Sweden, 23 January 2017 – Today the Swedish independent comics studio Pencil United releases its original drama series Northern Souls, available for Apple iPhone 6/6 Plus and later models as well as all iPads with a Retina Display. The English language app for reading comics will be available for download in all of Apple’s App Stores in Europe, North America and Australia.
Pencil United is dedicated to creating comics exclusively for digital reading on iPhone and iPad, the first and only studio in Sweden to do so. “We want to open the eyes of the general public to the magic a modern and updated comic book reading experience on smartphone and tablet can bring”, says Andy Mehlq, the creator behind Pencil United.
The North American market for digital comics reached 90 million dollars in sales in 2015, according to the industry source ICv2. The truth is that digital comics at the moment are still mostly reproductions of printed papers, which either cut up the well-thought out designs of comic book pages or provide a 1990s style multimedia experience with added sound effects and semiautomatic animations. The business models of the large mainstream comic book publishers are based on building on and further capitalizing on printed comics in the digital media as well, but these models inherently contain built in limits to the possibilities of digital storytelling and thus to the reading experience.
Pencil United’s vision is to create a new experience that rises above the static, printed comics but which at the same time keeps and further cultivates the unique qualities and character of the comics medium. “We pass on more influence and control to the readers, thus involving them in the experience by being able to move the frames and change what shows up on the screen and at their own pace carry the story forward”, Andy Mehlq explains. “The goal is to give the digital comics reading experience its own identity, one adapted for the 21st century rather than the comic magazine format of the 1930s, which virtually all comics storytelling still is based on today.”
The studio’s iOS app is not a platform where a large number of different stories will be forced into one and the same form. “We first focus on the stories we want to tell and on the emotions we want to convey, and after that we think creatively about how the digital media can be used to reinforce this. Thus the digital interface, layout and design will vary somewhat between our different stories. This will hopefully give the readers a feeling of curiosity and the sense that they will never know what is waiting in a story from Pencil United”, says Andy Mehlq.
Pencil United’s reading interface is essentially a soft and seamless reading line where the reader at his or her own pace can – by swiping, panning and tapping – make the story’s drama move across the screen. There are no unnecessary digital gimmicks that distract or throw the reader out of the story’s world or interrupt the reading flow. “We are convinced that people will be astonished by how intimate and magically engaging reading comics on an iPhone or iPad can be”, says Andy Mehlq.
The drawing studio’s atmospheric and enigmatic drama series Northern Souls follows a young man with suspected schizophrenia during his search for his identity in Europe’s last wilderness, Swedish Lapland, while at the same time World War II reaches northern Scandinavia. The story’s main character, Mielat, as the strange voices in his head call him, is haunted by the fact that he cannot remember who he is and where he comes from. The voices insist that he has a hidden calling. Mielat is unexpectedly and reluctantly joined by a female German Red Cross doctor. Gradually it is revealed that this rational and determined woman, called Elke, has her own agenda but also that the fates of the two wanderers are intertwined in curious ways.
Northern Souls is intended for a broad adult audience. Aside from the adventure’s dramatic events, the story also reveals existential, ethical and political dilemmas. The time period when the drama takes place, at the beginning of the 1940s, is the starting point for the progressive welfare state in Sweden but it is also a dark stain in the history of the nation. Filled with complex and charismatic characters – that can be both liked and hated – the series’ themes deal with Sami culture, origins, the soul, and materialism and reflect on the end of the old magical world and the beginning of our modern rational age and what may have been lost in the process.
As a part of Pencil United’s belief in the power of stories and the importance of learning and creativity for the development of the world, the studio has decided that for each story that is downloaded Pencil United will buy 3 pencils from UNICEF which will be distributed to schools around the world. ”A pencil is a perfect symbol and tool for humanism and creativity, and supporting children in learning to write, do arithmetic, draw and reach their full potential is important and meaningful to us”, says Andy Mehlq.