Things are certainly going to change. I never really fell along with the motion comic thing when it first came out. Call me a purist, but, for me, there was something special about the frozen panes in a comic book – particularly in analog print format that came with the fragrance of the pages and the tactile comfort of turning the page. That and I have an obsessive affinity with those crappy ads that Marvel used to print in the 1970s and 1980s. Goddamn I love those Twinkie comic commercials.
So, call me a cobwebbed purist in a rocking chair telling digital media to get off my lawn. And though I never got into the motion comic push, The Damned Meanderers is a tale that has taken the concept and moved it along further. The next convincing revolutionary generation of comic book concepts has not appeared yet – but The Damned Meanderers is most certainly a huge step in that direction – a direction that, while I still gravitate to the "traditional" comic book format, I am interested in seeing how it evolves from this point.
Created by Tom McGrane, Chapter One of The Damned Meanderers situates the sword and sorcery scene for the trilogy of the “multimedia comic.” Young wizard apprentice Daz is returning to his master, Mage Thoroar, with some much needed items, and some potentially unattractive news. Upon his arrival to the tower, Daz (who actually comes across as a bit of an emo whiny bitch, but then again, so did Luke Skywalker) informs Thoroar that he has encountered a Sovrin.
Inside the context of The Damned Meanderers, the world is referred to as Avani’ni; and in another era, the world was thrown into turmoil and war – a dark period that resulted in the world’s resources becoming sparse for the survivors. The war was essentially blamed upon the Sovrins – an elite caste of warriors that come across as medieval Jedi; or something like the main character from the early Assassin’s Creed video games.
Thoroar is on a mission to deliver items to a collaborator that may help restore Avani’ni after suffering from their post-war period. Alerted to the presence of the Sovrin, he tasks his apprentice Daz with delivering the items in his place. But as they set forward this strategy, the Sovrin has stepped into the domain of the tower and the lives of both Thoroar and Daz may be in serious risk. As in: serious risk of being attacked. With an attack of death. Death from an attack. You get my gist.
The presentation of The Damned Meanderers is very good, complete with basic animations, and 3D artwork that is akin to many good quality games of years gone by. The presentation features your typical comic book sound effects (this time both written and in audio), and the standard bubble balloon text. The "frames" are exhibited in an animated slide context (a little like a PowerPoint presentation that doesn’t suck), prompting the user to click forward once finished reading and experiencing the pane.
The timing of these frames, however, feels a little off in some places. In some, it feels like the prompts to move forward pop-up before you can finish reading all the text. In others, it feels like you’re sitting there waiting for them to materialize (though you can proceed without them). This is, I feel, a bit of a limitation in the motion format; but one that is on the evolutionary continuum, no doubt.
The writing is of a moderate standard, and relatively straight-forward to follow. The biggest criticism, however, is that a vast majority of the text is made up of extremely loooooong exposition – exploring the history and back story on Avani’ni in an arrangement of one character recounting it to another. This becomes particularly tedious over time, and very dialogue-heavy, and it could have been presented in a different format in which the pace of the story could have been preserved. With the "let me babble on to you about our history" exposition, the pace feels like it comes to a standstill, and does make it difficult to want to continue.
There is, obviously, another factor to weigh in here: this is just the first chapter of a larger story. These motion pages are simply there for the scene to be set, the world established, and to make the first appearance of the Sovrin. And the emergence of the Sovrin is actually pretty bad-ass to be bluntly honest. So much so, that I want to be a Sovrin when I grow up. It could well be that, as in most stories, that subsequent issues will be a little less dialogue-heavy and too needful of exposition.
The graphics are of a very good standard. They are clearly unrealistic, as the digital art does not seem to be striving for realism per se, but rather to immerse you in a completely different universe. It does feel a little D&D and Baldur’s Gate as you progress through the tale, so the Gygax devotees might find this fascinating.
As far as the whole result is concerned, The Damned Meanderers is not exactly my cup o’ Joe, but is a good glimpse at to the direction in which motion comics and multimedia comics are heading. The media format doesn’t feel like it is “there” just yet, but this digital comic does suggest that things are on their way. Casual comic fans may not dig this very much either; but anyone hardcore into fantasy or D&D will eat it up. If you have an iPad, give it a look if it sounds like this is your kind of obsession.