build a house on top of.”
The panel stopped to show the final clip for the hour—Superman: Red Son—which received the largest pop from the crowd of all the projects presented. Greg Novak joked, “Cossack Batman is a bad ass,” which elicited a roar of laughter from the room. He also mentioned that for today only that the first installment of Superman: Red Son is available for free on iTunes.
Dylan Coburn was asked about his work on Red Son and he dove straight into his work on the project. Initially, he mentioned pacing, stating, “The real challenge is dealing with something that is so fast-paced and so much dialog.” He made a notion that he really wanted to do something hardcore when he became involved with the project; he elaborated further, “When you think about it—I got to work with Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman—there’s nothing more hardcore than Red Son. Cossack Batman is a hardcore terrorist.” He also mentioned having fun with the dramatic score which accompanied the comic—and how he used split screen editing in a cinematic fashion to create a sense of fast-paced action. He expressed his amazement at how cinematically-inclined modern comic book creators are; utilizing terms like “close-up” and “worm’s eye”. Several questions involving animation techniques and layering of imagery were also discussed.
At the end of the panel, the panel listening intently as an audience member spoke about the need for merging motion comics with the burgeoning webcomics scene and how the two could garner an interactive visual experience for individuals—utilizing the material in such a manner that honored the medium but also provided an audience with more substance and essentially breaking the boundaries of eye-movement in each panel and making the motion experience more panel-to-panel.Download Superman: Red Son Chapter 1 for FREE on iTunes today only! Press Release Follows: WARNER PREMIERE CONTINUES TO LEAD THE MOTION COMICS CATEGORY WITH THE DEBUT OF “SUPERMAN: RED SON,” “BATGIRL: YEAR ONE” AND “BATMAN: BLACK AND WHITE” COLLECTION 2
First Episode of Superman: Red Son Available for Free via iTunes for Limited Time
Three All-New Motion Comic Series Announced Today During Comic-Con Panel
Complete Motion Comics Series for “Batgirl: Year One” and “Batman: Black and White” Collection 2 Debuts
SAN DIEGO, COMIC-CON, July 23, 2009 – Warner Premiere and Warner Bros. Digital Distribution today announced three new additions to the best-selling Warner Premiere Motion Comics slate. Classic graphic novels Superman: Red Son and Batgirl: Year One, as well as graphic album Batman: Black and White Collection 2 entered the digital age as Warner Premiere Motion Comics on the iTunes Store (www.itunes.com). Also announced today comrades everywhere, for a limited time, can download the first glorious episode of Superman: Red Son for free and see how Stalin’s most powerful weapon swayed the balance of power during the Cold War (http://tinyurl.com/SmanRedSonPR).
Continuing to lead the motion comics experience, Warner Premiere’s Motion Comics connect comic fans to authentic DC characters through short-form content. The Motion Comics slate draws on a deep reservoir of source material to bring a visually engaging experience to life through the use of subtle movements, voice-overs, sweeping music scores and stunning comic book artwork.
“Last year we debuted our Motion Comics slate and saw the voracious appetite graphic novel fans had for this digital content,” said Diane Nelson, president, Warner Premiere. “One of the reasons for our success is Warner Premiere working closely with DC Comics to determine if a story naturally lends itself to becoming a motion comic. Another key is the process we use to select the studios that ultimately create these motion comics. They are very passionate comic book fans so creating these motion comics really are a labor of love. We’re very proud of our success and look forward to bringing more titles to comic fans in the future.”
Superman: Red Son
Warner Premiere Motion Comics is proud to bring “Superman: Red Son” to its Motion Comics slate. Based on the Eisner Award-winning graphic novel written by Mark Millar and drawn by Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett “Superman: Red Son” takes viewers back in time to the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union where Superman is fighting for the Communists. In this alternate universe, Superman lands in Russia rather than the United States andSoviet Union's greatest weapon as the world is transformed into a communist state opposed only by a crumbling capitalistic AmericaLex Luthor. Now as Superman stands on the brink of ultimate power, three heroes, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern, each make a valiant stand to destroy the reign of the Man of Steel. The Superman: Red Son Motion Comic was animated by New Zealand-based Karactaz. grows to become the and its President
For a limited time, the first episode of Superman: Red Son is now available on iTunes for free. To download, visit www.itunes.com or (http://tinyurl.com/SmanRedSonPR). Future episodes will debut once a week and fans are encouraged to sign up for a Season Pass to automatically receive future episodes.
Batgirl: Year One
Barbara Gordon comes to the digital age with Batgirl: Year One Motion Comics, based on the popular series. The story begins with our heroine having an internal monologue while batting Killer Moth and his henchmen. Wearing a female version of Batman’s costume, she makes an appearance at The Gotham City Police Department’s “Million Dollar Masquerade Ball.” Soon after arriving she rushes to aide her adoptive father Police Commissioner James Gordon who has been attacked by a villain. While the Chief lies unconscious, she prevents Bruce Wayne from being hit with the same energy weapon that injured her father. Flashbacks within her mind retell the series of events which have lead to her first battle with a super villain.
Created by Perpetual Notions, the complete Batgirl: Year One Motion Comics series is now available on iTunes.Batman: Black & White Collection 2
The second series of Warner Premiere Motion Comics slate, “Batman: Black & White” is taken from three award-winning collections of short stories starring the Caped Crusader. The Motion Comics reflect the original and diverse visions of various artists and writers as they tell stories in the now-infamous world of Gotham City.
The “Batman: Black & White” stories are told from the perspective of Batman and range in theme from the unsettling drama of solving a brutal murder to the light comedy of fighting bad guys with a broken nose. These short episodes also touch on elements of romance, mystery and even the supernatural. And like any exciting Batman story, classic villains such as The Joker, Harley Quinn and Two-Face make heralded appearances. It’s Batman as seen through the prism of some of today’s most eloquent graphic artists and writers.
Batman: Black & White Collection 2 Motion Comics series includes the following titles:
I’ll Be Watching
Written by: Ed Brubaker Illustrated by: Ryan Sook
Written by: Mark Schultz
Illustrated by: Claudio Castellini
Monsters In The Closet
Written by: Jan Strnad
Illustrated by: Kevin Nowlan
A Game of Bat and Rat
Written by: John Arcudi
Illustrated by: John Buscema
Written by: Scott Peterson
Illustrated by: Danijel Zezelj
Written by: Alex Garland
Illustrated by: Sean Phillips
Written by: Andrew Helfer
Illustrated by: Liberatore
Written by: Archie Goodwin
Illustrated by: Gary Gianni
Written by: Walter Simonson
Illustrated by; Walter Simonson
Written by: Howard Chaykin
Illustrated by: Jordi Bernet
The complete second collection of Batman: Black & White Motion Comics are now available on the iTunes Store.
About Warner Premiere
Warner Premiere is a Warner Bros. Entertainment production company focused on the development, production and marketing of feature-length-DVD and short-form digital content for this growing space. Warner Premiere is committed to being at the creative forefront in the evolution of quality product in the direct-to-consumer business, creating material that exemplifies the commitment to story, production and brand equity for which Warner Bros. is known.
About Warner Bros. Digital Distribution
Warner Bros. Digital Distribution (WBDD) was founded in October 2005 to manage Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group’s electronic distribution over existing, new and emerging digital platforms, including pay-per-view, electronic sell-through, video-on-demand, wireless and more. WBDD also oversees the WBHEG’s worldwide digital strategy, partnerships in digital services and emerging new clients and business activities in the digital space.
About Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group brings together Warner Bros. Entertainment's home video, digital distribution, interactive entertainment/videogames, direct-to-DVD production, technical operations and anti-piracy businesses in order to maximize current and next-generation distribution scenarios. WBHEG is responsible for the global distribution of content through DVD, electronic sell-through and VOD, and delivery of theatrical content to wireless and online channels, and is also a significant worldwide publisher for both internal and third party videogame titles.
About DC Comics
DC Comics, which has been in continuous publication for more than 70 years, is the world’s largest English-language publisher of comics and the home of some of the world’s most recognized icons, including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Sandman. DC Comics has a long history of innovative publishing and is a unique asset in the media world for both Warner Bros. Entertainment and parent company Time Warner. DC characters permeate pop culture around the world through comic books, graphic novels, blockbuster feature films, live-action and animated television series, direct-to-video releases, online entertainment and consumer product licensing and marketing agreements.
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