From now until the end of New York Comic-Con, you can download a completely free Infinite Comic from Marvel, written by Matt Kindt and penciled by Ramon Bachs. The story, "Ultimate Spider-Man: Final Exam" is set in the continuity of the animated series and promises to present the world of Peter Parker in a whole new way. To find out more about the story, the approach to Infinite Comics and more we chatted with Kindt, Bachs, and Infinite Comics architect Yves Bigerel:
MTV Geek: Matt, after a few years of just a trickle of comics creation from you, it seems like the floodgates opened this year - what changed?
Matt Kindt: Well -- I've been averaging one graphic novel a year since 2001 so I'm not really working any more than I ever have been. The difference has been the medium -- switching from graphic novels to monthly comics makes it seem like there's so much more being produce because there's 20 pages coming out every month rather than 250 pages once a year.
The other difference though is that I've started doing writing-only in addition to my own creator writing/drawing projects so that's helped me get more of my stories out there. Writing-only is so much faster/easier!
Geek: Talk a bit about the Infinite Comics format... What's exciting, and what's challenging?
Ramon Bachs: The part that I've enjoyed the most has been to tell a story from a point of view a bit closer to animation than comic-books... It's something I had never tried and it's been too useful to explore other storytelling paths. Without any counts, the most challenging has been the unavoidable computer correx and the editing of the frames, sometimes feeling like adding patches. I have a lot of pages at home filled with drawings that connect to each other and the editing of the art so it all fit without adding extra frames has been like completing a big puzzle.
MK: Honestly I was completely skeptical at first. I wasn't really even sure what Marvel was going to do with this format. I don't want animated comics with sound effects, etc. And then when they released the first couple I realized what they were doing was still comics -- still sequential art -- but it just took advantage of page-turns in a way that regular comics can't really do.
What's funny, is that I'd done some similar experimental stuff with my Super Spy graphic novel on-line a few years ago but then none of that experimental storytelling carries over into the print version so getting a chance to push some of those ideas I'd had before into this and go even further was really exciting. The most important thing was that we keep this "comics" and not something else -- but push the way we think about page turns and sequential story-telling. And this format is amazing for that.
As far as challenges? If anything I felt like we just scratched the surface here -- we pushed things further but I can't wait to try even more ideas out. So much potential still waiting to be exploited with this format.
Geek: Yves, how do you think the Infinite Comics have grown and changed since you came on board?
Yves Bigerel: The whole infinite comic experiment is still pretty new, but it's slowly evolving to find is own vocabulary. The more the readers are used to the medium, the more we can go further and try bold things you couldn't do on paper. We are still figuring out the right pacing, we are pushing the boundaries, little by little. The readership's reaction is very important, and so far, they seem happy with it.
Geek: Matt, you're so identified with the design of a book, it's a bit of a surprise to see you playing so fully in the digital space. Is this an extension of your work on Super Spy, and others? Are we going to see experimentation with the look and feel, as well as the movement?
MK: I love design. I really think the design and look of a book -- or whatever it is -- should contribute to the concept and the story. So with print and graphic novels, etc. I always try to make the cover and the look inside an extension of the story. All of that is as important as story pages. So with digital, that concept is still valid. But now there's even more to consider -- page turns, color, size, format. All of that. You trade control over paper choice and some physical tricks you can do with covers (di-cuts, etc.) but you're really just trading that for another set of design choices that are equally critical to story-telling.
Geek: I recently heard the folks at Comixology characterize what you can do in three ways: Panning, Zooming, and Dissolving. The art comes in how you approach those. So what are you playing with here? What have you discovered along the way?
MK: The panning, zooming, dissolving are kind of the obvious things you can do with this format. But there's so much more. Panel placement, progression of panels and just as important (and cool) to me is manipulating the text. Word balloons, etc. can pop up and then disappear and pull the reader through a story in a way that's unique to the medium. Page layout is another thing. It becomes more dynamic because you can shift panels, drop panels out, have them overlay in fun ways. We really just started scratching the surface here.
RB: This format is very new to comic-books, but it's something that's been used in movies for a good time already, in the way of animated storyboards. Obviously, you can make a really creative use of storytelling and composition when you blend movie techniques and comic-book together.
Geek: I imagine, since this is still experimental, there are things that don't work, as well... Is there any specific technique someone has tried that just has been a bust?
YB: Yes, there is actually a long list of "do's and don't". For example, as soon as someone tries to put animation or sound in the medium, this is almost everytime a catastrophe. You don't read anything at all and loose the "book" feel of it. But don't get me wrong, there is a way to use animation in an effective, interesting way, and keeping the comic book feel. But it's a whole new vocabulary to get, and it takes a lot of trial and error. Same goes with the interactive tricks. Right now, we are using a limited technology for the infinite comics, and that's perfect. You've got to learn to walk before you can run, and there is already so much to learn with the basics of this format!
Geek: Hey, how about the story? What's it like to play in the world of Ultimate Spider-Man? What makes it unique?
MK: Well, what I love about Ultimate Spider-Man, is that it's comics for kids. Which is something I think we've begun to lose over the years. We've been so concerned with comics "growing up" that we're in danger of leaving whole generations behind -- growing up without the love and nostalgia of comics that we had. So Ultimate Spider-Man really fits to me. It's nice to have a Spidey story that kids can still enjoy. And maybe in a new format that will inspire them to read more comics.
That said, Ultimate Spider-Man is set in the universe we've all grown up loving so there's plenty there for older readers (like myself) and plenty of little inside jokes that nod to the rest of the crazy Marvel universe. Spidey isn't operating in a vacuum here so that was another thing that drew me to the project. No constraints really as to which characters I could throw in or mention.
YB: The fun thing with this Ultimate Spider-Man is the very strong comedic tone of it. Infinite comic is a very good format for humor, even the most basic, slapstick one. We tried some more audacious layouts, triyng to use the panning, the sliding fx, etc, in an interesting -and, first and foremost- fun way. It allowed us to do some cool action sequences too. It was a blast to have fun with all the possibilities, especially with this personal favourite characacter of mine.
Geek: And what's Peter coming up against here?
MK: A 500-story alien obelisk filled with..."obstacles." I've always been a fan of those one-shot stories where the hero has to run through an obstacle course of super-bad stuff and he's all scratched up and bloody at the end. So this is kind of like that, but with a big twist.
Geek: I imagine that the frequent identification chyrons, and asides that happen in the TV show in particular would lend themselves to the infinite comic format. Are you playing with those at all?
MK: Hmm. Good idea...! Yes! Do I need to credit you for that? ; )
Geek: Yup! And how, given that you're doing a comic with movement, based on a TV show, do you keep it essentially a comic book?
RB: I think that, by the end of the day, this is still a comic-book. The reader uses a different tool to explore the content, but the narrative and sequential codes are the same as always. And anyway, movies and comic-books have always been very close...
MK: That's really the most important thing to me. I don't want this to become some kind of cheap limited animation kind of thing. There's already plenty of cartoons and animated versions of these characters. We don't need this to be that. It already exists. What doesn't exist is this format where the creator can interact with the reader in a new way. The beauty of comics is that the reader ultimately controls the pace of the story. They decide when to turn the page.
But in this case, the creator can have some fun with the reader and play with expectations. In a normal comic, you turn the page and get the next page full of panels. In this format, you turn the page but there's no telling what's going to happen. There's an element of surprise and delight when you're reading these comics -- excitement over the story but also an excitement to see what is going to happen creatively with the layout, art, and lettering.
Geek: Where do you see this going? What's the holy grail for Infinite Comics?
YB: To be acknowledged as a real medium, by the artists and the audience.
On the Avengers Vs. X-Men infinite comics we did with Mark Waid, I was really pleased when people said that they couldn't imagine the story told as good on paper. That they were completely involved with the story, the character's dilemma. And that the storytelling tricks were not just gimmicks, but real tools to get to the readers. I hope infinite comics will allow us to surprise the audience even more in the future. There are so much stories to be told the infinite comic way!
Geek: Any final thoughts on the infinite comics format? After this experience, is it something you'd want to tackle again?
RB: It's been a completely new and full of fun experience. It's a format that will create new readers, and that will cause a lot of others to rediscover them. WITHOUT A DOUBT it's something I would love to keep exploring, because it can help me develop new visual and narrative techniques and skills.
MK: Definitely want to do more. It's like writing your first comic. You start to realize all it can do but by the time you're done with that first issue, you start having ideas and you begin to realize that you've only scratched the surface of what's possible. That's what gets me excited -- plenty of more stories to tell and now a ton of new ways to tell 'em.