Marvel to debut motion comics on the iPhone

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Marvel to debut motion comics on the iPhone

Chicago (IL) – Apple’s iTunes Store is becoming the general purpose online platform for delivering all kinds of digital content, including those which go well beyond music into movies, audio books and applications. And now, Apple will play host for publishing powerhouse Marvel Comics who will soon debut motion comics on iTunes.

The comics are enhanced with voice narration, layered animation, and serve as a motion comics experiment with a new storytelling language that should appeal to regular comics fans, as well as the iPod generation who rarely reads printed comics. Marvel will kick-off with a new in-continuity Spider-Woman series, followed by Astonishing X-Men, and then more original and library releases in the near future. Users will also be able to transfer motion comics to the iPhone or iPod touch and enjoy them on the go.

Dubbed In-Motion, but also known simply as motion comics, the new format promises to let you “watch and hear your favorite comics, authors and artists come alive,” according to the post on the Marvel Motion site that further whets the appetite by claiming that “you’ve never seen Marvel move like this.” Although a short teaser video posted on the site throws little light on the look and feel of this new form of storytelling, we know that professional voice talents will provide voiceovers accompanied by simple layered animation of images that make up a comic panel. According to the Geeks of Doom, Marvel turned to Neal Adams and Continuity Studios to make motion comics a reality.

The company will debut motion comics both on iTunes and with two major releases, Astonishing X-Men from Joss Whedon and John Cassaday; and Spider-Woman by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. The latter will exclusively debut, for the first time ever, as an in-continuity motion comic series, while a printed edition will arrive later. Plans following the initial two releases include near future released library titles, which have been re-worked for the new format.

Marvel plans to sell motion comics on Apple’s iTunes Store, but is considering other online venues as well, including its own homepage and even YouTube. Marvel is also considering re-formatting motion comics for DVDs and mobile devices. The company hopes these additional formats might attract new consumers who don’t generally read ordinary print-based comic books. At the time of this writing, little was known about price points of motion comics, but blogosphere is pretty certain that Marvel will employ multiple price points, depending on content.

A new storytelling language

Marvel’s editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada, says the company has big plans for motion comics. “Sure you’ve seen the origin of Fantastic Four in the movies and in cartoons, but we’re giving it to you with Jack Kirby’s art, come to life. That to me, ultimately, is the coolest part of this,” he said. Quesada is also convinced that this is the way all comics will be made in the not-so-distant future.

“It became very, very evident to me that as technology moves forward, there will come a day where we’ll be able to not just create animation based upon our comic books and our characters and stories that we’ve told, but there will come a time when eventually we’ll be able to take existing comic art, the flat, static art, and be able to animate it,” he said, adding that motion comics should be viewed as a hybrid products that is neither a regular comic book not digital animation.

Spider-Woman co-creator, Brian Michael Bendis, is pretty certain voice narration and animation not only adds a twist to the experience, but creates entirely new medium of storytelling. “With [any] new medium comes a new storytelling language. It’s more than just taking the images and moving them around the screen. There’s a new storytelling language that’s emerging every time we work on it and we’re really excited for where that takes us,” he said.

Final thoughts: Kool-Aid or the real thing?

Being huge fan of comics myself (I’m currently enjoying Marvel’s excellent Watchmen), the announcement still left me scratching my head. As much as I hope Marvel will succeed in creating a new experience that will add value to comics, I’m curious if motion comics will incorporate any kind of interactivity that the new medium provides or will simply rely on simple animation and narration to elevate the experience.

We also have our doubts with regard to the user interface — that it will provide satisfactory navigation. How do you turn pages? Are we going to zoom in on particular image in a panel or will Marvel break down images from each panel into a kind of slideshow sequence? Will we be able to replay audio narration? Or turn speech bubbles and/or voice narration on and off?

The issue is further complicated by the need to have two interfaces, one for reading comics on a desktop via iTunes application and another optimized for reading motion comics on multi-touch-enabled iPhone or iPod touch, meaning Apple will have to update both iTunes and iPhone/iPod touch firmware with new code to accommodate for Marvel’s motion comic content.

Of course, your guess is as good as ours and we’re purely speculating at this point, but we seriously doubt this new form of storytelling will employ any interactivity or even a dedicated user interface for that matter. We just hope this announcement doesn’t prove as a marketing blurb designed to sell us slideshows. It had better be a good thing because it wouldn’t be the first time entertainment conglomerates tried to sell us Kool-Aid wrapped in the “new media” phrase.


Comics powerhouse Marvel will soon start offering motion comics on Apple’s iTunes Store, in addition to YouTube. The new form of storytelling will incorporate audio narration by professional actors, animation of various layers in images and possibly a dedicated user interface for navigation and controlling the experience.

[Editor’s note: Books and comics are a particular type of media. They allow our imagination to soar. And, while reading the book, my version of Gandalf the Grey may not look exactly like your version of Gandalf the Grey, we both have exactly what our imaginations feed us and allow us to see. In that way it’s personal and connected, and of deep meaning.

With these voices and animation-like features being now handed to us, our imaginations will be capped by the parameters of those graphics and sound. Once we saw Lord of the Rings, for example, our imagination version of Gandalf was destroyed and replaced with the same image everybody else has.

To me, someone who isn’t even really a comic book fan, I can still recognize how these limitations will destroy the original attraction of stationary print media like comic books. While some may find it an extension, a new journey, or any number of other beneficial things, I see the motion comic as the destruction of a foundation first created in true comic book fans, and especially so if print comics will eventually be done away with as Quesada suggests.]