Art from Spider-Woman #1
As magazines and newspapers move away from paper, comic book publishers are still trying to figure out where comics fit in an increasingly digital world.
Among all the webcomics and digital readers, one option for publishers has created a whole new medium – "motion comics," where live actors provide voices for moving comic book images. And with the iTunes debut Wednesday of the first in-continuity motion comic from a major publisher, Marvel's Spider-Woman, the fledgling medium takes a step toward legitimacy.
"What we’re trying to do is retain the intimacy that the reader has with comics, but add new elements to it to make a whole new experience," said comics writer Brian Michael Bendis, who's creating the bi-weekly Spider-Woman motion comic with artist Alex Maleev. "There are a lot of people trying a lot of different things digitally, trying to replace or trying to create the book experience on your computer. And what I think the motion comic does is it removes the elements that just do not translate, and replaces them with things that do."
Telling a story centered on Jessica Drew, the super-powered female counterpart to Marvel's well-known Spider-Man, the Spider-Woman motion comic isn't the first of its kind. Early releases of motion comics came from publishers like Image Comics with its superhero series Invincible, Marvel's motion comic of Stephen King's short story N, Catastrophic Comics with its Sparks title, and the release of DC Comics' Watchmen by the new Warner Premiere Motion Comics.
But while other motion comics have added movement to existing comic books that were first published on paper – "taking existing material and wiggling it" as Bendis described it – Spider-Woman is the first time a script is being produced for a motion comic first, then later translated into print, as the Spider-Woman #1 paper comic book won't be released until September.
Art from Spider-Woman #1
And don't underestimate the power of the term, "in-continuity." Marvel Comics holds the largest market share in the comic book industry, and the company's most die-hard readers are traditionally more interested in something that affects the future of the Marvel Universe and impacts its characters. Since this is the first time the Spider-Woman story will be seen by comics fans – a month before it reaches paper – the attraction to existing fans is anticipated to be higher than former efforts in the medium.
"It’s not some throwaway little experiment; this matters to the Marvel universe," Bendis said. "There are things that are happening in this motion comic that will affect Avengers titles that I’m writing and other aspects of the landscape of the Marvel Universe just as adventures continue on. But there are things that will be referenced back and forth just like all good Marvel comics do."
According to estimates, the United States comic book industry generates more than $400 million annually, reaching a mostly male readership every month with original content presented in words and hand-drawn pictures. But with new digital initiatives like motion comics, publishers are hoping to expand comic book readership to a larger, untapped market.
"It's just as much about appealing to a wider and larger range of consumers as it is about introducing the world of masks, capes, heroes, villains, powers, and all the poignant shenanigan-filled stories that rookie and veteran fans have come to cherish and geek out about," said Ruwan Jayatileke, senior vice president of Strategic Development for Marvel, who acted as lead producer on the Spider-Woman motion comic.
"Mainstream comics, in particular, has been very good in creating gateway material... to get people in. We’re all victims of it. We’re all somewhere that we read our first comic, and totally got us hooked until it became some kind of insane part of our lives, and this is that version," Bendis explained. "To me, and to everyone at Marvel, there’s really no difference between putting this on iTunes where everyone’s hanging out, and putting comic books on the stand at 7-Eleven, where we were hanging out as kids. I mean, it’s gonna be somewhere, it’s gonna catch your eye, and you might try it."
Yet the comics industry's main distribution channel, the traditional comic book shop, won't be able to offer this story until a month after it's available digitally, potentially spoiling the story for internet-saavy comics fans and making the paper version less timely – and thus less desirable. Critics say this choice to bring out a digital story weeks before the print comic's release won't help the future of paper comics, but instead gets the industry closer to their demise.
"I know some people feel threatened by it, but I make my living in print media. And I love print media, and I want it to survive, and I think not all the print media will die, just the parts that can be replaced," Bendis said. "Books aren’t going to just disappear. But certain kinds of books will disappear because you’re going to have them on your phone. And I don’t think that graphic novels and the intimacy of graphic novels will go.
Art from Spider-Woman #1
"I think there will be some awesome material done in motion comics that you can’t make in comics, and I think there’ll be some comics that you couldn’t do in motion comics, and vice versa," Bendis said. "So I’m looking forward to that aspect of it too. Already we’re putting together the print comic and the motion comic, and we’re like, 'oh, you know what? That totally works as a motion comic, but I’ll have to come at the scene in a different way for print.' And that’s interesting as well."
Jayatilleke said Marvel intends to release more motion comics, including the already announced motion picture version of Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, scheduled for an October release. For Bendis, the opportunity to be a pioneer within a new medium has been an exciting experience, and he's open to writing more original motion comics for Marvel.
"[Writing motion comics] is very different. It’s the same as writing comics in a sense that you want to write as honestly, and as exciting as possible, but there’s something else going on here," he said. "It’s not an animation script, it’s not a movie script, and it’s not even a comic book script. It’s something else.
"There’s a lot more that can be done that people haven’t seen yet in the motion comic language, and the attempt to experience it very intimately just like you would your comic," Bendis said. "I mean, you know, it’s a bold experiment, I grant you, but I think it’s a worthwhile one."
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