Madefire’s Comics Bring a New Visual Grammar to the iPad
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all these amazing characters already, and it is quite hard for people to break into that market with new characters. The Treatment is a great example of that, and Captain Stone.”
“This century needs its new creations and its new myths and legacies to get behind,” adds Sharp.
The business of Madefire, for a while anyway, will be to promote those new creations, not necessarily to make lots of money. Wolstenholme says the company intends to give away all new episodes of its seven launch titles. It will also let individual artists or small teams use the authoring tool for free (though larger publishers will have to buy licenses). Madefire will also carry creators’ titles in its in-app store, keeping a minimal cut of whatever price the creators decide to charge. “The whole mindset is about getting these tools out to be used,” says Wolstenholme. “We will take the smallest margin we can. We are really about adoption, for as long as we can sustain that.”
While Sharp and Wolstenholme decided to start out with a focus on comics and graphic novels, the reader and the authoring tool could obviously lend themsleves to other types of visually rich publications—say, cookbooks or textbooks. “We felt we should go out with a genre that has a lot of magic in it, but we believe this tool will work for any type of storytelling,” says Wolstenholme. “We can’t wait to see what people will build with the tools.”
But will they get a chance to see? If you’ve watched the Silicon Valley scene for very long, you’ve seen plenty of startups with cool, potentially disruptive technology platforms get scooped up by incumbents before their products even get a proper test in the marketpalce (Siri, Chomp, and Instagram are memorable recent examples). With that in mind, I asked Sharp and Wolstenholme what they’d do if Marvel, which is owned by Disney, or DC Comics, which is owned by Warner Bros., came knocking. (Together, these two companies control 86 percent of the comics market in North America).
Wolstenholme gave a diplomatic answer. “We would be thrilled to work with them, but we do think there is a lack of new material and a lack of new technology, and we feel like if we gave up on that mission to quickly we would have really missed a huge opportunity to stand for something special,” he said. “I don’t think anybody has established a great reading experience for the iPad, so our first goal is to really try and nail that. We feel there are a lot of new stories that can be told and need to be told.”