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Spider-Man looks surprised as Jeff the land shark, an adorable shark shaped like a dog, trots by him in art from It’s Jeff! on Marvel Unlimited. Image: Gurihiru/Marvel Comics

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Marvel’s scrollable, phone-friendly comics gamble is paying off

Infinity Comics are getting more people reading, and in a whole new way

Just over a year ago, Marvel Comics launched a new line of phone-friendly, in-canon digital comics series — the catch was that you could only read them if you subscribed to Marvel Unlimited. But the Infinity Comics line seems to have paid off: Marvel tells Polygon that the company has seen a 30% increase in Unlimited subscribers in 2022 compared to 2021, with over 300 Infinity Comics issues being read over 2 million times.

But it’s not just about the numbers. Infinity Comics has also been fertile creative ground for stories that wouldn’t otherwise get told. Like that of Jeff the Land Shark.

Editor Jordan White told Polygon via email that the X-Men office in particular is “thrilled” with the Infinity Comics they’ve been able to do that highlight minor characters. “X-Men Green is a great example. [...] A print series starring Nature Girl — even with Wolverine as a guest star! — would be a hard sell. But because we are part of the Marvel Unlimited service, we’ve found readers are willing to take a chance on some more unconventional tales. We’ve done stories starring Maggott, starring Cypher, starring Lila Cheney — these are characters that hardcore X-Fans love, but who have never carried a series, or even one-shots, really.”

Much like streaming television, under a subscription model niche series doesn’t have to stand on their own audience — as long as there’s more for all subscribers to read on a regular basis.

“Our goal with introducing Infinity Comics was to bring fans an immersive way to experience Marvel stories in a vertical format that works on all types of devices, but particularly on phones,” Jessica Malloy, VP of marketing, told Polygon. “The Infinity Comics format allows our creators to innovate with storytelling as well as expand in certain areas faster than in the past.”

Many monthly comics readers might not be familiar with infinite scroll comics — but just as many, if not more, infinite scroll readers might not care for monthly comics at all. The business of Webtoon is booming, with hit comics, hit adaptations, and a partnership with DC Comics to produce free-to-read licensed series. Making that changeover — from page-to-page comics to one huge vertical image — has been a challenge that White, at least, has relished.

“I read a ton of vertical comics when we started talking about starting this initiative, and when a proof comes in for one of my Infinity Comics, I make sure to read it on my cell phone. It’s not super convenient — we get lettering in as PDFs, and we mostly read them on our computers so we can easily type any notes into the comments on them — for the Infinity Comics, I will send myself the PDF, open it on my phone, and simultaneously open it on my desktop so I can read on the phone and comment on the computer. But it’s a completely different read experience on the phone, and I think it’s essential to see it that way! [...] Each panel is revealed a bit at a time — you scroll it into view. So suddenly the top of the panel needs to set the stage for the bottom of the panel, from a certain point of view, because that’s the order it is revealed to you. It’s definitely been a learning process, expanding into this format — but that is why it’s so exciting. Pushing the limits of the form and adapting to a new way of thinking is a blast.”

In its second year, says Malloy, the Marvel Infinity comics line will expand and bring in even more creators, experimenting with new (to the line) genres like romance and “Friday Funnies,” as well as tie-ins to upcoming Spider-Man, Avengers, and X-Men crossover events. Naturally, Polygon asked about It’s Jeff!, the wordless, adorable humor comics starring the dog-shaped shark and indisputable breakout star of the line, Jeff.

“All I can say,” Malloy replied, “is that new print and consumer products are already releasing as result of the love of this series so the people will just have to wait and see.”

In the meantime, you can check out a whole issue of Marvel’s spooky new Infinity series, Werewolf by Night, written by Owl Goingback and drawn by Alison Sampson, below — just make sure to do it on your phone.

The title page for Marvel Infinity’s Werewolf by Night.
Jake Gomez, a werewolf, adventures through a forest with his partner Molly in Marvel Infinity’s Werewolf by Night.
Molly and Jake hear a child crying but only find a creepy cannibal in Marvel Infinity’s Werewolf by Night.
Molly and jake battle the Wendingo in Marvel Infinity’s Werewolf by Night.
Molly discovers the Wendingo’s weakness in Marvel Infinity’s Werewolf by Night.
Jake defeats the Wendingo in Marvel Infinity’s Werewolf by Night.
Jake and Molly ride away into the sunset after laying the Wendingo to rest in Marvel Infinity’s Werewolf by Night.
Image: Owl Goingback, Alison Sampson/Marvel Comics
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