Madefire (for iPad) review

Madefire brings animation, music, and sound effects to digital comics, but it will take creators who don't abuse the features to make stories that don't feel gimmicky or disjointed.
Photo of Madefire (for iPad)

The comics ereading platform company Comixology is the face of digital comics, but it isn’t the only player bringing four-color funnies to desktops, tablets, and smart phones. Dark Horse Comics, Marvel, and other publishing houses have their own apps and subscription services that serve up the books that you know and love, but Madefire (a relatively new player in the space) dares to be different. Its free flagship software, also called Madefire (available on desktops as well as the iPhone and iPad), aims to enhance the comic reading experience by adding animation, sound effects, and music to sequential storytelling. Madefire’s “Motion Books” technology works well, but creator misuse often comes off as gimmicky and distracting.

The Madefire Experience
Reading Madefire comics is a radically different experience than reading print books or even Comixology’s offerings. Comic book reading, other than the page turning, is a relatively passive activity. Madefire’s books (in the handful that I read) demand more action from readers as you must tap the screen to reveal each panel or word balloon exchange between characters.

If you’re familiar with Comixology’s Guided View Native titles (Batman ’66, for example) you’ll feel right at home here. Unfortunately, I didn’t encounter an episode that was laid out in a traditional manner—Comixology offers a mix of both the new and old style. The comic reading process became a bit too active for my taste. That’s not to say that Madefire’s technology is inherently bad! Madefire allows creators to craft panels that display or remove word balloons with each reader’s finger tap, so writers (potentially) can dig into dialogue without worrying about the panel size.

On the topic of panels, many of the books I sampled darkened all previously read panels on the page. This focuses readers’ eyes on the current panel, but the drawback is that the tight view removes the impact of full-page layouts. I could still see the previously read panels, but the technique came off as gimmicky more so than an effective use of the technology.

Getting Started with Madefire
Madefire features a simple, panel-driven interface that displays the cover art of the books in its library. Tapping the small options icon in the upper-right corner opens a menu that lets you jump to My Books, Creators, Feed, (Madefire’s company blog RSS) or Settings. The home screen also displays the number of episodes (Madefire’s term for “issues”) currently available for each title. You’ll feel right at home with Madefire if you’ve used other digital comics apps.

Tapping IDW’s Star Trek stack, for example, takes fans to a screen that showcases the episodes that are available for download. Bringing a finger to an episode bounces readers to another screen, one that features a short issue synopsis and a preview link. Oddly, there isn’t a way to directly buy a book; you must first download the preview, skim through a handful of pages, and then make the purchase. I much prefer Comixology’s dedicated Buy button.

Previews, however, can be shared with friends via email, Facebook, and Twitter. When  recipients open the link, they’re prompted to download the mobile app or read online in a browser courtesy of a partnership with Deviantart. Most books are priced at the competitive $1.99 mark.

Madefire’s pricing is on a par with Comixology’s, but the library most definitely is not. There were exactly 17 titles in the Madefire store at the time of this writing, and many of the books are indie, creator-owned books (you won’t find Batman or Daredevil in the catalog). That said, IDW kicked in three titles: Transformers Autocracy, My Little Pony, and the aforementioned Star Trek. Mike Carey, Mark Texeira, and Dave Gibbons are just a few of the high-profile artists with Madefire projects, so the books have pro-level quality.

For example, one of the books I sampled, The Trouble With Katie Rogers (the story of a NYC-based publicist that’s one part Ally McBeal and one part Sex and the City), uses the darkened/highlighted panel combo to frame the book like a television series. In fact, it has bumpers, credits, and background music much like a TV show. In this context, the technique appeared more natural, but the art direction itself often cropped in on characters too tightly, thus eliminating the sense of open space and environment. The Trouble With Katie Rogers presented itself so much like a TV show, that after I while I wished there was an optional voice acting track, but I suppose at that point the book would cease being a comic.

The Trouble With Katie Rogers, for the most part, handled audio in a decent fashion with music and sound effects that accented situations. Transformers Autocracy, on the other hand, grated on my ears with the constant metal clanking. I simply lowered the volume to avoid the annoyance, but an even better solution would be for the creators to stop the audio abuse.

Comic CONclusion
Madefire has the potential to be a very strong digital comics platform, but creators must carefully implement animation and sound effects to prevent the additions from being distracting or annoying. The library needs more titles, too. Conservative-minded fans may want to stick with the Editors’ Choice award-winning Comixology as it replicates the print comic experience. If you’re and open-minded comics fan, however, download Madefire to your iOS device of choice and explore a different take on the medium.

Specifications
Type Personal

Verdict
Madefire brings animation, music, and sound effects to digital comics, but it will take creators who don't abuse the features to make stories that don't feel gimmicky or disjointed.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc