Interview: Liam Sharp On The Future Of Comics - And Why It Might Be 'Madefire'

Once shrouded in secrecy, Madefire has slowly been pulling back the curtain on their App, which was recently released for the iPad and iPhone. The gist of it is that Madefire is a digital publisher existing somewhere between motion comics and digital comics. There’s some sound, some movement, but having played around with it a bit, we can say with certainty that it retains the essential “comic-book-ness,” to use a technical term, that a lot of motion comics detractors fear.

It doesn’t hurt that the young company has recruited top name talent like Dave Gibbons to create content, or a well respected Editor like Ben Abernathy (formerly of Wildstorm and DC Digital) to head things up. A few weeks ago - before the official launch of the App in earnest - we chatted with CCO and creator Liam Sharp to find out a bit more.

“First and foremost, we’re really committed to storytelling,” said Sharp, addressing what Madefire is all about. He added that they’re not trying to make motion comics, which he called a “passive experience,” but rather, “create a new grammar, because this is essentially a new medium.”

Sharp explained that since Madefire lets the reader control the experience, but music and sound effects are added in, it was a challenge to figure out on the creator side of things exactly how things would work. “The other thing is, I wanted it to be led by the creators,” said Sharp. “We didn’t want it to be the taking and repurposing of old material for a different platform or medium. We wanted to create something that was directly, and very specifically for this platform.”

Because of that Sharp told us, you had to figure out exactly what a tablet device like an iPad could do differently from, say, a piece of paper. Part of that is that you need to keep the comic moving at a good clip, rather than making a mini-movie, something Sharp called “tedious for readers.”

Another big bump in the road? Outside of the comic book industry, people don’t seem to care about motion, or music... But inside, it’s like a black mark. “It’s been really difficult,” lamented Sharp. “We’ve been round and round in circles with the whole motion question. The term motion book has been a placeholder, really.”

Still, rather than bend to the comic book industry, Sharp thinks Madefire is on the right path. “I don’t think what we’re doing really is a comic,” said Sharp. “Once you have the sense that these things can branch, and you don’t have to tell stories in a left to right, top to bottom, linear way, means that time becomes the framing of the storytelling. Dave Gibbons said it’s like we’re building a sports car... For a horse. I’m not sure I know what he meant, but I like it!”

Continuing, Sharp said that they’re even leaving it up to the creators how they want to approach the App. “Each book we’ve done has a unique feel,” said Sharp. “Not only title to title, but page to page, and that’s really exciting.”

Still, when you’ve got a line of stories - whether they’re graphic novels, motion comics, or something in between - you need a captain to steer the ship. In late August, Sharp found that captain in Ben Abernathy, the former Editor of Wildstorm known for his good working relationship with creators on the art and writing end of the industry. It was a shot across the bow, if you will... A declaration that Madefire, unlike the multitude of New Media companies that pop up every year at San Diego and New York Comic Cons only to fade into the soft, dusky light of forgotten iPhone Apps, they were here, and they meant business.

“We were always going to need an Editor,” said Sharp. “Ben, I’ve worked with a couple of times over the last ten years, and he’s just a great, great guy But apart from everything else, I just couldn’t carry on without him. It’s been intense on my end, just trying to juggle all these balls... We’ve had an unexpected response to what we’re doing, it’s all grown much bigger, much quicker than we anticipated.”

That included being featured by Apple for two weeks in a row since the App launched, something the “skeleton crew” at Madefire wasn’t quite prepared to deal with. Enter Abernathy, who since has taken control of the content side of the business, and took that responsibility off of Sharp’s shoulders.

So what’s next for Madefire, now that Abernathy is on board? With an official Editor, would Madefire be less curated, and more open to a submission process? “Well the submission process began the second Abernathy came on board,” said Sharp, laughing. “He just got inundated... So one thing we’re sure about is there’s not going to be any shortage of story teams and material.”

That includes Steve Niles, Jimmy Palmiotti, and more... There’s been no shortage of creators looking to get on board with Madefire, which is, of course, good news for the company. And it’s not even limited to creators: Publishing companies are talking about having dedicated channels on the App, not as ways of repurposing material (see above for the reason why), but to create entirely new, dedicated content. That doesn’t mean Publishers will be using this as a way of trying out comics digitally before print, though: everything will be built through the Madefire tool, making it semi-prohibitive to then go out and print a book later.

There’s also Manga, all-ages books, and more in the queue. “What are the next steps?” said Sharp. “There’s so many doors open at the moment, we’re trying to decide which ones are the wisest ones to step through.”

The Madefire App is now available on iTunes!