WWC: The Future of Comics?

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Have you ever wondered about the future of the comics industry? No, not ‘future’ as in ‘the next big mega-crossover of DC or Marvel’, but ‘future’ as in ‘what forms comics may take as we progress further into the digital/multimedia age’. Silent Devil Productions and Comflix Studios think they may have an answer and they debuted the result at their Wizard World Chicago panel, “The Comic Book for the 21st Century” this past Sunday.

The two companies joined forces to create an eight minute digital “webisode” of Silent Devil’s fantasy/action series Dracula vs. King Arthur. Working from the first issue’s script by Christian and Adam Beranek and manipulating the original artwork of series artist Chris Moreno, Comflix created a stunning animatic-like film clip. Characters and objects moved across the still-image backgrounds, water rippled, CG fire crackled and sparked, flies and insects swarmed, and the eyes of the Prince of Darkness glowed with malicious menace. With a dramatic original score and spirited voice acting, the clip was very well-received by fans attending the panel.

After the screening of the clip, the panelists – consisting of the Beraneks, Moreno, marketing director Tony DiGerolamo, and Comflix’s Scott Schneider and Luciano Sabre – opened the floor for questions. Over the course of the panel, they discussed the process which led to the webisode’s creation and the potential this kind of medium could have for the comics industry.

Roughly 90% of the images seen on screen were taken directly from the first issue of the comic. The clip followed the panel sequence of that issue very closely. Comflix achieved this effect by scanning the issue into a computer, examining it beat by beat, and storyboarding the clip to figure out specific shots and the best places to add digital effects. They then commissioned the score through composer contacts, hired the voice talent, and began the process of adding the visual and audio effects to the artwork.

Comflix and Silent Devil see a number of benefits to this form of storytelling. For one, it can aid in the distribution of a comics company’s output by making such clips available for download on the internet. Single issues of independent comics can sometimes be difficult to locate, but on the web they would be available for all. This also opens up a whole new audience outside the regular niche of comics fans and targets the emerging mobile marketplace of iPod and PSP users. The clip is compatible with these formats and Comflix is looking into pursuing the cell phone market as well.

International markets would also be easily served by this technique. As the webisodes are basically animatics (still images with moving elements and special effects), the characters’ mouths do not move. The clips can easily be dubbed into another language with little additional effort.

These webisodes also allow for comics stories to be brought to life while preserving the integrity of the original project. There is no Hollywood studio to alter the source material, no executive to approve or pass on a particular property, and presumably no complicated licensing deals as the comics companies own the copyright to their artwork. Schneider and Sabre talked about the possibilities inherent in trying to adapt a major comics story like, say, Civil War into this format.

When asked if they’d spoken to any of the larger companies about this, they said they had talked to DC and Marvel two years ago and presented them with an earlier version of the process, involving both animation and live action effects. This had proved problematic, but the companies seemed enthusiastic about the result at the time. Comflix stated that they would be open to adapting other comics stories into this process in the future.

Comflix and Silent Devil hope to market this project in a variety of areas, from the major comics news sites to sites such as Myspace and YouTube where thousands of people gather. They’re hopeful that the mainstream news might even want to run features on this new cutting edge form of entertainment.

Christian Beranek made sure to remind the attendants that “this doesn’t end comics.” Without the original stories and images from the issues, the webisodes have no source material and in truth, most people will always prefer to have a physical comic in their hand. He and the panelists hope that this new approach can complement and enhance the comics reading experience while reaching out to new audiences.

The first webisode is available for download for $0.99 at www.comflix.net. The company anticipates a series of eight or nine clips to complete the miniseries and hopes to move on to other comics in the future.

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