Comic books are great, everyone knows that! The quickest glance at the listings at your local multiplex will confirm their enduring appeal.
But what of the humble comic book themselves? Have they evolved at all to embrace what modern tablet technology has to offer?
Well, they’ve given it a good try, but to my mind up until now they’ve repeatedly missed the mark. Don’t get me wrong, my iPad is now an indispensable part of my ongoing obsession with the funny books. It was the advent of the tablet that made reading digital comic books a viable option, that almost seamlessly recreated the tactile experience of holding a physical comic book in your own hands.
And living here, in the land of milk and honey, I can now get my regular fix of everything from Spider-Man to The Sandman, on the same day their printed counterparts hits the stands.
But all attempts to actually use technology to drive forward the storytelling art form that are comic books have thus far been a bit of a dud.
At the worst end of the scale you have the dreaded ‘motion-comics’, which translates into just very poor animation. Poorer even than the worst offences to animation that were of the old Filmation cartoons of the 1970s — you remember them? Sure you do! They churned out the likes of ‘Star Trek — The Animated Series’ and went to expense to hiring a pre-T.J. Hooker William Shatner to do the voice of Kirk, but didn’t bother to have anyone draw more than one facial expression for him.
Yeah, well, motion comics are worst than even that. The motion comic disc that came with my Ultimate Watchmen Blu-Ray set makes for a nifty coaster, and not much more than that.
Far more successful is Madefire, which very slickly animates panels to fall into place with cool zooms and camera pans, not to mention ambient background noise.
But for me, this too over-eggs the pudding somewhat. I find the experience a bit too all encompassing. I would much rather just read a comic book, and leave all the directorial flourishes to my own imagination.
They are well worth having a look at, though. Their free app is available for iOS, Android, and even in the poor, ostracised Windows app store — and just bursting full of free content for you to give it a whizz with.
But for my money the newest kid on the block is the one that’s really worth taking note of, and that’s Electricomics.
What makes Electricomics tick is that they’ve hit the perfect balance of using the available technology, whilst not betraying what a comic book is, in essence. Subtle GIF animations allow a touch of gentle atmosphere to be added here and there, with a rain effect for example or a glowing orb, without the animations being rammed down the readers throat.
By allowing the creator to control the method that panels get revealed, and then giving the reader full control on the rate at which the story progresses they’ve struck gold.
And that very cleverly drills deep down into the core DNA experience of reading a comic. The advantage that comics shares with literature is that the reader is allowed to absorb the information and digest it at their own speed. That experience gets lost when the images pan and twirl through beautifully rendered plains of perspective, as they do with Madefire comics.
This innate understanding of what comic book are, I think is down to one of Electricomics guiding creators, Alan Moore.
Now, Alan Moore, for the uninitiated would seem to be an unlikely candidate to spearhead a technical revolution for the four coloured heroes.
Moore rose to fame (well, comic book fame, at least) in the mid-eighties, when he pretty much single-handedly reinvented the medium and created what today is the modern comic book. Almost all of relentlessly successful super hero movies jostling for place in pop culture can have their origins traced back to his work.
However, no one is filled with more doom and depression by the dominance of super heroes at the box office than Moore, who turned his back on them in the nineties never to return. Indeed, he has called the current wave of mass media entertainment a ‘cultural apocalypse’, and that theme can be seen running throughout his work for the last two decades.
So strong is Moore’s conviction in this, he’s turned down the literarily millions of dollars offered and legally due to him from the direct exploitation of his former super hero endeavours.
Curiouser still Moore eschews technology. Not owning a tablet or even having internet in his house.
Yes, you read that correctly — he doesn’t even have a creaky old AOL dial-up account in his abode, groaning its way to the information super-highway and declaring that ‘You have mail.’
And yet Alan Moore somehow managed to spearhead this digital revolution, with his daughter, Leah Moore (a prolific author in her own right) running and overseeing the project.
It’s early days yet, and the reader is currently only available for iPad and as an OS neutral desktop app (the Android app is said to be available shortly). But what they’ve done thus far is create an open source self publishing eco system for creators and readers alike.
Their ultimate goal is to create an egalitarian digital marketplace, where creators can post their ongoing tales, and set any price they choose, free from corporate concerns and connect directly to their readership.
A lofty indeed, and one that quite some way off. But for right now I’m more than happy to see what a new generation of creators are doing with this, in Moore’s own words, where ‘the world’s oldest narrative art form and youngest technology combine as a uniquely 21st century medium”.