Marvel Comics brought digital comics to the forefront of WonderCon 2012 during its House of Ideas panel dedicated to all things digital. Hosted by Marvel Director of Communications Arune Singh with Senior Vice President Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, writer Mark Waid and Executive Editorial Director Ryan Penagos all in attendance and speaking to the current direction and future of Marvel Digital.
After introducing the panel, Singh kicked off the panel by introducing Marvel Digital Comics, soliciting the crowd for their participation in any type of Marvel digital product.
"It’s about 12,000 comics right now," Penagos said of Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. Singh likened the service to Netflix, "but way better than Netflix because it has comics."
Singh went on to mention they will be including a code for a free digital copy for all their books "at a certain level" for no additional charge.
"We want to give fans added value wherever we can and to make sure fans come into the stores and buy the comics," Singh said. "Marvel does not want to kill retailers. We love retailers and we want to give fans more reasons to come into comic shops."
One of the other promotions Singh spoke to is the Comic Book Cash offer where people who bought a digital comic would get a five dollar coupon for their local comic book stores. The promotion will be coming back and run longer than a day. "It'll be very soon and I think retailers will see a lot more customers coming in with these coupons," he said.
A banner saying "The Future of Comics Is Here" touting the Marvel ReEvolution. "It is Marvel merging the world of print and digital media together for a better comics experiences," said Singh, noting Marvel wanted to help benefit the industry as a whole. "We don't see them as competitors."
Marvel Infinite Comics is a part of the Marvel ReEvolution, which will begin with "Avengers Vs. X-Men Infinite" starring Nova, written by Mark Waid.
"When you buy your first issue of 'Avengers Vs. X-Men,' you will get a free digital copy," said Singh. "With issue #1, you'll also get this infinite comic bundled together for free." The infinite comic will not be bundled with the digital-only version of "Avengers Vs. X-Men" #1.
Waid spoke to his passion for digital comics, which helped him to enter the arena of Marvel Infinite Comics. "Joe Quesada and I decided we had a similar common vision for what a digital comic was -- or more importantly what it's not. It's not animation, it's not sound effects … those things can be used but they're not comics," Waid said. "In comics, you the reader still get to control the flow of information. The moment you add sound effects, it's just a very passive experience. This keeps it a very active experience as a reader."
The panel then showed the full Marvel Infinite Comic to a few audience members and invited the rest to find them at the Marvel booth to see the full issue.
Marvel Augmented Reality (AR) was next, available as an app April 2. "On the 'Avengers vs. X-Men' core series, you'll be able to activate certain augmented reality features," Singh said. "You'll get to see how a page went from panels to inks to colors, you'll get new video content, you'll get insight from Brian Bendis and some other writers of the comic. This is really about giving a behind-the-scenes feature."
Singh noted the AR would work better on a print comic rather than digital. Singh gave a special shout-out to the Marvel digital team, who worked very hard on the project.
Penagos spoke to the new layout and redesign of Marvel.com. "Every day, there's new 'Avengers' stuff. That stuff is front and center on the front page along with comics," he said. "We're making sure you guys are getting all the stuff you're interested in."
The audience members who had finished reading the Infinite Comic sounded off about the accessibility and control of Marvel's new digital format, praising its comic book feel while still being undeniably a digital product. "I was actually surprised it didn't crash just like a movie," said one audience member. "The opening sequence feels like he's being pulled through space."
As more audience members were called up to see the first Infinite Comic, Singh began to detail the other developments in the Marvel Digital space including the Mighty Marvel Podcast and the This Week in Marvel Podcast.
The Mighty Marvel Podcast is an in-depth look at different perspectives in the creative process. Penagos' This Week in Marvel takes a snapshot of everything going on at Marvel with Twitter fan questions. "I love interacting with everybody who's a Marvel fan or even a Marvel hater," Penagos said. "Occasionally, we'll pull somebody who works in Marvel proper. We'll take somebody who you wouldn't normally hear from and get their perspective."
Facebook is also another source for all things Marvel, whose page is "rapidly approaching 4 million friends" and Penagos teased more "Avengers" movie news coming up. In terms of Twitter, Penagos spoke to a Twitter account for the Jean Grey School for Gifted Youngsters and the "Wolverine & the X-Men" live tweet events. "I think the fans are really into it," Penagos said.
"Avengers" also has an official Twitter and Facebook account. Fans can actually order tickets straight from the official Facebook page.
Another Infinite Comics demo-er spoke to the merits of the format. "Normally when you're reading comics on the app, the letters aren't necessarily the right size," he said. "I want to see the whole page. With this, the letters are exactly the right size. It's kind of like guided panel view, but it's meant to be that way."
"One of the biggest things we considered is with guided panel view, you're adapting something from another medium," said Waid, who likened the guided panel view technology to "reading a comic through a cardboard tube." "We wanted each screen to be its own page."
"When television was invented, television was nothing but radio with some pictures on it. You could watch a television show in the '50s and not have to watch it," Waid continued, saying actors like Lucielle Ball and Milton Berle brought Vaudeville to television, making a hybrid media much like Infinite Comics seeks to do.
Get Glue was the next Four Square type service highlighted where fans can check in to Marvel comics and amass a collection of actual, physical stickers when users gain badges.
After a brief spiel on Marvel's YouTube channel, Penagos spoke to Marvel's recent Facebook game, "Avengers Alliance."
"There's going to be a lot of cool free ways to get items," Penagos teased. "It's a turn-based RPG with Marvel characters."
The panel opened the floor up to questions about Marvel's digital endeavors.
One fan asked about the number of Infinite Comics readers can expect. "We're going to do a few of them through the event of 'Avengers vs. X-Men,'" Singh said. "The first few stories are going to be in 'Avengers vs. X-Men.' … It depends on the reaction from people. We want to see the response and we'll see how many of them we can do." Waid also mentioned fan reaction and input was key to helping to decide which characters might make an Infinite Comics appearance.
Another fan asked about integration between the Marvel Comics App and Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. "It's something we've discussed. It's a lot more complicated than people realize," Singh said. "We want to find a way to do it eventually."
"If we all had our druthers, it would happen as soon as we could make it happen," added Penagos. "We're pushing for it."
The inevitable question of "Whose side is Wolverine on during 'AvX?'" came up. "He's got strong attachments and strong ties to the X-Men, obviously. … and definitely strong feelings about Hope Summers and the Phoenix in general," Brevoort said.
"Knowing what I know about the story, the fact that there's a logistical reason for him to support both teams that really plays into the story," Waid said.
"He should go where the beer is," Penagos said.
The panel also fielded a question about how their digital presence opened up Marvel to a larger audience. "I think technology in general helps us get to a much larger demographic," Singh said. "Everyone's on Facebook. Everyone's on Twitter. The difficulty is you have to craft your message very carefully."
The final question dealt with digital pricing. "Marvel has its own digital pricing strategy that is certainly different than other companies," Singh said, noting some of the $0.99 sales and free comics offered. "We want retailers to adapt to whatever changes are brought to them. We're learning as we go along. … We want to make sure to find what's right for Marvel, for retailers and for fans. Personally, I don't think it's great for retailers to know comics are going to be a buck cheaper a few weeks later from the publisher."
Stay tuned to CBR for more WonderCon 2012 coverage.