“Digital platforms offer massive opportunities for reaching new people” Liam Sharp talks about Madefire, Mam Tor and more!

The brilliant Liam Sharp may have made his name in the UK comics scene back in the early 1990s drawing Judge Dredd for 2000ad and then the awesome Death’s Head for Marvel UK, but these days he has become a champion of self-publishing via his Mam Tor publishing company. Now he is set to burst forth into the world of digital comics with the Madefire project alongside long time friend and collaborator Ben Wolstenholme. The first installment of Madefire is set to include work from Sharp and Wolstenholme alongside Treatment the latest creator owned property from legendary Watchmen artsist Dave Gibbons. With this exciting new launch just a few weeks away I got in touch with Liam and found out just what Madefire is all about.How did you and Dave Gibbons come together to work on Madefire and how are you planning on unleashing your characters on the world? Will it be via your own website and app or through a secondary source?
Madefire is a project I’ve been working on for about two and a half years with the founder and CEO of Moving Brands, Ben Wolstenholme. Moving Brands have been responsible for some of the most progressive and innovative rebranding in the last decade and represent some really fresh thinking. And Ben is a long-term admirer of comic art, as well as a very fine artist in his own right, so it’s a perfect fit.

I’ve known Dave (Gibbons) for a very long time, and aside from the fact that he’s a genuine industry legend, I know he loves new media and is shrewd when it comes to possibilities in the field. He was the perfect advocate for us, and I knew if he ‘got’ what we were trying to do then we were most certainly on to something.

As for exactly what Madefire is – I don’t want to give too much away!

Will the Madefire titles be an entirely digital production or will you releasing print editions as well? If you are only releasing via digital, do you think this is the future for the majority of small publishers?
We’re talking digital, but also print on demand. We don’t want to alienate the retailers so we’re working on ways of keeping that link open too. As I see it the fact there are no longer comics in every street corner shop and so there’s not the visibility or accessibility to draw you into the medium, which leads you later to specialist retailers where you can really indulge your growing interest. The net, I think, is the new corner shop. If we can get high visibility there, then maybe we can find a whole new generation of readers.

What titles, other than your own are you most looking forward to releasing and what future titles and characters are you looking forward to most?
We have some amazing talent lining up! Aside from Dave there’s Bill Sienkiewicz, Mike Carey, Steve Niles, Dave Kendall, and we’re talking with Thomas Jane and Tim Bradstreet about ways of incorporating the Raw Studios material. After showing a select few creators at the San Diego Comic Con what was possible they leapt at the chance to come play with us. Dave’s ‘Teatment’ project is a fantastic fit. I think we’re all excited about where this might lead…

Do you feel the growth of digital publishing (in particular with the iPad) is helping or hindering the production of indie comics and in your opinion, what are the pros and cons of digital compared to print?
It’s absolutely helping. Nobody dominates digital platforms yet. We’re all learning and it’s changing so fast. I think there no question that we should embrace it as it’s coming whether we like it or not. As with all mediums, the truth is it’s what we make of it that counts.

What do you think of big names like Alan Moore opting to release books like The League of Extraordinary Gentleman via apps rather than being restricted by the big name publishers? Do you think more creators will follow this lead?
It’s inevitable. Nobody can touch the power of Marvel and DC IP – such as Batman, Superman, Thor, Captain America, etc. These are icons now. They left the confines of their meagre pamphlet-based roots a long time ago. The truth is publishing is expensive, and marketing and distribution are costly and tough to crack. Digital platforms offer massive opportunities for reaching new people. It makes sense to exploit them.

As artists have you changed the way you work to accommodate digital publishing or do you still work as you have always done? For example do you have a completely digital work flow or do you still use pencil and ink? Also do you structure pages differently when producing artwork for digital consumption compared to in print?
I think it’s down to the individual. I love all kinds of mediums, but going digital presents new ways of constructing the material. But even the art of the most resistant of luddites looks spectacular on screen.

Are either of you iPhone/iPad users and what do you think of them as a medium for reading comics on? If you are have you tried using them for drawing on as well, and what did you make of the experience?
I have, and use, both. Love them. And I find that when I read on the iPad I’m very quickly unaware that I’m doing so. It becomes it’s own experience. I’m not drawing on mine yet but I can foresee a time when I will be. The thing is I LOVE printed matter – I would never have created Mam Tor if I didn’t – but with my shelves creaking under the strain of books, and no space left for new ones, I see these platforms as a perfect solution. I can be more choosy about the stuff I really want have and keep, gathering dust at home…

Do you have any concerns over censorship when it comes to publishing digitally? (Or is that one of the positives?) If you release titles via an iPad app will you be at the whim of an Apple censor and how do you feel about their potential influence on your work?
There are all kinds of kinks that time will work out. There are lots of areas of uncertainty, and there’s a lot we can’t yet predict, but that shouldn’t stop us testing those waters. I find the uncertainty exciting though. It’s a proper leap of faith!

What do you see as the long term influence of digital publishing on the future of comics and where do you think it will go next? For example, could you see yourself creating comics that are more like interactive apps in the future?
The question is where does illustrated storytelling end and a game begin? I expect the divisions will be less clear and new forms of experience will arise. There are already apps that challenge these old conventions. My priority, though, remains with the words and pictures. Great work is great work regardless of the delivery system.

Author: Alex Thomas

Alex Thomas is the Editor and founder of PIpedream Comics. He grew up reading comics in the 90s, so even though he loves all things indie and small press, he is easily distracted by a hologram cover.