Preview: The Thrill Electric

Matt Badham on a new “enhanced comic” about the lives of workers at a Manchester telegraph company in the nineteenth century

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Liverpool-based writers Leah Moore and John Reppion have been in creative partnership since 2003. The duo has mostly produced comics for the American market including Raise The Dead and The Trial Of Sherlock Holmes. However, their new project is The Thrill Electric, in collaboration with Channel 4, Hat Trick Productions, critically acclaimed illustrator Emma Vieceli and art collective Windflower Studios. The idea for this story arrived fully formed one evening while Moore was trying to get to sleep.

“It was actually one of those mythic sit-bolt-upright-in-bed-and-have-to-write-it-all-down moments which I’ve never had before and didn’t believe in,” says Moore. “I’d been looking at an amazing website about the telegraph and must have read almost all of it in one day.
I found it fascinating that way back in the 1800s people had a form of instant messaging. That small fact kind of changed the way I thought about people in the nineteenth century. I’d previously thought of them all as very ponderous old men, sitting in their gloomy studies growing huge sideburns and being philanthropic.”

The result is a soap opera-style story about the lives of a group of people employed at a telegraph company in Manchester during the Victorian era.

“It’s dealing with young people going into the workplace for the first time and how daunting that can be,” says Moore. “It’s about what an online network like the internet – or in this case the telegraph – actually means for people in their everyday lives. Gossip spreading faster than people could imagine, online bullying, sexting, spam and scam artists, online gaming and Skype-type intercontinental communications. It’s about being in a world where you can hear the voices of so many other people and, more importantly, they can all hear you too.”

This theme of the social consequences of technological innovation is specifically reflected in the story’s setting.

“When we were still at the pitching stage we were thinking of placing it in London, which would have made things very different,” Reppion says. “But Manchester was the first truly industrialised city on the planet and was viewed by the rest of the world as a kind of metropolis of the future. The cotton industry was incredibly important, of course, but there was also just so much industry generally. So many inventions and innovations that were changing the world all coming out of this place that had been little more than a small market town mere decades before. Victorian Manchester was about as steam-punk as it gets.”

The Thrill Electric is being published as an “enhanced” comic – what some will know as a motion comic.

“Up to now, motion comics have largely been stories that have already been printed in the normal format and then later digitised and enhanced to add something a bit extra,” notes Reppion. “This has resulted in some of them basically turning into sub-par animations, complete with dodgy voice acting.

“Because we’ve written The Thrill Electric specifically as an enhanced digital comic we’ve been able to stick to what we see as the fundamentals of comic-book storytelling – pages, panels, word balloons, captions – and add extra layers: sound-loops for each panel that give ambience; panels stacking up one in front of another to form corridors, or becoming the walls of a 3D space; clickable icons serving the same function as old-fashioned thought balloons, allowing you to see what a character is thinking. We‘re not trying to hide the fact that it’s a comic by adding a load of bells and whistles. We’re trying to make it everything a print comic is and more.”

The Thrill Electric is published online at from 26 October

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