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Talking Marvel Motion Comics with Neal Adams and John Cassaday

It’s been a big week for Marvel Comics in the world of digital comics content.

They announced this morning that a limited number of their comics — including “Invincible Iron Man,” “Astonishing X-Men,” “Amazing Spider-Man,” and “Marvel Zombies” — are now for sale on the iPhone and iPod Touch through applications like Comixology, iVerse, Scroll Motion and PanelFly for prices ranging from $.99 to $1.99.

While Marvel has long made older comics available online through their Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited system, this marks the first foray by the industry leader into selling digital copies of their most popular titles on smartphones.

The announcement also comes hot on the heels of MarvelFest 2009 in New York City, where the motion comic version of “Astonishing X-Men” debuted in Union Square — and, of course, on iTunes. Originally written by Joss Whedon and drawn by John Cassaday, “Astonishing X-Men” — and particularly the storyarc “Gifted” — is one of the most popular “X-Men” stories in recent history, and one of the first titles adapted to motion comics.

ComicsAlliance’s Caleb Goellner spoke with both John Cassaday and famed “X-Men” artist Neal Adams, who helped direct the adaptation at Continuity Studios, about the complicated process of moving comic books into a new, hybrid medium that straddles the line between print and animation, and where they see it taking comics in the future.ComicsAlliance: What do you think of the translation of your work on “Astonishing X-Men” and fandom’s reaction to it?

John Cassaday: It’s a strange thing to see my two dimensional images suddenly start to move and speak. It’s wild… I think overall the people who are already fans will be please and the non comics fans will be exposed to this world and will get to see a story they wouldn’t otherwise see. I think it’ll be a good thing.

CA: How involved were you in the process of translating your material to the motion comic format? Did you have to do any auxiliary work or additional illustrations?

JC: There’s a great deal of additional drawing to be done. Talking mouths, add-ons to shots to fit the new and necessary dimensions and some action in-between bits. I contribute here and there, but Neal Adams has been undertaking the bulk of that task.

CA: Marvel’s current motion comic format is pretty advanced, often bordering on animation. In some ways it reminds me of anime in that it offers more detail, if less movement than a lot of Western cartoons. What do you think the merits of the motion comic format are in terms of retaining an artist’s original lines and intentions?

JC: Well, it’s very close to what could be called a literal translation. The technology is taking leaps and bounds. As each episode goes by, there are advances available that weren’t there before. By the time episode six rolls around, it may be very much a different animal than episode one.

CA: As an artist, what do you think are the biggest weaknesses of a motion comic? Are there any scenes/shots that you think have a more difficult time being translated compared to say, a splash page or a borderless panel?

JC: I think the greatest challenge is staying pure to the spirit of the comic book and not let the adaptation run away with the storyline. Not every comic should be given this treatment, but “AXM” has a [cinematic] quality to it and I think lends itself easily to motion comics.

CA: Do you have any other comics projects you’ve worked on that you think would make strong motion comics?

JC: Possibly so. My approach leans towards film and clear storytelling. That’s always my first concern and intention. So I’d say “Planetary” would work well. Also my run on “Captain America.” Who knows what the future may bring…

CA: Neal, when you began your initial work in Motion Comics, what was your initial response to the potential of the medium? Was it a case of reacting to what you’d seen done in other works and trying to improve upon them? Or did you form a new approach from scratch and work outward to execute your current results?

Neal Adams: My initial response was “finally.” I have believed for over 10 years that motion comics was the answer to, “When will I see what’s in my comic books… animated?” Not interpreted in limited motion, or handed out to 50 animators to simplify, remove all lines and “style,” to bang it down to its lowest common denominator so that it can be animated by all those animators. I have seen many attempts to do motion comics. But they just seem awfully like videotaping cut outs and scanning comics. What they should be is beginning with full animation, and working backward from that to lose the very least that can be lost. To me, others seem to be working backward. Adding “to” rather than “losing as little as possible” from the perfect film/video… So we have a perfect film in my head and we get dragged backward. (Less and less, with better budget).

CA: As an artist with a healthy amount of prior “X-Men” experience, did you have any special feelings about returning to the characters in a new capacity?

NA: While I was indeed a (pivotal) artist/co-writer on early “X-Men”… my feelings didn’t really enter into the job. Anyone who knows my work knows that I become a fan of the job at hand.

CA: Do you have any favorite moments from the project while co-directing with John Cassaday?

NA: Yes. The fight scenes, of course. But my favorite scenes are those in which the animation techniques add that magical something to the characters personalities. That is happening more and more.

CA: On your website, you break down your definition of motion comics, separating the medium from its components, even characterizing it as its own art form. As a veteran artist, would you consider a motion comic the best adaptation option for creators seeking the purest possible translation of their work?

NA: I consider a motion comic a separate art form, which, without the comic book would not exist. A motion comic without the comic book, to me, is simply manga. On the other hand, I love manga.


CA
: In addition to art, you’re also a big fan of science and scientific theory. As such, do you find yourself actively questioning the ideas and concepts found in comics, or do you enjoy fully suspending your disbelief to concentrate on a story?

NA: Well, I’m not a “fan” of science or theory, any more than I am a fan of comics. I do both. I appreciate both. I am a bit of a fan of both (as I am of Ultimate Fighting) — not to split hairs. Sorry. I “play” football. I don’t “watch” football. Questioning concepts in comics… Sure. I decry time travel, though I’ve done more than one time travel story. I hate living dead stories, though I catch every such movie! I truly do and love to suspend disbelief. A “real” discussion? That’s different. I’m very serious. Yet in my mind, I’m still a child. It’s good to be me.

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