Though it took the name "House of Ideas" in the heyday of Stan Lee, Marvel Comics has tried to keep up a reputation for cutting edge releases these days on the digital front. Aside from developing the tablet-ready original comics known as Infinite Comics or releasing a number of web series on their website, the company has recently started new outreach overtures to young fans with its "Share Your Universe" app.
All those digital initiatives got a moment in the spotlight at the "Marvel: House of Ideas" panel Thursday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Marvel's Director of Communications Arune Singh MC'd the panel which also included fellow staffers Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso, Executive Editorial Director of Marvel Digital Ryan "Agent M" Penagos, SVP of Creator and Content Development C.B. Cebulski and digital execs TQ Jefferson and Ron Perazza as well as superstar writer Brian Michael Bendis.
The conversation started with an overview of how to purchase Marvel Comics online as part of the publisher's ReEvolution initiatives which have pushed cross-platform availability of Marvel books. Singh then played a video trailer for Marvel's Infinite Comics starring editors Ellie Pyle and Daniel Ketchum. The preview showed off some of the storytelling features in the just launched "Wolverine: Japan's Most Wanted" Infinite series.
"We're changing the way we make comic books," Alonso said of Infinite Comics, noting that a major change in the format is that the story no longer has to flow left to right in stacks of panels. "We're getting better and better with each one we do...it's really the new frontier."
Bendis spoke to his "Guardians of the Galaxy" Infinite Comics, which he said he'd been itching to play with ever since the French cartoonist Yves Bigerel became the idol of Marvel staffers looking to work in digital. "I followed Mark Waid's lead. When he did his for 'AvX,' he didn't write full script...and instead wrote a Marvel style script," Bendis said. But has he continued on with the creative process, he started to add more and more detail as well as more and more panels for his artists to draw. "The first one was Drax, and that one I nailed exactly how many panels I could use. And by the time I got to Groot, I wrote what could only be called 'The Godfather' of digital comics."
As a digital expert who's worked at DC Comics and comiXology, Perazza spoke to the idea that comics must keep the storytelling experience in the reader's hands in order to still be comics. "It's an evolution of comics. It's not changing the core medium," he said.
The focus then went on "Wolverine: Japan's Most Wanted" by writers Jason Aaron and Jason Latour. Fans in the audience who were digital comics novices were brought up on stage to test drive the series. Next up for Infinite Comics will be "Iron Man: Fatal Frontier" by Kieron Gillen, Al Ewing and Lan Medina. The comic will launch as a weekly serial in October and tie into Gillen's work on the monthly "Iron Man" title.
The next topic up was the Marvel Unlimited subscription service which gives monthly subscribers the ability to tap into a huge catalogue of past Marvel titles. Penagos said the company adds about 30 new issues a week now, many of which are "six month gap" titles where series recently printed in comic shops are being added to the library. The service also features support media like the "This Week In Marvel" podcast where Marvel staff talk about the comics they're reading. Attendees to Comic-Con who sign up for the service at the booth will get an exclusive action figure.
Bendis compared the service to binge-watching TV series on Netflix, joking that some fans have blown through eight years of his life by reading all his Avengers comics in one weekend. He recommended "NextWave" by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen and "Old Man Logan" by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven as good starting points in the service.
The panel then spoke about the Marvel AR app that gives digital readers bonus behind-the-scenes features. The audience at the panel served as a test group of sorts for a new comedy video serial starring the Marvel Editorial team which should likely be seen to be believed, and let's just leave it at that.
That led to talk of new original video on Marvel.com including "Earth's Mightiest Show" – a new series about Marvel hosted by Blaire Butler (formerly of G4). The first episode of the show features interviews with Seth Green, the Man of Action writing team and more Marvel "lifestyle" features. Today at Comic-Con, Butler will interview "Doctor Who" star Matt Smith as the panel stressed the show will be a general pop culture show, however Singh joked, "We'll hopefully never focus on DC characters."
After showing some other promotional videos, the panel swung to discussion of "Battle of the Atom" – the 50th Anniversary X-Men event story. As part of that series, Marvel will be releasing a new online game. "This is the rare opportunity...to have a game roll out the same time as a storyline rolls out," Jefferson explains. "This is just the start of Marvel games and Marvel publishing to work together and release projects that complement one another." More news on that front was promise for the Marvel Games panel later in the weekend. The panel also showed off character designs for a Superior Spider-Man costume to soon hit the free to play "Marvel Heroes" MMO. There will also be an "Infinity" tie-in on the Facebook-centered "Avengers Alliance" game.
The panel wrapped with a group appreciation of legendary artist Jim Steranko's Twitter account.