Inverse Ink
World Domination through interactive comics.

Inverse Ink, a small company near the edge of Silicon Valley, is well on their way toward world domination. Well, maybe not yet, but they are located next to the first home of those guys at Netscape (who have this little program you may have heard of) in downtown Mountain View, Ca. As a division of TAO Research, Inverse Ink was founded in 1995 to focus on producing interactive comic book titles.

What the hell is an interactive comic book? It's not one of those Cd-Romix things where they scan a comic, add a voice, and sell it at triple the original comic-book price is it?

Inverse Ink's first comic was Reflux, a marriage between a comic book layout, Hot Spot interaction, and really cheesy Kung-Fu movies from China. Each comic took a single movie and broke it down into a series of still shots laid out just as you would a comic book. The difference is that you click on a hot spot to get a short video clip from the movie which helps the story move along. The comic is presented from three different viewpoints so you can see how the story develops for each of the major characters. Reflux rated very high on the official VrE Online Cool-O-Meter™. With a suggested retail price of only $9.99, how can you go wrong?

Yeah, that's nice and all, but what are they doing now?

I'm glad you asked. We took a trip down to Mountain View. It was strictly for business reasons--not just to get out of the office and go to San Francisco or anything. We then asked them the very same question.

Inverse Ink Inverse Ink has managed to wrangle a license from DC to produce several new interactive comics based on some of DC's greatest super heroes. Sometime this August Inverse will be releasing four titles based on original cartoons shown twenty years ago. You'll get to see Superman: The Mysterious Mr. Mist; Batman: Partners in Peril featuring the incredible Batgirl and Catwoman; Superboy: Spies from Outer Space; and my favorite, Aquaman: War of the Water Worlds.

Through a mystical process that we aren't supposed to talk about here, but we will later when nobody's looking, Inverse Ink takes these great, old cartoons and pours them into your computer where you can click away to your hearts content on your favorite scenes. Now where is that Catwoman scene with the leather and the whip?

Inverse Ink Various changes have been made from the standard Reflux interface which allow for a more interactive experience. The most obvious is that the Hot Spots have been enlarged to make finding them a bit easier. Also, when the mouse is moved over a Hot Spot, it changes to indicate that you should click there. A significant change was made in the game play. Where Reflux allowed you to view the story from 3 different viewpoints, the cartoon titles are limited to a single point of view--this is due to the lack of material to work with. where the Kung-Fu movies were nearly 2 hours, the original cartoons were less than 30 minutes each. Finally--this is the most important change of all--there is an option to start the comic and let it run through all by itself. This is a great idea. I've been waiting for the guys doing interactive movies to try this ever since they started making them.

For those of you that prefer more up to date 'toons on Saturday morning, Inverse Ink has also managed to secure the rights to some great Fox TV shows. All your favorites like Eek!, Life With Louie, Bobby's World, and the one that the Warren Commission rated most subversive, The Tick! Inverse is starting off with one of the best Tick episodes ever: The Tick vs. The Uncommon Cold. (I would kill to get the episode with the Comfy Chair.) Inverse Ink is planning on having these new Fox titles ready for shipping in October.

That's all really cool, but you promised us the secret methods of development.

Uh, yeah. Did I? Hhhmm, I don't remember saying that, but... I don't see the Inverse Ink lawyers anywhere, and I'm pretty sure I didn't sign a non-disclosure, so. After blindfolding us and turning us around 3 times, we were lead through a series of underground chambers, over a couple rope bridges, and through the dressing room of Cindy Crawford. (We really wanted to take off the blindfolds, but...) Soon we could hear the sounds of computer geeks pecking away at their keyboards with Star Trek playing in the background. We entered a large room and had our blindfolds taken off. Our eyes were filled with amazing new technologies and weird and strange equipment. We were amazed and bedazzled! (Okay, so it was just a guy with a VCR.) There were several interesting employees working away behind us. Inverse Ink appears to be experimenting with several new video capture methods. One of them involves a man holding a flat bed scanner against a TV screen while he tries desperately to get a clean screenshot. The other, and much more interesting method involves dozens of garden gnomes with boxes of crayons and a large screen TV.

Actually, the folks at Inverse Ink take a copy of a master tape and capture the video to disk. Then each video sequence is cleaned up, in many cases the sound is redone due to the horrible 1970's sound techniques. Once the video is in place still shots are taken to serve as the panels in each page of the comic. Hot spots are added to trigger the animation. There you have it, one interactive comic. Of course all of this takes slightly longer than the few minutes it took me to write about it, but the finished product is very cool.

Inverse Ink has definitely found itself a goldmine of a niche to work in. After several mediocre, at best, "interactive" comics produced by other companies, Inverse Ink has found a method that really works. After seeing a few of these comics, I can see how this works into Inverse Ink's plan for world domination. Good luck guys!

--- Steve Gerencser--- Louis Stice