This week saw a pretty big announcement from Marvel in the form of a new application called Marvel AR and a revolutionary new line called Infinite comics. Starting in April, smartphones and tablets with cameras will become readers’ windows to extra content, like original sketches and writer/artist commentary, when the AR logo is scanned within the forthcoming app. Is this a useless new idea that will be underutilized and done away with shortly after launch, or could it truly be the next step in digital comics publishing that other companies will have to adopt in order to stay competitive?
The Marvel Re-Evolution was announced on Sunday, March 11at SXSW. Along with the new app, simply called Marvel AR, an entire new line of Infinite comics will launch with the much-hyped first issue of Avengers vs. X-Men (the digitally enhanced Infinite version of the book will be free with either the print or digital copy of Avengers vs. X-Men #1). Basically, these digital-only Infinite books will tell supplemental stories that go beyond what’s found in the standard book and will be written and drawn by different teams. Industry giant Mark Waid has writing duties for the very first Infinite comic, and since he has long been an advocate for taking advantage of all that digital comics can offer, it’s hard not to be excited to see what he delivers. The AR app itself will be needed to scan the special AR logos found in the print copies, which will deliver anything from 3D models of superheroes flying out of the page to visualizations of certain pages that follow the artistic process from the initial sketch to the final product.
As someone who believes in the benefits of both print and digital comics, I’m incredibly excited for this new initiative from Marvel. Anyone who has used the comiXology app on an iPad can attest to the amazing fluidity and beauty of the technology, and Marvel looks ready to take it to another level. As Waid pointed out in his article, one of the joys of comics is that they move at the reader’s own pace and the stories can be absorbed with their full control. When animation and movement that is specifically designed for comparatively smaller viewing areas of tablets and smartphones is utilized, digital comics can hopefully rise above simply being inferior replicas of their print counterparts. One detriment of digital comic books is that double-page spreads, which often make for some of the greatest visuals, cannot fully be appreciated on a tablet screen. Hopefully the technology and creative minds behind Infinite comics can make for equally effective imagery in digital form. And while I can take or leave the idea of Iron Man flying out of the page into the real world (check out an example of that here), seeing the initial sketches of a page or having comics luminaries walk onto the screen and offer insight into their creative processes could make for great experiences. Since all the extra content would be free with the purchase of a print or digital copy that I would be buying anyway, the whole idea remains pretty attractive.
While this is undoubtedly a way for Marvel to try to win over some comic book fans who might be obtaining their books through less-than-legal means every week, it also seems like an honest attempt to integrate print and digital comics and to offer readers more value for their dollar. The publishing industry as a whole is moving towards the digital realm, and Marvel is coming out of the gate strong. We’ll just have to wait and see if the future of comics holds as much promise as Marvel claims.