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Comic Revolt with David Gillette: The Madefire Comic App

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Today, I begin a weekly series of features examining outside of the box thinking in the comic book industry. New technology and greater interest in creator-owned comics has changed the industry landscape in ways that are allowing greater numbers of creators to bring their stories directly to readers. Also, the types of stories being told are increasing with a diversity of viewpoint and style that is helping the comic book medium become more inclusive, which is a move back to the medium’s roots. My goal is to highlight innovative and divergent thinking in the creation and distribution of comic books, graphic novels, and sequential storytelling in general.

This week’s first edition of Comic Revolt examines the Berkeley, California based start up Madefire, where their comic book app could be the next great innovation in sequential storytelling. Currently, you must have an iPad or iPhone to enjoy their special approach to comic book making. Each story has special features conducive to a touch screen experience that allow for motion sequences, panoramic viewing of art panels, and audio elements. These creative elements have attracted heavyweights such as Dave Gibbons, Bill Sienkiewicz, Brian Bolland, and Mike Carey to make their own stories under this new expression of comics.

Liam Sharp, Madefire’s Chief Creative Officer (CCO), isn’t your typical executive. He doesn’t just know the comic book business – he’s lived it for over 25 years.  That combination of business and creative experience has helped shape the Madefire approach, which can be seen with his own title Captain Stone is Missing… We discussed the following questions in this first installment of Comic Revolt:

How would you describe the process that Captain Stone takes from start as a script to finish as a Madefire Comic?

One thing we’re realizing is that the scripts need no longer be like regular scripts, with page numbers etc.. We’re starting to think in terms of scenes or sequences, almost more like a screenplay. When it comes to Captain Stone is Missing…, I’m in the unique position of having overall control of all the elements, which is particularly liberating. I’m finding I work with three platforms – Photoshop, the Madefire Motion Book tool, and the iPad app itself – in unison. All three elements inform each other, so I might create art in layers in Photoshop, import them onto the tool, then publish them up to the reader where I can view it on the iPad and see if it works or not. It may decide to bring in an extra Photoshop element, and I can change my page immediately, and again publish it for review. It’s a circular process, and extremely exciting. I can also go back to already published pages and update them if I don’t think it’s working as I would like, or if I want to add an extra detail or element. That flexibility is an incredible innovation I think. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve looked at my printed work and wished I could change whole chunks of it…

What considerations does a creative team need to take when creating their story for this platform?

I think the best advice is – don’t think of it as a comic. Time is the new container, the separating factor of each image and sequence, driven forward only by the choice of the reader to touch the screen. The legacy of comics is in the fact it’s words and pictures. Comic creators are the natural people to exploit this new medium because that is the realm they have made their own – the juxtaposition of the written word and the drawn image. But we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of boxes – we literally have to think outside the box. That will be the hardest thing to shed – our ingrained beliefs about comic storytelling. We’re kind of writing new rules, so I’m keen to encourage people to be daring and push at the boundaries. Forget the rule book you used to know. This is more about timing – and as Dave Gibbons said – we’re cameramen, not puppeteers. We’re encouraging people to think more about transitions, not low-budget animations. The story revealing itself in layers, not panel to panel sequences. It actually takes quite a bit to break down that hardwiring and get people to think in fresh ways!

How long does it take a story to be transformed into a Madefire comic?

We’re really keen that we DON’T transform print comics to Madefire Motion Books – they have to be created as a digital outcome, to best utilize what the iPad has to offer. It’s waaay smarter than a piece of paper, so why treat it like paper? There are other platforms that do these conversions perfectly. We want all new, digital first material.

What considerations does the tech team and Madefire as a company need to make when handling creator owned titles?

We’ve been saying from the start we’re building the airplane as we fly it. Everybody is aware that this is new frontier territory, and right now we’re still figuring out a lot about how these collaborations will work. Most of what we’re doing is joint-owned by the creators and Madefire, so both we and our creators have an investment in the IP and the stories – we mutually care about them. In my experience the projects I owned outright had little chance of ever getting noticed, promoted, expanded-upon because the publishers had no real vested interest in the IP. It’s really important that everybody involved cares about, and loves each property. We think we’ll get the best material that way too. There’s a lot of passion at Madefire – from the tech, through the artists, writers and sound guys, to the editorial and production!

How will Madefire monetize their app considering the app is currently free as well as the available titles?

We intend – for now – to keep the roll-out, episodic content free. The collected final outcomes of the stories will have extra content and a fee, at which point we’ll take the individual episodes down. We will probably shift to a subscription model too at some point. We’re seeing it more like a televisual delivery – like HBO. Watch all of Game of Thrones for free for a limited time, then buy the box set! As it stands, Madefire has four titles available through the website and two pending.

What can readers expect in terms of future releases?

We have two more coming out very soon, and several more in production, but because we don’t have an army of trucks waiting to ship our content, and printers lined up with rigid scheduled print times, we’re not releasing material until we think it’s ready. The quality is foremost, so we would rather hang back a week and take a little extra time over a story than rush it out to meet a demand. We want our readers to get the best we can give. That said, the long term goal is to get daily content delivered – but that will take some scaling!

How many titles are expected to be ongoing series or are the offerings one-shots?

Treatment is certainly an ongoing title, as is Mono. Captain Stone is Missing… has been planned as a finite trilogy, something like 250 – 300 sequences long, but it could easily be expanded upon. I think we’ll have a good mix of self-contained stories and ongoing titles.

What are some of the new enhancements Madefire is looking to add to the app?

Ah! Now that would be telling! But we do plan to have more hot-spots and Easter-egg type content that link out of the stories in future…

Does Madefire have any plans to release their titles through other operating systems such as Droid for smart phones or for computers where the mouse is used in lieu of a touchscreen?

There are definitely plans to scale into new areas, but we’re also keen that the material is the best it can be on the best platform available. We’re working in a very fluid environment where expectations seem to change on a monthly, if not weekly, basis. But yes – there will, no doubt, be future announcements!

If Madefire expands compatibility with other platforms, how will they make their app available outside of the Apple store?

Again, it’s way too early to say at this stage. For now the focus is on the reading experience, and how we can make that the best it can be.

Is Madefire something that other comic creators could work with to give their own comics the Madefire treatment?

Absolutely – but as digital first material. Don’t take something old a try to repurpose it. Start from scratch and build a Madefire Motion Book. People are signing up daily at the moment for the beta release later in the year. Very exciting!

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/44355457[/vimeo]

The video above give a more than adequate demonstration of Madefire’s comic app. Taking a page from rock critic and legend John Landau, I have have seen comic books’ future and it’s Madefire. In the near future, I will be reviewing some of Madefire’s comics to see how well the storytelling and artwork stack up with the enhanced storytelling features. To get updates on the Beta version of the Madefire comic app, go to the bottom of the page at http://www.madefire.com/motion-book-tool/ to sign up.

Next week, Comic Revolt will focus on the use of community and collective works being put out by 44 Flood. Make sure to open up a spot in your schedule.

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