MADEFIRE interview with Liam Sharp and Dave Gibbons

15 Nov

by Orion Tippens

All DAY Comics

Liam Sharp and Dave Gibbons #2

Liam Sharp and Dave Gibbons (photo by Orion Tippens)

Inventive storytelling and motion comics: The two come together perfectly though Madefire, a magnificent motion-comics app for all current Apple iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch).

Through the Madefire app, users may download and read the finest in motion comics. Through finger-swiping and perhaps good headphones, viewers enter strange new worlds of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Unlike normal digital-comic scans, the viewer takes in enhanced effects and creative transitions that break traditional panel boundaries. For those accepting of this new and creative style, awesomeness awaits you!

Behind the scenes of Madefire are two legendary UK comics artists: Liam Sharp and David Gibbons. Their involvement and building of Madefire have brought the comics standard to motion comics at a respectable and accessible level to comics fans. They both have worked for decades for all of the major companies out there, both in the US and UK. Now they bring their gold standards to new levels in this brave new digital world.

I had the good fortune of meeting Liam and Dave at the Madefire booth at the San Diego Comic Con. We had an enlightening conversation on the philosophy of motion comics and the development of Madefire. Below is our exchange:

ADC: Hello. For our readers at All Day Comics and comics enthusiasts, please introduce yourselves.

Liam Sharp:  Hello, my name is Liam Sharp, I am the CCO of Madefire Comics.

Dave Gibbons:  I am Dave Gibbons; I am a comic-book writer and artist. I am working on a couple of projects for Madefire and taking an active part in the development of the platform.

ADC: For Madefire Comics, what are your current projects?

Dave Gibbons: The book that I am doing for Madefire is called The Treatment. It’s set in the future, where there are certain areas in a city controlled by the police because things are bad. There are these freelance police called the Treatment, who treat the ills of society. In order to finance it, it’s being broadcast on live TV as a reality show. It’s like COPS, but you can get killed on live TV.

Liam Sharp: The story I’m doing – actually, I’m working on two of them. I’m writing with Ben Wolstenhome, the other founder. I’m writing his book (Mono) and providing some amazing illustrations. He’s new to the industry, and I think for a first-time storyteller he’s doing an amazing job. The story I’m writing and drawing myself, with Christine McCormack who is co-authoring, is called Captain Stone is Missing. It’s probably my opus, a story I’ve been wanting to do for the last twenty years. It’s really exciting.

ADC: For readers not familiar with Madefire comics’ presentation as a motion comic, how does it differ from the “normal” digital-transferred comics and print comics out there?

Dave Gibbons: As for most other digital comics, those are scanned print comics. There have been some attempts to add bells and whistles. There has been some sense and success. What we have done with Madefire is we are originating the work; it’s being produced and designed for the iPad with everything the iPad can do. Now, we like to say this is like intelligent paper. We can do anything we can do on paper, but there is lot more we can do as well. We are conceiving it from the ground up. It’s about telling stories. It’s all about the writers and artists expressing their ideas in the most direct way possible. This is how I described it in the past. The comic sites that are actually scanned comics – it’s a little bit like they have a horse, and they have taken the horse and put it on a motorbike. What we have done at Madefire is that we designed a sports car from the ground up. That’s the difference. Does that make sense?

ADC: That makes perfect sense!

Liam Sharp: And the other thing is that we are pretty keen on what is called a “motion comic.” It’s a reading experience; not a watching experience. It’s very keen that we distinguish that, and that the reader is fully involved in it and has an active role to play in the timing. We tend to call them “sequences” than “pages” now, and involve what Dave coined as the new grammar for this new medium. It’s a lot like moving from silent movies into the world of talkies. It’s a really exciting frontier.

ADC:  How did the Madefire name and company come about?

Liam Sharp: Ben Wolstenhome came up with that company name a long time ago. And then it went into disuse, and then we came up with this evolving concept and it seemed a perfect match. So we brought it back out of retirement, and repurposed it. Ben and I were at the same school, and he has always been a massive story fan. He’s a very talented artist himself, and he went into the world of branding and I went into the world of comics, but we stayed in touch. Just over the years, as the print medium was struggling and the digital realm has been evolving, we just saw an opportunity that was too exciting to miss. So we grabbed it by the horns and figured out what we could do in that realm.

ADC: For artists working with Madefire, are there new technology programs to learn in production of these motion comics?

Dave Gibbons: Eugene Walden, our tech founder, came on and built the Madefire tool and its been amazing as that tool enhances the creators. What we end up with, are stories that are very unique. It’s much like Photoshop when it first came out. It was  meant to be meant to be for photographers but ended being picked up by artist. Everyone I know who uses Photoshop, uses it in a completely different way. I use it an old man way, pulling down menus still after all this time. Kinman Chan, who did a Treatment story, he uses Photoshop in his own way with both hands and with a pen in his mouth, and I’m not even sure what he’s doing. And there, the end result is extremely different too. The tool (Madefire development) that we built, I love to use. On the first day, I was able to produce stuff that really surprised the engineers. I found it extremely intuitive. The hardest thing is less about learning the tool and more about the grammar and the timing and the way things roll out so that it does feel like an experience your engaged with.

Liam Sharp: It’s like exploring new territory. We look and see what the other is doing and see what the tool is capable of. We see the engine, that artists can do that, okay we can do this. It feels very experimental. We are in an area no one has really been before. As a storyteller, it’s a wonderful challenge to think, yeah we got these new tools, how do we best use them. It’s ascetically just a wonderful way to experience.

ADC: Experimental is exactly what i was thinking. I read most of your new Madefire books, and i see a cinematic quality. In creating these comics, what influences are used from traditional comics and beyond when creating a comic for Madefire?

Dave Gibbons: For me, I’m still thinking words and pictures. Its very keen, very important to us that none of this stuff done is a gimmick and that it usurps the story. Once you get to the crazy panoramas like the war scene that Ben has done, has blown my mind every time i see it. When you get into that area, that seems like a perfectly valued spot to have this experience. It really does suck you into that place and puts elsewhere and it’s very awesome.

Liam Sharp: The influences for me. I miss the comics from the 80s like Elektra: Assassin and stuff Dave did with Watchmen. People really pushed the boundaries of what the art can do and what the stories could do. Like in Watchmen, a big influence if you read Captain Stone, there’s meta-layers and information that fills out the background of that world the same way that Alan (Moore) did that written in the back of Watchmen and artistically with Elektra: Assassin, which is why we got Bill Sienkiewicz as one of our creative advisors, as he doing some material with us well. In a lot of ways, it seemed the art stopped evolving after the 80s. It seemed to defaulted back to an earlier setting and I always wanted to work and play in that sort of realm and this seem to be an opportunity to do that and more, and give justification to play again.

Dave Gibbons: What’s interesting as I written scripts for Madefire and you find yourself

writing something that kind of hybrid of comic scripts and movie scripts and you still have individual scenes that come in as a comic. But, you don’t have to mumble them because they appear in the sequence you see and they join up to each other and the transitions between them are like filming transitions, so at that point is a hybrid of the two mediums. I couldn’t isolate any particular panels. So I find in my influences, there are two many too list. This is different because there are things you can do in movies and there things you can do in comics, and there are things you can do in either.

Liam Sharp: Something Dave said; we are cameramen not puppet masters…

Dave Gibbons: That is true, and something we learned in earlier attempts. And in my case being involved in earlier attempts in motion comics, where animation objects in particular doesn’t work and is very expensive and hard too. So what we do is get the movement and get the drama and so you can zoom in, zoom out, change the depth of field, spin the camera around. That is very much what we are doing..we are controlling the point of view of the reader.

ADC: In Mono, in the middle of the story there is this panel where  with a spin of the finger, you get a total 360 panorama shot. What led to that unique and brilliant creative work?

Liam Sharp: The background is quite simple. When first got funded last year, we

sat in our little office in San Francisco and I was over for a couple of months to get my feet wet really. At the time, I was introduced to this little app that takes photo and stitches them altogether and it was super cool. I was really enamored by it and I mentioned in the studio office way before we got the artist lineup and I thought wouldn’t it be cool if I can do that with a comic and be immersed inside a piece of artwork and thought hmmmm. I kind of whipped up a bunch of sketched of of how I could do that one night. To be honest I wasn’t sure if it was going to go any further but…following this up then I found a guy who had an idea of stitching these up together and then we bought some software that we encoded into the (Madefire) tool and then built on that. So began the reality. The possibilities for that are huge. The idea of being inside a inside a drawing is great.

ADC: That is how I felt.

Dave Gibbons: And, I would like to say, its a really good example of how and what we can do so much in addition to what has been done with the comic where your lavish noise, your biggest shot is a double-page spread. And that doesn’t compare to 360 massive panorama plus but that is one example of how the experience is enhanced. it still has the same dramatic effect and it’s much more becoming.

ADC: Would you like to leave a final message to our readers..on Madefire and accepting this this wider evolved format of comics storytelling?

Liam Sharp: Be excellent to each other and be awesome to each other and buy

motion books. Download our iPad app and free books and be open-minded and look to the future. Don’t think of us as a comic or a threat to print. It’s not, it’s different. It’s a new experience that is as great as you allow it to be.

Dave Gibbons: And I would stress that its a new experience that we immerse in our lives with comic books. I love new experiences. It’s a new experience where the best that can happen is that you really enjoy it.

Liam Sharp and Dave Gibbons #1

photo by Orion Tippens

– interview by Orion Tippens, happy journalist and comics enthusiast for over three decades.

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