"We’re trying to build tools that empower creators to do the next wave of storytelling," says Ben Wolstenholme. Last year, his Madefire publishing platform was released to a select group of people from the comics industry (like Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons) with the idea of pushing the grammar of comic books forward. With new devices like Apple’s iPad, Madefire wanted to move digital comics from flat pages to something more dynamic, called Motion Books (video below), full of slick transitions, animation, and audio. Now, the company is teaming up with DeviantArt — the web’s biggest community for science fiction, fantasy, and comic book artists — and the pair are wagering that by putting the Madefire publishing tool in the hands of amateur illustrators and storytellers, they’ll be able to democratize the market and, hopefully, make some great stories.
In two months, the first applicants will be able to start using the publishing tool
Beginning today, visitors to DeviantArt will be able to access a new Motion Book section on the site, which will let you browse 12 books that are already available on the Madefire iOS app through a new (Flash) web player. But the bigger news for would-be writers and artists is that you can sign up for access to Madefire’s browser-based creation tool, which Wolstenholme says is comparable in complexity to PowerPoint or Keynote. And in two months, the first applicants will be able to start using the publishing tool, which will be available alongside DeviantArt’s other cloud services like Sta.sh Writer and the recently-renamed Sta.sh Muro, its layer-based painting and compositing app.
"There's been a lot of regurgitation and repurposing of stories and characters."
Content creators will be able to sell their books both through DeviantArt’s own premium content platform and Madefire’s existing iOS apps (no Android in the short term), and while the revenue split stands to be lower than the 80–20 arrangement that DeviantArt currently offers sellers on its site, "it will always be artist first," says the site’s founder, Angelo Sotira. The companies are hopeful that DeviantArt’s community (26 million registered users and 150,000 daily submissions, Angelo points out) will not only serve as a meeting ground for collaborators, but also help surface the best original books. In comics and graphic novels, says Wolstenholme, "there's been a lot of regurgitation and repurposing of stories and characters, like the famous Batmans and so on, but what's needed is a new wave of storytelling."
It’s still too early to imagine what the community might be able to produce, but the companies are enthusiastic about the prospects for "digital first" publishing, even in an industry currently dominated by Comixology and its contracts with big names like Marvel and DC. "Everyone’s got one of these things in their pocket," says Wostenholme, referring to his iPhone. "Let’s make stories and put them into people’s hands."