NEOMAD Interactive Comic for iPad Review
New meets old in this sci-fi adventure celebrating Aboriginal culture
Interactive fiction is a genre that’s becoming increasingly popular on the iPad. However, much of it is adapted from previous works. Whether it’s classics reworked to fit in the digital domain, such as Frankenstein or The Voyage of Ulysses, or a tie-in with a big summer blockbuster like Disney’s Brave: Storybook Deluxe – or the various Avengers apps, these stories have already been told once, and therefore lack some originality. The same cannot be said for NEOMAD.
Chasing a falling rocket booster across the Australian Outback in the year 2076, a rag-tag, day-glo painted gang called the Love Punks launch the first episode of this series. When they catch up with the fallen space junk, it is emblazoned with a mysterious glowing petrograph.
Some of them think it is a sign of an alien invasion, while others think it is the mark of an ancient sky god, but all agree it is a bad omen. So begins a sci-fiadventure spanning space and time, as the young Love Punks save the universe from the as-yet-unknown threat.
Amazingly, this imaginative futuristic fantasy is actually based on real people and a real place. As part of a community arts project celebrating cultural heritage in Western Australia run by the Yijala Yala Project and BIG hART, 30 Aboriginal Australian kids initially made a video about zombies. Then, using Photoshop and tablets donated by Wacom, they created over 2000 animations for an online game about their local area, starring the Love Punks – 14 characters based on many of the children in the workshop. Somehow, this mix of video and computer animation came together and Stu Campbell, aka Sutu, the award-winning creator of the NAWLZ Interactive Comic cyberpunk series, was brought in to help make the multimedia story that is NEOMAD. The group of 11-year-olds then helped the digital artist animate and colour over 200 scenes and voice over 170 lines of dialogue. While it might seem odd using a sci-fistory to celebrate ancient Aboriginal culture, it works very well as a metaphor for the indigenous people maintaining their traditional identity in a modernising world.
Don’t be put off NEOMAD because it is co-authored by children and created as a local project; this app is a high-end production, equal to any other interactive novel. Recognising this, the interactive comic has showcased at the Pop Culture Expo in Perth and the Bucheon International Comics Festival and Digital Comic Conference in South Korea. Beautifully drawn, the landscape-orientated story makes the most of grand vistas as the rocket booster falls to earth and colourful close ups of the Love Punks’ over-exaggerated cartoon expressions. Swiping and tapping makes the story unfold, triggering animated elements and turning the page.
NEOMAD currently only has the one episode, which is a mix of animated scenes and a live action cutaway, starring the real life Love Punks. Once you’ve read the story cover to cover and gone back to find all the hidden elements – in the form of extra character dialogue, indicated by small red triangular buttons – the story will last you about half an hour. While there are more episodes in production, which will be given away as free updates, and the first episode is visually interesting enough to warrants repeat viewing to take it all in, it is a shame NEOMAD doesn’t come with more easter eggs or extras. Currently, there is only a short film of the kids performing a ‘junk percussion’ music video. With such a unique back-story, this is one of the few apps that would genuinely benefit from a behind-the-scenes documentary, rather than summarising it in the plain text About section. Also, with the kids having started out creating a Love Punks online game, it would have been great to have an in-app link to this.
Entertaining interactivity, colourful illustrations, and a worthy cause make this more than an ordinary comic book.
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