December 21, 2007

Obsession of the moment: Afterworld

Afterworld, the series

If you're a CCLaP reader, then you undoubtedly already understand all the myriad ways that now exist for artists to get their work out to the public; and like me, you've probably been wondering when some group was finally going to attempt to take advantage of as many of these options simultaneously as possible. Ah-hah! Enter Afterworld, a new serial science-fiction project based out of Los Angeles, which aims to do exactly that -- it is an "animated comic," a written journal, a collection of meta objects, a series of hand-done watercolor paintings and more, all of them adding up to one uber-story about an apocalyptic event and the struggle to discover its causes.

The result of a number of different people at the development stage, and of course an entire crew of creatives actually putting together the episodes (including cult hero Jeffrey Combs voicing several of the parts), Afterworld is mostly the brainchild of producer Brent V. Friedman; an attempt to take a smart genre concept, something you might very easily see for example fueling a title at Vertigo Comics, and instead vertically explode the creative options available for telling the actual story (and by the way, the amount of options for potentially making money off it too, hint hint). And indeed, this is fundamentally what makes the project so fascinating to start with, which is the thing that so many online entertainment producers don't seem to get; that at its heart, Afterworld's story is a smart one, or at least as smart as any Vertigo title, and is told in a way that works well within the comic format too -- five- to ten-episode self-contained mini-arcs, that is, with clues thrown in throughout as to the central mysteries driving the plot.

What might be most interesting about Afterworld, however, is in all the different ways the team is distributing the content making up the story. There is the main American website, for example, featuring one of the most ingenious Flash layouts I've ever encountered, letting a person hop between a physical map of the episodes and the supplemental information partnered with each; and then there's the distribution deal the group has with; and then there is their YouTube account, where they also distribute all the episodes; and then there is the blog, the MySpace page, the expansive fan forum, even the deal they have with Australia's Science Fiction Channel to show it on television over there. (And let's not forget the insanely comprehensive third-party fansites as well, a must for any decent sci-fi show's credibility.) Essentially the group presents a different mini-arc each week, with a three-minute episode released each weekday; it adds up to a traditional 15-minute episode at the end of the week, or about half two-thirds the amount of content they'd be producing if on traditional television. (I forgot that television episodes are actually 22 minutes after you remove the commercials.) But then don't forget all the original writing, meta documents and hand-done paintings that get released each day as well; they're all part of a supposed journal the main character is keeping, a part of the project as crucial for understanding the plot as the animated episodes themselves.

It's an endlessly complex project that will easily suck you in without you noticing; hell, I started putting together the information for this entry something like four hours ago, and kept getting put off by finding yet one more cool thing that I simply needed to stop and watch or read. It's a much recommended project, not only for lovers of the post-apocalyptic genre but also those who are studying the economics behind vertical independent multimedia franchises as well.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 2:17 PM, December 21, 2007. Filed under: Design | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Movies | Profiles |