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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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During his 38 years of snapping elegant, action-packed baseball pictures, Charles Conlon was the singular figure who captured the early years of modern baseball; from 1904 to 1942, he was the sport’s de facto official photographer. And with the recent release of The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs, some freshly discovered shots are being added to the Conlon canon. The compendium, published by Abrams Books in September, is a fitting follow up to Baseball’s Golden Age, Conlon’s 1993 book of the photographer’s images, which was also being re-released last month.

Conlon wasn’t raised with a camera in his hand. At the turn of the century, he was a newspaper proofreader, toiling for the New York Evening Telegram. That paper’s sports editor, John Foster, was also the assistant editor of the annual Spalding Baseball Guide. This book was not only a promotional publication for the sporting goods company, but, in the words of famed New Yorker baseball writer Roger Angell, “indispensable to any true fan.” As Angell writes in the foreward to Baseball’s Golden Age, “these pocket-size baseball compendiums contained the most up-to-date rules of the game, complete statistics and detailed summaries of the previous season, scheduling for the upcoming season, essays, editorials, and hundreds of photographs.”

Foster knew Conlon had a hobby: photography. So he asked Conlon if he’d put it to use, in his spare time, for the Guide. Over the next four decades, Conlon took some of the most iconic shots in baseball history. An unforgettable close-up of Babe Ruth, a young DiMaggio taking a swing, and Ty Cobb sliding into third base — his teeth-clenched, dirt flying in the air — are among his greatest hits.

It’s memorable images like these that appear in The Big Show, which features a surprising shot of Ruth in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform – he was a coach for the team in 1938. Elsewhere, the 1917 Philadelphia Athletics are seen taking military instruction—the American League president wanted to show that his teams were taking part in the war effort, and portraits of Hall of Famers DiMaggio, Christy Mathewson, Connie Mack, Phil Rizzuto, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker and Lou Gehrig are also included in this collection.

While Conlon loved the ballpark, his gig was risky. “Aside from countless narrow escapes, I was seriously injured twice,” he says in the ’93 book. “On one occasion, less than half an hour after I had assisted in caring for a brother photographer who was hit in the head by a batted ball, a vicious line drive down the first base line caught me just above the ankle, and I was unable to walk for a couple of weeks.” A second baseman for the New York Giants, Larry Doyle, had a habit of tossing his bat, which sent the shutterbugs ducking. “[Giants manager John] McGraw saw me get a close shave on day from a Doyle bat,” Conlon said, “and ordered Larry to tie the stick to his wrist with a thong.”

Sean Gregory is a staff writer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @seanmgregory.

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