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),

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),


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),

I Gif You the Bird

One of the assignments for #ds106 is to create an animated GIF of a scene from a favorite movie that captures the essence of the movie or a scene from the movie. Or something like that. I had trouble thinking of a movie, but I have been wanting to return to a favorite movie that Clint Eastwood produced about jazz giant Charlie Parker after seeing some of the rave reviews of Forest Whitaker for The Butler (Whitaker broke out in Bird, I think.) As a saxophonist, I was always in awe of Parker and Bird showcases not just the talent but the destructive streak, too.

I am no expert in animated GIF files and used a Mac program from the App Store called Gif Animator. You can move either video clips or single photos into it, and it will create animated GIFs. I’ve used it for a series of single photos before, but this is the first time using it for video. I am not sure I like it all that much. I downloaded a clip (with Download Helper add-on) from YouTube of Bird in the midst of playing a solo, which is where he was most powerful. Then, I dumped the clip (after converting it from flash to .mov with the Leawo video converter app, which costs a lot more now than when I bought it a few years ago) into Gif Animator. The first time, my clip was way too long, so I went into iMovie and edited it down. The clip was again way too long, and so on the third try, I reduced it down even further.

The result, though, is a GIF that is dark (literally and not just the dark soul of Parker) and in slow motion, for some dang ereason, so I suspect I need to tinker with the app settings some more. And I don’t have the patience for it right now. So I am Gif-ing you the Bird.


Peace (in the gif),



Angles of Possibilities: Nurturing Disruption and Breaking Assumptions

Over at the #ds106 Headless Course, there were a couple of videos shared to start the headless adventure. One of them is this wonderful look at creativity and how to begin to break free of assumptions we have about everyday things. In our Making Learning Connected MOOC, we called this “hacking.” Here, Kelli Anderson calls it “disruption.” You might call it “modding: the world. Whatever the term, the idea is to not take for granted the use and function of things around us. Instead, break free of those assumptions and make something new. Re-envision the world.

In my classroom, I try to do this by helping my sixth graders shift from passive users of media and technology into the role of active creators of content. We do hacking activity, make video games, and engage in the world. But even at that young age, they are starting to fall into familiar roles, with assumptions about how things should happen just because that is the way they have always happened. It can be difficult to help them see the world from another angle — the angle of possibilities.

I’ll also note that the students who naturally do this – who see everything from that angle of possibilities — are often labeled “quirky” and “strange” and are all too often undervalued. If recent history has taught us anything, it is that this group of students will be the ones who will change the world in ways we don’t yet know.

I invite you to join the Vialogues of this video. (Vialogues allows you to post comments on videos, with time markers, so that your comments gets linked with a specific time in the video. It’s a neat way to have a conversation about a video.) The more, the merrier, and I would love to know what you think about Kelli Anderson’s presentation and her examples (check out the newspaper one … pretty nifty hack.)


Peace (in the conversation),

The Headless DS106 Begins

I am hoping to take part in the DS106 Headless Course that has just gotten underway, although I didn’t realize it had already gotten underway. So, we’ll see how it goes. DS106 is a site designed to get participants learning more about digital storytelling and using it for creative ventures. I am more in tune with the Daily Create — a daily prompt for creative work — but I am intrigued by how a “headless” (ie, leaderless) course develops and is run.

As far as I can tell, the first tasks were around getting a blog up and running. Check.

And the second task was telling a “key chain” story — using your keys as a way to tell something about yourself. I ended up using Vine to tell a six second story and to be frank, it wasn’t much of a story. So, I uploaded the video into YouTube and added a few annotations. Here’s what I ended up with:

I am curious to see what other folks will do with DS106 and how it might inform my own understanding of digital storytelling across mediums, and how that work might inform my teaching practice. I suspect keeping up might be a challenge but the nature of open courses is that you come and go as you need, and have time for. I need to give myself permission to miss assignments and jump in where it makes sense. (Shades of our Making Learning Connected MOOC.)

Here is the link for the DS106 Headless Course Weekly Announcements, if you want to come along, too. (please, do)

Peace (in the place with no heads),

Making the Bread Come Alive

I created this quickly for the Daily Create at DS106 the other day. The assignment was to make a stopmotion video of something in the kitchen.

Peace (in the loaf),

Panoramic Photography for DS106

Room Panorama for DS106 daily create
Yesterday’s Daily Create at DS106 suggested we take a panoramic photograph of a room in our house.  I am no photographer, so this use of imagery is very different for me. But I was game and I figured, there has to be an app for that, right? Of course there was. I first tried a free app for panoramic image but it was difficult to use, and I got frustrated with it. So, I pumped out 99 cents for an app called Panorama 360 Camera. It’s great, and includes an automatic helper for taking your photos. The app stitches them together for you into a 360 degree view.

I took the iPad and app outside and captured my backyard with it (I wanted to get my dog in every image but he would not work with me!), but used one of the app’s filters to create this different kind of 360 experience. It transforms my yard into a world, doesn’t it?
The Backyard

Isn’t that cool?

Peace (in the image),

This is What Happens when You (me) Hack the NYTimes Frontpage

Tabloid Headlines for ds106
As much as I can, I am trying out the Daily Creates at the DS106 site. Each day, someone posts an interesting hack/remix/create idea and you do it if you can. No pressure. Yesterday, the Daily Create asked for folks to recreate a Tabloid newspaper with news about DS106. I used Mozilla’s XRay Goggles and hacked at the New York Times. I’m sure they don’t mind (ha). I decided to tweak the idea of how we write with my main article.

Peace (in the create),