William Shatner is going to need new business cards. The actor-turned-musician-turned-author has entered another creative medium, premiering his latest project, the crowdfunded, “cinematic graphic novel” adaptation of his 1996 sci-fi adventure novel, Man o’ War, at Comic Con on Saturday. Joining the Starfleet Captain onstage were producing partners Gary Laird, Mariano Nicieza, Emmy Award winning sound designer Scott Liggett, animator Jeremy Weston, and moderator Don McGuire.
“You’re a party to something new and, I hope, wonderful,” said Shatner to the audience of about one thousand, introducing a sizzle reel of the project. Man o’ War tells the story of tough-guy, Benton Hawkes, who is tasked with bringing peace between rebelling, Martian coal-miners and their greedy, earth-living overlords (you may have to suspend your disbelief here, as our science editor, Kyle Hill, pointed out: you won’t find coal on Mars).
In it’s current, early version, Shatner’s “cinematic graphic novel” is only one step removed from the motion-comics that have come before, but that one step is a significant one: Scott Liggitt’s sweeping score and immersive sound design provides the project a compelling selling point. Touching on the care with which Liggett and his team approached the project, he said, “Basically, we are scoring a movie… we try to enhance the emotion of what’s going on in the story.”
While the soundscape certainly improves the experience, a potential drawback of this “cinematic graphic novel” is a reading experience dictated by the speed of the video. Whether you prefer to speed through the pages of a comic-book, or relish every detail of every panel, having no control over the pacing of the storytelling will, at times, be frustrating. I also found the animatix-like movement of the sample footage to be a mixed bag. It works well in scenes that would otherwise be static (for example, a panel of two standing in place gains an element of tension when the comic digitally pushes in, and a splash page of space gains a welcome depth and weightlessness when we fly across it’s planet and stars), but the animation’s deliberate pacing also detracts from action scenes, which can become laughably slow (check out the two swashbucklers in the video below to see what I mean). In these moments, the story is counterintuitively better served by the frozen moments of a traditional comic-book. But this is less a criticism of Man o’ War than a criticism of motion-comics as a whole. Maybe with this in mind, Shatner and team have also released an e-comic of Man o’ War via comiXology.
Shatner assured those in attendance that this is only the first generation of his “cinematic graphic novel” enterprise, the next version being a “fully interactive” app, which will include pop-up annotations, providing related stories, flashbacks, and Genius-like annotations.
Watching Shatner react to his own presentation reel was the highlight of the whole event. Seeing the motion-comic on the big screen and hearing the score blast crisply over loud speakers for the first time, the man was left near speechless. “I’m knocked out by what I’ve seen. It’s filled with energy.”