Newly-founded Swedish studio Pencil United is getting set to launch Northern Souls, its first comic designed to be read exclusively on touchscreens, which they say “embraces the possibilities of the digital medium for graphic storytelling unlike any other”.
Opening in World War Two, the story centres on a man who has lost his memory, reluctantly joined by a German Red Cross doctor who helps him in his quest to find out who he is… and just what he is trying to escape from, lurking in the shadows of the past….
The drama series will be available early in 2016 when the Pencil United app is released in the App Store and for every episode that is downloaded through the app the studio will buy UNICEF pencils to support children’s learning and creativity.
The independent studio in part takes its inspiration from the ground-breaking work by comics theorist Scott McCloud, who discussed the future of digital comics in his book Reinventing Comics back in 2000. What he thought was lacking technically for comics to make a successful leap into the digital medium and onto the infinite canvas of electronic screens is now, 16 years later, available.
But despite the work of artists such as Daniel Merlin Godbrey, Scott and many other independent comic creators, and digital publishers such as Panel Nine (creators of the SEQUENTIAL app), many digitally published comics today – certainly most from major comic publishers – are still, in the main, repurposed from print and the reading interfaces are the results of making comic book pages readable on different screens. The business models of print publishers to capitalize on comic books in two different media are causing limitations for the digital experience and its potential.
Pencil United say their basic philosophy is, as Scott McCloud put it, “to embrace the digital environment as the native soil – and plant in that soil what could never grow anywhere else.” The Swedish studio believes that there has long been a curiosity for what the digital medium could add to comics but that it seems as if true innovation is only going to come from small independent creators that are detached from the conventions of the print business.
“We know that both readers and critics want comics in the digital medium to maintain their core strengths with juxtaposed images and the temporal map,” Andy Mehlq, the creator behind Pencil United, explains, “but also that the digital environment should cultivate and enhance interactivity and closeness. So we are adding touch-the-panels navigation, dual-layer full screen dynamic graphics, slideshows, panning widescreen images and info hotspots. We are really exploring the design possibilities of an infinite canvas to give our digital native stories a relevant and unique identity
“Pencil United’s reading interface is not an experimental display that makes it hard to follow but rather a smooth seamless reading line where the reader at his or her own pace makes the action of the story float by the window of the screen,” he continues.
”We are excited that our readers will feel a lot closer to our stories by touching the actual art, moving the panels and affecting the layout on the screen. This is a big step away from the static pages of comic books, and a great leap forward that enhances the feeling of interactivity and intimacy.”
As a part of Pencil United’s belief in the power of stories and the importance of learning, creativity and humanism for development in the world, the studio has decided that for each and every download through the Pencil United app they will buy five pencils from UNICEF who will distribute them to schools all over the world. ”We want to help children to learn to write, read, draw and do maths and support them to reach their full potential. And for us pencils are the ultimate symbol and tool for creativity and humanism”, Andy Mehlq at Pencil United says.
Pencil United’s Northern Souls drama series will be exclusively available in the company’s branded app, that soon can be retrieved from the App Store, for all Retina iPads. To support children’s learning and creativity Pencil United will buy five UNICEF pencils for each and every story that is downloaded through the app.
• Check out Pencil United at www.pencilunited.com