Dickens: Dark London App

Charles Dickens’ descriptions of Victorian London have, for over a century, formed an authoritative representation of the city and its inhabitants. It’s with some trepidation, then, that we approach this Museum of London-sponsored app, which augments Dickens’ words with visuals to form an “interactive graphic novel”. Can it hope to enhance an experience that has already withstood the test of years?

Somehow, it manages – not least because the images are based on those Dickens produced himself, working under the pseudonym “Boz”. Actor Mark Strong narrates Dickens’ words over suitably grimy interpretations of Boz’s illustrations, which are arranged into comic-style pages. Hotspots allow the reader to access historical trivia and references, while a panel-view mode helps you zoom in on details even when using a smaller screen.

Since there’s no overt narrative, “graphic novel” is perhaps the wrong term, but the content does qualify as a comic, and an impressive digital implementation of one at that. The interface is smooth, intuitive, and easy to navigate. An “auto-read” function could have further improved the experience, though – the current system leaves the reader to advance panels themselves making it slightly too easy to cut off the narration early.

As well as the comic, the app includes a map of 1862 London which can overlay a modern satellite view. If you’re at all nerdy about London’s history (and one assumes anyone downloading this app is) there’s enough detail to potentially keep you occupied for hours.

It’s an interesting approach to Dickens’ work, and an appropriate use of the comics medium. There’s something in this form, so to paraphrase one of Dickens’ most famous creations – Please sir, can we have some more?

The Streetmuseum – Dickens: Dark London app is free from the iTunes App Store, and includes a free “Seven Dials” comic. Further monthly instalments can be purchased for £1.49 each, or downloaded free from the Museum of London or the featured locations.

You can read our interview with one of the app’s creators, Kevin Brown, here.