Marvel Infinite the DLC of Comics

By now you've no doubt heart Joe Quesada's heralding of Marvel Infinite, announced at SXSW as part of Marvel's "ReEvolution." The program is the next step in bridging the divide between print and digital by, quite literally, bridging the divide.

Marvel Infinite is essentially DLC for comics. Specifically, it's free downloadable extras available to the reader through Marvel AR, a companion app that will unlock all those extras. The idea is that you buy a print comic, get an AR code and input in the AR app, giving you content that might have been in the comic originally but cut for whatever reason.

It means more content for the reader. Happier local comic shops. New ways for writers and artists to tell stories. It's a project that will seemingly usher in a digital age under the guise of propping up print readership. And it's something everyone should embrace.

This should make readers very, very happy. Sure, publishers like Marvel could easily bulk up the size of the comic, giving you more pages. Due to print costs though, that will most likely lead to an increase in prices, something customers are typically averse to. Marvel Infinite maintains all that extra content at no additional cost to the reader, only asking that you consider the notion of viewing comics digitally.

Readers can be reading a comic and get little facts about the main character that might otherwise only be gleaned from reading the character throughout its history. There's a need to engage the reader, to make them a more "responsive" customer. Giving them an interactive guide to accompany their read is a great way to do such a thing.

This should make local comic shops very, very happy. They're no longer fighting a "war" on digital comics. Readers will still come into their stores to buy the print comics, only they might also be bringing their iPads and smartphones with them to get the full experience. Comic shops should (hopefully) be offering free Wi-Fi to their customers, giving them the opportunity to check out the codes on the spot.

Having an active, engaged reader will also lead to more conversations in the local comic shops. Imagine being in a store with a few friends, everyone with their Marvel Infinite comics and Marvel AR app. As you're reading, you come across a bit of story you weren't previously aware of. It then becomes a talking point amongst you, your friends and the comic store employees.

This should make writers and artists very, very happy. There are probably countless occasions where a creative team wanted to do so much more with a comic but couldn't because of the aforementioned restrictions. Now they can give that little backstory without having to worry about higher print costs. For example, I'm a big fan of the Fathom series from Aspen.

The series is so steeped in lore though that you could possibly miss out on some of the backstory in current issues. Can you imagine if, instead of an asterisk directing you to a particular issue, you could scan something and actually have the issue brought up on your device?

Sure, you suspend reading the current issue for the time being, but these are comics, not novels. They don't require the same time commitment. You would most likely gladly suspend reading the current issue to get caught up on the past history.

That last bullet might possibly be the end game Marvel is going for here. The company has such a storied history of characters and lore, most of which is lost on every new generation of readers. A lot of people may not know about the Dark Phoenix Saga, X-Cutioner's Song or the Age of Apocalypse. Imagine a comic tied to one of those events where, in the midst of reading it, a reference is made to one of those series.

The reader is presented a code which, when scanned, presents them with access to the digital TPB of the story in question. They're given the chance to download it at a discounted cost. It could even be a perpetual download of sorts, where you're sent further and further back through the catalogue of sagas and storylines.

It's an initiative to get readers off of paper and onto digital to some extent. Not necessarily replacing the former with the latter, but giving them incentive to consider it. The initiative is something that artists like Reilly Brown already support. In a piece titled "Back to the Drawing Board: Digital vs Paper" Brown lauds paper, but realizes that it's not what readers really care about.

"I think paper’s great, and a wonderful material medium in and of itself— it feels cool, it looks cool— hell, I even apply a fake paper-texture to some of my digital artwork, just to get that look! Most of my favorite comics have been done on paper. That said, I don’t think it’s essential to any artistic genre or medium. Similarly, I think that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is the greatest achievement in two-dimensional artwork in the world, but that doesn’t mean that I think all paintings should be done on the ceiling."

The idea of paper as the medium is at the heart of the debate between print and digital comics. Digital comics are here to stay and will no doubt replace print eventually. Not yet, but eventually. The customers want something that's easy to read and generally digital is it. It's likely that most indie creators wouldn't have nearly as much success without at least offering digital. The costs of printing are just too high.

Marvel Infinite is a program that really only Marvel and DC can do right now. This is because of the sheer history behind their characters and their financial situation. They can afford to do all this extra content and present it for free to the reader. The model though is something indie creators can definitely look at though.

You're already seeing it in Kickstarter, where projects offering sketches and other creative process rewards for various funding levels. Why not offer those as part of an AR supplement? Give readers the comic and the extra goods for a slightly higher price. It's likely that people will be much more interested in the process behind a creator owned comic than a major market comic, simply because they can relate more to the creator owned process.

The jury is still out (obviously) on whether or not Marvel Infinite will be a success. There's also leeriness on what Marvel's (and to an extent Disney's) endgame is with this. For the time being though, feel free to grab that print comic from your local comic shop, sit down with you iPad and enjoy the full story. It'll be good at the time, until another app comes along that retcons the entire story you just got engaged in.