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Comic book creation for artless Spidey fans

Role of comics auteur soon available to Spider-Man fans--even if they're better at stick figures than web slingers.

The role of comic book auteur will soon be within easy grasp of Spider-Man fans--even if they're better at drawing stick figures than web slingers.

Software maker Planetwide Games has signed a licensing deal with Marvel Entertainment to allow the use of Spidey, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk and other Marvel characters in a new version of Planetwide's Comic Book Creator, a program that lets fans whip up comics using pre-existing art and a drag-and-drop interface. Planetwide announced the deal Tuesday at ComicCon in San Diego.

The standard Comic Book Creator, released in November 2005, lets users create digital comics using backgrounds, characters, logos, speech bubbles and other components from "real" comic books--as well as their own digital art, photos and screenshots from DVDs or video games. Updates to the original software now allow for audio, video and even some animation.

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"The software is drag-and-drop simple," says Mark Politi, vice president of marketing and corporate communications at Planetwide. "Comic books are part of Americana. Many of us have never been able to create those from scratch in a professional-looking form. This is designed for an average person."

This isn't the first time Planetwide has partnered with another entertainment company for Comic Book Creator. Earlier this year, it introduced its first specialized version of the software, centered on the Paramount film "Nacho Libre."

When Planetwide releases the Marvel Heroes version of Comic Book Creator in August, the program will feature three characters: Spider-Man, Elektra and the X-Men's Wolverine, Politi said. Eventually, Planetwide will release "booster packs" featuring more characters. But comic enthusiasts who were hoping to see "Nacho Libre" actor Jack Black fight Dr. Octopus may be disappointed: The Marvel version and the booster packs won't be compatible with either the original comic software or the "Nacho Libre" version.

In addition to partnering with Marvel, Planetwide will be venturing into the burgeoning world of online social networking when it launches Comic Book Society. The Web site will let Comic Book Creator users share their work, meet other fans, collaborate on projects and compete in contests.

The original, non-Marvel edition of Comic Book Creator retails for $29.99. Planetwide did not provide pricing information for the Marvel version.