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Oct 3, 2013 — by Ryan Henry
Bonus content such as behind the scenes footage and interviews with creators has long been a staple of movies on DVD. This opens a world of details for the curious film buff. In an attempt to bring similar content to readers, publishers have created websites with author interviews and character bios. However, this effort has felt detached from the core reading experience, requiring the reader to put down the book and type in the website address in their browser.
One publisher, Marvel Comics, is attempting a novel approach. As one aspect of their new digital initiative to bring comics into the 21st Century, Marvel has been releasing select titles bearing a small “AR” logo. This refers to “Augmented Reality,” and indicates that the comic (or graphic novel) contains access to bonus content by downloading the free Marvel AR app for your Apple or Android device. (Sorry, there’s no Windows phone or Blackberry compatibility at this time.)
The app is powered by Aurasma, an augmented reality program used by businesses including the Daviess County Public Library and The Green Gazette. It functions by using your phone’s camera to scan an aura, which is keyed into a specific image (in this case, a comic panel denoted with the “AR” logo). This takes the reader instantly to bonus content ranging from concept drawings, interviews with writers or illustrators, character biographies, and more.
Since the library has been adding many comics to its shelves in recent months, I decided to try the app for myself using my Samsung Galaxy S3, running on AT&T’s 4G network. I installed the app without any difficulty, and it flips to life with the colorful flourish of the Marvel logo familiar from Marvel Studio films.
The first graphic novel I attempted was Fantastic Four: New Departure, New Arrivals. I used the index in the back of the book to find the panels tied to auras. I scanned the first by clicking on the screen to focus, but nothing happened. I went through each image in succession and found no bonus content.
The second attempt was Iron Man: Believe. I opened to a random “AR” panel, scanned it and watched a rotating blue spiral on the screen: “loading.” After a few moments I watched the evolution of the page’s art, from the line drawings, to inking and coloring, with frequent pauses for buffering. I then connected to the local wi-fi network to test its speed. The next panel, another art evolution, required lengthy load times as well. So patience is required.
While these were nice features, I couldn’t help but feel the augmented reality of the comic was mostly a gimmick and a wasted opportunity, especially considering that the art evolutions were included in print format in the back of the graphic novel. I scanned a third panel, this one with Tony Stark listening to a voice mail message. This was an audio track of a voice actress leaving him a message, reading the same dialog from the comic’s panel. Again, this was gimmicky and added no content to the story.
I tried a third graphic novel, Deadpool: Dead Presidents, in which the titular anti-hero stops a zombie invasion of former United States presidents (yes, it is as awesome as it sounds). I attempted to scan the “AR” panels and found the app as dead as Millard Fillmore.
In my opinion, the Marvel AR App is not fantastic. The promised creator interviews and background information would have been awesome, but I could not get those to load. The content of the auras that did load seemed superfluous. Until Marvel gets its act together, I will probably stick to the regular print graphic novels.