Thanks to the advent of 21st century technology, comics is in a state of experimentation of the likes never before seen. While comic books have always undergone some level of boundary-pushing—the 1960s’ Underground Comix comes to mind—the medium is no longer confined to paper. Some may limit their understanding of this to more generalized reading experiences, such as tablets, but others recognize the possibility for so much more. What if a comic book’s panels could move? What if creators could set music in the background, enhancing the pages’ tone? What if a reader could examine a scene as if they themselves stood inside of it?
Enter the indie comic book publisher, Madefire. The publisher’s Madefire app allows readers to read like they never have before with its animation of sequences, ability to turn certain panels in every direction so that readers can examine the detail for themselves, and applying of background music. The Madefire app lets out narrative boxes one at a time, in a pace easy for readers to absorb. The different features makes comic book reading an entirely new experience—one that is not only fun, but also promotes better reading.
As for the types of stories Madefire currently offers, see below for reviews of Mono: The Old Curiosity Shop #1, a comic based off a revived Golden Age character, and Captain Stone is Missing #1, an entirely original comic. The variation between the two comics shows the flexibility of Madefire and its app.
Mono: The Old Curiosity Shop #1
Mono: The Old Curiosity Shop #1 by Ben Wolstenholme and Liam Sharp is among the latest revivals of forgotten characters from the beginning of the comic book medium. It stands not only as a tribute to the apeman character Mono, but an exciting new addition to the modern comic book medium.
The comic is a quality read in traditional comic book format; however, Madefire’s reading app adds several unique functions for a new reader experience. Panels are animated, usually displaying one movement, such as the unknown first narrator’s hand replacing what is presumably one of the original Mono titles to a dusty bookshelf. Other panels pull outward at dramatic moments, showing off Wolstenholme’s detailed art and all the tension it holds. Colorist Fin Cramb is choosy with the pages, generally dipping most of the panels into darkness and highlighting sources of light such as sunlight streaming in from skylights and the flames atop of unfortunate buildings in the middle of battlefields. This lighting emphasizes much of the book’s suspense as it either casts sadness over the panel, as is the case of the first pages with the unknown narrator, or points to destruction.
The art can sometimes be a touch too gothic for scenes that are set in either present day or the early 20th century. One might have the same sense about Sharp’s writing, especially with the couple of references made toward Charles Dickens’s work. However, Sharp certainly has literary flourish in his prose, apropos for this pulp magazine-originated title. Sharp’s descriptions in both the unknown narrator’s monologue and later Mono’s journal are easily savored at the Madefire app’s pace. While readers can skip through pages as much as they like, the text always shows up at the same speed as if to be carefully read.
The high point of Mono: The Old Curiosity Shop #1 is the panel with the destroyed town, which the Madefire app allows the reader to examine at their own whim. While a chorus and the scribbling of Mono’s pen plays as background music, Wolstenholme’s pencils are truly breathtaking. The entire setting, from the stars drawn above to the remaining rubble that surrounds the reader—including one building right up against the perspective—are in exquisite detail. Cramb streaks the setting with the occasional red, displaying the frightening violence in which the land had burned. It is shocking, it is tragic, and it is very unique.
Wolstenholme, Sharp, and Cramb have given readers a promising beginning with Mono: The Old Curiosity Shop #1. Most readers won’t know much about the original character beyond the historical summary that appears in the book after the story’s first installment, but the creative team here has modernized an early property and offer something truly original.
Captain Stone is Missing #1
Captain Stone is Missing #1, with a script by Liam Sharp and Christina McCormack and art by Liam Sharp, is a valiant attempt at something new. The main premise is the mysterious disappearance of the superhero, Captain Stone, who was the first superhero in this comic’s universe. However, #1 mostly follows Charlotte “Charlie” Chance, who recalls the previous years of her life as a former child jewel thief and teenage model while ruminating about chess, living isolated in a home deep in the mountains no one knows about, and hunting deer in the nude.
While the comic’s art style is inconsistent, it does vary between experimentive styles that are interesting to examine. As the comic is distributed in both the traditional book form and on Madefire’s reading app, reader experience will vary depending on the chosen medium. The comic’s more impressive panels are better experienced in the Madefire app, particularly when Charlie describes tense situations, including nightmares and hunting.
The dreamscape panel has a bizarre, psychedelic tone with a dark shade of red that conveys nightmares better than any navy could. An eye, through a circular set of sharpened teeth, watches the reader as they scroll up to explore the nightmare space. Perhaps even more effective, however, is the heart panel. With each beat of the heart, the page flashes and a new line of writing appears, panting over the adrenaline of the hunt. It is effective in conveying this part of Charlie’s strong personality.
But the writing in Captain Stone is Missing #1 is not as strong. There are two premises: the one that the title conveys and the one that exists within the comic. In the story, Charlie never explains who Captain Stone is, only that he is missing in the comic’s first page. Readers must read the comic’s summary inside of the cover—which is not a part of the comic’s world—or wait until after the story where there is a fake newspaper article on the Captain Stone movie to find out that he is an aged superhero. As for why readers should care that he has disappeared, even Charlie doesn’t seem to know.
McCormack and Sharp limited themselves by choosing the first person perspective in a number of ways. Charlie’s narration takes on a faux-casual, meandering pace, which is a common pitfall of those who try too hard to make their character’s voice sound realistic. Worse, Charlie has never met Captain Stone and the revelation at the end of the comic about her connection to him does not make a persuasive case for why she should. While the first page indicates that she might start exploring the effects his disappearance has on the comic’s world, she instead talks about herself for 17 pages.
If Charlie’s history were compelling enough, one might be able to overlook the lack of information regarding Captain Stone. However, while the writing of the comic tries to convince the reader that it has a tough female lead, the art is counterintuitive in that it minimizes and sexualizes Charlie (and her mother) several times throughout the installment. As she hunts deer in the nude—for no particular reason, at that—she looks more like a sexbot than a physically powerful human being. Sharp is very interested in detailing Charlie’s nipples as she leaps toward a deer and drawing her lips as sensual as possible as they drip blood. He is not at all interested in depicting women with a believable amount of body fat percentage or even facial expressions that are anything but sexy.
As it is, Charlie does not seem to be the best authoritative voice for Captain Stone by consequence of her writers’ set-up. Her father, who is responsible for her role as his accomplice in jewel thievery, saves her from a guard dog that nearly kills her on one of their many excursions. The sad face of her father on the panel where Charlie decides to never go out with him again and her subsequent teenage rebellion seems to be a ploy on Sharp and McCormack’s part to make the reader feel sorry for him. The page where Charlie writes about how much she wants to get back at her father while becoming a model (what?) and a vegetarian (what, again?) comes off as extremely childish and melodramatic.
Other than there being no reason for anybody to feel sorry for a father who put his child in danger in the first place, McCormack and Sharp cast their own narrator as unreasonable. This doesn’t even go into how they cram even more interests into Charlie’s life, including her prodigious writing career as a vampire novelist (which seems more like a heavy hint than actual characterization) and a naked deer hunter (Charlie’s 180 from vegetarianism is never explained). She’s also a chess enthusiast except she has never actually played.
Captain Stone is Missing #1 represents an opportunity for an interesting comic. The art shows inclination toward an unusual direction and an intriguing concept is present. However, it shows that its creators have a lot of cleaning up to do in regards to their narrator and how she relates to the bigger picture.