Writer Robert Lee contributed to this story for Comic Booked.
True to their name, Madefire started burning at the San Diego Comic Con only to sweep across the country to last weekend’s New York Comic Con. Bringing the proverbial fire to the masses, they aim to evolve how a comic book can be made much like the way fire evolved the way humans live.
Considerable space has been used by Comic Booked trying to explain the phenomena of Madefire, a company devoted to making stories that go beyond the page. Occupying a space at the borders of comic books and film, what they’re doing can be a bit difficult to explain. That’s where their new editor, Ben Abernathy comes in.
“It’s an immersive reading experience,” says Abernathy. “It’s DNA is comic books. Lots of people have responded that it reminds them of video game elements or having cinematic sort of qualities to it.”
Available only as a digital comic, which is now available for all Apple touch screen platforms as an app for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, the reader can control elements of their reading experience. For instance, you swipe in elements of the story at a touch, the story captions and speech bubbles come into play sequentially, and there is the panoramic view for splash pages that allow you a 360 degree look around the page. This is not your dad’s comic book.
“We feel it’s the next generation of digital storytelling,” says Abernathy. “Like I said, the DNA from comic books. Obviously the creators and founders are comic book veterans in some cases, and what they strive to create is moving beyond traditional printed comic, the mentality per say of a printed comic, and create something that really is a fully immersive digital mobile experience.”
Before you can talk about the next generation in storytelling, it begs the questions what happened first? Were there stories needing a new medium to be birthed into existence, or did the medium itself bring life to new ideas and stories?
“I know a number of them have been percolating for awhile,” says Abernathy. “I guess the obvious one has been Treatment, which first appeared several years back in Dark Horse Presents as a short story that Dave did. I don’t want to put words in Dave Gibbons’ mouth because I’ll regret that forever.”
Madefire’s founders wanted something new to tell their own stories with that wasn’t as static as paper. Legendary artist and storyteller Dave Gibbons was one of the first people to buy into Madefire’s new brand of storytelling.
“He’s so forward thinking and early adoption when it comes to technology,” says Abernathy. “I think it was two years ago when they first started talking to Dave. He saw the ability to tell…well, maybe a better platform for Treatment than a more static print book. I like to think he was inspired by what he was seeing in the early demos of the iPad of what could be done.”
That brings things back around to Madefire founders and creators Liam Sharp and Ben Wolstenholme. The idea to push things further came possibly out of their own passion projects. Their two stories diverge radically from mainstream comic stories.
“I would say with both Liam Sharp’s book Captain Stone is Missing… and Mono by Ben Wolstenholme, I would suspect those have been lifelong passions than coming from a more traditional print background,” says Abernathy.”
“I’m glad you highlighted the content because in a lot of way it’s non-traditional at least what would be considered successful in the direct market of the American comic book system, which is honestly driven by super heroes, capes, and tights, and guys lifting cars.”
By virtue of this, it would hard to argue with the idea that Madefire, true to its name, came as a result of a burning desire to tell stories that the creators wanted to tell, but hadn’t found the proper format for.
“The content we’re creating here I think is more personal to what their own passions are, and in a lot of ways, it’s more reflective of what they read growing up or what they’re inspired by,” says Abernathy. “As we’re reaching out to more creators, and talking to publishers, the tool itself will be released at some point for more general consumption.”
And it’s that motion tool that really is the crucial element in transforming what could’ve been a static print story into something that sucks you in and challenges your senses. More importantly, it challenges creators to think differently about how they want to write a story.
“It required a rethink to how they approach storytelling,” says Abernathy. “In a lot of ways the scripts are more like a screenplay. Instead of breaking it down into rigid page structures, it’s more like sequences like scene structure. It’s interesting that quite a few comic book creators at this point have written screenplays or video games and they’re applying it once they see the content and start to understand structure.”
The process with the motion tool challenges writers and artists to think a bit more like a director or filmmaker by thinking about the movement and pacing of the story in multiple levels not found in a traditional comic book.
“While we do have a rough idea of how long the content should be on the motion tool, it requires the imagination and the vision of the writer and then the artist who takes it in hand and develops and delivers what we hope is a life changing experience,” says Abernathy.
But back to the main point, this effectively changes storytelling by evolving it into a new level rife with possibilities because of the seemingly unlimited choices at the disposal of creators.
“What I’ve been telling a lot of people here at the show, who maybe downloaded the app a couple of months ago or are checking out the books, is check out the second and third chapters of our titles because the evolution is continuing,” says Abernathy.
That sentiment has been catching on. Already, Madefire has announced their involvement with a number of top tier creators like Steve Niles and Mark Teixeira in creating new content that will be ready for download soon.
“I can tell you that Steve and Mark are working together on a horror based project,” says Abernathy. “I don’t want to reveal too much about that necessarily right now, but it’s pretty amazing. Neil (Googe) and Denys (Cowan) are working on Treatment stories, which is Dave Gibbons’ umbrella universe in the app. Ben Templesmith’s working on a cover right now. Hopefully more. We’ll see. He’s been very supportive of us and very excited about what we can do and the process.”
While the company doesn’t have the bandwidth to open the floodgates for submissions from John Q. Public just yet, don’t be surprised to see more people working with the platform as the company rolls out their motion tool in phases.
“Hopefully, we’ll get to that point,” says Abernathy. “Obviously the point too is that they’ll be able to create their own content through the tool itself when it’s released. I guess everyone will be working with Madefire or at least the Madefire tool app. Maybe not us necessarily directly, if that makes sense, because it empowers the creators to do their own stories and tell their own stories. We provide the access for them to find an audience.”
Seeing is better than believing. Watch the Madefire demo clip below.