Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Pedlar Lady, or: A New Medium on the iPad?

Oh for a book and a shady nook...
-- John Wilson
Something wonderful has happened.

Comics theory guru Scott McCloud wrote that it's a mistake in digital comics to animate them, because they are no longer a comic, but just a competitor for video, and they can't win.
Now that sounds very sound to me. But something has just happened to make me re-think it. Admittedly it has not happened in comics, but in picture books, but I think these principles should be very similar.

The famous app Animated Alice in Wonderland for iPad did not really attract me. It seemed a bit gimmicky. But today, viewing the "trailer" for the Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross, I got very interested, and quick. I bought it as quick as my little feet could carry me over to the app store, and virtually hyper-ventilated while it downloaded.

And I was not disappointed. This is just amazing. You know me, I don't gush often, but now I must. The story... well, it hardly needs a story when it's presented so well. And I haven't even finished reading it yet, but the story is good. The voice-over is perfect. And the drawings and the animations... well, they are just outstanding, both from an entertainment viewpoint and from an artistic viewpoint. I love 'em.

It has many neat touches. For example, on one page, with a moving rocking chair, the crow walks past, but it walks across the page, seen from above, not across the scenery. And very well done too, both the scene and the "page" and crow seem very real at the same time. 
If these folks can keep up this quality in future books, not only do they have a customer for life in me, but I also predict that this company will become the Pixar of animated e-books.

Now the questions about how this differs from a simple animated video, and the pros and cons of the two media, are many and big, and deserves a whole book of its own. But somehow I feel that it still manages to be a book. It's a much more interactive experience than just watching a video.

And I apologize to all those who are just sick of hearing about the gold-durn iPad, but I must say it: this could not happen on anything else than an iPad. This is a new medium, and the medium is off to a flying start.





In the app, as you might expect, you can turn off the voice-over to read yourself or have a child read it. (If I had made the video, I would have featured this too.)

Update: the man behind this app, Matthew Talbot-Kelly, (who happens to also be the one interviewed in my next post, I didn't realize) wrote to me. A detail he told me that I didn't know is that the app is so three-D that it can, and does, change views on the same scenes when you reboot the app! Frig, it's a whole 3D app running, it's not rendered views. [Update: I stand corrected: Mr. Talbot-Kelly tells me that it is in fact pre-rendered, only with different views created.]

Matthew also told me that the art is based on drawings made for the purpose by Irish illustrator Alan Clarke. I think those drawings are what I like the most about the book, they are just so alive, and so seminal. Although to me they seem superior to what else I have seen of his work, so perhaps the other collaborators had a lot of influence on the art.

10 comments:

Philocalist said...

Hmmm ... my first, knee-jerk reaction to this is not positive, in this case largely because of the intended market for this publication.
Are we encouraging a generation of small children to grow up being unable / unwilling to read for themselves, in much the same way that far too many younger (teenage / 20's?) people today cannot do simple mathematics without a calculator?
It's NOT an exaggeration ... try finding someone employable with enough grey matter to perform a basic skill such as this (or even intelligently apply logic!) ... with or without a degree!

eolake said...

I take your point, but I feel like this will actually encourage reading it instead of the opposite. The bright child will get curious about the words and want to read them.

ganesha games said...

I agree on the reading part. No matter how good this looks, this is animation with some typography effects, and does not directly encourage reading. The intended market is mums and preschoolers tho'-- kids so young they couldn't read if they wanted.

I agree with Eo that this could be a new medium IF THEY RESTRAIN themselves. If the usual "wow effect inflation" starts, these "books" will be just movies or videogames.

My own worry as a publisher is another -- if this becomes the standard of ipad books, small publishers are cut off again as they won't have the money to pay for this sort of development costs. And the number of copies you must sell to recoup the costs grows exponentially. Bring in the big boys again...

eolake said...

In the app, as you might expect, you can turn off the voice-over to read yourself or have a child read it.

ganesha games said...

Yes I read that but I just can't imagine a kid turning off the sound. It never happens with TV (kids turning off the sound when they could have fun "dubbing" the talking heads on the screen, for example), why should it happen with ebooks?

eolake said...

GG, I understand both your worries, but I think the times are now such that many will be well able to restrain themselves.

Also, as the web shows, there is space for even low-tech web sites, if they have good content, so text books will remain, doubtlessly.

Philocalist said...

"I think the times are now such that many will be well able to restrain themselves"

Way out of touch on this issue I believe, which in the absence of children in your life is perhaps understandable.
If you have any friends (with young children) ... ask!
Have you ever tried to physically prize apart a kiddy (even a small one!) and an X-Box / Nintendo etc, let alone wait around to see if they will give it up voluntarily? :-)
Thankfully, I don't have that problem, but SO many other parents seem to find this a major issue ... many, many kids already prefer to sit glued to a PC or console instead of actually going out into the sunshine and playing!

eolake said...

"I just can't imagine a kid turning off the sound"

With a bit of home-teaching encouragement. Most kids like to learn if they are allowed to have fun with it, and if they don't feel left behind in a classroom.

Anonymous said...

The famous app Animated Alice in Wonderland for iPad did not really attract me. It seemed a bit gimmicky.

But you love gimmicky stuff!

Dave Nielsen said...

The bright child will get curious about the words and want to read them.

The bright child doesn't need gimmicky bullshit like that, though.

if this becomes the standard of ipad books, small publishers are cut off again as they won't have the money to pay for this sort of development costs.

So there is a plus side. Quality will stay high. For what it is, it's at least well produced even if the illustrations do look like a human hand came nowhere near them.

It never happens with TV (kids turning off the sound when they could have fun "dubbing" the talking heads on the screen, for example), why should it happen with ebooks?

Most shows don't have words accompanying them unless you turn on the closed captioning.

With a bit of home-teaching encouragement.

Thing is, why have it in the first place? As far as that goes, why animate it at all? I seem to remember you writing about diminishing attention spans not too long ago. This kind of thing will only make it worse. It's part of the problem.