Madefire [RIP]

I guess I can talk about this now, after news broke back in April that digital comics publisher Madefire was shutting down. I did a lot of work for Madefire during a 3-year stretch from 2016 to 2019. I was hired to develop an extensive treatment for a reimaging/modernization of Edgar Allan Poe character C. Auguste Dupin, which is generally considered to be the origin of detective fiction, a precursor that predates even Sherlock Holmes.

I got to work with an artist I’d wanted to work with for a while, Matthew Southworth (Stumptown), and the entire Madefire team, great people like editor Kevin Buckley and principle Liam Sharp (Green Lantern, Wonder Woman). It was a great experience that paid well, where I saw a path not only from motion comics to print, but it even gave me the opportunity to write a video game treatment for the property (something I’d never done before!), and participate in polishing a spec TV script along the way.

I initially outlined three entire arcs of comics, placing C. Auguste Dupin (or “CAD” as we called him) in modern day Baltimore as a sort of psychic/occult consultant for Baltimore PD. It was really fun, part police procedural, part X-Files, and part farcical acid-trip break-from-reality; it spanned a back story involving the French Foreign Legion, to an homage-paying trilogy of tales, including tracking brutal serial killers, to cutting edge cyber-crimes, to fever dream nautical adventures with Lovecraftian horror overtones harkening back to their Victorian origin.

As a large portion of my 5-year attempt at writing comics turned out to be, I got paid really well to do some of my best work, which was never published, and nobody will ever see! What you see up top is a screen grab of the credits sequence from the first arc, The Murders in Ravenstown, with floating crabs feasting on dead bodies in Chesapeake Bay, part of the nightmare visions CAD was able to tap into when reading a crime scene, which ultimately helps him solve some cases.


Man Made Lake by Aidan Koch (Mini Kus! #94)

Aidan Koch's big, bold, colorful figures bend and pose in large panels that are capable of eliciting strong emotional responses. Like standing before an oversized Mark Rothko painting, there are panels here that seem to focus on a solitary color or two, hitting immensely somber tones that prove "less is more." Koch's work has always seemed to be fascinated by the relationship between man and the natural world. While Man Made Lake is no exception to that oeuvre, it also introduces the idea that attempts to analyze meaning in a person, a statement, a book, or a work of art, or anything really, can sometimes subvert the very nature of the piece. Our attempts to understand something often undermine the very feeling it expresses, or dilute the raw intensity of the emotion it can provoke.


Pirate & Parrot by Lukas Weidinger (Mini Kus! #93)

Pirate & Parrot is an extremely colorful, near Day-Glo, aesthetic melange of sea-faring pirates, sea creatures, prostitutes, modern cops, and coke smugglers that somehow manages to do everything from funny anthropomorphism, to comment on the nature of friendship, to examine the mysterious duality of man. Weidinger's narrative climax seems to be Parrot swooping in to swiftly save his newfound friend, but in the wild not-quite-fourth-wall-breaking thematic climax, the self-referential characters comment about their mercurial motives. It's a reminder that we are all somewhat multifaceted; we are all capable of being the lecherous Pirate AND the benevolent Parrot simultaneously, depending on the context and the psychological drivers at play, and that's something to be celebrated, to revel in. Weidinger wisely uses interesting perspectives and camera placement to alter the POV of the audience, and to emphasize how context can be everything. The oppressors become the oppressed, power dynamics shift, and the type of energy you expend today may well be visited upon you in the future. 


Finnegans Wake by Nicolas Mahler (Mini Kus! #92)

Nicolas Mahler's visual adaptation of select passages from the eponymous (notorious?) James Joyce novel is challenging to parse, but is aided by the addition of a Mutt & Jeff inspired duo who are able to clarify some of the proceedings through their antics. With repeated readings, it's possible to pull meaning from the art and the devolved (hyper-evolved?) linguistic style. There are numerous catchy instances that grab your attention and feel like an intriguing foothold, such as the use of "Echoland,"and I particularly enjoyed the time-jumps, which seem to infer that the death of Finnegan is something of a recurring motif that comments on the very nature of life and death, or in answer to the elusive eternal questions of "What has gone?" and "How it ends?" the only answer can be "Forget, remember! Forget!"


Sufficient Lucidity by Tommi Parrish (Mini Kus! #91)

Parrish's use of long languid figures that fully inhabit the panels is just gorgeous. The figures are then placed in very confidently rendered architectural spaces, with the hardscapes and landscapes being neatly arranged with light-sourcing expertly controlled by the artist. Sufficient Lucidity seems initially concerned with the concept of possession in the modern world as an individual attempts to reclaim their cat from former roommates, but it really transcends to become about the strain of failing relationships in a more general sense. We quickly learn that repairing such interpersonal dynamics has to start with an examination of self. Parrish also injects the work with other tensions, such as the differences between communal urban living and rural tranquility ("...stranded in the woods with all these guitar boys and straight people."). It builds to the understanding that by providing contrast between what we're accustomed to, and new surroundings with an altered context, we can achieve these lucid moments of honesty that clarify our own feelings and allow us a platform from which we can successfully engage with others. 


s! #39 (The End)

Baltic Comics Magazine s! #39 is an anthology loosely compiled around the theme of The End, featuring work from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and the US, to Portugal, Finland, Israel, and Mozambique. As usual, it's a delightful sampling of tried-and-true indie voices and up-and-coming artists basking in the enhanced spotlight. For me, the standout pieces include File History by Heikki Ronkko and the eternal nature of a pyramid standing through various eras of time, The Couple by Janne Marie Dauer which chronicles a Twilight Zone style episode involving a blissfully adrift couple stumbling upon a future version of themselves that manages to be both sweet and chilling. Dauer's use of color pops in the foreground, while using muted colors in the background that provide a somber undercurrent. Italy's Marco Quadri contributes Blind Side, which underscores the notion of not rushing or forcing issues to their conclusion - which can be counterproductive, and letting things unfold naturally. I very much enjoyed Christopher Sperandio's The Motherfucking End, which highlights the ludicrous nature of deposed President Trump's public statements, by juxtaposing actual nonsensical quotes from him with a bumbling seemingly innocent Dennis The Menace-like Sunday newspaper cartoon strip aesthetic. Iris Yan's Ashes to Ashes uses a stark black and white style to examine the end of life proceedings of different cultures and how formal systems and customs process the dead both literally and figuratively. A Bedtime Story by Hans Nissen is an excellent piece that frames a discussion on the nature of death between a father and young daughter, and how we can perceive the passage of time slipping away. The notion of diminishing returns and joyful experiences being diluted really resonates. I adored The End by Katharina Kulenkampff, which is a series of single-panel-page vignettes that uses textured patterns to capture a range of existentialism, from the apocalyptic, to the apocryphal, to the celebratory. Overall, the pieces contained within s! #39 settle on the idea of "The End" being about cyclical renewal, with beginnings building toward endings, and endings signaling new beginnings. Life and Death do not exist without the other, and revolve around the idea of recurrence. Nicole Zaridze's excellent piece Doomsday says as much, showcasing the balance of an eye-popping sun, bathed in warm oranges and yellows, and a shadowed melancholy moon as counterpart, whose fates are forever intertwined.


Banal Complications by Marc Bell (Mini Kus! #90)

Banal Complications is a dense read, and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense. There's a lot of content and entertainment value for the $. Chop Salad is an artist who begins a journey to NYC to reclaim some 50 of his art pieces from solo shows, which appear to be out of favor. Banal Complications is also exactly what the title implies, a tale chronicling the convoluted management of works, from sales to donations, loans, bartering, and reframing all across North America. Bell uses blocks of free-floating text with spot illustrations to also highlight difficulties with living arrangements, spaces, taxable income, and the endless myriad of tasks that talent must contend with and juggle in The Life of an Artist. Bell also shows some of the sample works of art, which adds to the overwhelming volume of mind-numbing details and bizarre nonsensical guidelines emanating from galleries, landlords, and the government. Once you surrender to the chaos magic of the information being shoveled at you and exactly how the sausage is made once you glimpse behind the scenes, Banal Complications enjoyably sells it points.