When a friend recently told me about Mormon artist Ryan Woodward’s digital graphic novel Bottom of the 9th, I bought the first episode, which is available for iphone and ipad. And today I finally got around to having a look. And while I generally liked what I saw, the app didn’t grab me and make me desperate for more episodes. But, even though I’m not enthralled, I’d probably give a second episode a shot, if it were available.
As a baseball fan, I’m perhaps close to the ideal audience for this story. Not only do I like baseball, I think that the idea of a woman playing professional baseball is long overdue. One of our family’s favorite movies is A League of their Own, and I can’t watch the show (which I could swear I’ve seen more than 50 times — and I still like it!) without wondering why a professional league for women hasn’t started, as it has for basketball. But, I must admit, I don’t read a lot of comics, graphic novels or anime, so I’m not quite the perfect audience.
What impressed me most about Bottom of the 9th was its overall quality. The artwork is great, matching the story quite well—no cutesy pokemon-style drawings. Since this work was destined for ipads and iphones, in includes both animation and audio materials, both of which are well done, at least to my eye. At times it was a little difficult to figure out which item to press first, but overall the line of the story worked well. Overall I’d have to say that Woodward’s work is slick. And for the Mormon audience, including the voice of Mormon baseball great and former Mission President Dale Murphy in the audio was great.
Where I think Bottom of the 9th went wrong was in its story line. This first episode begins with five screens (pages) of two guys heading to a baseball game and talking about a new pitcher who could pitch that day—the first woman to pitch in the majors. Since the story in the episode only covers 11 screens (if I count right), this introduction seems like a lot, especially when the background of this pitcher is recounted in a single (albeit animated) frame.
Overall, the story felt not only imbalanced, but also a little choppy, perhaps, at least in part, because there isn’t enough background given about the future world that Woodward has created, one in which anti-gravity is somehow used and baseball itself has morphed into “new baseball.” Without explanation and presented with views of a baseball stadium shaped very different from those today, I had to wonder what in the game is different and why, and, perhaps more importantly, why the plot even needed baseball to be different. This episode never answered those questions.
I think Woodward should be encouraged for this effort—it shows what can be accomplished with a digital reader and where digital graphic novels should go [and probably are going—I'm not familiar enough with the state of digital graphic novels to know how groundbreaking Woodward's effort is.]
After I looked over the app, I looked online to see if perhaps the 2nd episode was available and was disappointed to see that Woodward is rethinking the project. According to the project’s website and facebook page, he has had trouble finding the right price point for each episode (switching from $4 to $1 to free and back to $4), and hasn’t made enough money to pay for a second episode yet. He also tried a Kickstarter campaign, according to the sites, but withdrew it when it became apparent that it wasn’t going to bring in the needed cash.
I’m disappointed with that result, I must admit. I assume that Woodward did some kind of promotion of his app, but I’m not sure what. I only heard about the app from one source, word-of-mouth from a friend. I didn’t see it advertised anywhere, nor did I see reviews or press about it. I doubt that my baseball friends have ever heard of it. Am I just not connected the right way? Or did the promotion not happen as it should have?
Perhaps this review will help a little. The price of this app is $4 — perhaps a bit high, but also not unreasonable, especially if you want to support this kind of quality production. I think it is worth getting, if you have an iphone or ipad to read it on.
[A modified version of this review has also been posted on A Motley Vision.]