Last Friday, Warner Bros launched Warner Premiere Motion Comics, digital versions of comics with sound and limited animation. First up in the releases, the first issue of Watchmen, transformed into a 25 minute experience, and available for a limited time free on iTunes (via the ew.com website. Today, Batman: Mad Love was made available on Xbox live and Verizon’s Vcast service.
For more on the initiative, we spoke with Diane Nelson, President of Warner Premiere and Thomas Gewecke, president of Warner Bros. Digital Distribution.
Newsarama: Diane, let’s begin with you. what are the origins of this new initiative? What was the need for this kind of material from Warner Bros.’ perspective?
Diane Nelson: Warner Premiere, as the direct to consumer production arm of Warner Bros. Pictures, is developing and producing high-quality content for direct to DVD and Digital Distribution. Our opportunity and value to these mediums is our depth and breadth of wonderful brands and Intellectual Property (IP). DC Comics is arguably one of the most valuable stables of properties in the WB library, and we felt it made perfect sense to launch our digital original content initiative with a slate of Motion Comics.
NRAMA: Why did you take the extra step to make the presentation a form of semi-animation that's been seen before, rather than just present the original works in their static form?
DN: There are two key reasons we chose to adapt the underlying comics the way we did for Motion Comics. The first, and most important, is to demonstrate a strong respect and commitment to the original art and comic form. These Motion Comics are not intended to be hybrid films or TV experiences; they are enhanced experiences of the original comics, designed to maximize this particular medium and consumer expectations within the medium. The second was to understand the digital medium and offer content that is crafted to leverage the strengths of the digital experience. There are others who are brining comic books to digital by simply offering the static strips. For Warner Bros., this felt like a less compelling way to serve up these beautiful creations. It is for this reason that we consulted with Dave Gibbons throughout the development of the Watchmen Motion Comic. Dave and Alan Moore understood and fully maximized -- even redefined -- the published comic format. We knew Dave would bring the same perspective to how we brought Watchmen to life digitally. For all of our digital content production, we believe there is an important balance between story and understanding the strengths of the digital experience.
NRAMA: Clearly, Watchmen and a Batman tie-in make sense for debut releases given the respective film promotion, but what criteria are you looking at for future comics that will be treated in this fashion?
DN: There are a variety of factors that go into the selection of properties and stories that we choose to develop. As mentioned previously, we of course prioritize the strongest stories; in particular, stories that we believe will lend themselves creatively to the medium and the techniques we use to bring the comics to life. Additionally, given that our goal is to bring fans not only to these Motion Comics, but potentially to introduce new fans to the original, published comics, as well. For that reason, we do factor in the prominence and, to a degree, broad appeal of certain characters and stories. However, as we expand our slate, our hope is to move to comic stories and characters that may be less well known by a broad audience.
Finally, we do look at the core art assets to make sure they can be effectively utilized; we're committed to staying as true to the original art as we possibly can. In the current treatment, what seems to work best is art with sharp color contrasts and well posed characters. We are finding less success with dense color pallets that bleed together or too much line art; though we hope to evolve our techniques and not limit the stories we bring to life by the technique of animating them.
NRAMA: How do you weight things in regards to "introducing" a new character or concept to an audience (such as a Camelot 3000 or Frank Miller's Ronin) versus presenting familiar characters and stories (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc)? Do you feel that the audience for Motion Comics is different than say, a general audience in a bookstore that may peruse DC's trade paperbacks, and thus their familiarity with certain properties may be differnet?
DN: We see it to our advantage to work with stories and characters that have a strong consumer connection. While we will initially prioritize better known characters and stories, as we establish the slate and the form, we intend to expand to lesser known characters and stories as we create a base. The strength of these Motion Comics is in the story, not the popularity of the characters. The audience for motions comics is the core comic fan and the core digital entertainment consumer. Ideally, we'd like to gain the respect of the core, published comic fan, while engaging a new and potentially broader base, both for the Motion Comics and as a way to introduce the comic books to new fans.
NRAMA: As mentioned earlier, clearly, the first two releases have synergy and marketing behind them - how much will that play a role in future releases? Going back to, say, Ronin - would fans expect to see that work as a Motion Comic six months out from that film's eventual release?
DN: Obviously having a core character currently in a major theatrical release like The Dark Knight is helpful, as is the positioning for Zack Snyder's Watchmen that is gearing up for 2009. But for Warner Premiere we knew we wanted to introduce the Motion Comics category itself as a concept at Comic-Con to get the best understanding of how core fans would respond. As for the future development slate, we will always look for opportunities to leverage large promotional platforms in other parts of our company, but will not be limited by that criterion.
NRAMA: Will Motion Comics be presenting original stories and characters?
DN: Our strategy for Motion Comics is to utilize existing characters and stories. The concept is to bring comic experiences to life, not necessarily to create a new art form in and of itself. We will, however, stay nimble and poised to adjust this strategy if the market suggests it is warranted.
Warner Premiere also has plans to develop other types of short form digital content. The future is seemingly limitless and as we continue to refine our plans we believe anything is possible for the digital space.
NRAMA: With their debut, the Motion Comics are available on iTunes, Xbox and Verizon Vcast. Will there be more outlets added in - such as different phone service providers?
Thomas Gewecke: We’re very pleased with our initial launch partners, and we expect to make Motion Comics broadly available across a number of different digital distribution platforms.
NRAMA: What niche in an audience's entertainment diet do you see Motion Comics filling or even replacing? Is this an "on the bus" read, an “at work” read? At home?
DN: It's not our ambition to replace any comic experience, but rather be additive to what fans already enjoy, or reach an audience that does spend a significant amount of time actively engaged in the space where Warner Bros. Digital Distribution programs Warner Premiere Motion Comics.
NRAMA: How are the original creators of the works involved with the process?
DN: With the titles we have shared for the Comic-Con launch, we have been fortunate enough to work with our peers at DC Comics to call upon the original creators as ambassadors. The success of this category is dependent upon finding the stories and creators who recognize that this is a viable way to bring their creations to new and existing fans in a creative new way. As I mentioned, our experience with Dave Gibbons on Watchmen has been fantastic -- collaborative and supportive. Dave will very likely to have more to say on the experience from his perspective at Comic-Con.
NRAMA: Any hints you can drop in regards to upcoming releases?
DN: Stay tuned - we hope to share more after Comic-Con.