When True Ventures-backed Madefire launched last year, it was publishing its own line of digitally-enhanced comic books from creators like Watchmen‘s Dave Gibbons. Through a partnership with deviantART, Madefire expanded to include some user-generated content, but if it’s really going to reinvent the medium, it needs to sign up established publishers, too. So today, it’s announcing that it’s partnering with IDW, Top Cow, Boom! Studios, and ITV Studios America.
The startup refers to the titles created on its platform as “motion books”, which include music, animation, and other effects that you couldn’t find in a print product. Co-founder Ben Wolstenholme has said repeatedly that he wants Madefire to remain, at its core, a “best-in-class reading experience” — it shouldn’t feel like watching an animated film. And indeed, the motion books name was chosen in part to distinguish from the more heavily animated “motion comics” that publishers have been experimenting with for the past decade or so.
Through the partnerships announced today, Madefire will be working with publishers to convert existing titles to the motion books experience, including Star Trek, My Little Pony, and Transformers from IDW; Next Testament and 2 Guns from Boom!; and The Darkness from Top Cow. It’s also helping British broadcaster ITV to experiment in this area with an exclusive, digital-first title called The Trouble With katie Rogers.
All of the titles should become available in the Madefire iOS app and its web presence on deviantART over the next few weeks, Wolstenholme said. And as they roll out, we’ll also see Madefire charging for the first time for select titles in the app (it was already experimenting with charging on deviantART) — Wolstenholme said titles will cost between 99 cents and $1.99, depending on their length.
He compared motion books technology to 3D film and said that “we’re in a bit of a transition” — as with 3D, there are going to be some publishers who build experiences that are “native” to the motion books platform, while there will be others who convert more traditional titles.
I latched on to the 3D analogy, because I thought it also illustrated how I’ve seen motion books evolve, just in the past year. While Wolstenholme and his collaborators are still doing plenty of experimenting — in a recent issue of his motion book Mono, he showed me how readers could explore one of the rooms in a full 360 degrees, thanks to wraparound art — they seem to have developed a clearer sense of what works and what doesn’t. In the same way that some of the best 3D has less to do with throwing stuff in the audience’s face and more with adding depth and perspective, the new titles that Wolstenholme demonstrated were often pretty subtle in the way they deployed animation, sound effects, and music.
“It’s about what the page is asking for,” he said. “If you want to try to come up with equation, really 70 percent of stories don’t need a lot of heightened animation, but then you might want to use something more extensive for a dream sequence or a fight. The story should lead.”
(Another advantage of being relatively restrained — keeping conversion time and cost under control.)
Of course, when we talk about bringing on comics publishers, it’s natural to wonder about DC and Marvel. Wolstenholme made it clear that he’s been talking to a number of publishers, and that this should just be the first in a number of announcements. DC in particular has confirmed that it’s working with Madefire but says it’s too early to announce anything specific.
I also asked Wolstenholme whether Madefire was going to continue publishing its own comics alongside those from other companies. He said it’s important for the company to have its own titles, because that’s where it can really experiment and push things forward. At the same time, he said these publisher announcements are keeping to giving the company scale, and that it’s not in Madefire’s interest to give its own titles preferential treatment over the books that it works on with other publishers.