N certainly isn’t the first online/mobile series to showcase A-list talent, but it is an affirmation of the huge potential for big-time names and top-notch production on the third screen.

A joint venture of Simon and SchusterMarvel Entertainment and CBS Mobile (clearly, money is not an issue for this particular production), N is a 25-episode serial based on an upcoming short story by the master of horror, Stephen King.  Unveiled at Comic-Con International in San Diego last weekend, the series premiered online on Monday and will play a new episode every weekday through the end of August.

The episodes are based on King’s previously unpublished story about a psychiatrist who identifies a little too closely with one of his obsessive-compulsive patients. The details of the victim’s demise cleverly unspool when his sister finds a mysterious box containing clues and – you guessed it – horror!

It looks like a graphic novel come to semi-animated life.  Cheap to produce but mesmerizing, with voiceovers from characters accompanying pans and scans of illustrated stills by the lauded comic book artist Alex Maleev (best known for his work on NBC’s Heroes and dark, cinematic images in Marvel’s Daredevil).

N is notable for a couple of reasons. First, it is visually arresting. Maleev’s illustrations, expertly colored by revered comic-book colorist José Villarrubia, are sharp yet sublime, grainy yet graceful. With miniature measurements in mind, each shot glides over a still illustration.  Rather than watching an animation per se, it’s as though we’re being carefully guided across frames of a comic strip, like a deranged kidergarten teacher is reading aloud a horribly inappropriate story.

Second, N is a brilliant marketing stunt. Sure, you can watch all 25 episodes for free online (along with the occasional commercial), but CBS (which owns Simon and Schuster), along with Marvel and King would really like you to become a paying customer, purchasing blocks of 5 episodes for $0.99 or an entire “Season Pass” for $3.99. And not for nothing, but a DVD version is set to hit stores this fall.

More relevant for King, however, is that N serves as fantastic publicity for his upcoming collection of short stories entitled Just After Sunset. (This is not the first time King has used the internet to generate buzz. You may remember King’s self-published and somewhat ill-fated e-serial novelThe Plant back in 2000.) 

Third – and this is most important – is that N is really effing cool. It’s a fun, creepy, gothic, ghoulish tale told in an innovative and elegant way – sure to attract horror geeks, literary types, film fans, comic junkies and video addicts alike.