Sunday, August 24, 2008

Who Watches The Watchmen? You Do.

I have a confession: I am a lapsed comic book geek. Yes, years ago, I was one of the thousands who trekked to the local comics store weekly to grab literally dozens of new issues. I proudly hustled my newfound issues home, ravenously consuming the rich storyline and revolutionary artwork, then carefully sealed the issues in plastic sleeves, storing them away for archival purposes. And there they remained. And, actually, remain to this day. As I moved across the country, I stopped making the weekly trips, and eventually stopped altogether. I briefly experimented with subscribing, but the issues arrived torn and crumpled, making me frustrated. At last, I lapsed on this rich world of fiction.

It's been years, and I have discovered the various repackaging of complex storylines in my local Barnes & Noble in bound collections, but the prices remain startlingly high, and I am just not a bug fan of paper, as those who read this blog well know. I wondered if there was any way the comics could make the leap to the computer screen. Stan Lee tried it in the height of the dotcom boom, with unfamiliar characters, to predictably poor showings. Years later, I learned of the trend for enthusiasts to scan comics into large images which were traded in the shady back alleys of the Internet; I tried these, and was disappointed with the poor reading experience. Was there no solution?

Looks like I am not alone in my yearning, as GigaOm points out. Two new ones seem to be the most promising. First is Marvel's own Digital Comics online reader, allowing the panels to be zoomed in on intuitively, and a passable online reading experience. It's by subscription, but for a reasonable price. The downside, however, is it's an online only experience: you have to be connected online and use a PC. Since I usually only have that combination at work or on weekends late at night, not sure if it's a good deal yet, but I may well be trying it.

The second is far more intriguing. Called Motion Comics, this approach allows the comics to have very limited zooms and animations, with voiceovers from experienced voice actors. The experience is similar to listening to an audiobook, but with the rich art and panel structure of traditional comics. DC Comics has capitalized on the interest in the upcoming Watchmen movie and is releasing the original limited series in this format, through iTunes, for $1.99 per "episode." Although I own the series, I gladly downloaded this as a chance to refresh myself on Alan Moore's and Dave Gibbons' masterpiece, and I was very pleasantly surprised. As a longtime audiobook listener, I was hardly thrown by the male voice talent doing all parts, including the female ones, that seems to have bothered "newbies" to this approach, and the animation is subtle: just enough to add to the presentation without distracting from the original work. Plus, with iTunes, I can watch on my iPhone or my computer, sans web connectivity. Very cool.

With comics becoming the stalwart for the movies these days, the medium is getting the attention it has so long deserved. The irony for old comic geeks like me is that the blockbusters are using material that is 20 or 30 years old for the most part (Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman, etc.), so I might have a chance to get digitally caught up by the time the movies discover the new stuff. Excelsior!


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