The Project Gamma Interview: Marvel's Peter Phillips Explains Why You'll Want Hear Your Comics


Yesterday, Marvel announced Project Gamma, their latest gambit in the digital comics marketplace to move more copies of "Spider-Man" online.

The program brings dynamic music to your digital comics: think having a score to accompany that latest issue of "Uncanny X-Force," with the score morphing and changing to fit what's happening from panel-to-panel.

I spoke to Peter Phillips, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Marvel Digital Media Group, just prior to the announcement about why this was the right move for Marvel's next step in their digital push. And although I didn't get to nail him down on every issue of "Amazing Spider-Man" potentially including a new punk rock cover of the 70's theme each month (they're not even talking titles, release dates, or pricing now), he did lay out some of the company's ambitions behind Project Gamma.

Watch: Marvel's Project Gamma

"We realized 'Wouldn’t it be great to offer [our readers] music?' The challenge is that we’ve all done stuff with music, read a book, played a game, however, it can’t just be in the background, it has to enhance the experience and that is what Project Gamma really does." That's Phillips talking about the broader "why" behind Project Gamma. He did give me the whole marketing spiel (digital leader, this, market success that), but the main thrust of it is that Marvel teamed up with the composers at Momentum Worldwide and CORD (A Cutting Edge Company) to put music in your funny books.

If that sounds like a dismissive assessment of Project Gamma on my part, it's not--at least, not completely. I haven't gotten hands-on with it yet to see how it either enhances or disrupts the overall comics reading experience, but Marvel did show off demos during SXSW over the weekend.

Phillips is right, though: typically, when I read comics (or much of anything else), it's accompanied by a soundtrack of some sort, but it's typically one of my own choosing. Marvel's approach then, seems to be to create a tailored experience for each comic (specific characters will have their own themes that carry over across issues, but usually, each issue's score will be its own thing).

The key thing to understand about Project Gamma is that it's not just a continuous, looping score. Phillip likens it to the kind of dynamic music you might encounter in a video game, where each new zone triggers a new piece of the score. In this case, it would be the panel transitions--Project Gamma is being optimized for panel-by-panel reading. Flipping back to earlier in the story will send the soundtrack back to the relevant piece of music, but Marvel is promising that it won't be a disruptive jump in the like when you flip between tracks on a CD (I'm assuming it will involve a simple fade between tracks to smooth the transition for the reader).

I am curious how this might impact or serve Marvel's storytelling going forward. Phillips assured me that Marvel's writers weren't being guided by the hypothetical score for an issue (it'll be handled the other way around), but that creators on the company's payroll are excited about the program: "We showed it at a retreat to some of the really big music fans like Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction.These guys are really thinking about it."

Adding audio isn't necessarily the end point, just the latest thing they're trying I asked Phillips about potentially adding animation to their digital comics, and while he nixed that idea outright, he continued "It doesn’t mean we won’t continue to innovate, so it’s not like we sat down and said, 'this, not that,' we continue to look for things to do to make the experience more in demand and it’s something we’re trying."