NYCC 2012: Digital is the Future- The Promise of NARR8 & Madefire

The future of comics is a precarious place, as print is still alive and well and should be for awhile, the digital format is making great leaps and bounds. From the advent of Comixology and its build in sales, not to mention Marvel’s success with their digital subscription, the winds of change have been blowing.

Kurt Christenson and Reilly Brown really began the rally in my eyes of what might be possible with the digital format through their comic POWER PLAY. Although Motion comics aren’t a new thing altogether. Even before Marvel started doing their motion comics, companies like Bryon Preiss Multimedia were playing with the idea of combining sound and motion in comics and during its existence Crossgen also worked on it, but the new tablet/mobile format, as well as advances in technology has pushed things to another level altogether.

Two new companies are at the forefront of the movement, MADEFIRE and NARR8 and currently both are offering their applications, as well as their associated books for free. I attempted in speaking to PR people for both companies to get a better understanding of how they got their investment capital and what type of profit return exists in terms of the future of the business, but to no avail. Saying that I did learn a lot of other things about each company and will explain why both are worth your time and quality of life to experience.

Madefire is the brainchild of marketing genius Ben Wolstenholme, founder of Moving Brands, long established comics artist Liam Sharp and Mobile Technology/Cloud Computing Guru Eugene Walden. It features some of the most well known and talented comics creators of both recent and legendary status with features that run from superhero to noir. Some of the folks involved are Dave Gibbons, Robbie Morrison, Jimmy Broxton (or James Hodgkins as rumors state), Sheperd Hendrix, Dougie Braithwaite, Angus McKie, Mike Carey and an assortment of other folks that any comic book fan truly worth their salt should at least marginally know of. The application currently features six series, my personal fave being what is also considered their lead feature, a book based in noir, horror, and war action in a wonderful pastiche of concepts from the one non comics guy on the brand, co-founder Ben Wolstenholme (although assisted by Liam). I’m also very intrigued by the Gary Erskine illustrated sci-fi story written by former video-game producer turned comics writer W. Haden Blackman tackling his first original IP. I am hoping in the future some of Blackman’s understanding of interactive entertainment may be used in Madefire’s future. The infrastructure of Madefire as a whole is actually truly fascinating. Moving Brands unsurprisingly helped a lot with the development of the product and its marketing and there’s an awesome web page dedicated to it in their portfolio.

On the other end of the spectrum NARR8 is a complete start-up full of unknown artist studios based in Russia. The website states that the founder is Alexandr Vashchenko, with the main investor being IMI.VC and naming Igor Matshyneko, the lead at IMI.VC as the CEO of NARR8. Alexandr is also the lead at one of the main arms of IMI.VC, mobile gaming company GameInsight. This suggests to me that they are all one company under the head of very creative, intelligent men and woman with headquarters in Moscow and San Francisco. At New York Comic Con I was more than fortunate to sit with the head of public relations on Narr8’s part, Alisa Faber and get a bit of a more hands on look at NARR8 and I have to admit, as much as Madefire is awesome because of it’s immense lineup of quality ,well known creators, NARR8 ups the ante in terms of interactive application and a new way of reading comics, novels and even magazines. In terms of the magazines they have a popular science magazine titled PARADIGM and a historical one called CHRONOGRAPHICS. In this issue of Paradigm, which was the first episode of season 1 (this is how they are marking issues, as episodes of a season) it showed off the optics how different animals view the world. Through an excellent combination of animation, interaction, well-written text and fantastic photography I could see how birds, butterflies, bulls, and insects among more see with an added bonus at thend of showing how each spieces would see the same exact scene. It was both fun and informative, which can equally be said of the history magazine. In the second episode of that series, the topic is a very vast look titled “Cortez and the Conquest of Mexico” which takes both a very serious look at the history, while evoking some fun with it through very clever animations. The work is broken down into date segments and almost has the feel of when reading through those historical txts in Assassin’s Creed games where you choose to emerge yourself in the world and accidentally get educated, here you choose to get educated, but also have fun while doing so.  Below here’s some soundless video that shows off Paradigm and Chronographics “in action”, just to give you a small taste of the awesome available.  The same work and energy went into the comics I speak of the next paragraph.

The comics I got to see were Final Feat, based in mythology and JAM, which is a mangaesque story based in Video Games and also features some awesome 8-Bit music. One of the cooler features is that when you stay on a panel long enough you’ll get to see some animation and in some cases clicking on the page will show off another interactive element. This was even more clear in the two prose features I got to scope in FEAR HUNTERS and MULTIVERSE. Multiverse actually really holds onto a tried and true concept on some of my favorite sci-fi novels, the random footnote, but displaying it through much more interesting and intriguing means, such as pop-ups or video animations within the screen itself. I am highly impressed that all this work is being developed from script, to art, to technology, music and animation as well as the proprietary engine within the Narr8 page which runs the HTML 5 data or in certain cases Unity.

Narr8 will hopefully be launching sometime soon, with over 11 titles which you should definitely check all of them out. Unfortunately at launch it will only be on iPad, but Android tablets will come next, followed by mobile and according to what I see, on the website itself as well. This last one excites me personally most, as reading comics while sitting at my desk is ideal.

NYCC 2012: Leaping Tall Buildings Panel aka “Christopher Irving loves Larry Hama’s G.I. JOE A LOT”

As part of what was considered the Academic end of programming for New York Comic Con, there was a panel dedicated to the historical document LEAPING TALL BUILDINGS. Academic was fitting though as the panel was moderated by Hannah Means-Shannon, a college professor in Medieval literature and history whose focus has turned to comics and comics history, writing various theory and thesis like articles on Sequart and very cultured journalistic articles for The Beat.

LEAPING TALL BUILDINGS is a collection of essays & interviews by Christopher Irving, balanced tightly against portrait photographs of the subjects taken by Seth Kushner, all bundled together ingeniously by graphic designer Eric Skillman. The book had pre-requisites of trying to focus mostly on creators who were both writers & artists, but many times that was forlayed to get a true full scope of comics in general and some of the more influential people who helped comics and the industry become what it is today, as there are features of folks such as Dan Didio, currently Co-Publisher of DC Comics after a 10 years as Vice President. Folks such as Harvey Pekar, primarily known as a writer. This widespread look shows that the book has its attention not merely on superheroes despite the book’s title, but on comics as a whole and it makes it a much better book for it. Also focused upon is Larry Hama, but I’ll get to that more in a moment.

Christopher Irving, Seth Kusher, Eric Skillman & Hannah Means-Shannon after the LEAPING TALL BUILDINGS panel at NYCC 2012

Hannah had some very focused questions for the panel, and after getting into some brass tacks behind how the book came about, she got more into the book itself and its creators. I first want to share a quote from Christopher Irving speaking of a creator who had a spotlight panel at NYCC and has been part of some amazing comics, most notably DONDI and Wildcat.

“There’s no bullshit in Irwin Hasen…”

Christopher Irving was raised in a town called Farmville in Virginia where he loved Batman and used to get picked on at school for wearing an X-Men t-shirt. He also really loved G.I. Joe. No, really, loved it. We’ll get back to that, but he loved G.I. Joe, not the show and the toys, the Marvel comic. Okay, let’s move on quick. Seth felt growing up loving comics back in the 70’s/80’s was way different, being a nerd is the norm now for a lot of folks, but back then it just wasn’t cool.

Chris talked about how he used to hide comics inside the pages of Hustler, (instead of you know the other way around). Seth said he was about to say the same thing, except it was Playboy, which Chris said was for babies.

Eric’s best anecdote of growing up with comics is that if you look through photos, up till the age of 8 years old you won’t find anything with him where he isn’t wearing a Superman outfit.

Hannah asked the panel about which character and or work really had an influence or effect on them growing up in becoming tue comics lovers. This allowed for Chris to really really really open up about his love of Marvel Comic’s G.I. Joe by Larry Hama. The flood gates were open and the topic would be returned to various times during the panel. From discussing the silent issue, to Larry Hama’s awesomeness, to Chris’ pure admiration of the man and meeting him. Chris had to even bring up that Hama appeared in The Warriors as a guy on a subway platform in a hat. Chris stated G.I. Joe as one of the best written monthly comics ever. Seth even had a story that he was actually published in the issues of G.I. Joe complaining about the silent issue. Seriously though, Chris really loves Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe, I think he’d marry them if he could. This wasn’t even mentioned at the panel but in talking with Seth later over the weekend it turns out Chris even wrote an issue by issue breakdown of the comic.

Seth Kusher stated that he learned to read from Spidey Super Stories, which was written by Jim Salicrup, now edtior at Papercutz, who just happened to be in the audience for this panel. From there he moved on to Marvel Tales, which was a reprint of Spider-Man starting from the beginning, so it allowed he almost ground floor introduction and then in High school he used his photography as an excuse to talk to girls, much like Peter Parker, coming full circle.

Eric’s comic book love came and cemented during that time when Superman was coming out weekly with a Jerry Ordway, Barbara Simonson, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Kerry Gammill, Jon Bogdanove, George Perez, etc. handling the chores.

The panel started a slide show showing off some of the people focused on in the book, which allowed for some great quotes.

On the recently passed away Joe Simon:

“It’s not every day you get to spend time with someone who is a lexicon of comics” – Seth Kushner
“No one is bigger than Simon” Seth feels.

They did not achieve an interview with the legendary Steve Ditko, but Seth did photograph his door and talked to the security guard in his building who told him “I see him come in sometimes, but I never see him leave”. Chris explained the details of trying to obtain an interview. He had sent a letter of request with an S.A.S.E. and received back a rejection letter in pencil. Instead of being dejected by this, he was happy because he just got an autograph from Steve Ditko.

A big ending of the panel was discussing with designer Eric Skillman, the particulars of the books interiors and choices made, as well as the final cover. Eric said that usually he does the cover first, but on this project the interiors were designed first and a lot of careful planning was involved. They showed off some of the alternate covers during this as well, which you can see in slightly blurry photos, not up to par with my usual work below.

LEAPING TALL BUILDINGS is in stores now from powerhouse books.