Welcome to the first extended interview from COMICS FOR FILM, GAMES AND ANIMATION/em>!
For this inaugural edition, I give the floor to the inimitable Dr. Christy Dena. In this interview, Christy and I talk about the basics of transmedia storytelling and the potential for comics in a transmedia application. Everything except the final question of this interview appears in chapter five of COMICS – thanks a million, Christy!
What storytelling possibilities does transmedia storytelling offer? In what ways (other than the obvious) does the storytelling differ from a mono-media approach?
What I love about transmedia is that I can combine artforms that I love through a beautiful creative challenge. It is hard to make different artforms work together in an elegant way, and I love that both digital and traditional media can work together. Another thing I love about transmedia is the ability to play with the variety of story (and game) approaches. Episodic storytelling in mono-media (a film trilogy, TV or book series for instance) enables the writer to delve deep into the characters lives. You can do this with transmedia, but you also have the restriction/opportunity of delving into those lives with different artforms. That changes what you can do and allows you to play with your world more.
To anyone considering a transmedia approach to their story, what is the one piece of advice that you’d give them?
Use artforms that you love. Painters, filmmakers, and game developers all work with the artforms they love. For some reason when people are exploring transmedia for the first time, they often choose media that is popular. I understand many projects are created to target a particular market. But if you’re serious about exploring transmedia as an artform, then create with media that you already work with, love or are genuinely curious about. These drives will give your project a starting point that comes from sincere expression, not cheap mimicry.
How open do you recommend content creators be to allowing the audience to expand and create their own stories within a universe?
Frankly, I do not recommend creators be open if they’re not already inclined that way. Creating projects that encourage, acknowledge and utilise audience-created content have different design requirements. It is a different project, and it is hard. If you’re not interested in seriously doing it, then I don’t recommend they go there.
But it should also be noted that you can’t stop your audience doing anything. So while your project may not be designed for audience expansion to be a part of the main project, there are other options. Acknowledgement of their self-driven efforts would be ideal!
What is the biggest mistake you see creatives making when shifting to a transmedia aesthetic? How do you recommend they fix it?
There are a few that I see happen over and over again, and so I’ll quickly mention them.
a) As I explained earlier, creatives rarely choose media platforms according to what they have skill in, love or are curious about. Ask if the artforms you choose have a function other targeting a certain market (or perhaps even cost), if not, then choose again.
b) I’ve seen many creatives not consider points-of-entry – the different paths through your entire project. If you have spread your narrative across different artforms, then your audience will be able to access your story in any order. Some may read the comic first, and then the webisode, and vice versa. So I always recommend creatives do a POE check. If there is a particular order they want to encourage, there are various techniques they can institute to control the direction of access. However, if you have no control over POE, then make sure the plot works no matter what order.
c) Newcomers often create or commission content in another medium that is insubstantial. This is another symptom of not seeing the collection of artforms as being an equal part of the meaning-making process. While there is nothing wrong with having small pieces of content spread across your different artforms, there needs to be a conscious decision about the degree of depth. Consider how much effort does it take to access or use the artform? If a moderate to high amount of effort, then make sure there is enough content there to justify the activity. There are other reasons for providing substantial content, but this is one that crucial.
Is transmedia really anything new? Or has it always been around and we just now have a name for it?
I have presented and published on this topic many times, because it is an important one. If we classify transmedia as the employment of multiple media platforms (artforms, environments, whatever), then there have been artists doing this throughout time. However, if you view transmedia as the latest development in franchise practice, then it is new! I personally find the urge to combine media that have been artificially separated will always happen. It is an artistic urge that will keep inspiring generations of practitioners.
Any comments about the use of comics in transmedia?
I’m a huge fan of animation, and I see comics as being a key part of what makes these art forms work in transmedia. One of the issues with transmedia design, is the friction caused by certain elements. For instance, the jump from a narrative-based medium to a game-based medium is often too big for most audiences. It is for this reason I find animation and comics to be a compelling proposition for transmedia. 2D and 3D moving and static imagery are the only artforms that maintain across media. You can create a world on mobile, broadcast, Internet, console, print, and so on and it all can maintain the same visual appearance. This means your world has a continuity that facilitates your audience getting involved with all the media platforms. That rarely happens with other artforms.