Greg Hunter

Motion Comics: Bad Cartoons or Bad Comics?

In Comics on October 20, 2009 at 1:08 AM

Motion comics are the comic book industry’s most visible foray into new media since, well, maybe ever. These items, playable in iTunes or on most internet browsers, are more viewed than read. True to the name, characters in motion comics move around in panels, and word balloon dialogue is performed by voice actors.

Of all the major comic book companies, Marvel has invested the most in motion comics. A few months ago, popular writer Brian Michael Bendis‘ new Spider-Woman series was launched simultaneously via motion comics and print issues. Spider-Woman is available via iTunes, and can be found on Hulu and YouTube for a limited time as well. Spider-Woman is a curious choice for such a large-scale push–the character has a backstory so convoluted that I can’t see non-comic readers warming to the title, and Bendis’ name is only a draw among confirmed Marvelites. Marvel’s next motion comic series, an adaptation of Joss Whedon’s tenure on Astonishing X-Men, seems like a more lucrative move (even if all Whedon’s dialogue reads like Gilmore Girls for geeks).

The problem with Marvel’s motion comics, though, isn’t really specific to their content. It’s that motion comics–in general–are basically just shitty cartoons. Take another look at the above trailer, then watch this footage:

The Astonishing X-Men art–adapted from John Cassady’s work on the comic of the same name–is prettier. Hulk has way better music. But in both, characters move about with distracting stiffness. At the time it was made, the Hulk cartoon’s clunkiness may not have stood out. The X-Men motion comic’s certainly does, though, and it makes one wonder why motion comics are being made at all–the technology behind them seems to lag behind the ambitions of the folks putting them out.

The obvious question is, ‘Why not an actual animated adaptation of Spider-Woman or Astonishing X-Men?’ Marvel’s been doing plenty of these lately, too. Today on the LA TimesHero Complex blog, beloved comics artist Neal Adams attempted an answer:

[In the X-Men motion comic] you will actually see the drawings of artist John Cassaday come to life and move. You will hear the words of the writer Joss Whedon (of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Dollhouse” fame) spoken by John Cassaday’s drawings…It’s a comic book come to life and fully drawn by your favorite artist and written by your favorite writer.

Now it’s not mentioned on the blog that Adams supervised the Astonishing X-Men adaptation. Disingenuous? Maybe a little, but it at least explains why Adams doesn’t touch the criticism that motion comics Don’t. Look. Good.

Adams’ influence on comic artists, and the esteem in which he’s held, will outlast any comments he makes on a probable fad like motion comics. That said, his claim that motion comics are comics “come to life” actually suggests what’s most frustrating about them–when viewing a motion title, readers are prevented from bringing a story to life themselves. (And don’t receive the same kind of stimulation they would from more fluid film animation in return.) The benefits one finds with comics as a medium are lost in conversion: viewers can no longer linger on panels, imagine the tenor of an exchange between characters, or link a sequence of images together to form a narrative. If I didn’t enjoy the work readers do after grabbing a comic, I wouldn’t read them, and it’s not work I’d like performed for me. For those who disagree, Astonishing X-Men arrives online October 28.


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