San Diego Comic-Con 2014 book review: Augmented Reality book ‘Shifter’

The graphic novel ‘Shifter’ was released in October 2013 and is being actively promoted at comic book conventions as the next big thing for graphic novels because with a smartphone (iPhone or iPad being your best options), you get augmented reality extras once you download a book specific app.

Heavily dependent on the software Poser, the illustrations are stiff, but richly detailed. As an artist you won’t see a stylization of characters except perhaps in the depiction of animals and creatures from the past.

There are several books with similar names which can make things confusing. This “Shifter” is a science fiction murder mystery and not the 2008 paranormal romance by the same name. Note to self: Check out possible titles before settling on one.

This is the second title by Brian Haberlin and Skip Brittenham. The first was “Anomaly.” The illustrations are by Brian Haberlin, Geirrod VanDyke, Kunrong Yap and Chan Hyuk Lee.  David Pentz is in charge of the technology. Is this list looking less like a book and more like a movie? That’s the problem and the beauty of technology, in this case augmented reality. It takes a team to make a book publication ready.

Plot: We’re first plunged into the cold and damp somewhere in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean far from land. We’re on a whaler and the harpoon misses its mark and instead, a creature that should have been long dead surfaces and prevents the whalers from hitting their mark. It’s “Nemo of the Sea Monster World.” Just like one of the whalers, you’re wondering, “What the hell?” when the scene shifts suddenly to a bird’s eye view. We’re in what seems to be an airplane. Soon enough the scene shifts and we realize we’re in an office and watching a computer video fed by a drone to an ordinary office.

Noah Freeman is a low-ranking civil servant who finds an possible error and brings it to the attention of his female boss. The dam’s brimming with water and he’s wondering why water isn’t being released and why and how the dam filled up so quickly. His advisor says she’ll take care of it and Freeman is off of work. He walks a bit with his co-workers who are teasing him about his upcoming nuptials. At home, he talks with his fiancee via a computer live feed. Then on Saturday morning, on a beautiful day in autumn, he goes for a hike and has an accident. Noah should have died, but instead he encounters an advanced technology, an operator sphere that Noah nicknames Jeeves,  hidden in a subterranean cave that heals and updates him and gives him the power to operate the body of a creature from a vast menagerie from Earth’s distant past to the present. He can even become a primitive woman who dresses Hollywood cave woman sexy. What do you expect? This is an adventure written by men mostly for men. Since she is one of Noah’s creature surrogate, she doesn’t eventually get clothed in normal looking clothes, more Clark Kent non-descript than colorful superhero wardrobe changing.

The catch with inhabiting a creature is that you have sort of a mind meld that can lead into a meltdown and if one should be killed while operating that lifeform, one is dead for real. Not even the technology of the operator sphere can undo death so this isn’t a zombie world.

Noah’s accident was more like a murder attempt, so Noah hijacks various surrogate creatures through this technology to find out why a hit was put out on him only to learn he’s been framed for a murder. He must find a way back to his fiancee who is in danger.

There’s some jumps in logic such as why the primitive woman Casya doesn’t require the same upgrades and time as Noah did. The ending  might seem rather flat emotionally. Love isn’t one of those things the advanced technology operator sphere understands and in this case, a superior being doesn’t want a common earth-type like Lois Lane, but another superhero. That’s love in this century.

Art: This graphic novel uses the software Poser. The colors are saturated and made to look 3D, but frontal views are the most natural looking. There’s some problems in the perspective from high and low angles. Most of the pages are five panels that go from top to bottom. The illustrations have the look of oil paintings and some pages you can see something like the pattern of a canvas texture.

Technology: The pages are thick and glossy. Reading under a strong light might give you some problems with the augmented reality. Compared to 3D movies, the animation is crude, but it’s the concept that fun. This is like an update of the extra-illustrated books of a bygone era. Augmented reality might be the future of books and “Shifter” would be worth having as a collector just as an example of early attempts at putting movies into books.

Both Ian and I liked the concept of the book and found the story entertaining enough. Anomaly Productions and Digital Art Tutorials will be a San Diego Comic-Con 2014 at booth #5556.


  • Series: Shifter
  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Anomaly Publishing; First Edition edition (October 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0985334215
  • ISBN-13: 978-0985334215
  • Product Dimensions: 11.2 x 7.3 x 0.9 inches
  • List price: $19.99
  • Amazon price: $15.13


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