Book Review: Anomaly by Skip Brittenham & Brian Haberlin
Ricky Grove [gToon] - Staff Columnist
"I love words and pictures, sequential art. And I think there are new characters and stories to tell in this medium. Also, I think people want the big story all in one go, so they don't have to wait for the next issue. Again, sort of the cinematic approach as opposed to the episodic."
Front cover of Anomaly
Anomaly is a massive graphic novel and interactive application that was released in the Fall of 2012. Brian Haberlin, noted comic book artist producer, and Skip Brittenham, Hollywood power attorney, are the writers/creators of Anomaly. The art for this huge book, which comes in at 368 pages and is the size of a large coffee-table art book is by Brian Haberlin and Geirrod Van Dyke. Anomaly is so freakin' big it comes in its own box. The interactive aspect of the book is called "augmented reality" and allows your iPad or smart phone (and any other compatible device) to watch characters (50 of them from the book) pop up seemingly right out of the book in full 3D with animation and sound.
I was fortunate to meet Brian Haberlin at SIGGRAPH this last August where he demoed the book and the augmented reality app. Anomaly itself is an impressive book with wonderful artwork, but the interactive aspect of it really takes the idea of the graphic novel to the next level. Another very cool aspect of the book/app is that it continues to be updated even today, so that more information on the back story and world of Anomaly is available for current and future readers of Anomaly.
Anomaly is a beautifully bound book and the pages were printed using a new "wide gamut" CMYK process that includes color ranges outside of normal printing. Color management for Anomaly was done by iocolor in Seattle and the book itself was printed by Shenzhen Artron Color Printing in China. The artwork for Anomaly is wonderful. The artists make great use of scale and perspective. Epic is a good word to describe Anomaly as there are several fold out pages with scenes that have to been seen to be truly appreciated. Color is the best I've ever seen in a graphic novel. In fact, the art work is so good (much of it created in Poser and Adobe Photoshop) that you can understand and enjoy the story without reading any of the descriptions or dialog.
And that brings me to what doesn't work well in Anomaly, at least for this reader/reviewer: the story. Essentially, it's a story of corporate greed and politics set in a hard sci-fi future earth and beyond. The central character, Jon, has a dark past full of guilt. He and the rest of a team are sent on a one-way mission and are hoodwinked into believing that it's a mission of peace. Instead they find a nightmare John Carter of Mars world where their technological advantage is wiped out due to a strange fungus that eats the polymers in their electronics and machines. Eventually, through Avatar-like trials, Jon ends up becoming the leader of a warlike tribe and succeeds in uniting the strange mix of people on the planet against a Sauron-like evil and all of his orc-like army.
I understand why the writers chose to use a story borrowed from many other sources. Creating a story that appeals to the widest possible audience probably helps broaden the appeal of Anomaly and will generate more sales of an already fairly expensive book (Anomaly retails at $75). But the problem is that the artwork is so original as is the bookbinding and color work, that the cliched story stands out like a sore thumb in contrast. It's obvious that a huge amount of love and care went into the creation of this wonderful book, but a more original story that features stronger female characters would have added a lot to this book.
Fortunately, the story is good enough not to seriously hurt the book. And, like I said, the images are so beautifully composed that the story tells itself through the artwork. Also, the length of the book allows for character development that helps you to empathize with them better.
Anomaly Book Trailer
The size of Anomaly can be cumbersome at times though. At X by X and X thick, you'll definitely need to read this book on a table or desk. But, it many ways, this enhances the reading experience and takes Anomaly out of the casual book reading experience. Reading Anomaly this way forces the reader to focus on the book alone and, I think, encourages longer reading times. I read Anomaly in about 3 hours with much time spent on studying the artwork and reading through the extensive appendices which elaborate on the background of the characters and lay out the time-line for the story.
The augmented reality for Anomaly is pretty neat, but it's not fully integrated with the story quite yet. It's exciting to see characters pop up off the page and hear music, but to reach its full potential the technology needs to add real interactivity where the characters tell aspects of the story or fill out their back stories. However, there is a free Anomaly LTE application, much like a trial version, which you can download and get 15 pages of the graphic novel with voice acting and music. And for those who want the entire book as an Anomaly application, you can download for a reasonable fee (.99 cents at Google Play as I write this) where you get almost 4 hours of voice acting, music and "1500 panels of art with animation." I haven't downloaded the application myself, but based on the trailers I've seen it looks like a very good production.
One of the beautiful full-page scenes in Anomaly
Anomaly is an impressive graphic novel. It's intensely interesting visually and the story, while cliched, is still reasonably involving. The book is clearly a labor of love and you can see the creators passion on practically every page. The book binding/design is a work of art in itself. And I particularly love the wide panoramic scene and the striking use of color in Anomaly. The fact that the AUR aspects of the book are still being updated means that the producers of Anomaly can continue to build on their story in multimedia fashion. It's somewhat like having a DVD special features that keeps adding content. I can see Anomaly being a game changer for graphic novels.
I highly recommend Anomaly. It's an impressive (and immersive) graphic novel that continues to grow using online and media content. And although the retail price is $75, there are many websites and bookstores selling it for significantly less. Go out and get a copy of Anomaly now, and be sure to download the free augmented reality app along with it. If you don't want to buy the book, try the Anomaly application which contains all of the panels plus music and voice acting. I could see Anomaly working very well on something like the Kindle.
My thanks to Brian Haberlin for sending me a copy of Anomaly for review. I recommend his seminar on using Poser to create the scenes in Anomaly. It's available on YouTube and is well worth your time.
In a recent email to me, Brian said, "...we are a new graphic novel company (Anomaly Productions) with 2 entirely new graphic novels (different world and story) coming out later this year:: Shifter, a contemporary action/mystery with a scifi bent, and Between Worlds a young adult illustrated prose book in the design spirit of Dinotopia (meaning prose with illustrations every page). They will also have UAR and interactive apps."
Sounds like Anomaly Productions is going full bore. That's great news, because after Anomaly, their work will only get better and better.
The wonderful Anomaly website http://www.experienceanomaly.com/ is the first place to find out more info on the book.
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
March 18, 2013
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