After 20 years at the University of Oregon, I have retired. So, I will begin posting about my new experiences here and hope you find them interesting.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Marvel Online Comic Creator Needs to Integrate Virtual Assets!

Yesterday, I learned about Marvel's Online Comic Creator from fellow blogger Candlelight Stories. I developed a prototype with a similar concept using Filemaker Pro and its instant web publishing capabilities about five years ago using pictures I downloaded from HBO's "Rome" website in combination with backgrounds I captured from various ancient world-themed adventure games. So, naturally I had to try Marvel's out. I loved it and the Flash or Java? interface would let you layer objects and arrange them (including front to back) which I couldn't do with Filemaker through the instant web interface. The overall concept was very similar though.

In my version I let user's pick the dialog template that varied by numbers of speech balloons and positions, the character(s) and the background. They could then input the desired words they wished their characters to say. Then I used a Filemaker script to "playback" their comic by changing from one layout to the next. My prototype let users create up to a five window comic (or "graphic novel" if you prefer). Marvel has a short three window version and, for really talented writers, a 22-pane full comic book version.

I think this tool would be even better if users could upload additional backgrounds, objects (Marvel's version has objects you can add to a scene like a telephone, etc.) and characters, although I understand why Marvel would prefer to limit the tool to Marvel superheroes. I would have also liked more dialog balloon options, especially those with the arrow beneath the balloon. There were only a couple like that.

Today I also read an article about the surging market in virtual goods. Marvel's application would be a prime candidate for the integration of virtual goods. Marvel could offer theme-based backgrounds, character and object packages for a small fee. People would be more willing to purchase virtual goods, though, if they could share their creativity with others. Marvel's download function does not seem to save a file in a common format like .jpg. Some of the other flash-based products out there have also integrated social networking tools so user-generated toons can be posted to Facebook or linked to a tweet.

As for usability, though, I think the limited but intuitive tools the Marvel software provides makes it a snap to quickly create a toon to convey a thought or an emotion. Other more feature-rich products enable those who want to truly spend hours creating an artistic panel a lot of options but many of us just want to punch out a quick toon with a message using characters we like from favorite movies, comics, or legends. The Marvel tool, although targeted at children, fills the bill quite nicely.

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