This week I decided to try out Marvel’s new digital comic book format. Normally I don’t by many Marvel comics nor do I buy digital comics but since I had read about this new comic, “Avengers vs. X-Men #1 Infinite”, I was curious to see it. It was designed to be a digital comic from day one and as such has some interesting features. It wasn’t supposed to be just a regular comic with some add-ons or limited animation added to it. That and it was just 99¢.

The comic is actually the introductory chapter in the new Marvel company wide crossover event. There is one of these events every year because as much as I hear people complain about them people also buy them. Crossover events from both Marvel and DC are usually among the strongest selling comics in any given year. I’m not bothering to review the content of “Avengers vs. X-Men #1 Infinite” because I don’t care about it. This analysis is about the format rather than the content.

The format is different from a regular digital comic in that the creator is controlling aspects of the comic that are not usually under the creator’s control in a printed comic. As the reader opens up the digital comic (I’m reading it on my iPad) there is a field of stars. As you swipe your hand across the screen a caption appears. Swipe again and a few more captions appear for you to read. With this method the comic’s creator can control when words or pictures show up on screen (as long as the reader swipes his hand). That’s basically what “Infinite” comics are about.

Sometimes as I swiped to turn a page only one panel of that page would appear. Swipe again and the second panel shows up. Or maybe some more captions. This method was also used for special effects. At one point there is a drawing of the superhero Nova flying through space. He is in focus but there is an out of focus flaming explosion behind him. Swipe the screen and Nova moves out of focus and the background snaps into focus revealing that the fiery explosion is in the shape of a giant bird – the symbol of the out of control super-villain, the Phoenix. A solid example of using a special effect for story telling purposes.

Changing focus was used a couple of time in the story. That plus blur, color changes, and the moving of figure across a static background as I swiped added a few more arrows to the storytelling quiver that aren’t found in printed comics. The comic was also presented in a horizontal format rather than the usual comic book vertical. I must say that I was pretty impressed with the storytelling overall. They were really trying to do something new with the digital format. I could tell there was thinking going on and that is always welcome.

Overall I’m not sure if I liked it though. The format might just be too new for me to have a real grasp on just yet. I like the fact that I’m still in control and nothing moves until I want it to by swiping it but it’s all a bit weird right now. I’ve said before that comic books create a special space in the reader’s mind. When you read a regular book the words create an images in your head as you read. That’s one type of “Head space”. With comics a different type of head space is created. The words and pictures together create a space in your head where you go for the story to come alive.

I contrast these two types of reading with watching a movie. Reading is internal and watching is external. Reading creates an internal space in the reader’s mind where the story happens. Even with a comic where there are pictures to look at we still “Read” those pictures with our minds. When watching a movie the mind enters the world of the movie. All the action takes place on screen and not in our heads. We go into the movie’s world rather than in manifesting in our minds. It’s a different experience from reading.

That’s why I’m unsure of if I like this new format or not. My mind could quite get comfortable with it. When the words and pictures were all there it was just like reading a regular comic book. It brought me to than same space in my mind. But as I swiped across the screen I never knew what would appear. Would it be a single caption? Another panel? Two more panels? A whole bunch of writing? A whole new page? Would the page remain the same and the focus change? All these unanswered questions before I swiped meant that I went from reading the comic to watching it. That made the whole thing a little strange for me.

Read, watch to see what happens next, and then read again was how things went. It was kind of like reading subtitles at a movie. I’ve heard plenty of people complain about subtitles and not want to watch any movie that had them and I can understand that. Having to read subtitles takes you out of the world of the movie. It’s tough to get into a movie when you have to read what the actors are saying at the same time there is other stuff happening on screen.

This Infinite comics format wasn’t quite like that since I wasn’t watching and reading at the same time but the watching did, at times, interfere with my reading. It was a strange experience but it could be that I’m just not used to it. I’m reminded of a story I learned in art history class. Back when the Impressionists first got started people weren’t used to seeing images the way they painted them. People didn’t get it. Since they weren’t the three dimensional modeled images they were used to people couldn’t see them as the artist’s did. One famous critic in describing Monet’s famous “Haystacks” paintings said he loved the painting but couldn’t quite make out the haystacks. Not everybody in that day could but nowadays we wonder how they couldn’t. The Impressionists changed our way of seeing.

I wonder if my ambivalence towards this new comic book format is because I can’t see the haystack. Maybe my mind isn’t used to the space the format creates in my head. Like I said it was well done and I could see that a lot of thought had gone into it but it still annoyed me a little. I liked it but didn’t love it. Maybe next time it will be easier for me to see the haystacks.