With MarvelFest NYC rapidly approaching, we're shining the spotlight on the creative geniuses behind the ASTONISHING X-MEN Motion Comic. Make sure you come down to Union Square in NYC on October 28 at 6 p.m. to see the world premiere of the ASTONISHING X-MEN Motion Comic, take part in the costume contest and more. Visit marvel.com/fest for more info. And even if you can't make the event, click over to iTunes on October 28 to download the first episode of "Astonishing X-Men: Gifted"!
By John Rhett Thomas and Chris Arrant
[reprinted from MARVEL SPOTLIGHT: ASTONISHING X-MEN MOTION COMIC]
It's time to hear from some of the gentlemen behind the whole notion of motion comics at Marvel. President of Publishing Dan Buckley wasn't kidding in our 70th Anniversary Celebration issue of SPOTLIGHT when he said that, as leader of Marvel's commercial fortunes in the 21st Century, he was looking for new ways to deliver the characters and stories of the House of Ideas to its fans. Little did we know at the time what a huge force motion comics would be in that nitiative!
And now Dan is here to get a little more explicit about his ideas. Along with him are John Dokes, Marvel's digital guru, and Ruwan Jayatilleke, the company's Senior Vice President of Development and producer of the "Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D." and "Astonishing X-Men, Gifted" motion comics. Together, they explore the ways in which they create the avenues for Marvel's incredible stable of creative talent to take their characters and stories to new platforms.
SPOTLIGHT: What was the genesis of Marvel's push for motion comics? Who took the lead in making this innovation a part of Marvel's future?
DAN BUCKLEY: This started the day I got to Marvel about six years ago, when I took up conversations with the likes of Joe Quesada, Brian Bendis and Mark Millar. Discussions then picked up with John Dokes and the digital group about four years ago. It started to really gain traction a little over a year ago as we developed a greater understanding of the process, added more resources in Digital media group, and figured out the best way to distribute the product. From there it was also a matter of finding the people who could be a part of the collaborative process to produce the motion comics with our editors and creators.
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JOHN DOKES: When we saw the work that Motherland was doing with our trailers we knew we had an opportunity to take it to the next level. Our initial test with Astonishing X-Men was well received and often imitated.
SPOTLIGHT: Was prepping the motion comics launch one of the reasons Bendis and Maleev's SPIDER-WOMAN comic was perpetually delayed? So the production could be done just right?
DAN BUCKLEY: The active planning for this started something like four to five years ago. What put the concept into high gear was doing Stephen King's short story "N." as a motion comic. The work that Alex Maleev did with Motherland caught Mr. Bendis's eye, and led to the Spider-Woman Motion Comic conversations with Brian and Alex. Brian came to me with a very strong desire to make Spider-Woman be the first motion comic as an ongoing series. And, yes, making it a motion comic simultaneous to its debut as a print comic was part of the delay, but only insofar as it gave us time to find the best vendor for production and get the product in the best possible shape to debut this new line.
RUWAN JAYATILLEKE: As lead producer on all three motion comics that Marvel has worked on—Stephen King's "N.," SPIDER-WOMAN and "Astonishing X-Men: Gifted"—I would say Alex's eye-catching work and phenomenal storytelling on "N." really put things into high gear for this initiative. Beyond that, Brian Bendis had an incredible vision for motion comics and print comics—and since then it's been a nonstop ride to make that happen. In terms of ASTONISHING X-MEN, where you have a story that resonated with so many comic book and mainstream consumers, it was a no-brainer to take Joss Whedon's and John Cassaday's epic work in the X-verse and put it into motion. Of course, Neal Adams and his studio were instrumental in making that happen. For SPIDER-WOMAN, Lance Sells of Motherland Studio served as production house, and he has been the guiding light in terms of putting Spider-Woman into motion.
From a production standpoint, we created "N." in about 8-10 weeks from script to layered art to motion to delivery to iTunes and elsewhere. Thankfully, for our first original motion comic series, SPIDER-WOMAN, we've had much more time! However, SPIDER-WOMAN could never have happened without the tireless work of Alex from January of this year onwards. He's been working nonstop on motion comics and the print comics simultaneously—he's a machine! All the delays in seeing SPIDER-WOMAN were more about letting Alex create and letting him cut loose visually.
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SPOTLIGHT: What was the reason (or what were the reasons) "Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D." was chosen as the inaugural title to premiere Marvel Motion Comics?
DAN BUCKLEY: It was a combination of Brian's desire to be in the forefront of the medium as well as Alex's comfort and capability after working on "N." He was one of, if not the, most prominent artists dealing with this type of art direction as well as with the evolution of the technology. The duo of Bendis/Maleev seemed the perfect pair to launch this new initiative.
SPOTLIGHT: In the case of Spider-Woman and the Astonishing X-Men Motion Comic, how big a role do the comics' creators have in thedevelopment of motion comics themselves?
DAN BUCKLEY: Brian and Alex are intimately involved in the production of SPIDER-WOMAN. John Cassaday is directing ASTONISHING X-MEN, which means that he is involved in all aspects of the project. While combining animation with the comic book medium, we try to show the utmost respect for the original creators of the comic as well as the multi-media creative people that are now being added to this process. While we make every effort to stay true to the original story, we want to let the new voice actors, directors, animators and other contributors add to the product and stretch their legs. We're still finding that balance; we've been doing comics for 70 years, but we've only done a small handful of these motion comics. It's a whole new world!
RUWAN JAYATILLEKE: I'd like to add that the creators are completely involved for SPIDER-WOMAN: Brian and Alex having been sweating over this motion comic for months on end—from scripting to voice actor casting to directing the story to making sure the final touches are in place. For ASTONISHING X-MEN, John Cassaday made it a point to be at all the major recording sessions with James Snyder of Edge Studios as we listened to "Gifted" come to life via audio. John's also been involved in all the key stages of the motion comic production: drawing and extending key pieces of art; adding his insights to the score and effects; and, of course, acting as co-director on the project and working with Neal Adams on the vision for each episode. It's very important to John that motion comics respect what he and Joss put together for the printed page, while enhancing and magnifying that story for both newand old fans alike.
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SPOTLIGHT: Currently the Marvel Motion Comics are available exclusively on iTunes with iPhones & iPod Touches (and of course regular computers). But do you have plans to make them available on other smartphones or portable devices?
DAN BUCKLEY: We're exploring all distribution options all the time.
SPOTLIGHT: Right now this is a purely digital download. Is there any consideration to selling a block of Motion Comics on CD or DVD in stores?
DAN BUCKLEY: Like I said, we're exploring all distribution options all the time.
SPOTLIGHT: What are the key objectives to the Marvel Motion Comics program, and how far have you plotted out the future in terms of releases?
DAN BUCKLEY: They key objective is to engage consumers, both old and new. We want to get them involved and excited about what we are doing with this program. Of course we want to make a profit, but ultimately our goal is to get our characters and products in front of as many people—and potential new fans—as possible.
SPOTLIGHT: Could you foresee a future where all newly developed Marvel comic books have a Motion Comics counterpart?
DAN BUCKLEY: It's honestly too early to tell.
JOHN DOKES: We've seen others make mistakes in the type of titles they've used to translate to motion comics, so we intend to be very selective as we explore this area.
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SPOTLIGHT: Have you gauged the reaction of fans to the SPIDER-WOMAN Motion Comics that have been released? Positive overall? Have you done any demographic breakdowns on which sets of fans are more or less receptive to Motion Comics?
DAN: So far what we've heard is very positive, although it's too soon to tell on in-depth demo studies.
SPOTLIGHT: Several people involved with the project have talked about the groundbreaking nature of this. What were the biggest hurdles in getting this type of content delivered to fans?
DAN: Definitely figuring out how to sell and market it. We needed to determine the best means to deliver what we feel is compelling content to the fans. This is a whole new medium so we are trying to gauge what the customer base is looking for and what they will support. People should understand we are defining this product as we develop it—from price point to story length to the amount of animation. This is all brand new territory.
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