A simple innovation can change culture: linguistics ('googling'), gestures and behaviors (swipes and selfies), can modify themselves like a virus where nobody is left the same afterwards. The Motion Book™ format, created by Madefire Studios, is one of the most subtle yet promising pieces of software innovation to premier in recent years, in my opinion.

We've basically seen 'it', the thing Motion Books are. Motion Books are Flash-like animated sequences that incorporate tap points (and other features) that allow readers to control the experience. Simple.

When Zack Snyder's Watchmen (2009) came out, it was preceded by a wonderful 'motion-comic' made by peeling away elements of Dave Gibbon's panels, giving them slightly animated life to varying degrees of complexity. It had an energy suggesting something new could be made out of the art without compromising the art itself. There had been some criticism towards motion-comics for being awkward, gimmicky, somewhat pointless. Barely-animated-panel-cartoonage appeared previously, such as the 1960's Iron Man. The Motion Book format seems similar, but absolutely isn't.


In 2010 I attended a panel discussion at San Diego Comic-Con discussing the future of digital comics. I discovered that not only was print publishing changing ("Make it yourself, then pitch it"), but heads were eagerly awaiting someone to release a software platform that would allow for self-publishers to create the same quality digital narrative styles that Marvel and DC were doing at the time. Back then (not long ago!) the industry was pushing for Comixology and such to vend their expertly-crafted digital editions, because the Digital First era was looming like a potential Ebola outbreak. People recall the legitimate concern from brick-n-mortar stores and the Industry was certainly paying attention, taking efforts to make sure stores and fans had options to get their stories without anyone crapping out. Writers like Mark Waid, who is from the era when comics were .25 cents, told the industry to start printing in landscape format. Because, digital. The newer generations of readers were already hardwired to accept the format. The drumbeat was: self publish, go digital, and independent creators must have a say in the market.

Anyone can post up funnies on the internet now, so comics on portable devices are a good match. What was needed was the ability for the indie creator to upload pages and perform guided views, such as forward-back-zoom. The format need to be shared easily: no large file sizes, in a ubiquitous format requiring no desktop software.

After gaining momentum, 2012 through 2014 saw the full-court press of Madefire Studios. Co-founded by Ben Wolstenholme and writer/artist Liam Sharp, stewarded by software guru Eugene Walden, Madefire Studios created the software platform for hosting and creating Motion Books [two words, trademarked].


Motion Books carry a different weight and are not exactly motion. The format can be very simple. Forward-backward page controls. Stories can be as simple as the 'guided view', where a click or keystroke moves from panel to panel on rails in sequence, with vertical or horizontal format. From there it gets weird. Motion Books are formatted with portable devices in mind, and the Madefire App has been one of the most popular downloads since inception. Pages are presented to take up the entire real estate of your device's screen ratio (16:9, 4:3, etc). To read a single panel in 16:9 on a 27" monitor is glorious. Having it move, activate, and generate sound(!!) makes the format 'feel' like a natural digital environment we are all used to. The average reader tends to engage with it like a video… on first blush you expect sound or narration everywhere, expect every image to move. From there, you can have readers actively engage pages with Parallax and Panorama 360 degree views. While this may seem gimmicky (waving a handheld device around in the air to make a page wiggle or spin around an environment which looks so cool), it allows for the very narrative nature of comics to be altered fundamentally. Plot can be 'hidden' or presented in these interactive fields. Not only that, but the moments in which dialog and balloons occur changes the narrative structure as well. Comic panels, originally read left-to-right/top-to-bottom, can be read in terms of moments. Tap points (indicated by arrows on the screen) can dictate when to either 'turn the page', or more importantly continue the narrative as Events. This is absolutely perfect for jump-scares and punchlines.

The Motion Book Tool for creating projects is free to use. Cloud storage for all your digital assets. The interface looks and behaves like a simplified version of Flash, AfterEffects, and Photoshop. Project folders contain assets, added to Pages in Layers. Layers can utilize Effects, which provide the cinematic nuances of motion, zoom, iris-in/out, etc. These Effects are preset categories but the range of customization in these fields allows for a huge amount of control. Very much seems to have the auteur director in mind. You eventually craft a timeline where Tap Points and Effects can be manipulated with scrubber controls. This is all done in-browser. No desktop software. Backups of your project can be saved on your hard drive (it was recommended to save often and keep the file size of each digital asset at 1Mb or under). The format uses .JPG and .PNG, to allow for transparency and Masks. Once completed, the link can be shared publicly or set private. Topping it off, the creator Tool has pre-made editable word balloons, a host of useable good fonts (from such as font-master Blambot), as well as uploading your own fonts. These balloon Layers can receive Effects as well, modifying the narrative.


Madefire Studios had partnered with deviantArt to broaden its audience and seems to have made the format into a stable and reliable showcase. Your Motion Book can directly integrate into your dA account. You have a built-in audience where submissions go to the Front Page. What turned me around to dA is that the numbers don't lie: it is the biggest art website online and survived the dotcom/Myspace boom. Madefire Studios needed a broader reach, and without Google money (nor making it a facebook product, for example), deviantArt was a wise choice in partners if not the only one. It's the right home for Madefire. At least through deviantArt, books can be installed with a paywall where a full copy of the Motion Book can be purchased. Monetization is possible.

Only recently have major comicbook companies rolled out titles created with the Madefire software. DC, IDW, Valiant, Boom! (no Marvel??) have consistently made beautiful use of the format. Soundtracks are epic and the animation is nuanced, but that sort of dressing isn't necessary for a story. The comic titles by Madefire Studios— the utterly beautiful Grimm's Rapunzel (Alfonse Mucha-style Art Nouveau comes to life), Captain Stone Is Missing, MONO, etc, have set the standard of the medium. They have the knowledge to use the tool to it's maximum potential. But there could be more stories from independent creators. Milk For The Ugly is a standout.


Removing the 'comicbook' element from the Motion Book format still leaves my mind wandering. Instruction manuals, presentations that were originally only made in PowerPoint, commercials introducing new products. We basically have a new visual narrative device and it's the creators and readers who determine the democratization.


Drawbacks are few and hardly relevant in my opinion. Some people are/were leery of deviantArt but that could be mitigated. Sometimes the Flash elements 'stick' or lag as they do. Nothing buggy in the code however. There are scant few learning resources for this too; Madefire created a video jumpstart guide and downloadable instructions for builds, but the user base is so small that the experts are pretty much the Madefire Studio members themselves. The true drawback: there needs to be more stories. More motion books, more creators and more uses for the format.

I write this article not as an envoy of Madefire nor any affiliates [not a journalist either, welcome to Kinja]. I am a Creator and I've been parked on io9 since Week 1, homeboy. Creation is all I do other than occupy a human suit. It was my childhood hero Bill Sienkiewicz's facebook post who put Madefire on my radar; he and other artists partnered with the company and are creating awesome stories together.


It's a whole new breath of life for the industry… for publishing, period. I would love to see old comics can be scanned-n-panned (let's see if that gets in the vernacular). I've been deeply inspired. It prompted me to pester and follow Bill Sienkiewicz around Los Angeles a couple times because I need someone to talk to about this obviously. His quick message: make something, make it, make it. Just make it and put it out there. There needs to be more.

Liam Sharp, one of the founders, has been very vocal about indie creation and the need for more voices to broadcast stories. There is a frustration borne essentially from the need for the publishing world to change in the right way, for easier and more effective transmedia outlets. It's not about money. Stories last forever and the primacy of visual storytelling is as human as arms and legs. It now appears that we can tell stories as old as Gilgamesh with a whole new appendage. This is simple but incredibly important. Dave Gibbons described it as "a new grammar".

The Madefire Motion Book format and the creator Tool are a forward-curve technology that could modify the way people express themselves. In the very least it's a flagship for creator-controlled publishing. Even if a more viable storythingy appears in the next few years (which is unlikely), tech like this gives people a chance to stretch their morphic fields like an amoeba in a Petri dish. I want to witness the stories people are telling when they wander into a bright future. Motion Books can only get more intriguing.


[*edit: even with removing my prose, this is a dense read. If you'd like to discuss it further, by all means reach out and say hi!]