Book Review: Comics for Film, Games and Animation

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

I agree.

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.

Where Has All the Color Gone?

The Switch
The Daily Create assignment yesterday suggested we look at an everyday object through a photographer’s black and white eye so that the filter of a non-colored-world might have us examine something that is common and familiar in a new and expected way. I scoped out the room and focused in on the light switch. Nothing fancy. But it has eerie feeling when you use a b/w filter, doesn’t it? I did consider whether to have both switches in the off position, or maybe one up and one down, etc, and then realized: I was overthinking the assignment.

Just take it. I took it. You know what is interesting? The screws. They are nicely aligned, something I never noticed before, but which the builder no doubt did on purpose for a design element. They are sync with each other, and with the entire switch plate, right? Never noticed that before.

In fact, the entire collection of submissions really does capture what the prompt asks: it has us seeing common things with new eyes and noticing details otherwise not noticed. Interesting how photography has that power.

Peace (in the lens),

Webcomic: Dream Scene Mentor Text

My students are working on a start-of-the-year project known as a Dream Scene. They are envisioning some point in the future and thinking about a goal that they have to get there. In the past few years, we have created digital stories for dream scenes, but some technical issues (mostly, moving from PC to Mac and me not being ready for this project) have us instead working in our Bitstrips for Schools webcomic space.

My Dream Scene Webcomic 2013
Or as a flash file:

I shared out my own Dream Scene with them yesterday as they began their rough draft work. Today, they will head into the site and use an activity template to create their own. I love this project because it gives me a chance to know more about who they are as a person and where they see themselves going. Some of them really spend a lot of time mulling this one over!

Peace (in the frames),


Considering … what stories tell us about ourselves

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by gogoloopie

This week’s assignment for the DS106 Headless Course is to brainstorm our ideas about storytelling, and how the “digital” element impacts our understanding of what a story is and how those stories get composed.

We are asked:

“What do you associate with the word storytelling? Before you do anything this week, use this as an opportunity to put down in words what your current concept is. There is no right or wrong answer here- this is to set up your current concept of what story means.”

For me, stories are a frame in which we see the world and reflect upon things around us. Even if a story that I read (a novel, let’s say) is something outside of my field of experience, the story should still allow me to step back from the narrative and consider the world from another angle. I want to get into the head of a story. I also want to get into the heart of the story. When one or both of these are missing, I feel like I have gotten ripped off, you know? I go into a story blind but trusting. I trust that the writer will treat me with respect and show me how to see the world in a different way. That doesn’t always mean a new way. Just different. Yes, I want to be entertained and engaged, but I want the characters and story to resonate long after I put down that book, or article, or turned the power off the e-reader.

Of course, this is all changing now. Technology is starting to chip away at the wall between writer and reader. Readers suddenly have more authority than ever to make comments, put pressure on favorite writers, create entire universes of fan fiction and more. Writers are no longer hermits with a typewriter. Their entire world is shifting with the digital. Suddenly, the possibilities of embedded media, of connected experiences, of fan sites and pressure from publishers is making what it means to write … different. (Which is not to say there are not plenty of pockets of resistance, and maybe there should be.)

I teach sixth graders and I work hard to keep a pulse on what they are reading. What stories matter to them? And how can I take what they value in modern-day storytelling and turn it around so that they are the writers — they are active participants in the writing experience of making sense of their lives and the world through stories.

What’s difficult, however, is the current push to the Common Core standards (for those non-teachers, sorry, this is going in a rant-like direction), the shift away from narrative writing has significant implications for young people making sense of their world through storytelling. Yes, good non-fiction is also good storytelling. But the natural curiosity that most children have begins with a story. Letting that curiosity go to meet new teaching standards is at the heart of many discussions I have with teachers.

Of course, we won’t let narrative go. This puts us in conflict with the top-down standards-based structure, but so be it. Stories have to live and grow, and the classroom is the perfect place to plant those seeds in a way that may only be clear years down the road.

Peace (in the story),


Slice of Life: Connecting and Conversations

(Note: This is a Slice of Life post. You can join in with your own slice, too. Head over to Two Writing Teachers to get more information about the writing activity that takes place online every Tuesday.)
MountainMoonTalk 2013

We’ve just started school but we had the pleasure yesterday of connecting our classroom in Western Massachusetts with a class out in Arizona to talk about a book that both classes have read: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. This book was our entire school’s summer read but the students in Arizona are using it as a read-aloud. They’ve done a whole lot more work that we have and they shared out a lot of great ideas about the book, asked questions and considered a few different angles of the rich storyline of a character who heads off on an adventure in China to bring good luck to her village and family.

This is the first time my students have connected with another classroom, and they were pretty focused and jazzed up about it, even though we had some trouble hearing and they had some trouble hearing us. I realize I need to have a better system of students being closer to the computer for sharing — a little chair or something — and because we are at the start of the year, I didn’t feel quite as prepared as I would have liked for my own students sharing.

But my teaching friends in Arizona — Michael Buist (whom I met during our Making Learning Connected MOOC) and Jennifer Nusbaum — were great to work with, and I love extending the classroom beyond our walls, reaching out to make my students feel connected to something larger than themselves. It was a great first step at the start of the year.

Peace (in the discussion),

PS — here is the whole hangout:



A Fridge Full of Words

This was my entry into yesterday’s Daily Create for #ds106. The prompt was to create an image for how cool a fridge can be. I used an app called WordFoto — it’s a word cloud app — and snuck in some words and letters among the food and beverages.
FridgeCoolFactor Daily Create

What’s interesting is that another member of #ds106 took my image and hacked it, and then shared it back out. She added in an image of Gromit to my fridge. Which is interesting because as I look closer at my original image, there he is! But I didn’t see him in there until she made him visible.

I then had to into my fridge to figure out what it was that was making the Gromit. It was the milk! Wallace is no doubt in the cheese drawer.


Peace (in the pic),

Considering Political Perspectives through Newspapers of the World

Perspectives of the News
I’ve written before about the Newspaper App for the iPad that pulls in newspapers from around the world. But there is nothing like a Global Crisis to take a virtual tour of the headlines around the world, not only to see what other countries are thinking but also to analyze how media outlets use rhetoric to pursue a political path forward. With Syria on everyone’s mind, I wanted to see what some countries in the Middle East, as well as Russia, was viewing the developments of the potential of bombing the Assad regime that has been accused of using chemical weapons on its own people.

Perhaps not so surprising, many of the newspapers in the Middle East were in Arabic, but there are a few English-speaking news outlets. And not surprising, the media coverage in places like Lebanon are highly critical of the United States and focus on the US Navy beefing up its presence in the Middle East, and Russia is outright belligerent about America’s power (with headlines about Obama failing to make his case). Interestingly, none of the Chinese newspapers that I took a look at had barely a mention of the Syria crisis. The coverage from the G20 was all positive news about China’s future economic growth. I was curious about Israel, too, and the news there focused more on the use of chemical weapons and less on the United States gathering allies for a bombing campaign.

The Newspaper App costs 99 cents now (it used to be free) but it works wonderfully well for giving perspectives on the world. (I do note that there is a 17-old-plus warning on the app now, which is something to consider if you are a teacher. This is likely due to the coverage of war and other violence on the front pages of the world’s newspapers). Even without an app like this, older students can just as easily search for online newspapers and analyze the current events from geo-political viewpoints.  Or teachers can hand-pick headline articles to share with a class. This kind of critical research forces us to break out our often self-contained Patriotic stance and come to better understand other people of the world.

Peace (please),

Online Animated Gif Creator

(Bart Gets Jiggy with It)
The other day, I wrote about a struggle to create an animated GIF from a video file. Yesterday, another member of #ds106 graciously shared out a website that does the work for you. The site — called GifSoup — allows you to input a YouTube video file, tell it where in the video you want to convert, and then creates the GIF. The site then pops out code and links for sharing, and allows you the option of downloading. The free version is limited (no more than 10 second clips) and comes with a company watermark.
I had some trouble with a few clips last night, where the end result was a smooshed, flattened GIF. But I think it was a glitch that fixed itself, and this morning, the site worked fine for me. Give it a try. The assignment at #ds106 was to find a scene that represented a movie you liked or did not like, and create an animated GIF of it.
This is from the movie, Bird:

And another one for fun from Futurama:

(Bender goes on a Bender)
Peace (in the frame),

Some Smoothness in the World

Smooth Collection

I have been trying to take part in a photo idea around textures with some other folks, and this first week was all about capturing “smooth.” This is my collage collection (and if you listen, you can hear Kenny G in the background with his smooth jazz. Not that I like his sound. I don’t. But it’s “smooth.”) My aim is to only use my ipad to take pictures, so that has been fairly limiting for me. But so far, so good.

Peace (in the pics),