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Marvel Comics Announces New Line of Digital Comics (Original for the Web)

You may have heard, Marvel Comics is launching their own line of original comics for online distribution. Bundling them with the “Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited” program (monthly subscription to a digital library), they’re launching with an Iron Man comic and a Hulk comic – both of which follow the movie continuity and are timed to coincide with the DVD releases of both films. I wonder if there will ads for those in the DVD package? Hmmm…

“Digital-only exclusives will be published regularly on Wednesdays at the pace of three or more comics per month. Upcoming titles will showcase top Marvel characters and creative teams, fan-favorite holiday-themed specials, explorations into science fiction, martial arts, Westerns and so much more.” – That’s how Marvel’s website puts it.

What does this tell us? By placing the initial comics in the universe of their burgeoning film empire, this is another play for the general consumer audience. And when I say that, I mean consumers whose exposure to Iron Man and Hulk is from film, not the weekly trek to a direct market comic shop. Much as Marvel was being careful not to put current releases online, as not to provoke cranky retailers, by putting the new content in a different continuity, they’ve got a plausible argument that they’re not diverting existing direct market customers to the web. (And that’s past the reality that the web is a reader’s market, while the direct market is geared towards collectors.)

It isn’t apparent if the Iron Man and Hulk titles are ongoing or limited series. I would take a guess they’re planning on a series of mini-series and we can probably expect the Punisher to turn up in a film-continuity series when that movie comes out. The specific mentions of other genres like science fiction and westerns also make this sound like an attempt to bring in a mainstream audience and see what resonates with them.

I have no doubts we’ll see collected editions of the online originals. MegaTokyo, Penny Arcade and Girl Genius have all proved that direct market retailers can and will sell collections of online comics.

Also worth noting, much as in the physical world, new comics day is also Wednesday in the digital world.

What you probably won’t hear a lot of talk about, just yet, is how Marvel is staffing up for more digital projects. Positions currently open:

Product Manager, Custom Publishing

“The Product Manager, Custom Publishing will be a key manager of the relationship between Marvel Custom Publishing and Marvel Digital Media Production.”

“Produce supporting Web content”

“7 years experience in Web production and/or product management and familiarity with web production tools”

Quality Assurance Manager

“The Quality Assurance Manager will be responsible for building and maintaining the excellence of the sites and products. He or she will be tasked with testing new releases for scheduled deployments as well as testing the site randomly in downtime between major releases. The Quality Assurance Manager will report and track defects, test and verify fixes, and be completely focused on the improvement of the family of sites. ”

Advertising Coordinator

“The Advertising Coordinator will be responsible for the implementation and management of online and mobile advertising campaigns placed in Marvel’s audience network.”

These positions tell us Marvel is looking at their various sites as an “audience network” and looking to staff network-wide. And the when the custom publishing manager has to have web-centric skills, you have to ask if Marvel is eyeing custom webcomics? They would not be the first publisher pursuing that, mind you. The Stephen King semi-animated webcomic “N” _may_ have been a custom project for Simon & Shuster, as it is being used as a promotional tool for the prose anthology “Just After Sunset.”

Consider Marvel has in the last few months also advertised for

  • Sr. Producer/Product Manager for Digital Comics
  • Manager of Premium Services
  • Director of Premium Services

“Premium Services” included online activities and digital comics as oversight areas in the descriptions.

Marvel is heading toward full digital integration for their business and they’re hiring for upkeep, not to build a site and let it sit. This isn’t exactly a new concept in publishing, but comics, as an industry, has been slow to adapt. Keep an eye on Marvel. Their hiring patterns indicate that 3 original digital titles each month is but the first sign of what they intend to do with their staffing.

And in the meantime, I can just hear somebody at Warner Entertainment saying to someone at DC, “Why aren’t you putting Batman comics online after the movie like Marvel is with Iron Man and Hulk?”

I’d really love to hear DC’s latest rationalization for not letting their characters enter the web.

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