Are Motion Comics the future of Comic Books?

October 24th, 2009 by

SpiderWoman_MotionComic_NowOniTunesRecently the new Spider-Woman series by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev hit the stands. It may also surprise you that they’ve also released a “motion comic” of the series on iTunes as well.  In fact, if you read much of the promotional interviews and articles bout Spider-Woman, you’ll find that Marvel is pushing the motion comic more than the printed comic.  In addition, they just announced that the first arc of Astonishing X-Men (“Gifted”) by Joss Whedon would be released as a motion comic as well, complete with a media blitz to boot.  This follows DC’s jump into the genre with last year’s Watchmen motion comic that coincided with the movie.  So what’s the story on this hot new craze sweeping the comics world?  Is this the golden ticket that the big publishers were looking for to bring comics into the digital age?  And what is the difference between a motion comic vs. a cartoon?  Lucky for you, I’m here to help out.

Let’s start with the basics – what is a motion comic anyway?  Let’s say it falls somewhere in between a typical digital comic, which you read like a regular comic except it’s on your computer screen, and a cartoon.  It takes the (usually) hand-drawn art from the comics page, adds a little bit of digital magic to remove word balloons and make nifty effects, and adds a voice over so that you listen instead of read along.  Sounds neat, but is it any better or worse than the original comic?  To be honest, I’m a bit biased in this regard.  There’s a reason I have 13 long boxes filed with comics that I refuse to ever get rid of.   I have the same opinions of traditional books vs. audio books, but that’s beside the point.  To me, nothing can ever replace the ink-on-paper comic book.  But I’m not really the target of this new genre.  For years, the comics industry has been struggling with ways to bring comics into the 21st century.  They face shrinking audinces, a fan base that isn’t getting any younger (or healthier), the prevailing notion of comics being “nerdy,” and the frustration of hit movies that haven’t translated to a surge of new readers.  Are new fans going to go for this over regular comics?  I really don’t think so.  I can’t imagine that this will capture enough fans that they can make a strong enough business case to make a whole lot of these.  I imagine that at this point, the cost to produce them outweighs the potential profit that can be made from them.  I think for any new digital comic initiative, you need to get the core comics audience to adapt to it as well as try new initiatives to bring in audiences.  And since motion comics from Marvel and DC have focused on existing comic stories, I don’t see a lot of people giving up buying the comic in exchange for getting the motion comic.  Marvel has promised that there will be differences between the comic book and the motion comic.  Bendis said that there is art found in the motion comic that’s not in the printed comic, and vice versa.   Also, it’s said that the printed comic is more “literate,” that we’re inside Jessica’s head more than in the motion comic.  Will the promise of extra content bring fans of the comic to the motion comic, or vice versa?  I’m intrigued, but not enough to spend money on the entire series of motion comics.  (You think I can write off these as an expense on my taxes?)

Let’s look at some pros and cons of the motion comic genre.  On the plus side, motion comics don’t kill trees.  They’re sustainable, they won’t deteriorate when they get wet (though your iPhone might), they don’t take up most of your basement.  Also, they’re currently cheaper – Spider-Woman the comic book costs $2.99 on paper vs. $1.99 on iTunes.  And the first five issues (I mean, episodes) are currently available as opposed to having to wait one month at a time.  On the flip side, if this were to take off it would spell bad news for retailers, and I don’t see much support coming from them.  Distribution is a problem – currently iTunes are the preferred format, but does everyone want to be beholden to Apple?  Also, the publishers are using third parties to create the page-to-screen conversion, which will cut into their profits and mean less money for creators in the long run.  Finally, they’re simply not as interesting as a real comic book, or a real cartoon for that matter.  Having watched Spider-Woman #1 and Watchmen #1 on motion comics, I can say that there is definitely something lost in the translation.

To be fair, Marvel and DC are not the only ones that have gotten into the motion comic gig.  At least one motion comic based off of original material is out there, and on your TV screens no less.  Recently the SyFy channel has started airing new shows of Voltron and Street Fighter using the “motion comic” style.  I haven’t seen them at all, but early reviews haven’t been good.  They beg the question – why didn’t they make a cartoon of these shows?  Are kids going to sit through a series of still images on their TV as someone reads to them?  And I think this is the number one argument why motion comics aren’t going to be around for very long – they’re no substitute for real comics, and they won’t appeal to the audience a cartoon would.  So nice try, but I’ll stick to the paper comics.

5 Responses to “Are Motion Comics the future of Comic Books?”

  1. florence Says:

    I agree, Mike. This might have been an impressive invention before cartoons, but it’s hard to see how this could be an improvement over printed comics or tv.

  2. Susie Says:

    I dont think it works very well for comics that were created the traditional way and then converted. It might be interesting to see an original comic, created for the medium.

  3. Larry Says:

    Yeah I guess it’s not that awesome. I mean if you want the moving pictures then you check out cartoons and if you want comics well you check out printed comics and that’s all. Though there’s possibility that in the future motion comics will be successful if DC and Marvel will start publishing Captain A’s comics Superman’s, Batman’s, Spidey’s and other more popular superhero icons. Because I’m not Spider-Woman’s big fan and I’ll never be.

  4. TJ Nelson Says:

    I’m with you Mike! I just can see making the change from a physical comic I can hold, smell and read. 🙂 I guess it was inevitable that the comic industry would want to join the current times with technology. However, I think the die hards will kick and scream the whole way if an actual comic were to become obsolete. (Which I just can’t imagine). Thanks for the great info.

    TJ Nelson
    Learn about: electromagnetic chaos eliminator

  5. Make Beer Says:

    I really like to analyze each picture in the cartoon, to get the most out of this artform. That will be somewhat difficult on a computer or tablet. Furthermore, the feel and smell of the paper and ink, makes reading a cartoon something more than just looking at pictures – it is more of a complex experience. So Motion Comics is not for me!