Electricomics app frees graphic fiction from the boundaries of the page
Technology takes comic books to new level
Readers have been promised a revolution in graphic storytelling ever since the dawn of the internet, but this week's launch of Alan Moore's Electricomics offers the first glimpse of a new beginning for digital comics.
Fans have been reading comics on electronic devices in increasing numbers over recent years, but until now publishers have been content to replicate the experience of the printed page. The cutting edge of innovation has been Comixology's "guided view" technology, which blows up each panel and progresses to the next at the tap of your tablet screen.
Now Moore, arguably the finest proponent of the graphic novel form, has taken digital comics to a new level. Readers can download a free app from iTunes that gives access to the first issue of four separate comics, each one unfolding in its own peculiar way.
Moore's Big Nemo explores a recurring theme that he first tackled in Marvelman/Miracleman, asking what happens when our childhood heroes grow up?
This melancholy story looks back at Winsor McCay's Little Nemo, a newspaper strip that began in 1905 charting a boy's adventures in dreamland. Moore reimagines Nemo's Slumberland - beautifully evoked in artwork from Colleen Doran - as a bleak, friendless place, where the American dream has been drained of colour by prohibition and the Wall Street crash.
All this would be quite enough to whet the appetite of any Moore fan, but the technology employed to move through the story is truly groundbreaking. As the reader taps on each panel the scene shifts and the dialogue fades away. Just like in a dream.
Cabaret Amygdala Presents: Second Sight is a modern take on the old EC horror comics by Peter Hogan and Paul Davidson, exploring what would happen if transplanted organs retained "memories" from their previous owners. The reader chooses a path through the narrative by tapping on animated TV screens or blaring radios.
Garth Ennis and Frank Victoria's Red Horse is perhaps the story with the most straightforward technology, but it's beautiful and tragic nonetheless. This letter from an idealistic young soldier in the first world war, buoyed on the winds of a fading empire, scrolls down a single long page to a gloomy close.
Moore's daughter Leah, who the comics maestro described as the backbone of the Electricomics project in 2014, offers the technological highlight. She's teamed up with John Reppion for a quickfire time-travel science fiction story with art from Nicola Scott that can be read in a linear fashion or - at a tilt of the screen - can lift the protagonist out of one narrative and into another. The effect is quite stunning.
Sometimes the novelty of the interaction threatens to dump the reader out of the story as well, but perhaps that's the price of innovation. It's a new way of reading comics that will have to be learned and accepted.
Is this the future of comics? The quality is high enough that each of these contributions would stand up well with none of the digital trickery. But the elegance and power of the interactive elements takes these stories to a new and exciting place. The revolution in graphic storytelling starts here.