Augmented storytelling

I’m delighted to introduce a guest article by James Whatley, exploring how mobile technology enables new forms of storytelling and creative expression. The article was prompted by Marvel’s SxSW presentation, showing how it might augment comic books with digital content. James, a MEX alumnus and avowed comic book fan, had already touched on these themes in his May 2011 MEX session and seemed the perfect man for the job…

By James Whatley

To give this some background, about a year ago I gave a talk at MEX entitled ‘Inspiring new forms of creative expression through mobile devices’ (you can watch it here). I blogged about it shortly afterwards and I’ve since gone on to mention the work on other sites too; it was a great day of learning.

The point is, the way we interface with our devices (and the environment around us) is a big thing to me and it’s something that keeps me curious day in, day out. From TED talks with Jan Chipchase, to the social object theory of Jyri Engestrom – mobile is key.

That, and I’m a massive comic book geek.

Using that statement as a jumping point, this kind of technological advance is of course hugely exciting. Of course it is.

However, with my mobile and ‘tech’ head on, I can’t help but just see this is a fun feature or a nice-to-have (as opposed to a must have). The video above doesn’t really do much to sell it to be honest. My feeling is: ‘Well, that’s cool!’ but after that, why I would do it again? I wouldn’t…

But, as the accompanying article suggests: “Users can watch video trailers of books they see in stores, as well as 3D animation, recaps, and other augmented reality extras by holding their phones up to comics.”

Trailers? From books?! Okay, that’s awesome (as long as the comic book store owner doesn’t mind packs of smartphone users gathering around, waving their phones across the stands – let’s remember the practicalities). Marvel is projecting towards the idea of building “DVD and Blu-Ray extras into the comic book itself.” Again, awesome.

How do I see this playing out? Well, let me give you a real world use case.

Adam Kubert (credit: Wikipedia)

My favourite penciller is a chap named Adam Kubert (above). If I was able to buy one of his books that enabled me to see either an interview with him about his process or, better yet, a short video of how he drew the piece I’m looking at – simply by waving my device over it – then suddenly that becomes a much easier sell. Would I pay an extra pound for the ‘augmented’ version? You know what, I think I would. But, as ever, it would depend on the features.

Finally, the first thought that sprung to mind when I saw that 3D Iron Man strutting his stuff in front of the comic book was ‘Okay, cool – but how could it extend the story?’.

We live in a transmedia world; cinematic blockbusters are played out over web, mobile, books (and comics) and film. With the threads of these stories splaying out across these different platforms, how long will it be until we get to fully integrated books with AR-only, story-propelling components? Imagine one comic book panel building up a huge superhero battle, the next merely showing the aftermath but, when you open your Marvel AR (mARvel?) app, suddenly the whole thing springs to life: a three minute, fully animated story especially for mobile users?

That would be immense. And, perhaps, the next evolution in the way we continually strive to connect the digital with the tangible.

Well done Marvel. I applaud you.

James Whatley blogs at and is @whatleydude on Twitter.

The original MEX Pathway #8 on new forms of creative expression can be found here. Also, the recent MEX article entitled ‘Hockney, iPad and creative expression‘ contains additional thoughts on this subject and a summary of the insights which emerged from May 2011 MEX working sessions on this Pathway. Jason DaPonte also contributed valuable ideas on the notion of how mobile technology might change storytelling during his November 2010 MEX session – watch the video here.


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