Marvel Comics Now Available on Digital Platform Madefire (Exclusive)

Madefire - Publicity - H 2017
Chris Samnee/Madefire
The distribution deal is "a major compliment" to the company, says Madefire co-founder Ben Wolstenholme.

Marvel Entertainment is expanding its digital reach as of Tuesday morning, with a new partnership with digital comics platform Madefire that will see a wide selection of Marvel titles available for the first time via the top-rated Madefire app.

Titles including Avengers vs. X-Men, Civil War, Hulk: Planet Hulk and Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide Vol. 1 have been added to Madefire's catalog, which is available across a number of devices, including web, tablet, smartphone, game consoles and set-top boxes. The partnership adds to a selection that already tops 30,000 comics, graphic novels and motion books.

In a statement, Marvel president Dan Buckley said that the company was "truly excited to bring our fans closer to the Marvel brand by adding our feature collections and graphic novels to Madefire," adding that Madefire's platform "is the perfect addition to our digital portfolio. Their award-winning technology is an excellent complement to that portfolio allowing us to reach more fans and broaden our digital comics offering."

Launched in 2011, Madefire is a digital publishing platform with an impressive creative pedigree. Not only is Liam Sharp, recently an artist on DC Entertainment's Wonder Woman, one of the company's founders, but its board of advisors includes both Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons and Bill Sienkiewicz, whose résumé includes groundbreaking collaborations with Chris Claremont and Alan Moore. In addition to "regular" digital editions of print comic books, the company is also known for its Motion Books format, which adds multimedia elements to the narrative.

"It's a major compliment that Marvel is doing with us," Madefire co-founder Ben Wolstenholme says. In a conversation with Heat VisionWolstenholm, who founded the company with Sharp and Eugene Walden, also discusses  Madefire's aims and what separates it from other digital comic platforms.

Madefire has been around for some time, but I think it's a company that's only just appearing on people's radars — first with the DC back catalog deal announced in August, and now this new Marvel deal. This is despite the fact that you've been working on motion books for publishers for years, and have your work highly visible on Overwatch publisher Blizzard's website. 

I wouldn't say we've been intentionally stealthy, but we've been quietly plugging away for six years in the market. Our goal has been to create a great — ideally, the best — reading experience for comics and graphic novels. Madefire is the best-rated reading experience on iOS, which we're really proud of. 

We want to be about great storytelling. We built Madefire of being where the best storytelling of the 21st century is created. The only way to do that is to partner with creators — whether they're new, or whether they're established at companies like a Marvel or a DC, or a Blizzard. It's a creator-first platform, and also a digital-first platform. We figured that if we did that well, we might have a shot at disrupting these massive marketplaces like Amazon or Apple. We've really been focused on that: If we could stay focused on great tools, great reading grammar — for the phone, and the tablet, and TV and VR now — then we might have a chance.

Luckily, at the same time, the world has been engaging in these comic book franchises more and more, especially with the massive expansion onto television. You see things like Netflix buying Millarworld; it's interesting that its first and only acquisition was a comic company — this material is highly relevant in pop culture.

There are two things that really differentiate Madefire from, say ComiXology or other digital comics platforms, for me. First, the motion book format, but perhaps just as important, your reach. You're on Apple TV, on Xbox, on different platforms that are outside where people might expect to find comics.

For us, we want to bring reading alongside watching and playing. The way to get people reading comics at scale is to let them read Spider-Man where they watch Spider-Man, you know? Let them find more adventures of Guardians of the Galaxy where they've watched, or played, those characters. For us, reading, you need to bring that right to where the audience is. We've got to bring the material to the people, not try to bring the people to the material. And once you start moving into different environments like television, via Apple TV or Xbox, or even VR via Oculus, it demands that the storytelling evolve beyond a static medium.

Obviously, you're announcing the partnership with Marvel today, which is a big deal, not least because it's Marvel, but also because it means you have an impressive stable that also includes DC, Archie Valiant, Boom! Studios, as well as original work. How have publishers responded when you've approached them about partnering?

The way publishers have responded, I'd summarize — this isn't a quote from Marvel, it's common feedback — is, we want to reach more readers, obviously, and you guys are on platforms and places where, now that ComiXology is owned by Amazon, it's not as widely promoted or available. Apple is Apple, with iBooks. We're agnostic; we're on iOS, Windows, Android, Apple TV…. We're free to roam, we're not allied to any of these forces. We have publishers saying, well, you have more reach, a great experience, and they also care that we care. It's helps that, in addition to being the CEO of the company, I'm also the creator of the Motion Book Mono; it shows that we really care about graphic fiction, which really matters to them. We want to see the next 100 years of graphic fiction be what it can be, not just reflecting what the last 100 years have been, as amazing as it's been.

Not only in terms of creativity, but also in outreach.

When we say we want to get reading alongside watching and playing, that's potentially the thing that all publishers want to happen. All of the traffic volume is — well, to use Marvel, the people that watch Spider-Man: Homecoming far outnumber the people who read The Amazing Spider-Man. They may well love to dip into Spider-Man comics, once they remember that they love Spider-Man. The adjacency is important. We don't have every answer, but making sure that the comics are over every platform, and especially the dominant playing and watching platforms, is important.

To give you an example: Blizzard, who make World of Warcraft and Overwatch, they put the motion comics right there on [Blizzard online hub] Battle.net, because the motion books work. They're right there on the launcher page. The traffic is in the million of readers. It shows you what happens when you put reading alongside watching and playing. We need to put this material where the traffic is. We need to put this material into people's lives.

At the end of the day, people ask who we're competing with — we're competing for five or ten minutes of people's days. Wherever they are: living room, bedroom, work, website, VR experience, wherever. It's only common sense, really.