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.

After all the weeks and months of talk, it’s finally here. The DC52 relaunch has happened. Whether you agree with their tactics or not there’s no denying they have created a buzz about the comics industry that we haven’t seen in years. Forget Civil Wars, Secret Invasion, or the death of Steve Rogers, Bruce Wayne et. al., this is the most excited I’ve been about a mainstream comic since 1991. Back then I was a wide-eyed 13 year-old and Marvel released Jim Lee’s X-Men #1, now here he is again changing the world of comics, but will it be for better or for worse?

Back in 1991 with the launch of X-Men#1 the comics industry was at the peak of the 90s boom. X-Men #1 sold over a million copies thanks to multiple variant covers in foils and bags and was (And still is) the most successful comic of all time. The aftermath of this was a few more years of boom for Marvel, but would quickly be followed by bust as the bottom fell out of market as a result of over exposure to variant collectors editions. However for Lee himself it would be the catalyst for the formation of Image Comics and a new generation of creator owned titles via his Wildstorm studios.

Fast forward 20 years and Lee is top dog at DC, and he is again relaunching one of the comics world’s top titles in Justice League. But this time, instead of pushing the multiple variants of print editions it’s all about the power of digital. Justice League will not only be a huge selling print title thanks to it’s big name creative team but it is being released and pushed heavily via the DC Comics app and via ComiXology’s Comics. There is no doubt that this will be the best selling digital comic of all time within 24 hours of it’s release and it’s effect on the potential digital market is huge. Lee, a self confessed Apple geek, has clearly learned something from the Cupertino computer giant with his strategy of midnight opening at comic shops, but he is also keenly aware of the impact that digital is going to have on the future of comics.

A lot of industry analysts scoffed when the pricing structure was released and we learnt that the issue 1s would be $3.99 compared to a standard $2.99 for future, but just as Apple don’t compromise on price, neither does DC. Lee, Geoff Johns and co are making hay while the sun is shining and making money from their cash cows while they can, however they are also maximizing the influence their major titles can have in order to create a trickle down effect for the entire comics market. This price won’t deter the hardened comics fans who will buy both print and digital edition and won’t stop Justice League and the others from being the best-selling books of the year. But thanks to the ease of digital purchase, it may just encourage readers to buy other titles from this relaunch once they experience the simplicity and quality that comes from buying Justuce League. Once readers see how easy it is to simply click on Action Comics, Batman or Booster Gold while browsing through the comics app then DC will rely on these readers looking to do the same thing again in 4 weeks time (or when they receieve push notifications from the app to remind them of just how easy it was to buy that initial title) Gone is the need to go into a comic store on release and day and pay with real money, with an app and micro payments a reader can buy every book they want and the bill will magically appear a few days later. This is the tipping point for print and digital and just as Lee was a central figure in the last shift in the business in the late 90s, so here he is a again in 2011. Let’s hope this is the start of a new golden age, not the pinnacle of another boom.

One final question remains though, as a comic is it any good? Quite simply, it’s superb! I’m prepared to concede I am not a massive DC reader, but it is casual readers like me who haven’t read DC titles in years (if at all) who this relaunch is aiming at. Just as Ultimates refreshed the Marvel line up in 2000, so this will refresh and bring in new readers by updating continuity and re-telling, not just origin stories, but early tales of how character met and formed bonds before they had 30 years of back story to muddy the water. As always, Lee’s artwork is bristling with finely honed detail and stunning characters and settings. His Batman still bristles with the grit and edge of his Hush artwork, but it is Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern that is the real star of the book with Jim’s over active imagination crafting amazingly complex backgrounds out of Hal’s super powered creations. But it is also Geoff Johns’ script that is a winner. Mixing humour and character and crafting a fantastic revised DC Universe uncluttered by multiverses and extraneous characters, this is good old fashioned comic book story-telling but with a true 21st century look and feel. Well worth investing your time and money in.

With the number of digital comics released increasing every week, the ComiXology team have released a brand new version of their Comics app. Version 3.0 is a complete overhaul of the old app, with everything from a new look store front to fantastic new browsing and search features that makes the experience of using it more intuitive than before.

The Angel PapersWith self publishing becoming increasingly easy in the digital world, it’s never been a better time to produce your own comic. UK writer and artist Tony Wicks has fully embraced that ideal as not only is his web comic Angel Papers released digitally, but earlier this year he announced to the world that was now producing it completely on his iPad. This was the first time I had heard of someone embracing the world of the iPad so wholeheartedly when it came to comics and so I thought I would drop him a line and ask him how he goes about producing a comic exclusively on an iPad.

Comic Heroes - Old Habits (Die Hard)If you were to create a ven diagram of this site, then on one side you would have comics, on the other side you would have iPads and right in the middle where the two circles overlap would be Comic Hero: Old Habits (Die Hard). An interactive comic which you can read on your iPad it mixes old school text adventures with pulp crime comics. Starting in a jail cell you choose the direction you want the story to go in and it takes you on some wild and wonderful adventures. The folk behind it are developers Black Tobacco with writer Santiago Herrero and artist Manuel López Arambarri so I dropped them a line and asked them about the success of this great new app.

Champion! preview issueThe world of magazine publishing is a dynamic and shifting landscape that is seeing the old world order of printed pages being slowly usurped by a new dynamic digital world of interactive apps and websites. Since the closing of Wizard in January this year the main source for comics news has been via websites like Comic Book Resources, but now that gap may be filled with the arrival of Champion! – the ultimate comic book magazine.

An interactive iPad app/magazine from former Wizard Creative Director Steve Blackwell and former Wizard Editor in Chief Mike Cotton Champion! contains news, previews and interactive interviews . A free preview issue is now available on iTunes and it features Jim Lee discussing the DC relaunch and a roundtable with Mark Millar, Mike Mignola and Robert Kirkman on the growth of creator owned comics.  As well as traditional magazine style pages, there are also interactive elements such as 360 degree rotating product shots of action figures and embedded audio in the interviews. There also an interactive cover with exclusive Jim Lee art which shows you the development of the image from pencil to ink to coloured masterpiece and you can  interact direct with the team thanks to the live Twitter feed sections which allow you to give feedback directly to the creative team along the way.

The app itself looks great and is filled with the kind of high production values you would expect from such an experienced team. As with all launches, the first issue is still quite buggy with many of the pop ups not disappearing properly and so not allowing you to return to the original text which you have just navigated out of. However there are enough potentially new and exciting ideas in this that it will fill you with confidence about the product going forward as the potential is there for it to be something genuinely exciting.

The preview issue is available for free here with the first complete issue arriving 1st September

As a graphic designer I’ve always been a big fan of the look of a comics – often more so than the story. Growing up I used to love analysing the lettering in old comics books and then in the 90s everything changed with advent of digital and a new generation of super talented typographers started to appear. One of my favourites was Chris Eliopoulos whose work I first noticed on the Erik Larsen run of Amazing Spider-man and later on Savage Dragon. Chris’ lettering really captured the fun of Larsen’s artwork and later when I saw his artwork on Franklin Richards and Desperate Times I became a fan for life. Having seen Chris tweet about his love of all things Apple I dropped in a line to interview him for MacFormat, but while we chatted about iMacs and Thunderbolt ports, I also asked him a few questions about his new book Cowboy and his plans for it’s digital release.

British artist Frazer Irving has worked his distinctive magic on such diverse books as classic 2000AD to Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated. If you’ve seen his digital artwork on his blog or Tumblr, then you will know he is a man who loves the world of digital comics, so I dropped him a line and asked him his thoughts on creating art on the iPad and the success of the DC relaunch.

This month the brilliant Freak Angels by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield published it’s final episode online. A brilliant steam punk story of Whitechapel based telepaths known as Freakangels who are born with special powers at the same time and swear and shag their way around a post flood London. Although not the first online web comic, it was one of the best in terms of great artwork and fantastic story telling. It’s brilliantly detailed, Manga inspired artwork was created by the super talented Paul Duffield (aka Spoonbard) and I dropped him a line to ask him about the legacy of Freakangels and just how difficult it was to produce his super detailed artwork on a weekly basis.

When I was growing up my favourite book was a hardback called Marvel’s Fifty Fabulous Years.  It was a complete history of Marvel comics (up to that point) and I must have read it cover to cover a dozen times. One of my favourite sections was about the process a page takes from pencils to inks to colours to print. The page itself was from an issue of Ghost Rider drawn by Mark Texeira, but the panel I was most interested in was the colouring, which was done by a mulleted maestro named Gregory Wright.  This was in the pre-digital world where Greg was painting with a brush and ink before picking and annotating the colour separations by hand for the printing process. Over the years, I noticed the name Greg Wright appearing on several of my favourite comic books, most notably on the Erik Larsen run of Amazing Spider-man (my favourite ever comic run) and the early issues of Savage Dragon at Image. So when I saw him appear on Twitter last week I thought I would say ‘Hi!’. Greg was very gracious and actually replied to me as he was getting used to Twitter and so I took the chance to ask him some questions about what he had been up to and how he felt about the world of colouring in this new digital age.