The Outrageous Origins of the Motion Comic!
by Drew Morton — University of California-Los Angeles
August 04, 2011 – 00:00
In 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported that DC Comics would begin to utilize a "new kind of Web entertainment" called motion comics to "unlock value from the company’s…library by creating a new kind of comic" that could be distributed digitally. The increased visibility of the motion comic, thanks to Saw: Rebirth (2005) and Watchmen (2008-2009) and the success of adaptations over the past decade would lead one to believe that they are one of the many to join the evolving species of new media. Yet, the hybridic form, which often utilizes original comic book art and renders it cinematic by removing the hyperframe of the page, closing the gaps in time and space with animation (removing the act of Scott McCloudian readerly act of closure from the consumer), has been around since the Grantay-Lawrence produced TV series The Marvel Superheroes in 1966.
Marketing for the series promised Marvel heroes "Exactly as they originally appeared. The same superhero artwork as in the MARVEL comic books." In the opinions of the developers, the artwork and style of the comics meant as much to the consumer as the stories. According to series developer Robert Lawrence, "the [comic] artwork was absolutely alluring. We decided to see if we could animate a book." Yet, this embrace of comic style also had an economic incentive: Grantay-Lawrence could repurpose the original comic book artwork of Jack Kirby and the other artists in the Marvel bullpen - providing a literal blueprint for the show - that Kirby and company went unpaid for.
The show lasted for one year before the team went to work on Spider-Man (1967-1970). Yet, the show’s ultra-limited animation has returned with a shift from analog syndication to digital distribution. For McCloud, motion comics are a waste of the potential of the digital: "The worst part of it is that we are conscious collaborators one moment and not the next… It’s just a miserable, inconsistent, soup of sensations. It’s a novelty."
I ask you to judge for yourself by watching the origins of the Hulk from 1966. Does the motion comic undermine the unique formal properties of the comic, becoming a colorful phenomenological train wreck? Or does it, like the Hulk, have powerful special abilities that are just below the surface?