Digital comics startup Madefire collaborates with Oculus to launch virtual reality app


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Madefire, a Berkeley digital comics startup, launched and demonstrated a virtual reality app in collaboration with Oculus at New York Comic Con last week.

The free preview app for Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR, a virtual reality device, features digital comics that are specifically optimized for virtual reality reading. The comics include motion, sound and the ability to see the story in 3D.

Madefire initially raised $6.3 million in its first round of funding, according to an article by TechCrunch. Last week, Madefire announced it had raised $6.5 million in its second round of funding, which was led by Plus Capital and several high profile figures such as Kevin Spacey and Drake. The funding is being used in part for the company’s expansion into virtual and augmented reality.

Other platforms like ComiXology also sell digital comics, but theirs do not include motion or sound like Madefire’s motion books. Madefire is now the first company to include virtual reality components in its digital comics, like a 360 degree simulated environment, according to a press release. According to the TechCrunch article, Madefire, however, does not replace text with voiceover, in order to maintain an active reading experience.

“People learn to read through comics — people are transported to other worlds through comics,” said Madefire CEO and co-founder Ben Wolstenholme in a press release. “Comics are words-and-pictures, perfect for storytelling in virtual reality.”

Madefire is currently working with publishers such as DC, IDW and Kodansha. It may have more than 40,000 books available for viewing by the end of the year, according to TechCrunch.

Paul Purcell, manager of the Berkeley comic book store The Escapist, said he has not seen a lot of customers talking about digital comics and has not experienced a loss in revenue because of them.

Purcell added that he has customers who buy paper comics at his store as well as digital comics from platforms like ComiXology. He said he also thinks that people who were not interested in comics in the first place might get interested in them through digital platforms.

“Many people (will) still read traditional comics, because it has a long tradition as a graphic and narrative storytelling medium that people still enjoy,” Purcell said.

Other owners share Purcell’s sentiment. Eitan Manhoff, owner of the comic book store Cape and Cowl Comics in Oakland, said he doesn’t think that digital comics are going to replace printed comics completely, as there are people who want a “break from screens.”

“Anything that engages people in comics is a good thing,” Manhoff said. “I don’t think that they’ll … kill print comics. I think that it’s something that a lot of people are going to try out and enjoy.”

Contact Charlotte Kosche at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @CharlotteKosche.