Madefire Raises $5.2M, True Ventures-Led Round As It Tries To Reinvent Digital Comics

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“Motion books” platform Madefire is announcing that it has raised $5.2 million in Series A funding.

Madefire’s motion books are essentially comics that have been enhanced with animation, music, and sound effects. The company launched last year with a lineup of original titles from established creators, most notably Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons.

Since then, it has expanded its library by partnering with deviantART (the deal has already helped Madefire by giving it a significant presence on the web, and the company says it will be adding user-generated content from the deviantART community to its iOS apps soon) and by signing deals with publishers like IDW. (Among the “Big Two” publishers of Marvel and DC Comics, DC has said that it’s working with Madefire but hasn’t offered any details.)

When it comes to digital comics, ComiXology has already become a top-grossing app by bringing well-known titles to the iPad and other devices. When I brought this up with Madefire co-founder Ben Wolstenholme, he acknowledged the work that ComiXology has done: “They’ve proved that people buy comics on these devices.” At the same time, he suggested that there’s room to create a genuinely new experience, and to reach a new audience in the process.

“The world is expecting more than just a scanned PDF,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you want to tell a story that’s designed for the screen? That’s really how simple our business plan is.”

In addition to the features that Madefire already offers, Wolstenholme suggested the platform could also help connect comics to other media — parts of IDW’s Star Trek and Transformers comics, for example, could link to relevant content from the movies, TV, and more, turning them into “the pulse of that story world.”

He added that despite the early successes in digital, most comics companies still focus on print as their primary product. Working with Madefire allows them to take a less risky approach to experimenting with the format, using the startup’s already-built technology. (He said Madefire has also built technology for a more straightforward print-to-digital conversion in case that’s something its partners want, but it’s not the company’s focus.)

Even as it pursues these partnerships, Madefire continues to publish its own comics. Wolstenholme acknowledged that some potential investors had a hard time with the fact that the company is both a publisher and a technology partner for other publishers, but he argued that this approach is important, because it allows Madefire to test out different formats and business models. (And if that wasn’t enough, Wolstenholme is drawing a motion book himself, called Mono.) It’s probably too early to say for certain, but he speculated that a Netflix-style, all-you-can-read monthly subscription will probably be part of the ultimate business model.

As for the Series A, it was led by True Ventures (the firm also led Madefire’s $1.1 million seed round), with participation from Anthem Venture Partners, Crosslink Ventures, Correlation Ventures, and various angels including former Apple SVP Sina Tammadon, former Macromedia chairman Bill Woodward, entrepreneur and investor Richard Seet, and Hollywood attorney Gary Stiffelman. Among other things, Wolstenholme said the investment means that Madefire is starting to build connections to the media world.