The roughly $680 million comic book and graphic novel industry is still heavily reliant on sales and advertising from print—unlike its fellow publishers in the newspaper and magazine worlds, where the transition to digital is farther along. Sure, there are plenty of apps for comics out there, from startups like ComicZeal4 to big players like Marvel's iPad reader. But when it comes to taking full advantage of its digital potential, "most online comics are stagnant," says Disney's Dario Di Zanni.
To reverse that trend, Disney has partnered with Microsoft and tech-design firm Vectorform to create the Tron: Legacy graphic novel, one of the first HTML5 graphic novels made by a major brand. We're used to seeing PDF ports from the media industry—articles and graphics simply copy and pasted from print. But Disney and other startups like FlipBoard are more and more trying to sex up boring old print designs with sleeker digital UIs.
In Disney's Tron graphic novel, users experience interactive, visual storytelling. No longer do the comic strips sit static—they're now dynamic and optimized for a digital screen. Backgrounds and panels zoom and slide and dissolve, playing with perspective. Colors glow. Characters and action scenes are animated, bringing the comics to life.
"We were blown away by the potential of this technology for the graphic novel," says Disney creative director Nashie Castro. "We added a new level to the graphic novel, and took from the core storytelling experience—it wasn't something that we just chopped up and put back together."
For Disney, as Castro explains, it's an opportunity to reach a new audience with the digital graphic novel, and squeeze as much as possible out of the success of Tron: Legacy. For Microsoft, of course, it's an opportunity to show off the graphics and capabilities of HTML5.
And for the Tron Guy, it's, well, just another wet dream.