Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Marvel's Digital-Only Content

Marvel has announced that Karl Kesel will be writing and drawing a Captain America 1940’s comic strip for their Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited section. The series is sold as if it has only just been unearthed. There will be a strip a day, and a larger Sunday strip at the end of each week. This new project really makes me wonder about Marvel and its online content.

Could Marvel create free webcomics to be accessed on their site? Use up and coming talent to handle the characters that aren't getting a title on the shelves at the moment and then see what happens when we give them to the public with no expectations or price tag to worry about.

I think the Captain America strip is a pretty good idea. It’s simple and kitschy and rivals DC’s Wednesday Comics in style without actually going head-to-head with it. I’d certainly read a cool, fun, and simple comic strip about any number of Marvel characters. I would read this, were I signed up for the Marvel DCU for a monthly or annual fee. I don't want to pay for online content and so I will miss out, but it makes me wonder.

Webcomics For The House Of Ideas

I read the Spider-Man strip in the free Comic Shop News every week. In fact, a little part of me really looks forward to getting those simple strips each week to have a laugh at/with. It’s a different publishing model and I like the comic industry supporting that, or at least making it available.

In fact, I even asked Kieron Gillen about a similar initiative on CBR’s X-Position recently; I questioned his thoughts on turning S.W.O.R.D. into a free webcomic? That way fans can still have their Agent Brand fix but it won’t be as taxing on Marvel to create or distribute, my feelings being that pumping out even one full page a week would be better than nothing and it could generate readers up to a point of a possible relaunch.

I see much merit in this avenue of storytelling for Marvel. A Doctor Strange webcomic that is free to access and doesn’t take too much to make seems like a good idea to me. Testing the waters with a Beta Ray Bill strip surely can’t hurt. Bringing back Iron Fist one week at a time would sate my urges, for now. A Frank Kafka webcomic would be the absolute business. There are good ideas for the model. But is it sustainable?

Creators Aplenty To Trial

There might not be much realism in wondering if Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips would team up for a completely free Marvel, or Icon, webcomic. These guys work for a living and so a living needs to be made. Most established talent most likely aren't going to put creative time and energy into something that is purely for the fans and have no money attached. This especially goes for artists as they get page rates and so time spent working for free is not going to pay the bills and drawing their pages takes a lot of time. I'm not expecting to see the superstars of today taking a step down just to please a few. But could we see the superstars of tomorrow get their chance here?

There must be plenty of affordable, yet artistically awesome, creators out there who’d love to use this as a side project to get a bit more of a name on the street. This should not be too hard to put together and it could really make a difference. How much do they pay the Marvel website employees right now to produce the content they do? I’m sure a free webcomic would get just as many hits, if not more. When this Captain America strip is read, how do they calculate what Kesel should be paid? This seems like a new business model that Marvel could seriously employ if they are serious about capturing the digital market. Don’t do Spider-Man, where fans may get annoyed to have to go online to ensure they get all of his stories, just use characters that are otherwise not in use. I’d love a good Black Tarantula webcomic.

If the webcomic bombs then they've only used a character that fans weren't willing to pay for anyway so it should be no loss to anyone. I'm sure any creator would be willing to create such a strip just to get their name out there, I'd certainly do one for free just for the buzz it would generate, and I know plenty of other writers and artists who would as well. Breaking into comics is already hard enough, why not have a trial by fire for certain new creators looking for any angle to work?

Free Digital Content

Marvel offer much digital-only content, previously having published stories of M.O.D.O.K. and Galacta: The  Daughter of Galactus, even Spider-Girl was swapped into digital only, and these tales sometimes do eventually see print on the shelves as well, even with the Kesel Cap strip being solicited to appear as a paper issue in June, so us fanboys aren't exactly 'missing out', but all of this was through the Marvel DCU, which as I mentioned before requires you to pay a subscription fee. I'm thinking more of completely free online content that absolutely anyone, in any continent, can access.

I wonder if Marvel would see merit in having a free carrot to hold in front of many gateway readers who are unsure, or even smaller kids with not much, if any, money to spend? A free webcomic would certainly lure more than it would push away, but would the numbers warrant the money spent? That's what needs to be the bottom line, sadly.

We should keep in mind, however, that many webcomics such as Questionable Content, Penny Arcade, and PvP have a higher daily readership than many Marvel print titles. There is a market for this kind of content, and even if the content is published for free on the web, these sites still manage to stay afloat through advertisement revenue, merchandise sales, and collected editions of the free material. Add in the fact that this could be an introduction to the rest of the publishing line that Marvel has, and I think the potential for revenue outweighs the "loss" of presenting material for free.


I honestly don't feel I'm just ranting at the sky here, but rather pondering the adaptation to a new age for our reading and creating needs. Marvel surely wouldn't have much to lose by trialling a few free comics online at all, and possibly they would have so much more to gain. Here are my questions: is there anyone who is a member of the Marvel DCU who will be reading the Cap strip? What are your thoughts on it? Will anyone be joining up just because of this new initiative? And finally, what webcomics would you like to see Marvel put out for free to the hungry, tired, and huddled masses?

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MisterSmith said...

As far as I can tell, everything Marvel has/had/will do for the MDCU, they eventually find a way to release it into print in some form or another. It's just a matter of when.

I know Tom Brevoort on his formspring has spoken against Marvel going the 'webcomic' route for series that have been canned.

But you never know. I'd love to see them take a shot at it, at least.

KentL said...

I would guess that Kesel (and anyone else involved in the strip) would get paid the normal page rate. Otherwise, why do it? It's possible that he might get a bonus or royalty for every hit, but I wouldn't know. I can't imagine that this would be a good move for already busy superstar creators, but for the up-and-coming, it might be a good start for both parties. The Astonishing Tales stories were started on the website, IIRC, and I believe many of those were unknowns (or at the very least an unknown matched with a veteran).

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Huh, I thought people would be down with a little free content, a few unused characters getting their time in the limited light of day. I guess I was waaaay wrong. That's a shame, I had hoped with a little discussion and push that Marvel might consider doing this in some fashion but if no one wants it then no one will get it. Fair enough, I suppose.

Matt Ampersand said...

While it is true that most artists/writers/colorists/etc do work in page rates, I would see this as an investment (you know, lose money to gain money). Making a free webcomic means more people come to your website on a more regular website, which means a bigger potential audience for your other (paid!) product. It also raises awareness of your creators, characters, franchises, etc. Not to mention direct ad revenue.

Matt Ampersand said...

That should read "more people come to your website on a more regular basis"

Kirk Warren said...

@Matt - You can also repackage and sell webcomics after you publish enough. xkcd, Penny Arcade, etc all have done so.

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