Comic books have long been an outlet for television properties to expand the scope of their storytelling and find new audiences. But TNT’s release of The Last Ship – Episode 1 last Friday takes the trend to a new level.

Based on the network’s top-rated cable drama of the same name, it was the first issue in a five-part digital comic book series leading up to the show’s Season 2 premiere on June 21. But perhaps more importantly, the publication marks the first time a TV production has adapted to the comic book space via a pioneering technology called “motion books,” a concept coined, conceived and created by the Berkeley-based app Madefire.

Madefire, which also headed up writing and artwork for The Last Ship comic, serves as both an end-to-end platform for creators and an online publishing outlet for companies ranging from indie up-and-comers to heavyweights in comics such as DC and Dark Horse. Its 40 or so publishers still largely push traditional comic books on the platform, but the future of the app lies in Motion Books, which let creators accentuate the experience with sound, music, movement and special effects.

The idea for Madefire was born in a pub in England, when CEO and co-founder Ben Wolstenholme asked co-founder and CCO Liam Sharp, a successful comic book artist, “what is your industry doing for digital?” Sharp’s response, “Not a lot,” was “amazing to me,” Wolstenholme told Brief,” because it’s such a perfect kind of visual storytelling short form.”

At the time, “comics were in serious decline,” Wolstenholme said, “because they didn’t have any distribution.” A designer who had shown a knack for creating user experiences with his other company, Moving Brands, Wolstenholme saw an opportunity to build a new kind of comic book offering that would “add timing and touch and sound and motion, but remain something that you could read,” he said. Soon after, he moved across the ocean to California, where he and Sharp teamed with the renowned U/I architect Eugene Walden to make Madefire a reality.

The trio’s perfect storm of abilities – Wolstenholme’s design and branding know-how, Liams comic book industry expertise and creative bent, and Walden’s skills in mobile development – has resulted in an app that offers a compelling sensory experience whether one is creating on it or consuming on it. For comic book creators, all the tools are in the cloud, so writers and artists can collaborate and access their materials from anywhere in the world.

Once a comic book or motion book is designed and mounted on the platform, it pushes out to iOS, Android, windows, and the hugely popular social network DeviantArt. Soon, Madefire will be on smart TVs as well, with apps on xBox and Android TV – a development that could serve as a bridge for TV show marketers to engage viewers with supplemental content.

“We were quite shocked with how well it worked on television,” said Wolstenholme. “There’s something very exciting when it gets to a TV-sized screen because it just projects a whole different role into your world. There’s more sensation to it when it’s across your smart TV and you’ve got your full sound.”

The partnership with TNT shows how networks can use the Madefire technology to “tell the parts of the story that they just don’t have time to tell on their air time,” said Wolstenholme. Freely available, The Last Ship motion book is “marketing for TNT and it’s beautifully told and drawn and it’s properly knitted with all their television series and producers and so on. We see reading as a really lovely way to augment and add to that whether it’s backstory to characters or answering some questions that weren’t answered or more of a premise around what the season’s about.”

Storytelling through digital comic books is also “a lot cheaper,” he added and “you can land it a lot more frequently in people’s pockets.” How frequently? At the time of this writing, Madefire was the No.1 app on iPhone Books, ahead of the apps for both Marvel and DC.

“There’s a whole world opening up out there that we feel we’re only at the beginning of,” said Wolstenholme.


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