Look once and you’ll see SVK is a comic, at its most basic level. Paper, ink, a couple of staples. Words by Warren Ellis and pictures by Matt “D’Israeli” Brooker. Published by BERG, a London design studio that mostly invents new forms of media.
Another look and you’ll notice the SVK Device, a credit card-sized UV LED torch, that interacts with invisible ink on the pages to reveal another level of the world the book portrays.
The story is about seeing and being seen. In a London not too far in the future, Thomas Woodwind, a security and surveillance expert who’s career has seen better days, is called in by a former colleague to find a missing product developement guy and, more importantly, the product he was developing: the SVK. Woodwind is a classic Ellis lead. Cynical, vicious, expert, moral despite his best efforts. And the story, too, is classic Ellis. Deception and conspiracy lead to sudden, chirpy violence directed at those who cross Woodwind’s morality. It’s a great read. I want to see what Thomas Woodwind does next. And to who.
I bought SVK during its initial print run in July and it was entirely worth its cover price of about £10. But the price wasn’t just for a comic + torch gizmo. It was also to participate, a little bit, in the future of “how media is made”.
SVK is a product as much about intent as about a physical, interactive piece of stuff. The product is the conception, design, execution, production, delivery and customer support. You see all this because BERG and Warren Ellis talked about it as it was all happening, from detailed blog posts about conception and design, to tweets and snapshots about meetings and minutiae, all archived along a timeline from then til now. You get a real sense of all of these things soaked into the timeless, tangible artifacts of the comic and SVK Device.
And here’s the thing. The first SVK Device, delivered with the comic, didn’t work.
I had a few minutes of wondering if I was doing something wrong, consulting the website, deducing the correct visual effect I should be seeing, and then finally emailing BERG about the problem. The speedy, personal and positive response to the problem (which was non-imaginary and hardware-based) made me feel lucky, in a way. I got a more complete experience. One that lifted the curtain a little more on the reality of making this thing. Failure rates of mass-produced modern media artifacts. Entropy intruding on the global economy and producing something less perfect but more interesting.
A flurry of emails with Kari Stewart, the studio mananger at BERG HQ, and a replacement was winging its way to me within about 15 minutes (leaving London sometime on Friday afternoon and hitting my desk first thing on Monday morning). The problem, it transpired, was an unexpected side-effect of shipping the torches from the manufacturers China. BERG were honest and humble about the shortcomings of their product, and speedy and transparent in identifying and fixing the problem. They even documented the failure for posterity.
It was actually a fascinating thing to watch unfold and be part of. A properly “experimental publication”.