Comic Books’ New Corner Store
Five days after launch, we’ve answered loads of questions about the Madefire App, the Motion Book Tool, and the stories we proudly helped bring to life. But it seems there is one story in particular that we still need to tell: Madefire’s. So for everyone who wrote in wanting to know how Madefire came to be: this one’s for you.
When I was young and growing up in Derby, I saw comic books in every newsagent and street corner store. On holiday they were bagged in multiple copies and sold cheap.
That was the thing: it was cheap, accessible entertainment.
I didn’t even know there were specialist outlets until I was about 19! So for me, it was the wider visibility of the material that hooked me, and later drew me to the stores where I could really indulge my interest.
Back then, standing there in the newsagent, clutching my copy of Captain America or Iron Fist, Conan, or the Hulk, there was no way I could’ve known how deeply the medium would shape and influence my life. But I passed many a day of my youth drawing and writing about superheroes and barbarians. Later I won an art scholarship to Eastbourne College (where co-founder Ben Wolstenholme was also to win an art scholarship), and always I kept on drawing the fantastic.
I have been lucky enough to have drawn some of the most famous characters in the comic spectrum during the (perhaps inevitable) career that followed. From Judge Dredd, through the Hulk to the Xmen, Batman, and Gears of War. I’ve drawn high-minded sequential art and thuggish, testosterone-fueled brute-fests. It’s certainly been an interesting ride—but ultimately the writer in me would not stay silent. I needed to create my own material, and I knew a bunch of other creators who shared that dream. As a result, in 2004 my wife Christina and I founded Mam Tor Publishing and began create our own titles.
Mam Tor was incredibly rewarding, it opened many doors and launched a number of significant careers, but it also proved—for reasons beyond our control—to be unsustainable. As a small company, we were not afforded the same concessions and benefits as the market leaders, and in the end it made costs prohibitive for us.
That’s not to say all was lost. But, the truth was, we had yet to find a new way forward. We were a small upstart company with ‘A’ list talent and material, ready to make its mark on the world.
Everything changed a few years ago when, by happenstance or kismet, my old mate Ben Wolstenholme and I crossed paths again. Over several nights and several more beers we rediscovered our mutual love of art, storytelling and comic books—cultivated many years earlier as kids. More than that, we realized we had a mutual vision, a very specific goal—the notion of publishing our own work on our own terms.
So then it became a question of how to do it.
Last week we witnessed that dream come to life with the launch of the Madefire App, which enables readers to experience what we’re calling “Motion Books”—interactive books built especially to tell stories on the iPad through pictures, words, sound and motion. We launched with three titles: “Treatment,” which features a story-world created by comic book legend Dave Gibbons, written by Robbie Morrison and illustrated by amazing new-comer Kinman Chan. “Mono” by Ben, and “Captain Stone,” which I illustrated and co-wrote with my wife, Chris.
To achieve this we had to custom build our own digital publishing platform for a genre that didn’t exist yet—what we’ve come to call Motion Books. And to build them we needed a tool—which is where our third founder, Eugene Walden, came in. Between the three of us we figured out what we thought Motion Books might possibly need to do, and based on that information Eugene and his team then built the astonishing Madefire Motion Book Tool.
And now that dream, conceived in a London pub years ago, has grown up… It’s no longer just about Ben and me empowering ourselves to publish our own work online. It’s passed beyond the new creative freedom we discovered using the tool: its ability to manipulate time and space so that a story can unfold on-screen in totally new ways. It has become a rallying cry for all creators, artists, and writers who, like us, yearn to share their work with a wider audience and explore new and innovative ways of doing this.
I wouldn’t claim that Madefire is the new corner store for comic books—the Internet does that nicely. But Madefire has contributed a few really solid bricks to the storefront. As Dave Gibbons says—we’re developing “a new grammar,” and hoping that Madefire is where the myths of the 21st century will be created.
-Liam Sharp, CCO of Madefire
Next on our blog: an interview with legendary comic book creator Dave Gibbons. Send your questions for Dave to firstname.lastname@example.org.