Madefire is a digital-comics app for iOS and the web that’s a little different from most of the other comics apps: Its focus is on motion comics. Like comiXology in the Guided View mode, Madefire displays most pages a panel at a time, with the user controlling the timing of the panel reveals. Unlike Guided View, though, Madefire takes things a step further. Once you swipe to reveal a panel, it may slide in, drop down, even vibrate a bit. The word balloons drop in after the art is in place. Figures move slightly within the panels, giving a 3-D effect, and sometimes a bit of sparkle or smoke is animated. And there’s audio as well, at least in some of the comics. You can see a short video demo here.
Madefire launched with a line of comics by its own creators, most of which are free, but in July they announced partnerships with several other publishers: IDW, BOOM! Studios, Top Cow, and ITV. This week, they released the first trio of IDW titles, based on IDW’s My Little Pony, Star Trek, and Transformers comics.
I bought the first episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic on Madefire and compared it with the first issue of the comic on comiXology. The first thing to note is that while both comics cost $1.99, the Madefire “first episode” is only half of the full issue, so you get twice as much comic for your money on comiXology.
However, Madefire does provide a more pleasant reading experience on the iPad, because the pages of My Little Pony tend to be a bit crowded, and seeing the panels one at a time helps give the reader a bit of structure. The panels are the same size in both apps, but the resolution is better in comiXology, because they have high-definition images (this test was done on an iPad 3 with retina display); the lines in the Madefire version appeared jagged.
Whether the animation adds value or not is a matter of personal taste. There were several points when it enhanced the storytelling, as when several sets of eyes appeared in the dark and then were revealed to be hostile animals. When the ponies scream “Nooo!” the sound effect appears isolated on a black screen, rather than at the bottom of a rather busy page, so the impact is increased. There was some variety in the way the panels appeared on the screen, which was nice; my favorite bit of business was when a character appeared and pushed a panel slightly to the side to make room for his own panel. One frequent trick the designers use is to have the scene move when the panel first opens, giving the sense of a camera panning across the scene. This is particularly effective with the smaller panels, as it gives the sense that the reader is peering through a viewer (the panel border) into a large scene. What was less effective was having two-dimensional shapes slide past one another; that seemed like a cheaply animated cartoon.
Mark Waid, who uses many of these techniques himself, often talks about the importance of the reader being in control of the timing. In his comics, the reader controls every motion on the page—the word balloons that drop into the panel, the shifts in focus, every single change is initiated by the reader. The Madefire comics work differently: The reader swipes to reveal a new panel but does not control the pacing after that. Several pictorial elements may appear or move without any input from the reader. This takes changes the dynamic: Instead of controlling the pacing of the comic, the reader only controls the pacing of the panels. It’s a different type of reading experience, one that is worth sampling, although I’m not sure it’s worth paying twice the price of the static comic.
Madefire has forged an interesting partnership with DeviantArt, which is an online community for artists, and the comics can also be viewed there in their web reader. Several DeviantArt creators are working for Madefire, doing the conversions to motion comics, and Madefire editorial director Bill Abernathy told Publishers Weekly he hopes to make Madefire’s authoring tools available publicly via DeviantArt later this year.