I’m not an artist. Far from it. But I still have fond memories (and a few notebooks full of drawings) of making my own comic books as a kid. I’d grab a stack of white paper from my dad’s desk, hunt down my plastic Garfield ruler and settle in at the kitchen table with my tin of colored pencils. Eyes focused, tongue stuck out the corner of my mouth, I’d start diving in, breaking down each page into a series of panels. Sure my Captain America may’ve been a little doughy around the middle and his shield might’ve changed size about eight times per page, but after a few sound effects, word balloons and captions… BAM… I was holding a finished comic book in my hands.
As my oldest son begins to master the art of reading, he’s also showing interest in a parallel skill: writing. I can’t think of a more perfect introduction to storytelling than comics. So I was beyond excited (yes, there were more than a few woots exclaimed) when I ventured on to Marvel’s Super Hero Squad website the other day. What did I see but a new section called “Create Your Own Comic.” I quickly dove in, peeked around and decided it was worth giving it a try with my son.
Fast forward an hour or so, and I couldn’t stop my 6 year old. He was having a blast creating his own comic book and printing it out. At first, I was the one doing the steering while he explained what he wanted on each page, but before long, he was in the driver’s seat, taking full control of his comic book’s production.
Once again, Marvel’s created a truly interactive and fun website. Your first step is adding a page, and the program offers over 10 different layouts from a giant one-panel “splash page,” to a Brian Michael Bendis-like 9 panel grid layout. You can add up to 22 pages of story, mixing up your layouts and moving pages around as you see fit.
Once you have your page layout selected, the fun really begins. Using some basic photo manipulation tools (think Adobe Photoshop Jr.), you can choose from dozens of backgrounds to set the scene. New York City, the Fantastic Four’s headquarters or even the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier are all available. You can also rotate and alter the size of the background to fit just about any panel layout you come up with.
The real fun, though, is adding characters. For someone with no artistic talent, this is huge. There’s roughly 50 different hero and villain poses to choose from. Again, you can rotate and resize any of them. So go ahead and make one huge picture of Hulk smashing, or fit a dozen or so characters duking it out in a series of small panels. All the regulars from the “Super Hero Squad” cartoon are here including Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Wolverine and Reptil, as well as baddies Dr. Doom, Abomination and M.O.D.O.K. My only complaint here is the absence of a certain Star-Spangled Avenger. Yes, I admit, I’m a little biased being a huge Captain America fan, but seriously, how can they offer Iron Fist and not Cap?
Other features you can add to your comic are dialogue and sound effects. The word balloon selection is great, though it’d be a neat feature to have the ability to reverse a balloon, so the tail can properly face your character’s mouth. My son loved all the different sound effects available, making sure to fill a page with plenty of “CRASH!”, “BDDA, BDDA, BDDA” and “THOOM!” effects.
When you’re finished with your issue, you have the option of downloading the entire thing as a PDF or simply printing it out. There’s currently no option to save your work in progress and come back to it later, though knowing Marvel, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s added at some point in the future. The only other missing feature would be some sort of cover creation tool. Sure you can mock up a cover using the single panel layout, but it’d be great to have a standard Marvel comic cover template complete with a series of logos, issue numbers, etc.
Overall, the Create Your Own Comic program is a ton of fun and fairly easy to use. At the very least, it’s a great tool for beginning artists to practice storytelling techniques and panel layouts. But for someone with fond memories and a real lack of artistic skills, well, it can be a real source of hope.