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SXSW: Six Things We Learned From Marvel

The House of Ideas launches new initiatives, plus a big hire
Richard Whittaker, 4:18pm, Sun. Mar. 10, 2013

So Marvel Comics had been teasing big things all week from their SXSW Gaming Expo panel House of Ideas. Did they deliver? Well, how about 700 free digital comics, plus hiring a top comics reporter?

1) 700 free Marvel issue No. 1s, from original Kirby/Lee/Ditko/Buscema-era classics through to Uncanny X-Men, available for download via the Marvel app until March 12. Any recommendations? "I don't know, maybe a little book called Hawkeye. That's worth picking up," said Marvel CEO Axel Alonzo. Any real recommendations? "Buy a portable hard drive, now."

Why so much free content? As Marvel Communications director Arune Singh restated, amid all the cross-media hype, "It's all about comics."

2) Weekly digital Infinite Comics, starting July 9 with Wolverine: Japan's Most Wanted. This will be the first of four 13-episode stories, each headlined by a major character and tying into the core title. To ensure that continuity, the first arc will be handled by Wolverine and the X-Men writer Jason Aaron, fellow scribe Jason Latour (Winter Soldier) and cover artist Paco Diaz Luque. Alonzo said of Infinite Comics, "Every time we do one of these, we get better and better at doing it." It's still a challenge, said Singh. "There's a special language for motion comics that no-one quite understand yet, and we think at Marvel we're getting closer to translating it."

3) A big upgrade to Marvel Unlimited, the largest legal digital comics subscription library, with 13,000 titles. Design studio Chaotic Moon is replacing the old Flash system with HTML 5, with an iOS app and a Windows version within weeks. They will be adding additional content, plus discounts and exclusives for members, and a big upgrade to follow later this year.

4) Last year Marvel used SXSW to launch its new AR publishing initiative with Aurasma and give a sneak peek of the Ultimate Spiderman animated series. This year it will be getting a lot more content and "making of"-style bonus material. Alonzo called it "a peek behind the curtain" with more dedicated content.

5) A brief demo of Project Gamma, which will add adaptive audio to the digital experience. The music will be designed in nonrepetitive loops, progressing between panels at the reader's pace and designed to give audio cues to the story. This isn't a traditional soundtrack: "You're not pressing play on your comics," said Singh. Alonzo backed that up by saying they're providing "music that never, ever rips you out of the narrative." He noted that Uncanny X-Men writer Kieron Gillen actually adds score recommendations to his comic scripts, so this is just following the writers' lead. The music will be provided by Momentum Worldwide and Cord.

6) The big one for many: New online video content, Earth's Mightiest Show, hosted by arguably the highest profile comics journalist and critic today, Blair Butler. The show launches this summer, and Singh promises documentaries and even reality programming to come.

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