I don’t usually go for digital comics unless they can give me something that an old-fashioned paper comic can’t. That’s why I’ve always gravitated toward the likes of Thirllbent or DC2 titles that give the comics a more interactive feel. So when Madefire Motion Books approached Batman News to give their tech a spin with the latest installment of Injustice: Year Two, I was eager to see what exactly they had to offer and I must say that what I saw (and heard) was impressive. By adding depth, sound, and motion effects they’ve created a more visceral reading experience that I think everyone should give a try, it’s likely the future of digital comics.
Depth & Motion
Far and away the best features. One of the most annoying things about the first wave of digital comic releases was that the product was little more than a blown-up jpeg and you would have to zoom in and out while trying to find where the text was located. It was awful because it was function following form instead of form following function. You can’t put the same image of printed paper on a computer monitor or mobile device and expect the same experience, they’re two different animals and we needed an approach to storytelling that fits the new medium. Famed writer Mark Waid gave a speech about it where he goes into far greater detail than I can, but I recall him equating the process to what “pan and scan” did for film. Luckily, we’ve come a long way since then and rather than bastardizing comics, companies like Thrillbent and Madefire are delivering sequential storytelling that’s intended for the screen.
With a simple click, tap, or swipe the program instantly draws your focus exactly where it should be by bringing you a close-up view of a high resolution panel– not the full page, but the one aspect of the story the writers and artists intended for you to see so you’re never getting a head-start on the storytelling. This is one way in which digital comics have a definite leg-up on their print forefathers. In a print comic you’ll open it up and a surprise can happen when you turn the page, but when you do that you instantly get an eye-full of the page to your left and the page to your right and you won’t get another shock to the system until you turn the page in your right hand. But with digital something totally unexpected can occur from panel to panel to panel. This is something that not only Madefire has mastered, but it has become quite popular in most other mainstream digital releases as well.
Where Madefire starts to set itself apart is with the degree of motion and depth. You’ll see various characters, set pieces, and debris come in and out of frame or in and out of focus for a more cinematic feel that’s good for dramatic and action-oriented scenes. It’s never so over-the-top that it feels like there’s a cartoon happening in every panel, but it’s enough to make the panel feel alive without disrupting the details of the once static artwork. But I’m a simple man and the dynamic effect that pleased me the most was the way text was shown. First you’ll see the artwork totally uninterrupted by bubbles or blocks, then you click a mouse or tap a screen and a speech bubble or text box will appear. When you’re done with that and click again the prose or dialogue fades. This not only gives the reader a better look at the original artwork that would’ve been hidden forever in a printed comic, but it makes it all the easier to direct the eye to what should be read next, a problem that has confused many uninitiated comic readers their first time picking up a graphic novel.
Music & Sound Effects
This was the one aspect that I thought would be the most unnecessary and possibly even annoying, but the ambient sound was quite enjoyable on Injustice: Year 2: Episode 4. It was actually pretty cool to hear the sound of guns being cocked, phones ringing, etc. and the musical score was diverse and fitting to every individual scene so as to enhance the atmosphere. But naturally you’re not going to want to listen to all of that every time you read and thankfully there is a mute function. Often times you just want to read a comic discretely while participating in other activities and by shutting off the sound you can still enjoy all the motion effects and interactive panels without drawing attention or causing a racket.
Availability & Price
These motion comics are easily available through a free iOS app for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. A quick search through the App Store shows that it has a good rating and all creator/founder content within the app comes free with the download and I’ve been assured that an Android app is coming soon. The price of Injustice: Year 2 is set at $1.99 per episode so you’re essentially paying a dollar more for the music, sound effects, and other dynamic features. The $1.99 price appears to be quite standard across a variety of titles like Hellboy, My Little Pony, Star Trek, and Transformers. MadeFire has also partnered with deviantArt and have a Motion Book section on their site where you can test drive a few of the features I’ve talked about. You can also preview Injustice: Year 2: Episode 4 on Madefire’s website.
Madefire is currently rolling out a Motion Book Tool beta to the public that allows creators to get hands-on with the technology so future releases will be developed with motion and other effects in mind rather than simply remastering existing work. If you’re at all interested in connecting with other writers and artists for your own Motion Book project, you can check that out HERE.
I think if you’re going to read digital comics then this is definitely the way to go. A digital comic should offer an experience that print can’t and that’s what Madefire Motion Books are doing. The only drawback seems to be that the premium experience comes at twice the price of a traditional digital first release.