By Christian Beranek
Motion comics have come into the forefront of discussion in the comic book industry this past year. Marvel, DC and other companies have stepped up to the plate to deliver their offerings, realizing the value of this growing medium. As with most trends, motion comics got its start in the independent market — those first few pioneers may not have received the acclaim and recognition they deserve. CB aims to correct that, in the spirit of high adventure.
So, let’s get talking with one of those pioneers, M. Sean McManus: comic book creator, editor and director.
Christian Beranek: Welcome to the 13th edition of The Life of High Adventure.
M. Sean McManus: Lucky number 13, awesome.
CB: What was the first motion comic you worked on and in what capacity were you involved?
McMANUS: The first one I worked on was the trailer for my own comic The Last Sin of Mark Grimm back in 2006. Hopefully the trailer inspired some people to check out the book. I’m not sure if it had a direct effect on sales of the comic per say, but I know lots of people asked how it was done.
I forget the exact timeline, but I believe it was the following year that comflix.net produced the epic Motion Comic Dracula vs. King Arthur — I think you might know something about that (For you boys and girls who don’t know, CB wrote that with his brother Adam). The demand for more motion comics was high so luckily comflix.net remembered the preview I made! I based off it off my comic, The Last Sin of Mark Grimm. You almost can’t compare the two incarnations i.e., the preview I made and the motion comic, in terms of the production value and the amount of animation involved. You can see several shots in the preview that were much improved in the actual motion comic.
There is something hypnotic to me about being in that close to the comic panels that is very appealing. It makes the art work so much more visceral, you can really feel the texture of Chris Moreno’s art.
CB: When do you remember first hearing the term “motion comic”? Was there another term used before it?
McMANUS: Back in 07 at NYCC, I think you and I were calling them animated trailers or something. Comflix is a pretty good name too, that being a mash up of comic and flicks, with the X to make it underground. Two things inspired that first trailer for The Last Sin of Mark Grimm. One, memories of the original G.I . Joe advertisements on TV when we were all kids… way back in 1982. They were great- they practically got me into comics, and in my opinion were quite effective. They were practically legislated against they were so successful. Second, Tokyopop released some insanely great TV spots in 2005 or 2006 ish. You look at those commercials and then their success in the marketplace and it totally makes sense, from the perspective of both products.
CB: You directed the Michelle Payne: Max Payne 16 minute motion comic for the Blu-Ray edition of Max Payne. Can you tell us about that project and how it came about?
McMANUS: Comflix, the same company that produced the Dracula vs King Arthur and The Last Sin of Mark Grimm motion comics, called me in to direct. It went down very quickly as we had a tight deadline. I was given a script and the finished art work. Then as the director I had to “write notes” shot by shot for what had to happen in terms of which elements in each panel would move. Now “write notes” sounds pretty innocuous but when you actually sit down to do it you realize how many elements there are in a shot that need comment, it can be quite voluminous. However everything in my notes reads like a technical manual, “break apart the silhouette. Fill in the background. Create z-depth and dolly-in from wide to close on the hand. Break apart and animate the fingers clenching into a fist. Add a suspenseful music hit and linger a beat longer than the actor’s copy. Just before the cut away, animate the fist beginning to shake.” For me it’s a pretty tedious process, but not nearly as tedious as doing the actual animation. The animation was all handled somewhere else and we need to give the animators as much information as possible.
CB: Do you see motion comics as a viable revenue stream for publishers?
McMANUS: Absolutely! It’s taken people a few years to figure out how to angle the revenue stream but with more viewers every day streaming video from Netflix.com and Hulu.com I think this really the only way to go. Even that new comic on iTunes, Triumph. An older creator once told me about feeding the monster. The audience is the monster and it is always hungry for more. Motion comics is just one more thing for the audience to sink it’s teeth into it. Look at what’s happening — it’s taken three years and finally one of the big two in comics is getting into it; Welcome to the party Marvel. I wish I had the production budget they have, and who knows what will happen once Disney takes over… it sure would be nice to have my publisher taken over by the big mouse. Those two companies are so great that they wouldn’t be stepping into the ring if they didn’t have the revenue stream all figured out already. I’ve watched the Spider-Woman motion comic and it promises to be quite an epic tale!
CB: Are motion comics entertaining?
MCMANUS: I think motion comics are like any other creative enterprise, some of them are incredibly entertaining, and some fail. Motion comics are a weird hybrid between traditional animation and paper cut outs essentially. You have to weigh how much of each shot can be animated and how much needs to be animated. Sometimes a little bit of movement is all you need to get your point across. Figuring out the right balance for the particular tale in front of you is the most important thing.
CB: What are some of the best ones you’ve seen?
MCMANUS: The Watchmen DVD is enjoyable. I would even argue that the work Ziggy Blumenthal has been doing on Corner Kicked the animted series is also a Motion Comic. http://www.cornerkicked.com/anim-ep1.html Is it wrong for me to go so far as to say that anything based on a comic, and then turned into a moving medium should be called a motion comic?
CB: What are some projects you have lined up?
McMANUS: I recently edited an episode of Dinner Impossible staring Chef Robert Irvine. A lot of my comic projects are still in the early stages, so it’s too early to talk about them. I’m compiling a trade for The Last Sin of Mark Grimm featuring a foreword by Denny O’Neil. I’ve just had a short story published in Image Comic’s western collection Outlaw Territory v1. I’m working with several friends on a group anthology called “Secret Project” www.secretprojectcomic.com. I’m also working on a very personal project with cartoonist Rob Reilly on art.
CB: What’s your favorite brand of coffee?
McMANUS: Brand? I’m a coffee fiend — the best brand is the one in my hand, today I’m drinking Wawa.
CB: Thanks Sean for your time. We look forward to The Last Sin of Mark Grimm collected edition next year.
Christian Beranek co-founded and co-runs Disney’s Kingdom Comics. CB has a first look film/tv deal with Disney/ABC via his Lead Pipe Entertainment banner. He has several projects in development around town including Dracula vs. King Arthur, based on the graphic novel he co-created. He is currently working on his first novel and an album. CB is never late for dinner and invites you to add him on twitter: http://www.twitter.com/beranek.