Marvel Adds Soundtracks to Digital Comics

MarvelMarvel Adds Soundtracks to Digital Comics Comics & Digital Comics unveiled their long awaited adaptive audio feature yesterday at SxSW, and it has proven much more interesting than I had expected.

Adaptive audio, which was initially announced at SxSW last year under the codename Project Gamma, adds an audio element to Marvel's digital comics. Described last year as a way to add an "adaptive, non-repetitive score" to digital comics, Project Gamma was intended to a background soundtrack which changed as a reader read the comic. The sound track was keyed to certain panels, and it was also supposed to respond to the speed at which the reader turned the page.

Or at least that's what Project Gamma was supposed to do when it was announced last year; how well does it perform now?

If you like, you can find out for yourself. The new feature is available in the Marvel Unlimited app. This is a free download, and all of the titles that have the new audio are available as free samples. You'll only get a part of each volume, but it's enough to at least give you an idea of how the soundtrack adds to the reading experience.

Marvel Adds Soundtracks to Digital Comics Comics & Digital Comics  I tried the new feature on my iPad, and I think the soundtrack improves upon the original comic. The sounds ranged from music clips that set the mood to sounds that were tied to specific events in the story, and in general they improved upon the story.

Should I encounter new titles from Marvel that include audio I might buy them. But I won't be buying any of the several titles released so far.

Marvel debuted the adaptive audio by adding it to comics originally published 10 years ago. Captain America: Winter Soldier is the inspiration for the movie that is coming out in April, so this move makes sense, but unfortunately the original comics are so old that they do not translate well to Marvel's digital format.

The latest trick in comics is to avoid showing an entire page at once, and instead show each panel in sequence. This introduces time as a story telling element, which can add a lot to the reading experience.

The CA:WS comics I read are so old that they were not created as high definition digital files, and that is blindingly obvious when I tried to read them. Have you ever zoomed in on an image to the point that it was started getting fuzzy? That is what I frequently saw with the CA:WS comics.

This is regrettable because it detracts from the new audio feature. It also tells us that Marvel is only making a half-hearted effort to convert and sell their backlist, but that's a tale for another post.

But in spite of Marvel's early stumbles, they could have a real winner here - if it is used correctly. But if Marvel treats it like another gimmick and adds it to old titles simply to try to get you to buy them again, then they'll ruin it. Let's hope that doesn't happen.


Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: He's here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Scott Tuttle10 March, 2014

    Maybe next they’ll animate then! Replace the speech bubbles with actors voices!

    1. Thomas10 March, 2014

      They’ve been doing that for a few years. They use the comic as the basis for a limited-animation “motion comic”. They just don’t sell them as comics but on DVDs. Marvel’s put out at least a half dozen or so.

      1. Scott Tuttle10 March, 2014

        huh, so much for my sarcasm

        1. Nate Hoffelder10 March, 2014

          I had assumed you were sarcastically referring to cartoons.

          But Thomas is right in that Marvel has animated a few comic books. A few aren’t bad.

  2. Scott Tuttle10 March, 2014

    Yeah, I was. Little did I know.

  3. Loïc11 March, 2014

    “The latest trick in comics is to avoid showing an entire page at once, and instead show each panel in sequence”
    While I do understand how it is the only way to read a comic on the average 7″ tablet, I totally hate this mode. Why? Because the layout of the page should be a source of story telling, not a succession of panels shown on a tiny screen. Furthermore, you miss the pleasure of having a gorgeous big and colorful page of interwined drawings.

    1. Nate Hoffelder11 March, 2014

      It’s almost aa if they secretly wish they were making a cartoon and not a comic book.

  4. Mark Sroufe11 March, 2014

    Two years ago I published my 3D Graphic Novel — “2084” — as an iPad App. There are some animations, but most of those are part of the App navigation. It uses “adaptive” sound and also presents each panel as an entire screen. The music serves as mood-appropriate background and does not usually have a melody. Sometimes there is a single, musical chord that plays when a panel is served so that it keeps pace with and spurs each reader’s progression. There are also music/sound beds that play across a set of panels with a piece that is deliberately long enough to accommodate even the slowest pace and which fades out at the advance past a specified panel. Some panels play panel-specific sounds along with multi-panel beds.

    When I first released the Graphic novel, the feedback we received was along the lines of “I view this on a multimedia device, I expect multimedia.” This may be one reason the adaptation of multi panel, static print comics to digital hasn’t caught on as rapidly as one would expect. I have to admit, the sound takes “2084” to a whole new level.

    I understand and even agree with the notion that a layout of multiple panels can be a powerful aspect of telling the story itself and I deploy something similar in later Episodes. But with digital, I can also make graphic changes and/or dialog (all written, none audible) based on either an automated change set by the amount of time that the panel has been visible, or upon the reader’s advance gesture. Digital also enables a reader to access ancillary content from a the panel itself.

    Probably the primary reason — beyond ease of viewing/navigating — for presenting full screen, single panels is that, as an independent writer/artist/designer/publisher/publicist/janitor/cook, churning out and programming hundreds of panels per issue/episode is just not doable, particularly when people simply will not pay more than $3 for an entire, print-to-digital standard comic produced by the mega-publishers. I gotta eat, folks.

    “2084” won the 2012 Best Graphic Novel Award at Digital Book World (then called the Publishing Innovation Awards) as well as Best Graphic Novel for 2013 Indie Reader Discovery Awards. A review from The Comics Journal is here:

  5. […] Marvel: Der Comic-Verlag wartet wieder einmal mit einer elektronischen Innovation auf: In der neuen Version seiner Marvel Unlimited App gibt es ab sofort auch optionale Soundtracks für die Bildergeschichten. (via The Digital Reader) […]

  6. […] thing to keep in mind is that comics don’t need to have minimal functionality. According to Inks, Bits, & Pixels, Marvel started adding soundtracks to its comics, with adaptive audio that adds “an […]

  7. […] thing to keep in mind is that comics don’t need to have minimal functionality. According to Inks, Bits, & Pixels, Marvel started adding soundtracks to its comics, with adaptive audio that adds “an […]


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