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Candy Cunningham is the heroine of Bottom of the Ninth, a baseball-themed animated graphic novel set in the future. Images: Ryan Woodward

Say you’ve created something utterly original and you’re inviting skepticism. Say it in the world of comics, with its legions of passionate and knowledgeable fans, and you’re inviting trouble.

Ryan Woodward knows this, which is why he didn’t take lightly his decision to call Bottom of the Ninth, a baseball-themed story set in the future, the “first animated graphic novel.” Although companies like Marvel have long produced online comics with artwork that slides into place, Woodward says the classical definition of animation as “the illusion of life” sets his work apart.

“There is a big difference between the terms ‘motion graphics’ and ‘animation’ that many people don’t know about. If that artwork that you’re creating communicates that there’s a life, a conscience, a living breathing entity that is acting on its own free will, then that is the illusion of life,” says Woodward, “and by definition it’s considered animated. Once I’ve provided the definition and my reason for using that term, I haven’t had one person that has come back and tried to disagree.”

Critics and cynics might argue his point, but they can’t argue his credentials. Woodward has been a Hollywood artist and animator since working on the 1996 film Space Jam, and he’s supplied storyboard art and animation for blockbusters like The Avengers.

Bottom of the Ninth will appear on the iPad and iPhone later this summer, with other platforms coming later in the year. It is set in 2172 in the metropolis of Tao City, where people are obsessed with the sport of New Baseball. The basics of the game remain in place, but players also face artificial gravity and infields that stretch vertically into the sky. The heroine is Candy Cunningham, the 18-year-old daughter of Gordy Cunningham, a major league player on the downside of his career. Candy has inherited some of her father’s athleticism and can throw a fastball approaching 100 mph.

Woodward has written the script for the story, which could encompass several installments. The initial app introduces us to Tao City, the characters and the conflict Candy Cunningham feels about her sporting fame and her father’s lessons about true happiness.

Woodward first thought of the story in 2005 but set it aside to pursue other projects. He began thinking about it again in November as he grasped the potential of iPad apps to combine the experiences of watching a film and playing a game. He threw himself into the animation in January, working with a design and technical team of five people to plan the visual elements. Artistically, Woodward found inspiration from half a dozen styles, from European comics to the classic newspaper strips of yore, to create a realistic, yet nostalgic, look.

The trickiest steps weren’t creative, but administrative. Creating an animated graphic novel required figuring out basic things like getting files from one artist to another and getting designers and coders to work efficiently.

Along the way, two moments of serendipity convinced Woodward he was on the right track. The first came during a Facebook chat with Tyson Murphy, one of his Brigham Young University animation students. Murphy mentioned that his father, former Atlanta Braves standout Dale Murphy, might be interested in helping out. The two-time National League MVP ended up providing the voice of Murph, a former player turned announcer, and giving script feedback from someone who’s stood in the batter’s box. In a nod to Murphy’s career, the trailer promoting the app shows a Dale Murphy baseball card fall from a drawer onto a copy of Bottom of the Ninth.

“[Ryan] is so good at what he does and it looked like a lot of fun,” Murphy says. “It’s just such a unique project. It’s something that for an old-timer like me to be involved in, it’s just a thrill.”

The second stroke of serendipity came when the project entered its final stages and Woodward discovered there was a real-life Candy Cunningham. In 1931, a 17-year-old girl named Jackie Mitchell signed a contract to pitch for the minor-league Chattanooga Lookouts. In an exhibition game that spring, Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession. The next day, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract, declaring women unfit to play baseball because it was “too strenuous.” Enthralled by the story, Woodward stayed up all night reading about Mitchell and decided he had to dedicate part of his story to telling hers.

“I couldn’t have been more surprised if Luke Skywalker showed up on my doorstep,” Woodward says. “It was just a fictional character completely coming to life.”


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RIP, French comic artist and illustrator Jean “Moebius” Giraud, who has passed away from cancer at the age of 73. This is a good place to begin learning about his work. His best known film design work is in live-action, like The Abyss, Alien, TRON and The Fifth Element, but he also contributed to a number of animation projects including Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, Space Jam and Time Masters (below). He was revered in France where they exhibited his comic art with respect and appreciation.

Moebius influenced many people in our industry. I’ve collected some of the animation community’s reactions on Twitter:

[View the story "Moebius Reaction from the Animation Industry" on Storify]

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