Protests to block an environmental waste dump and strange, unexplained deaths plague small town America in The Pilfered, a digital comics book series from Level 21 Boss Publishing available in an iOS app. Created by Alan I. Djivré and developed by Philippe Blaise, the four-issue mini-series blends the typical anatomy of a comic book – panels, speech balloons, captions, and such – with elements of motion and music by utilizing DAZ Studio and Photoshop software. Three years in the making, the result is an engaging and dual-sensory reading experience.
The Pilfered is an absorbing suspense thriller with sci-fi facets mixed together. Djivré adds nuances of dark and light humor. For instance, the freelance mercenary called Joker in issue #2 laments after being a nice guy to his target, who subsequently kills himself, that he now has to dispose of a dead body. The light humor is often associated to exchanges between Peter and Lucky who banter flirtatiously between each other. Both types serve Djivré well, especially when in a tension-filled situation and a pause is needed.
Dialogue and tone of the myriad of conversations drives a steady pacing of the story. Bolded words provide text cues to emphasize clues to the mysterious subplots, and the caption boxes provide information of where each scene is taking place. The hospital conversation between Peter and Lucky exemplifies a lighthearted, flirtatious tone that soon slips down into a seriously toned exchange in which they express deeper, troubling issues they both face in trying to unravel recent events in their community. In the first half of issue #3, Djivré incorporates a lengthy dialogue sequence, and then for the rest of the issue, he shifts in focus to action and tense situations that have little dialogue, striking a balance of pacing between a story that is both character and action-driven.
Shifting to formatting, Djivré has a good mix of panel layouts, especially when utilizing multi-panel overlays. For example, the close up of Joker and Eric’s faces facing away from each other accommodates the appearance of their respective speech balloons during the opening scene of issue #2. And in issue #3, the diagonally cut panels when Peter and Lucky get into her vehicle gave a unique perspective and accommodated the several speech balloons needed during the scene. The panels open up in issue #4 and dominate the screen and the attention of the reader. The change in layout complements the third act of the story and gives an epic feel to the story.
For the most part, the renderings are decent and shaded well, but in close-up, the shading becomes problematic by looking pixelated and rough. While most of the anatomy of the characters looks correct, in two places, the outline of Lucky’s breasts are unrealistic: when she is in the loose-fitting hospital gown and then later when she is wearing a jacket that isn’t zipped up, so should not be form fitting.
Of course, what sets The Pilfered apart from other digital books is the incorporation of motion FX and music. From animating sound effect text, the weather (rain or fog), or fight sequences, for instance, the motion aspects are sprinkled in without getting heavy handed. So, the reader will not see motion in every panel, and, in fact, some of the motion is so subtle, the reader has to really look hard for it. At other times, the motion pops off the screen, such as in issues #3 and #4, where the swirling, sea-green energy and purple electricity pulses are visually stunning. Because the feature is used sparingly, Djivré emphasizes the best items in order to complement the story that keeps the motion exciting and unexpected.
The musical facet of The Pilfered is probably the hardest aspect, because each reader brings unique experiences and expectations, depending on the scene. In this reviewer’s opinion, sometimes, the choice of score worked quite well for an individual scene, while other times, it did not. The score used when Joker breaks into Eric’s hotel room was too light and towards easy listening when the situation was actually tense and life-threatening. Yet, when a bomb is ticking down in issue #4, the bombastic music with ticking drum beats to match up with panel choices and jump cuts to the bomb face is superb.
The transition of music scores from one scene to the next was problematic. Oftentimes, the transition was abrupt or jarring; a fade-out/fade-in that overlaps the various scores would have been helpful for the majority of the series, especially in the first two issues; however, in issue #3, Djivré found a good marriage of scores to scenes so that all of the scores dovetailed well together, making that the best issue as far as the music experience.
The Pilfered is an iOS app available from the iTunes store of any Apple mobile device. The app and the first issue are free. Issues #2 through 4 are $1.99 each or can be bundled together for $4.99. For a dollar or two over the cost of a single issue, readers will get an enhanced reading experience that promises to titillate the visual and auditory senses. More importantly, this suspense thriller demonstrates how technology can expand the comic book form in a digital format, as well as document the experimental nature and progression of comic books via The Pilfered. Like the story that leaves many questions unanswered, it remains to be seen how this series will fit within the ever-evolving digital comic book format. If The Pilfered is any indication, then there are exciting times ahead!