They say there's an app for everything, but the comic book medium has stayed the same since its original heyday in the 1940s. Static images, even on a tablet, are just that.
The Madefire app for the iPad and iPhone strives to change that. Using technology similar to Adobe’s Flash program, founders Ben Wolstenholme, Eugene Walden and Liam Sharp give artists and writers a new way to tell stories. With their technology, piercing screams can be heard, characters in the comics move deftly within panels, and bullets in gunfights seamlessly whiz through the air.
“These are made and built for the screen, not for print,” Wolstenholme said. “With sound, movement, touch and timing. We look at it as a new grammar.”
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Although there are no voice-overs, the feeling the books inspire is more like one from a film than a book. But with panels, words and splash pages, every comic book reader will be fully engaged and drawn into the story.
They won’t complain about panoramic splash pages, sliding panels and moving objects in every scene either.
Designed for the on-the-go comic book fan, each story takes less than 10 minutes to read. Madefire’s main goal is to get their books on your screen as easily as possible.
“Our goal is to give creators the freedom to escape from the traditional confines of 21 static pages, and create a new world of words, pictures, motion and sound,” the company’s website reads. “Our hope is that this technology will bring a new dimension of expression and originality to storytelling.”
The technology, Wolstenholme said, makes it easy for artists to arrange their material and create scenes. Although they’d have to learn how to use the software, the browser-based platform is rather intuitive for artists.
Motion comics, an earlier experiment spawned in the late ‘90s, were a half-hearted attempt to bring the medium alive. More often than not, they robbed the reader’s imagination with bad sound effects and voice-overs. They also gave comic book giants a way to redeliver older material to an audience that cries for innovation, not repetition.
For comic book fans turned off by the motion comic era, Wolstenholme assured there was no cause for worry.
“These aren’t motion comics,” he said. “You watch those. These are about reading, but you control the experience. You’re the one that makes everything move. It’s all up to you.”
While Wolstenholme and Sharp knew they had a cool concept, in order to show the world what the platform could do, they needed content. To fill their digital shelves would be no easy task. Garnering respect in the comic book industry is like earning respect in the mafia. A few small contracts just won’t do.
Madefire’s brain trust knew they needed someone with an unshakable reputation to endorse it.
Dave Gibbons is a prime time player in comic books. He doesn’t do shoe shines for anyone. The artist behind Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel, “The Watchmen,” Gibbons has worked for a myriad of projects at DC comics. Over the years the 62-year-old has drawn for legends such as Frank Miller and Stan Lee.
The fact that this old dog, so ingrained in the history of the medium, has decided to take a chance on the project is telling. Gibbons’ new series, “Treatment,” which he wrote the first episode for and now serves as an advisor for, is one of the main attractions on the platform. The series, like all of the current Madefire creations, are currently free, in an effort to get the platform more exposure.
“I was so thrilled with what they were doing. They asked me if I had any properties that they could use,” Gibbons said. “So I told them about ‘Treatment’ and showed them what it looked like. It was serendipity because it fits so well on this platform.”
“Treatment” takes place in the near future, where police, in some areas, cannot stop hemorrhaging levels of crime. Those places get the “Treatment,” a group of men and women who flesh out the area of evil, any way they can. The group gets their funding by filming a live reality show during missions.
Part Roman gladiators mentality with hints of ‘80s action romps the likes of “Lethal Weapon” and “Robocop,” “Treatment” comes alive on the platform: bullets whiz by baddies and glass bottles crack and smash on heads. All with a swipe or press of your finger on your screen.
With another comics veteran, Doug Braithwaite, at the helm of the series, Gibbons is satisfied with where the project and platform are going.
“It’s been amazing to see how they fleshed the concept out,” Gibbons said. “It works good for Madefire because it has this world scope and we obviously have global aspirations.”
Wolstenholme and Sharp also have their own works on the platform. “Mono” follows the exploits of a half-man, half-ape assassin for the Queen of England during World War II. Sharp’s creation, “Captain Stone is missing” is a gritty tale about the world’s one and only super hero, whose disappearance and emotional demons haunt him at a daunting time for society.
With a handful of creators supporting the platform, Wolstenholme and the rest of the Madefire team know what their mission is.
“We’re trying to occupy that 10-15 minutes you have of downtime during the day,” Wolstenholme said. “At the bus or when you need an escape. You can play ‘Angry Birds’ or use MadeFire…we want it to be a no-brainer. They’re free stories from some of the great writers in our industry. We want people to read our stories.”