Editor’s Note: DC Comics President Paul Levitz returns to Blog@ to talk about DC’s online comics strategy and to request your help in determining what should come next.
by Paul Levitz
One of the earliest questions when I started this blog was “What’s DC’s digital strategy?” It’s a multi-layered question, but the heart of the answer is that we want to bring our skills into the digital age, carrying forward our traditional role of connecting talented writers and artists with interested audiences, and providing high quality stages with a strong creative infrastructure. The essential magic of storytelling has been the same since we were all gathered around a fire, but as each medium of communication develops, different types of stories fit the medium well or badly, and different formats as well. We’re extraordinarily lucky at DC to have some of the most powerful creative properties at making the transition from medium to medium effectively (a process the scholars at M.I.T. call “transmedia”), and we want to make that continue.
Pieces of this evolution are already visible, like the launch last fall of zudacomics.com, which provides a new method of working with creative talent and a new method of bringing their work to audiences. So far it’s attracting an increasing community, and building an interesting library of new material, and we’ve just begun the exploration of what we can do with the site and its distinctive technology. Other pieces of our experimentation have flashed on and off screen where you might not have been looking, like efforts to create digital comics-related forms for projects as diverse as PowerAde’s promotions with LeBron James, and ‘content wraps’ for commercials on SMALLVILLE last season. Still other projects have never left the offices, but have provided useful experiences on our learning curve.
Now we’re announcing another important experiment on this road. Last summer, I traveled to London with Warner Premiere President Diane Nelson to show Dave Gibbons a first test of a new digital format. Diane’s team and WATCHMEN director Zack Snyder passionately wanted to take the original WATCHMEN graphic novel, put the artwork into motion, add a soundtrack, and create a new, multi-format digital version while keeping all of the original literary and art material. We spent hours with Dave, discussing the inherent challenges, the proven power of WATCHMEN to convert people to the “new” format of graphic novels, and how that might happen again if we did this new project well. Unsurprisingly, Dave had important insights into how the artwork could be digitally manipulated to best effect, and ended up becoming a vital part of the process, working directly with Zack and the producers over the last year. This first chapter of the first “Motion Comic” went live as a free download from iTunes on the ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY site last night, and production is moving steadily towards releasing the rest of the monumental work that is WATCHMEN in multiple formats for computers and cell phones between now and the movie’s premiere.
There’s a pipeline of additional projects coming behind these two, some of which will be announced after SDCC. As we considered how to expand on this initiative, we debated different characters and stories from the DC library, considering everything from what types of digital files we might have to begin building with, to how the content might or might not convert, to lots of legal and business practicalities. The second candidate selected was the Eisner Award-winning tale “Mad Love” by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, in part because of the sheer madcap quality of its take on BATMAN, and in part because the animation background of the creators meant that we’d see a very different translation process than we had with WATCHMEN. We tested three different adaptation processes on “Mad Love,” then settled on one that seemed to best capture the spirit of the original. Warner Premiere is launching this one in partnership with Microsoft’s Xbox Live, making it available as part of the special Comic-Con package debuting next week, and also on Verizon’s V-Cast.
I don’t know whether our audiences will enjoy receiving these comics digitally through computers, game consoles or cell phones, but as we’ve watched manga become ubiquitously available in Japan, I think there’s real potential to reach new readers this way…some of whom will make their way to the comic shops and bookstores to enjoy the traditional print formats as well, once they get a taste of our magic.
When you get to see the material, please post your suggestions for which DC comics could benefit from the translation—and I’m sure there’ll be vigorous debate on the best methods of translation as well. We’ll keep an eye on the thread for a couple of weeks.
In the long run, the great win will be to find the formats in which can create “native” material for the digital world—stories and art built to take advantage of the inherent qualities of digital delivery in the same way that we’ve built comics to take advantage of print, or that a great movie is built to take advantage of the big screen. I’ve been pushing one pet project for this since 2000 without success yet (okay, no one said it was a practical idea), but it’s clear that this is potentially one of the most important leaps we can make. We’re hard at work on this as well (as are others, obviously), and I’m curious to see how it all plays out.
Oh, and to answer one question before it’s asked: the writers and artists of the original comics are, of course, sharing in DC’s revenues from all of these new forms of distribution of their work.