Comic books have made a pretty smooth transition onto the iPad — in fact, the Comixology app has become my preferred method of reading new issues. But the founders of a startup called Madefire are trying to push things further. They want to create comics designed specifically for tablets, rather than simply converting content that was created for print.
You can get a taste of the Madefire experience in the video below. To me, using the app feels like someone took a regular comic, then jazzed it up with animation, music, and sound effects — yet you can still see the comic book at the heart of the experience. The company calls the titles “motion books”, a name that’s reminiscent of motion comics, another attempt to bring comics into the digital world. However, founder Ben Wolstenholme says there’s a big difference:
“Motion comics are a passive experience, a watching experience that is tantamount to bad animation – it’s like watching a movie. Motion Books is a reading experience, actively controlled by the reader – it’s like reading a book. Our goal is to be the best reading experience developed for the iPad.”
When I first heard about Madefire, what really caught my attention wasn’t the technology, but rather the writers and artists involved. There’s Dave Gibbons, most famous for drawing Watchmen. (One of the biggest fanboy moments in my life was getting Gibbons to sign my Watchmen pin. And yes, he’s done a bunch of other work, but Watchmen is one of those huge achievements that tends to overshadow everything else.) Also on the roster are Bill Sienkiewicz (Elektra: Assassin), Robbie Morrison (The Adventures of Nikolai Dante), and Mike Carey (The Unwritten), among others.
There are some big names from the tech world as well. Madefire has raised a little more than $2 million from True Ventures and angels including Sina Tamaddon, former SVP of applications at Apple. The company’s advisory board includes True’s Toni Schneider (also CEO at Automattic), Flipboard CEO Mike McCue, Gibbons, Sienkiewicz, and Tamaddon.
Each of the current titles will release a new “episode” every week, Wolstenholme says, adding that one of his goals is “moving the book shop metaphor towards a channel metaphor.” Perhaps in that vein, Madefire’s content is all going to be free, at least for “the coming months.” Wolstenholme notes that other creators can sign up to use Madefire’s tools to make their own comics, and they’ll have the option to charge if they want.
So far, I’ve only read the first episode of Treatment: Tokyo, a science fiction action comic that’s created and “executive produced” by Gibbons (Woltenholme, as well as his co-founders Eugene Walden and Liam Sharp, also have executive producer credits), while actually scripted by Morrison, with art by Kinman Chan. It was, on the whole, pretty impressive. The art looks great, and the animation feels like a natural part of the experience. Unlike some other reading apps, using Madefire was intuitive — I never felt like I had to learn how to navigate it. My only complaint: By the end of the episode, I felt a bit tired out by all the frenetic, animated action and the over-the-top music.