Comic Life Magic is for 2D work, although less about drawing and more about arranging pages of images together as stories.

In CLM you choose images from your library or new ones taken in iSight and arrange them into comic strips, then add effects, speech bubbles and captions to bring life and a story to the pictures.

It's a popular application that most fans use simply to have fun, but can also be put to work sketching out storyboards for more serious movie or print projects.

The Plasq website shows off professional work done in the software by comic designers and even film makers, who used the previous version of Comic Life, Comic Life Deluxe, to plan film scenes.

Core tools

New features in Comic Life Magic are mostly thanks to the intervening release by Apple of Leopard, with its Core Animation and Core Image tools. These 'Core' areas of Leopard are blocks of coding resources that software developers can interface with to add dynamic graphics features to their products.

Plasq has leveraged these resources in Comic Life Magic to good effect, adding an entirely new floating effects palette (see the image to the right) containing a powerful range of new editing features, including things like being able to apply interesting warps and blurs to images, amongst several dozen other filters.

A highly intuitive vector-cutting tool has been included too, which enables an editor to roughly circle a figure or element to cut from an image, and then automatically gauges where the edges of that figure are placed.

It works well even on non-uniform backgrounds without using the 'greenscreen' feature, so you can quickly cut out Granny from a photo shot in the Grand Canyon and have her imposed on a Amazonian background, which should sufficiently confuse her!

We don't have any pressing need to create comics or storyboards, and imagine it will hold niche appeal on that score, but we found it very useful for creating dynamic photo albums.

Effects and themes

We took a few hundred shots from a wedding and laid them out in Comic Life Magic, adding captions and speech bubbles as we went along.

Then, using the one-click output options, popped the results on our .Mac account. iPhoto and Aperture can both do the same kind of thing but lack the funky comic templates and comic-like effects, which are great fun and a novel way to document holidays and special occasions.

We especially liked the Japanese manga-style themes, which seemed very fresh to our eyes.

That's magic!

If you have Comic Life Deluxe and are thinking of upgrading, we recommend the new version. The new editing tools are one draw, but the new layout is a better place to work in, and has less of a childlike look and feel.

Our only complaint with Comic Life Magic was a minor bug in the main interface, when we clicked the Hide Details tab, which slides the left-hand effect panel away to reveal the main layout in a bigger space. This produced a wonky layout change for us, where the editing panel remained superimposed on the main layout though with the commands de-natured.

A fully featured demo is available on the Plasq site, and there are quite a few videos on the web about Comic Life Magic, mostly on Viddler but also on YouTube, including some from the Macworld 2008 show, which was where we first got wind of the update.

Comic Life Magic went on sale in June, and the price seems good to us. It's a fun application with good iLife and .Mac integration and if you already use it for your story-boarding we're sure you'll love the richer set of features in this new release, not least the expanded template selection.