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UV Ink Tells the Real Story

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Caren B. Les, [email protected]

Comic book readers have come to expect twists and turns in story lines, but one new comic has a special twist of its own: Part of it is written in invisible ink.

SVK, by Warren Ellis and artist Matt “D’Israeli” Brooker, is litho printed on silk paper in tones of black and blue; a third (UV) ink is invisible, except under a special light. The book comes with a wallet-size UV light source that illuminates more than the pages – it actually reveals the urban detective story’s subtext by showing readers the characters’ real thoughts, which might differ from what they say or do. Joke ads that appear in the book are designed to work with the UV light as well.

The experimental graphic novella SVK is bundled with a UV light that reveals added layers to its story. The character in this urban tale is saying, “You look … well, you look fine. Business must be good,” while a flash of the light source on the page reveals his “real” thoughts: “Looks like death on a stick.”

Thomas Woodwind, the main character, is a spy who has to recover a mysterious package lost by a military contractor. The story’s broader subjects are technology, surveillance and cities. BERG, the London-based design studio that published the book, said the human themes are corruption, power and “lies that lurk in the data-smog of our near future.”

“Working with the UV process has been the biggest technical challenge I’ve faced in the past 10 years, but the possibilities are fascinating,” Brooker said. “One effect of the UV process has been to give me, as an artist, the opportunity to do something normally only allowed to programmers and interface designers: build Easter eggs into a project.”

This comic page will not give up its secrets without UV light. Images courtesy of BERG.

BERG is no stranger to technological innovation, having worked on augmented reality toys and a digital magazine platform for the iPad. But publishing a book is a different story. “It’s unusual for a small design studio to attempt to become a publisher,” said Matt Webb, CEO and co-founder of BERG. “But there was a realization that SVK could be a kind of ‘crystal’ business in its own right, that it could be made to work through advertising, cover price, direct sales and working with really awesome people.

“There’s something about the project aiming to commoditize the tools of business – that they are at the service of creative works, instead of the other way around.”

SVK, for mature audiences, can be purchased online from the publisher at

Photonics Spectra
Sep 2011
art comicaugmented realityBERGCaren B. LescomicdefenseEuropegraphic novellaimagingLighter SideMatt DIsraeli BrookerSVKThomas Woodwindultraviolet inkultraviolet lightUV inkUV lightUV light sourceWarren Ellislasers

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