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Madefire Interviews Dave Gibbons

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In our last blog post, we heard from Robbie Morrison, who worked with Dave Gibbons on “Treatment.” This time, Madefire interviews Dave himself. In addition to being a comic book legend known widely as the creator of “Watchmen,” he is also one of Madefire’s original creators, including “Treatment”—a new title developed exclusively for our app.

If you’re going to be at Comic-Con San Diego this week, check out Madefire’s signing schedule and stop by our booths (4902/4904) to meet Dave and our other guest creators who will be signing throughout the event.

MF: As a founding father of Madefire, what is it that made the Motion Book platform special for you? Is there anything in particular about it that really blew you away?

DG: I suppose it was a question of things happening at the same time. I’d long been aware of the kind of possibilities and untapped potential of handheld devices for telling graphic narrative—the kind of thing you could do in film or, more personally, in comics. I was aware that there was a kind of new medium beginning to emerge, in the overlap of two things that I’ve always been interested in: graphic storytelling and gadgetry. It’s something that I wanted to pursue.

When Liam Sharp introduced me to the Madefire concept, I thought “This sounds really good,” and like just the kind of avenue that we needed to follow in order to arrive at a new hybrid or, perhaps, newly-bred form of storytelling. I’ve known Liam for a long time and followed his career with interest and seen his persistence with trying to evolve new forms of presenting comic strip stories. So his involvement made me take the idea of Motion Books quite seriously. And also when I was introduced to Ben Wolstenholme and the rest of the guys I could see that they were people who had a really good understanding of the digital marketplace, and had huge experience in branding and in bringing products to market.

So it seemed to me that this was probably the best possible horse to be riding in this race. I think also when I first saw what the platform could do, I was hugely impressed by the fact that whilst it still remained a reading experience, it allowed the reader to take control of lots of elements, to move through the story at their own pace, and being able to affect what was in the field of view by actually manipulating the device. The fact that the app made full use of the iPad’s directional sensitivity and its location awareness, I thought, was wonderful. It actually used the capabilities of the platform to enhance what was being read.

Of course there is also the authoring tool—the Motion Book Tool—which is a very clever and very slick piece of software. I think it’s a master stroke to make that available, to invoke the sense of community involvement in the whole world of Madefire.

MF: You’ve said before that you enjoy writing as much as drawing. Do you already have a long-term story arc planned for “Treatment?”

DG: Well, I just love to tell stories in words and pictures. I’ve spent a large part of my career translating other people’s scripts into graphic narrative but I’ve done a fair amount of writing of my own, mainly for other people, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the real luminaries of the comic book world. However, I’ve actually written and drawn very few things on my own. Perhaps the best known is the graphic novel “The Originals,” which was a very heartfelt autobiographical piece, albeit with science fiction and dramatic elements added on to it.

The way that “Treatment” actually came about was that Mike Richardson, the publisher of Dark Horse, was reviving his “Dark Horse presents” anthology comic and wanted a contribution from me to feature in there. I’ve got a very long-standing relationship with Dark Horse and with Mike, and it was something I wanted to be a part of. And I’d had the idea for “Treatment” for quite a while. I had the name and a few notions as to what it might mean. And Mike’s invitation actually made me crystallize everything into a fragmentary portion of a story which put the reader bang in the middle of things without much explanation, and gave the reader an idea of what “Treatment” might be about, and the kind of feeling that world had.

Obviously, being a brief fragment I didn’t have an opportunity to explore any of the subtleties or the off-beat humorous things that I had planned. There were more stories to tell, much more to say about the world of “Treatment” than I’d managed to achieve in that short taster and having set that much down, I felt it had some legs on it.

So again it was a matter of timing, and I was speaking with Liam and Ben and they were talking about developing properties with Madefire. And it seemed to me, as it seemed to them, that “Treatment” was probably an ideal property to investigate. The fact that it could be episodic, the fact that it could be quite spectacularly action-packed, the fact that it had a science-fiction aspect to it and a global setting—all of these things made it attractive.

Unfortunately because of my other commitments, I wasn’t able to do much more than lay out possible ideas for “Treatment” and do a couple of story experiments, and of course let them have full use of the fragment I’d already written and drawn. So we came to the realization that we’d have to draft other people onto the project, and I suggested Robbie Morrison. Robbie had written some really memorable stuff for 2000 AD and had written Judge Dread, which I saw in kind of a similar way to “Treatment.” Not that I’d aspire to do anything as wonderful as the writer John Wagner has done over the years, but in the kind of tone and setting it seemed to me that this was something Robbie could make a really good job of.

We also got some fantastic artists, and so now there are the “Treatment” stories which you can read in the Madefire App, and plenty more to come. I also realized that my “Treatment” fragment could be developed into the length of a movie—and that doing so might be enjoyable and perhaps profitable. So using my original fragment I’ve started developing a screenplay, and I’m two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through that and it’s all hanging together very well.

My idea at the moment is that when I get the time to return to “Treatment” I will complete that story, and it may well be that it is serialized on the Madefire platform as a major piece of storytelling. And who knows, maybe translated into a movie as well. I also happen to think, in my arrogance, that “Treatment” would make an excellent video game. In fact, at a fairly early stage, I involved my son Dan—who is a great games player—to give me some input along those lines. So it may be that the story of “Treatment” is only just beginning.

MF: There’s something familiar about Treatment that harkens back to your 2000 AD work–is that intentional?

DG: Probably not intentional but we are what we are, and I think all my work has a kind of “Dave Gibbons” feel about it—almost inevitably the mark of the maker is left. And I’m perfectly happy about that because I think 2000 AD is one of the best comics ever published, and certainly produced some wonderful characters, fantastic stories and artwork, and world-class creators who started with 2000 AD. I’ve always liked the combination of adventure and humor that 2000 AD has, and I hope to have some more fun with “Treatment” in ways that haven’t been seen yet, which might make you think even more of 2000 AD.

MF: Are there other new story worlds in your head that you would like bring to Madefire?

DG: I do have a notebook with a few notions in it. It’s really a question of finding the time to develop the various stories and developing them with an eye to how they might be used. I think for the moment, outside of “Treatment” and one other personal project—that may find its way onto the Madefire platform—I haven’t got any concrete plans, but we’ll have to wait and see. Certainly, with any new ideas that do come up, Madefire would be at the forefront of where I’d want to present them because I do believe that this digital handheld presentation of work is very much the future of graphic storytelling.

MF: Which creators have influenced you the most, and who would you like to see develop original content for Madefire?

DG: This is one of those really difficult questions because you always end up leaving somebody off. I’ve often spoken of the people whose work I looked at growing up: Frank Hampson, Frank Bellamy, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Will Eisner, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino. They harken even back further to people like Alex Raymond, Hal Foster, Noel Sickles, Milton Caniff… the list just goes on and on… Moebius, Jean-Claude Mezieres, Manara, Gino D’Antonio. I could list names for some time and still leave out people I’d meant to mention.

As for who I would like to see develop original content, well, I’d like to see all the good guys. I think we started with a pretty impressive roster. I’d like to see what Frank Miller would do or Howard Chaykin or Mike Mignola or Alex Ross. I just feel that the flexibility and the possibilities of this new medium are such that once you start to think of creators’ work appearing, it’s very easy to get highly enthusiastic. I think it’s important to get a variety of work appearing. Everything from the traditional kind of line and color look, to more adventurous painted or collage-based stuff and I think that’s what so wonderful about the medium—it’s not print and if you can see it, you can have it on-screen.

Our last question was submitted to Madefire by a fan of yours: Is there any chance that The Dome: Ground Zero book from Gibbons and Angus McKie (via the lamentedly short-lived Helix imprint) might get a Madefire revival?

DG: That’s an interesting question and I hadn’t really thought about it before. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it was a rather unusual project. For a long time Angus and I had been using computers to do traditional comic-style artwork and we wondered what it would be like to do the whole thing in a computer-generated way. And of course what we found was that all the work was at the front end, meaning you had to build models of everything; create textures, light, environments and then you could move your puppets around in your scenery to match your story.

I think it came out quite well, all things considered. It got better by the end as Angus bought more and more software and got more experience. I think the whole thing hangs together quite well. What it would look like today on a hand-held device? I’m not sure.

There is another thing I worked on, that I mentioned before, “The Originals,” which was an autobiographical project and appeared in as a black and white graphic novel. It referenced youth culture, and we produced some music for it, with the idea of using it promotionally. We never actually exploited that and I have been musing lately that “The Originals” could be something that would look very fine and dandy on a handheld platform with the addition of sound and music to it. Whether that would fit exactly into the Madefire plan I don’t know, but that certainly would be my first port of call if it ever came to it.

Thanks Dave—see you at SDCC!

Guest Blogger: Robbie Morrison on Dave Gibbons’ ‘Treatment’

Posted by Britt ,
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Some gigs, you just can’t say no to. Out of the blue, around Christmas 2011, I got an email asking if I’d be interested in working on a project with Dave Gibbons.

Regardless of the fact that he co-authored Watchmen, one of the most influential graphic novels of all time, Dave is an artist whose work I’ve loved since I was a kid reading 2000 AD, the legendary UK science fiction comic. So, aye, I might be a wee bit interested.

In addition, the project wasn’t going to be in the traditional comic-book format, but would be published on the iPad via the Madefire App, a new platform for sequential storytelling.

To my knowledge, the majority of digital comics have been created primarily for print and then reworked to fit the computer screen – almost the equivalent of the old ‘pan-and-scan’ method of resizing widescreen film for the much smaller TV screen. Madefire’s aim was to develop stories primarily for the digital format, allowing writers and artists to take full advantage of an exciting new range of storytelling techniques.

Treatment is a fast-paced, action-packed, five-minutes-into-the-future series of crime thrillers, in which law enforcement has been privatized and turned into the most popular reality show ever seen. Dave’s first story – a tight little thriller premiered by Dark Horse Comics in 2011 – sets the scene perfectly.

While that story takes place in an American city, Dave’s idea was to expand Treatment internationally, with every major city having its own show and team of players.

Treatment: Tokyo focuses on Kaidan, the Ghost, most feared player in Asia, as he cuts a swathe through the Tokyo underworld, courtesy of storyboard/concept artist Kinman Chan.

Treatment: Mexico plunges players Ramon Rodriguez, Gabrielle Amaya and Manny Santana into a bloody war with the drugs cartels, illustrated by master storyteller Dougie Braithwaite.

Stories in other locations are already in development – Seoul, Moscow, Paris and New York, amongst others. Who knows, maybe your city will be selected for Treatment? Leave a reply here to find out – or ask Dave yourself: he’ll be signing at the Madefire booth (4902 and 4904) throughout SDCC.

Dave has talked of digital comics as being like the Wild West, a bold new frontier of storytelling, the potential for which is only just being realized. If that’s the case, I like to see the Madefire team as the Magnificent Seven riding into the sunrise to take up the
challenge.

As long as we don’t get distracted by arguing about which one of us is Steve McQueen…

– Robbie Morrison

 

Robbie Morrison is a British comics writer most known for his work in 2000 AD and as the co-creator of popular character Nikolai Dante (with Simon Fraser). He wrote Treatment: Tokyo and Treatment: Mexico for Madefire.

Madefire – Get it while it’s ‘Hot’

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We launched the Madefire App just a little more than a week ago. But for all of us at Madefire who had, for months, been sprinting toward the June 21st launch date, one week feels like a whole lifetime ago. A lot has happened in the past week that we feel really good about, and we wanted to update you on where we are now–and where we’re going.

For starters, we were ecstatic when we found out that we moved (on June 28) from the “New and Noteworthy” page of the Apple App Store to the “What’s Hot” section.

We have also been hugely encouraged by the download rates we’re seeing. People are staying in the app longer than the industry average, and our return rates are high. All of which, we hope, points to people liking the Madefire App enough to both spend time with it in the first place, and come back for more later.

The app has received most of its attention in the US market and China Market, which came as no surprise to us. But we were pleasantly surprised to also see pickup in England and China.

Users are sharing the app through social media, sending us positive and helpful feedback (please keep it coming), and creators are expressing a lot of interest in using the Motion Book Tool to develop their own original titles once we open up the public beta (sign up on the Motion Book Tool page to be notified when that happens).

Over the past week we have also enjoyed some amazing coverage (which continues still) in the tech and comic book press–even in the design press. Articles appeared in TechCrunch, CBR, Xconomy, and Brand New, just to name a few.

As you can imagine, we are wildly excited about everything that happened the first week after launch. But don’t go thinking we’re laying around basking in glory and high-fiving each other (we did do that, but eventually stopped). We’re back at it right now getting ready to head down to Comic-Con 2012 in San Diego (SDCC) from July 11-15. And we’re happy to announce that Dave Gibbons, Bill Sienkiewicz and Gary Gianni will be joining us at our booth, along with a number of other comic book legends who will make special appearances throughout the event.

We’ve got lots more to share about our SDCC plans, so stay tuned!

Comic Books’ New Corner Store

Posted by Liam ,
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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 britt.dionne@madefire.com.

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