It’s been a while since we’ve covered some genuinely exciting and innovative digital comics on the site, and after our chat with Ezra Clayton Daniels we were introduced to a couple of really exciting new projects. First up is cutting edge motion comic Dark Pulsar from Expanded Comics, which takes the world of motion comics into a whole new world. And secondly is Phallaina, a scrolling graphic novel that manages to balance innovative story-telling and a mythologically inspired story perfectly.
Dark Pulsar (Expanded Comics)
Our rating: [star rating=”4.5″]
We’ve seen plenty of comics with moving elements, like Madefire’s motion books or the animated comics from Russian publisher Narr8, however we’ve not seen one for a while with the kind of sophistication that we get in Expanded Comics’ debut offering Dark Pulsar. Available as an iOS app, it features traditional comics panels which are then animated with super slick CG animation. But rather than just have elements move into position and then remain static, Dark Pulsar sees cars fly in the sky, windows shatter when robot sentries burst through them and Minority Report style computer displays flickering and moving. It even has slightly longer clips such as Pulsar heroically flying into the frame or a pan up a tall building which are much more complex than the simple animation loops we’ve seen on other motion comics. It’s an amazing visual feast and the production values of the characters are up there with a top of the range video game.
The story sees the hero Pulsar sent on a shadowy mission into the mysterious Morgot – a 12 sided pyramid which holds all kinds of secrets to the universe and that has hitherto been incommunicado. The plot for this first issue is a fairly traditional superhero trying to go somewhere he shouldn’t tale, and the high intensity needed for the graphics means it is told at a fairly slow pace. There is a strong reliance on old school Marvel style narration that explains what is happening in every panel, rather than have lots of dialogue. While the back story about the reinvention of a new society run by a Golden Order of priests who live in mystical towers is nothing ground breaking, but definitely serves a purpose – that being to provide a superb platform for the cutting edge graphics.
The only problem with this reliance on action that matches the graphics is that there is only so much you can fit on screen at any one time. The panels all activate at once rather than sequentially (as they do in Madefire and Narr8) so reading it can feel like a case of information overload. This is particularly bad during the fight scenes at the end when Pulsar takes on a giant robot guardian and there is glass and electricity flying everywhere!
It’s a small price to pay for such eye-popping treats though and the balance of plot and action is actually pretty good for this kind of book. If the team are able to continue this level of detail while also developing the plot in an interesting direction then Dark Pulsar definitely has the potential to be something very exciting indeed!
Phaillana (France Televisions)
Our rating: [star rating=”4.5″]
Billed as the ‘1st Scolling Graphic Novel’, this French digital comic tells the story of a young girl called Audrey, who is looking to cure the hallucinations and seizures which disrupt her every day. She visits a Dr Chaillet who diagnoses a form of epilepsy and she is referred to a pioneering research group who are looking into the effects of a neural condition called the Physter which may be the cause of her illness. This mysterious extra part to her brain allows Audrey to hold her breath for much longer than normal people, and so a part of this ground breaking treatment involves the use of free diving to help achieve states of relaxation. Here she meets a pair of young researchers who tell her about the myth of the Phallians – a mysterious half man, half whale people, who legend has it have connections to those with these mysterious physters. Can you guess where the story might be heading?
As a concept, it has the familliar structure of a hero with an affliction having their eyes opened by a group of outsiders. However, the way the story is told is much more innovative, as it uses one long sideways scrolling page, similar to those we’ve seen on Scrollon – but much, much longer! As with Scrollon, the individual images blend one into another to create long meandering pages that have no hard lines or edges. The artwork is a mix of highly stylised, almost Manga infused people, classical mythological backgrounds and beautiful, expressionistic uses of light and shadow to create shapes that blend from one story element into the next. As well as blending the seemingly unconnected events from one ‘page’ into the next, artist Marietta Ren also introduces surreal optical effects that use a form of paralax scrolling (similar to Sutu’s These Memories Won’t Last) that allow her to seamlessly weave the hallucinatory elements into the story.
Audrey’s hallucinations are represented by a recurring fish motif that you periodiclally see appear in the background and then disappear, or in one case with a giant whale that appears in the top of the page while she is having a doctor’s appointment. She also uses figures styled like those from a classical al fresco to mix in the mythological sub plot. And she also uses the black outs and white outs of the seizures as break points in the chapter, to at least give you some break in the narrative, as well as design features like waves from an ultrasound, smoke from a cigarette or beats on a monitor to shift from one element to the next.
Although the design is incredible and the level of detail on show extraordinary, the combintaion of a very long in-depth story, along with a high degree of input required to navigate the story, means it is quite a labour intensive reading experience. Unlike many books we’ve seen which use an original method of telling a story, it does at least have a strong emphasis on story rather than just showing off a new visual technique and means that is well worth persevering through. If you have the patience to continue through to the end (it boasts 1600 screen and a 90 minute read time!) then you are treated to something truly special and a reminder of just how exciting and innovative that digital story telling can be.
You can download the Phallaina app for iPad from the iTunes Store