iBooks and the Kindle app do a great job of ensuring that there’s always something new to read while you’re on the move. They work well in complementing the traditional physical book. There’s still room for more interactive and animated fare though, such as in the case of Black Jack - an app that declares itself the "World’s First Moving Novel." Released in episodic chunks of new chapters every Monday and Friday, it’s an interesting new direction to take for the medium. We took the time to chat to its Emmy-winning author, A.R. Witham, to learn more.
148Apps: Why not release the book at once rather than chapter by chapter?
A.R. Witham (ARW): It’s an old-school method of building suspense; Charles Dickens released A Christmas Carol in installments, and I thought that was an interesting way to tell a story that isn’t done much in the 21st century. Black Jack has a very vintage feel to the texture of the pages and animations... a vintage release schedule felt perfect for the story.
148Apps: What’s the reaction to the episodic content been like? Has it been as warmly received as hoped?
ARW: The response has been amazing. People love Jack, but for me, their enthusiastic reaction to the side-characters has been the most unexpected surprise. People love Django and Fuji and Valerian and the villains far more than I expected. I’ve gotten drawings of characters from fans, and that kind of reaction is something I really never anticipated.
148Apps: What challenges have there been in converting the novel to a more interactive format? Has it affected how the novel has been written at all?
ARW: There were 3 Big Rules to building the Black Jack app: 1) The story had to be good enough to pack a whollop without the animations and effects. 2) None of the animations could interfere with the text; if they didn’t help the readers immerse themselves in the storytelling, they were cut. 3) The book had to feel completely unlike any reading experience anyone has ever had. Once I established those guidelines, it became a great puzzle to solve.
148Apps: Do you think this is the future for novels? Or is there still a place for the traditional format?
ARW: I pray traditional novels never die. We all have loved them too much to let them go away. If paper-and-binding is on the decline in favor of screen-reading, I’m okay with that, but a pure tale constructed only with words is the foundation of storytelling; it will always exist, even if it’s just an old man sitting at a campfire telling ghost stories. Digital formats such as the iPad offer a playground for artists to explore the edges of the map and that’s what we are doing with Black Jack. Once you read the first two chapters, you begin to realize there are incredible moments waiting for you. Nobody’s done a book like this before – that’s the fun part.
148Apps: Do you think it’s a method that would work for all genres or does it particularly lend itself to fantasy/sci-fi?
ARW: Oh, I could see Divergent, Hunger Games, Neil Gaiman, or Harry Potter working very well with the Moving Novel format, but I think also think Raymond Chandler’s detective thrillers, Cormac McCarthy’s Southern Gothic style or Stephen King’s horror stories could all be a fun ride with a little emotional push at the right moments.
148apps: What’s next after Black Jack?
ARW: By day, I’m a Creative Director, and currently working on launching the brand-new CBS affiliate in Indianapolis in 2015, so that may take a bit of time. For Black Jack, I’m working with the next story in the series, tentatively titled "Red Rover." And at night, I’m just reading new stories. It’s always fun to find something new.
Thanks to A.R. Witham for taking the time to answer our questions.
Black Jack: A Moving Novel is available now on the App Store for the iPad. It’s currently priced at $5.99 for the full novel, with the first two chapters available for free.