Tyler Weaver has done impressive work around thinking about comics as a medium for transforming storytelling, and this textbook — Comics for Film, Games and Animation: Using Comics to Construct Your Transmedia Storyworld — is a perfect entry point for anyone wanting to know more about comics (and you might want to toggle between this book and anything written by Scott McCloud) and the concept of transmedia storytelling. Here, Weaver not only tells of his own experience creating a multi-medium story (called Whiz!Bam!Pow!) that uses comics at the heart of the storytelling, but he also seeks to give us some defining characteristics and considerations of transmedia storytelling. (He also includes transcripts from interviews he has done with folks in this field of storytelling.)
In a nutshell, Weaver argues that digital technology and advances in multimedia tools allow storytellers to expand up on the experiences of readers/viewers by incorporating elements beyond text, so that a story might have images, audio, video, websites and other interactive elements that engage the reader/viewer on a variety of levels. The story becomes an immersive experience. When we talk of digital storytelling, and try to move beyond the scope of just audio over rolling images of a personal story, this concept of transmedia conception of telling a story is intriguing, in my opinion.
It is also complicated to conceive and pull off as a writer, as Weaver acknowledges, and there are some hints that he suggests if you are thinking of working in a transmedia environment.
- Make sure each part of the transmedia story can stand on its own, even the fragments of the larger narrative. This acknowledges that some readers/viewers will only want a piece of the puzzle, not the whole enchilada (my word, not his). He cites The Matrix as an experience that failed at this (see movie sequels) and Lost as an example that succeeded, even if it was mostly fan driven.
- Keep the story at the center. Avoid the flash of technology and getting too smart with the tools. If a reader/viewer cares about the story and cares about the characters, they will remain engaged.
- Weaver cites four lynchpins of transmedia storytelling: fragmentation, interplay, depth and choice.
- Use the concept of multiple pieces of a story to create surprise and fun, creating connections to other nodes of the story that might not seem connected at first. Mystery and discovery will engage reader/viewers in new ways.
- Consider the elements of each part of the transmedia. What does audio bring to the table? What do comics or graphic novels have that traditional text does not? How can a video enhance and move the story along? In other words, don’t jam in one way of writing and storytelling into a medium where it may not fit. Consider how best to leverage the possibilities and then use them to full advantage.
- Allow for readers/viewers to go off on their own directions with your story. Be prepared for fan fiction, alternative worlds, and, Weaver notes, don’t be afraid of this.
- Don’t “transmedia-fy” everything. Weaver notes that some stories deserve to be on their own. Resist the urge to create an immersive, multi-platform experience if the story does not call for it.
You might be wondering how Weaver’s focus on comics comes into play here. In the book, Weaver keeps a lens on how comics hold multiple possibilities for storytelling, either on their own or connected to a transmedia experience. There are elements around comics — the use of the “gutter” to create inference and time gaps, for example — that other mediums can’t go to. And comics has an emotional connection to readers, too, Weaver notes. Fans of comics are hard-core fans open to new experiences, and therefore, the possibilities of extending a story across platforms and mediums can be a natural fit.
Weaver ends the book with this thought:
“If there is one thing I hope you take away from this book, it is that most great storytelling inventions were created in service of the story being told … (the) danger we face in this ‘wild west’ media landscape (is) a loss of story, a loss of the joy of engaging with a character, replaced instead with a desire to ‘out-tech’ or ‘out-cool’ your transmedia competitors as you ‘engage’ your audience …. Always focus on the unchanging: the audience’s desire to be entertained by a great story that makes them want to be part of your world.” — Tyler Weaver, Comics for Film, Games and Animation, page 257
Peace (in the stories we tell),
PS — I should note that after I saw Weaver tweeting about the book, I asked if he might send me a review copy, and he did.