Marvel Classics go digital

Variety reports US publisher Marvel Comics is putting some of its older comics online, hoping to reintroduce young people to the X-Men and Fantastic Four by showcasing the original issues in which such characters appeared.

Marvel Digital Comics can only be viewed in a web browser, not downloaded, and new issues will only go online at least six months after they first appear in print. The comics, which include early issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, will be available to subscribers only, although the service includes a number of free samples available, too).

Three different viewing modes will be available: traditional single and double-page formats, and a new proprietary viewer called “Smart Panel,” which Marvel says will take readers “panel-by-panel through the comic book in a smooth, action-packed progression.”

The archive can be searched by character, creator, title, and date of publication. Member ratings will be used to recommend user favorites. And users will be able to share their personal reading lists with other members.

About 2,500 issues (some re-coloured for this new format) will be available at launch of Marvel Digital Comics, with 20 more being released each week.

The publisher hopes the move will help familiarize younger readers with the huge range of characters they own, but as yet there’s no word on whether the digital editions will include output from Marvel UK such as Captain Britain, Death’s Head and Warheads. (Marvel US hold film for many of Marvel UK’s US-sized titles).

“We wanted to find a way to get more people to take a look at our comic books,” said Dan Buckley, president of Marvel Publishing told the Washington Post. “Comic-book fans are Web-savvy,” Buckley said. “We feel like it’s a good overlap with our core demographic.”

Dark Horse Comics already puts its monthly anthologies Dark Horse Presents on its MySpace site, for free viewing. Batman and Superman publisher DC Comics also offers free comics via MySpace. (It’s also launched the competition-based Zuda Comics, which encourages users to rank each other’s work, as a way to tap into the expanding Web comic scene.

Variety reports company president Paul Levitz said he expects to put more original comics online in coming years.

“We look at anything that connects comics to people,” Levitz said. “The most interesting thing about the online world to me is the opportunity for new forms of creativity … It’s a question of what forms of storytelling work for the web?”

There’s also hope that by offering online “tasters” of new comics as well as archive material, this will boost sales of print editions. (DC offers weekly trailers from its Vertigo imprint, and downloadable PDF files of the first issues of certain series, timed to publication of the series in book or graphic novel format).

Reaction so far from comic shops has been mixed with some fearing it will damage back issue sales and their business in general while others hope it will generate new business by introducing characters to young readers.

Matthew Klokel, who owns Fantom Comics in the US, was enthusiastic. “I think it’s a great idea, the told the Washington Post. “It’ll get more people reading comics. Hopefully, it’ll get people comfortable with some of the characters and they’ll decide they want more,” he said. “I think it will be a gateway drug to further comic book reading.”

Categories: Digital Comics


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