Following the recent unveiling of an unexplained "Share Your Universe" logo tied to its digital comics codes, Marvel Comics today formalized the program and what it means for the spread of comics amongst readers young and old in their latest "Next Big Thing" conference call.
A line-up including Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley, VP of Television and Animation Jeph Loeb, Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada and VP of Animation Development & Production Cort Lane joined the press to explain what exactly Marvel: Share Your Universe would be and how it would get into the hands of fans.
The call started by explaining the core dictates of the initiative as Marvel encouraging fans to share their Marvel content. The ethos will extend to comics, animation, digital media and beyond. "To me, this gets down to the core of what got me into the Marvel Universe to start," Quesada said, recalling being given comics by his father and older peers. "That was in a day when my dad wasn't really into Marvel, but he knew of Marvel" as compared to today when die-hard Marvel fans are looking to share their love of the characters with their children.
Lane said that a big component of this program was recruiting kids into the Marvel Universe beyond their interest in the animated series on Disney XD. "We realized we had a lot of content and opportunities being developed, but there wasn't a lot of way to share this content." Loeb added that there is an extraordinary amount of content going out to people between television and film, and that this program is meant to turn fans of that material back to the comics from which all those ideas springs. "It's really an exciting time between the movies, television and games...we want everyone to realize that it all starts with publishing. It all starts with comic books. It starts with that beautiful artwork and storytelling...in a world where there's so much social media going on whether it's Twitter or Facebook or whatever you want to put out there, the interpersonal nature of whether you're a father or a son and wanting to talk about this stuff is amazing."
The call then explained that the first wave of free product will be free episodes of the incoming "Avengers Assemble" cartoon show up on XBox 360 and Windows 8 through July 15. A free "Share Your Universe" print sampler will be in comic shops on Wednesday, and free digital samplers will be made available on the Marvel Comics App. The final initial plank of the campaign will be an active Facebook page meant to promote the sharing of Marvel content as well as the continued features of Marvel's previous MarvelKids.com website.
Asked what they looked to for inspiration, Buckley said that Marvel really looked internally at the free sampling they've already done on their Kids site as well as the idea long held in the comics community that people will go out and try and attract new readers themselves. "We can go to our core advocates and our core fans" and let them know how to answer the question of "Where to start?" in comics. "We wanted to do something that was very unique and took advantage of the very unique network of fans we have through social media and through comic shops," the Publisher said. "We don't think we were doing an easy enough job making this material available for our core fans."
In terms of goals for the program, Buckley admitted that finding specific results out the gate will be very hard. There are general internet metrics for traffic and "Likes" on social media, but over the months ahead, Marvel will be taking the initiative out to conventions on kids days and other public events.
"Our fanbase has never been shy," Loeb laughed. "They let us know when we're doing right things and wrong things, but one thing they're known for is their love of Marvel...I think this becomes a success if we have one kid introduced to our world because this is an opportunity for us to say to that incredibly active Marvel fanbase 'Come along with us.'" Loeb added that if the program works well, fans will get a lot of out sharing content with their friends and family outside of whatever benefits Marvel sees as a company.
Quesada said a major inspiration for this for him personally was when Marvel recently invited Mia – the young girl who became an internet sensation after repeating deep Marvel trivia knowledge on YouTube – to the Marvel offices with her father. To the call, seeing young people get their first big exposure to Marvel Comics was a huge part of the thrill of "Share Your Universe."
Comparisons to the age old complaint of "Comics used to be in 7-Elevens when I was a kid" came up with the call saying that Marvel needed to create a connection in young readers that the older generation used to have to picking up books off the spinner racks. "You have to first prove to people – parents especially – that we're going to be on air with content for their kids," Buckley said, noting that once you convince parents that there is good content always available for their kids, you have to let them know where they can get it. "This isn't about being in 7-Eleven. It's about being where kids are at today. And today, the five-and-dime is a kid grabbing his/her/your/my iPad or iPhone and playing on it." He said the best part of Share Your Universe in terms of outreach is that it has multiple access points and multiple forms of content for families to tap into.
Content-wise, the call said that most of the comics pushed through the promotion will be ones inspired by the current animated content, and while the long term plan for fans is to get them to appreciate the various styles of different Marvel artists, one common question they get from five and six-year-olds in focus groups is "Which one is the real Spider-Man?" In other words, changing the style of the characters too much can turn off young kids. So most of the content that's been built up with compliment each other so that kids who come into the Marvel Universe via Halloween costumes and other mass media products will "experience it in a consistent fashion," said Buckley.
Lastly, a fan question from Marvel's own community came up about whether this will allow for more female characters from the Marvel U being promoted in the program. Lane said that has been a particular focus of the animation group, citing the new White Tiger as a character that could be "as cool as the boys" in the show, and as it turns out, focus groups response to the character showed she was a favorite of boys as well as girls. Since then, they've worked on building up Black Widow in "Avengers Assemble" and She-Hulk in "Agents of SMASH." Meanwhile, Quesada said that they had similar plans in publishing for Captain Marvel while the "Agents of SHIELD" show coming to ABC will have a number of strong female characters spotlighted. Loeb said, "I think when folks get to know the cast of 'Agents of SHIELD,' it'll all grow out into publishing and the animation group."