Moving it Online - Marvel's Exclusive Online Comics

Cerilli on Marvels Online Comics

Last week Marvel announced that it would be launching five new online-only series as part of its digital comics initiative at The five titles cover a variety of characters and genres not regularly seen in Marvel’s print comics, including a modern Western by Jason Aaron, a Halloween Special, a classic Western featuring Kid Colt, a story about those who investigate the Marvel Universe in the media, Fin Fang Four, and more. The new titles join two previous titles, starring Iron Man and the Hulk, respectively, that spin out of the character’s two movies.

As this is a large step into the world of online comics for Marvel, we spoke with John Cerilli, Director of Content for the Marvel Digital Media Group about the scope of the new titles, and what the company hopes to achieve.

Newsarama: First off John, how long has this been in the works? Was this something that was on the roadmap at the beginning of Marvel: DCU, or did it come up after it had started?

John Cerilli: We’ve been thinking about this since last year’s launch of Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. It’s a natural progression for the digital product and helps in our primary mission of making a diverse array of comic books available to the widest audience possible. We want to appeal to as many different comic book readers and potential comic book readers as we can and turn them on to what we all love—reading comics. We look forward to telling great stories for super hero fans and non-super hero fans alike while continuously adding to our digital “backlist”—which numbers over 5,000 comics now.

NRAMA: Who is the audience for this? Obviously, the technology of it seems to suggest you're looking for younger or new readers who don't mind that they're not on paper, but at the same time, these aren't your most popular characters that, one would think, could draw in the widest audience...

JC: It’s simple, actually. The audience for these comics is everyone who has an interest in reading great stories. Whether you’ve been reading comics for decades or you’ve come to for the first time after seeing one of our movies, animated productions or playing one of our video games—we want everyone to know Marvel comics offer a wide variety of subject matter and are accessible at the click of a mouse. We want them to read the comics, get psyched about reading them and head off to their local comic retailers to read more.

Regarding the character selection, Iron Man and Hulk led off this new program—between their performances at the box office and the success of the recent Iron Man DVD release—we think they’ve had a pretty good year appealing to wide audiences.

NRAMA: Let's talk about how the various characters were selected...these are a somewhat disparate group here. Did you open the door to pitches, or did you start with a group of characters that you wanted in the titles, and seek out creators?

JC: Actually it’s a little bit of all of the above. Editors had ideas. Creators had ideas. We just mixed it all up, decided what would be best to move forward with and then laid out a schedule. Early on in this process, we made a very conscious decision to explore genres you may not have seen in a while from Marvel. In addition to traditional super hero storytelling, you’ll get westerns, sci-fi, holiday specials (a personal favorite), humor and lots more. We think this approach of offering a wider array of genres will attract new readers to comics and that’s exciting for everyone involved—the readers and our partners in all of this, the retail shops that will benefit from this new audience hungry for more.

NRAMA: What do you see as the overall plan of this division of Marvel? Does the fact that you're not starting with a lineup of Avengers, X-Men, FF, Wolverine, Wolverine and Wolverine indicate that this side of Marvel is a little...different?

JC: I think the last answer addresses a lot of our thinking behind how we’re moving forward with the stories we’re pursuing. However, I will add, a year ago the very concept of an ever-growing treasure trove of 5,000 plus Marvel comics available for viewing at a mouseclick was quite foreign. And now, in addition to all of those great comics, we’ve evolved Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited to include unique storytelling. So I wouldn’t pigeonhole the division to one thing or another or one group of characters over another. We’re going to get people excited by telling great stories and you’ll see a huge array of Marvel characters starring in them.

NRAMA: Obviously, there will be those who look at these titles and attach the stigma of "this was stuff that they knew they couldn't sell in print..." but let's look at that idea. Are the projects that come out as part of this initiative as tightly bound by financial constraints as say, a regular print miniseries? That is, these books aren't going to be printed on paper, so are considerations that can prevent some projects from seeing the light of day as much an issue with these?

JC: Whether digital or paper, there are always financial constraints. You want to tell the best story you can within the parameters of the budget that’s allowed to tell the story. That will never change. Projects bound for digital are under just as rigorous the scrutiny as projects bound for paper.

NRAMA: While we're talking about print, is Marvel looking at these titles as strictly digital-only, that is, never shall these art and words touch paper, or will they be collected and printed someday?

JC: Much like we convert paper comics to digital for Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, you will see these stories on comic shop shelves in a paper format after they’ve debuted in Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited exclusively. In fact, our Iron Man and Hulk movie continuity stories will be collected and will appear in paper form later this year—with an extra story being developed separately to add to that paper collection! Read more about it here.

NRAMA: We've gotten pretty far into this without really talking about you. What is your role in all of this?

JC: I am the Director of Content for the Marvel Digital Media Group. In terms of the Digital Comics program, my team works directly with the editors and creators to formulate and choose projects for Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited and we’re ultimately responsible for publishing them on time so the world can read them.

NRAMA: That said, where are these books born and grow up? Do you do all the editing on all the titles being published online, or is the workload spread out over some other folks?

JC: The hands-on editing occurs with the editor(s) responsible for the approved individual title—much like it happens with any paper comic. These comics are “born and grow up” through a very collaborative process that’s ultimately orchestrated through my office. Marvel editorial is a rather collaborative bunch in general so this is no different than what normally goes on up here.

NRAMA: From what we've seen with DCU and the samples of Frank Tieri's book, it looks as if these will be comic page that in order to keep things printable? Why not go all Scott McCloud-y and bust out of the frame?

JC: We’re Marvel comics. We make comic books that tell great stories and feature mind-blowing art. The digital space is simply another delivery method to get people excited about comic books. Anything that doesn’t look like a comic book is, by nature, something different than a comic book. We like publishing comic books. However, with that said, because we publish comic books digitally—this does not preclude us from experimenting with new and different methods of comic-style storytelling in the digital space and the Marvel Digital Media Group will be doing just that. As we’re apt to say, stay tuned—there’s a lot more coming. Believe me on this one, there is.

NRAMA: Why Wednesday for release of new material? Obviously, there’s the tradition with print, but why stick with that day when you're not dependent upon it due to shipping? Why not, say, Tuesday, when DVDs and CDs are released, something that would pull comics closer to the larger "entertainment" market?

JC: Great question. And you answered it as well. It’s tradition. Wednesday is comic book day and these comics deserve to be a part of that long-standing sense of excitement comic fans feel every Wednesday.

NRAMA: What are you looking at with your frequency? How many titles each week?

JC: Right now, we’re promising at least three releases per month. But I can tell you that our schedule has filled in quite nicely and fans can probably expect at least one new comic every Wednesday—that’s what we’re shooting for. Down the road, there may very well be more than one issued every Wednesday. As long as people enjoy them, we attract new readers and keep getting these new people into comic book shops for more Marvel product, we’ll be very happy with the model we’ve set up.

NRAMA: How many pages will the installments be?

JC: There’s actually no set amount of pages. It will vary by project and, simply, by what we feel is appropriate to tell the story we need to tell. You’ll see anything from six-page issues up to, potentially, 22-pagers. In fact, Secret Invasion: Home Invasion, an entirely free serialized comic that began with the commencement of the Secret Invasion (read it here), gets published at the rate of one page every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Once it’s done, it will end up being well over 100 pages.

NRAMA: In closing, any teases you can give of what's to come? And by the way, how many pitches are you getting? Every creator has that character or story in their back pocket...

JC: I’ll tell you, it’s really exciting. As word spreads though the creative community, we’re getting more and more pitches. In fact, I was just inundated today with more than 20 different ideas for this year’s Marvel Holiday Special. As for a tease for what’s to come? How about this very specific one…In part two of the all-new Marvels Channel: Monsters, Myths And Marvels, currently scheduled for release on Wednesday, November 5—keep on the lookout for one character’s particularly amusing interpretation of who the Illuminati might be. As for future Exclusive Digital Comics outside of what we released today, we’ll let the world know all about them as they get approved. You won’t be disappointed.

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