A scene from SparksAs San Diego Comic-Con sees more and more types of media being marketed to comic readers, one of the newest forms of storytelling that has expanded in the last two years is motion comics.
As Marvel just last week released a trailer for the upcoming Spider-Woman comic, Catastrophic Comics, the publisher co-founded by Greatest American Hero star, William Katt, is hoping to be a leader in production and use of the new technology. The company, which is releasing its motion comics as applications for iPhone, has added enhanced movement to the recent release of Sparks 2 on iTunes.
"This won't be Robot Chicken style where they draw the mouths moving, which for the record I love Robot Chicken. But our animation director, Sean Ruge, developed lip-syncing in a natural manner," Katt said.
Sparks was co-created and co-ploted by Katt but scripted by his business partner, Christopher Folino, with art by J.M. Ringuet. The comic tells a dark, film noir-type story about a masked vigilante named Sparks who is trying to find his own killer. While the comic was already released in paper form, Catastropic is hoping to reach a new audience by making the art by J.M. Ringuet into a motion comic that is downloadable on iTunes.
Because of their experience in Hollywood, Katt and Folino were able to attract a few stars that might be familiar to long-time genre fans. While Katt plays a voice role in the motion comic, the lead character is played by Michael Pare from Streets of Fire.
Michael Pare recording Voice Over for Sparks"When I did my part of it, they brought me in and I got to watch the motion comic on the screen and then essentially lip-sync the dialogue into the comic," Pare said. "It wasn't that unfamiliar work for me. But the medium was so new. I was just thinking, 'wow, I've never seen anything like this before.' And I don't think many people have. So to be a part of that was exciting."
Folino, co-founder of Catastrophic Comics, said he believes Sparks 2 is "the best motion comic" made to date. "I'm sure Marvel Motion Comics will do a great job with X-Men and Spider-Woman, but they've had the luxury of building a digital comic from the ground up, and with Sparks 2, we're taking a published book and cutting out all the panels to add motion," Folino said. "And what we were able to do as a result has been outstanding."
The publishers are hoping to use their experience with the new medium to help other publishers make licensed properties into motion comics for iPhone.
"What's part of the appeal of motion comics for publishers is that you have absolute control over everything that's done with your comic," Katt said. "There's no studio or network or money guys throwing in their ideas. So if our comic is great, it's because of us.
"I think this medium is something that is going to stick around. I love comic books. But I think we have to be realistic about the cost of printing and the difficult process of distributing and selling a comic when you compare it to electronically distributing it," Katt said. "The truth is that newspapers are dying and print as a medium is struggling. And I think this medium is worth exploring because it's using the new technology and applying it to comic books and making it more of a performance."
Katt said he thinks of motion comics as a "hybrid," combining the comics medium of print with 2-D animation.
William Katt, Actor and Co-Owner of Catastrophic Comics"And you know," Katt said with a laugh, "Obama is really promoting hybrids."
Sparks also features the voice talents of Michael Bell from the GI Joe TV series, Charlie Brill (Star Trek), Courtney Taylor (Watchmen: The End is Nigh), Ashley Bell (The United States of Tara) and Scott Allen Rinker (Gamers).
For Pare, making the motion comic was a little intimidating because he walked into the studio unsure of what to expect. "But once I figured out what it was, it was really cool. It was all about voice acting, and with the film noir feel that Sparks has, it reminded me of something Orson Wells would have done. I think reading a comic is one experience, but hearing it that way, performed by actors, really has a chance to be a hit. It just seems to work for something like Sparks."
Folino said that iPhone is just the start, because there are other digital distribution networks. He also said there are marketing opportunities for motion comics that aren't as readily available to paper comics, such as advertising at movie theaters before comic-related movies.
Catastrophic Comics will be part of the Digital Comics Now! panel today at 3:30 p.m. at San Diego Comic-Con, along with representatives from comiXology, iVerse and Boom! Studios. The company's booth on the con floor will be the site of signings by Katt, as well as Doug Jones (Hellboy, Hobbit), who is promoting the release of the movie Super Capers; Kelly LeBrock (Weird Science and Woman in Red), who will be doing voice work for Catastrophic Comics in their new release, Mythology Wars; and Michael Bell, who helped voice Sparks.