Ben Abernathy is a brave man. The former Wildstorm and DC Digital Editor made industry news in August when he suddenly left DC for the upstart, forward-looking digital comics company, Madefire. Armed with a slick, technological edge, a fresh approach to digital comics, and a stable of top drawer talent, it looks like Ben made the right move. Ben was nice enough to give us a few minutes of his time to tell us more about why Madefire isn’t like the digital comics you’re used to.
Mike Cecchini, Den of Geek (MC/DOG): You left DC for Madefire. Why?
Ben Abernathy (BA): That’s a good question. I had been at DC for ten and a half years, and when they shuttered WildStorm, it evolved into DC Digital. It was all very exciting, and I was working for amazing people. But I had the opportunity to see a lot of purveyors of the “next generation” of the reading experience, and it was always interesting seeing what the next stage was. When I met the Madefire guys and saw what the direction they were going with the technology, it seemed like the right opportunity. It’s the right people with the right philosophy, and it seemed like the right time to take a leap of faith. It was a good opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something that I firmly believe is the next generation of storytelling on mobile devices, and I couldn’t pass it up. And I can’t lie, from a family standpoint; living in the Bay Area was a lot more appealing than living in Los Angeles. From a business, creative, and personal side, it all made sense. I’m very pleased with everything, so far.
MC/DOG: Madefire is a unique approach to the digital reading experience. Madefire titles are very different than the types of content we see distributed through, for example, Comixology. There have been attempts in the past to blend animation and sound with the whole comic reading experience, but they haven’t met with much success. How does your philosophy differ from, not just the current digital distribution model, but the previous semi-interactive models that we’ve seen?
BA: In a basic sense, what we’re striving to do, and what Madefire set out to do from day one, is to create a much more immersive, interactive reading experience. On the one hand, we’ve got this DNA of comics and graphic storytelling, and a significant lineup of creators from the print comic realm. Then, when taking into account the capabilities of mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad, we try to maximize the graphic novel content while adding limited motion and sound. We’ve really designed a more controlled reading approach rather than a passive “motion comic” experience. We really wanted to break people from that mentality of “It’s either comic books or it’s motion comics.” Actually, it’s neither! We call them “motion books.” It’s a reading experience first and foremost, that just happens to have carefully curated elements that accentuate the reading experience. It’s a fine line to walk. Every single build of every book we release, we look at very carefully. We don’t want any page to have too much motion or have anything that takes you out of the reading experience. If it does, we rein it back in. Every frame of every book is very carefully thought out.
MC/DOG: You mention “the build.” Can you explain that term? It looks like a pretty significant credit on each of the Madefire titles!
BA: The person who does the build is basically the one who has to compile all of the hard assets; the layers, the motion, the cinematic pans, etc. Then, with the script in hand, as well as any notes from the creators, they use our software to go in and “build” each sequence. We have a library of sounds, as well as ones that we’ve commissioned, and the builder will take a first pass at assembling the motion book. We’ll usually give some notes in concert with the creators, and then they go through and solidify everything and add the sound effects and music. Basically, the builder is the person who is taking all the pieces and putting the motion book together. One of the long term goals with our software is to allow the creators to do all of this stuff themselves, at some point!
MC/DOG: As an editor, has anyone ever come back to you with a build where you felt it was a little too much?
BA: It’s never happened. In fact, it’s almost always been the opposite. We’ll mention what we want, and usually the builder will come back with something better! As you explore our titles, almost from the first chapters onwards, you can almost see how the builders are learning from each other, and how the builds evolve.
MC/DOG: What can you tell me about the Motion Book Tool?
BA: People have signed up on the site for when we go public with it, which should be the first half of next year. Right now, we have an exclusive group of creators who are helping us test it out. Some of our creators do their builds themselves, like Kinman Chan, who did the art and the build on Treatment: Tokyo. When the time comes and we do release it, it’ll be a browser based tool. It’s very intuitive and user-friendly. Which isn’t to say that it’s easy to use!
MC/DOG: What about other platforms? Right now you’re only available on iOS devices, are there plans or a timetable for an expansion?
BA: Well, we only just launched our iPad/iPhone app in June, so we’re still trying to perfect what the app is capable of on iOS right now. There have certainly been conversations about other platforms, but that’s a little further down the line. We’re more focused on what we have in-hand, right now.
MC/DOG: At any point would you guys have any interest in taking some of these titles and adapting them for print? Do you think you would benefit at all from a presence in brick-and-mortar stores?
BA: Well, much like expanding to other platforms, it’s something we’ve certainly talked about. If it were to happen, it probably wouldn’t be in the form of a periodical, though. We’d be more interested in something along the lines of trade paperback or hardcover.
MC/DOG:What’s the atmosphere like over there? You have a staff of about a dozen people, right?
BA: It’s interesting! Once a month we open up our studio and invite local businesses, programmers, game folks, to come by for some drinks and pizza and things. It’s fun. We have a big, open atmosphere in the office, where all of us are working side by side. It’s very different, especially coming from a more corporate atmosphere. There are no offices or cubicles; it’s just a big, open creative space, which is awesome and fun. It can be a little distracting at times, too! But it’s a really creative atmosphere.
MC/DOG: Is there anything you want to say to any comic fans that might be afraid to make the jump to digital?
BA: Just give us a try! It’s a free download and all of our content is free. The only investment we’re asking you to make, really, is time! If you don’t like one of the titles or the episodes, you can easily delete it off of your iPad or your phone. We think we’re providing some great content, and there’s a little something for everybody.
The Madefire app as well as all of their books can be downloaded FREE over at madefire.com