19 March 2010

“The Original Transmedia Storyteller”?

While I was off completing another 12,000-word chapter for a historical study, I had just time enough to notice Anindita Basu Sempere live-tweeting some of Heroes co-creator Tim Kring’s remarks on “transmedia storytelling” at South by Southwest.

Specifically, he made an observation also quoted here at CinemaTech:

We talked about George Lucas as the original transmedia storyteller, introducing characters like Boba Fett on television first (and in a parade!), and then later weaving them into the narrative of the Star Wars films, books, and of course, toy lines.
George Lucas jumped on the possibilities of building his Star Wars universe (and his bank account) through every possible storytelling medium, but he’s far from the earliest example.

Back in the 1940s, the Batman movie serial introduced the bat-cave before the comic books or comic strip went that deep. A few years before that, the Superman radio show gave the world Jimmy Olson, Perry White, kryptonite, and team-ups with the Dynamic Duo before the comics. (As well as “It’s a bird! It’s a plane!…”)

Even earlier than that, back in 1904 L. Frank Baum took details from the highly successful stage adaptation of The Wizard of Oz and incorporated them into his book series. The old lost king Pastoria and the Tin Woodman’s original name Nick Chopper both appeared on Broadway before The Marvelous Land of Oz. The 1907 Oz book, Ozma of Oz, was the first to tell us that Dorothy’s last name is Gale, but that had been the set-up for a joke on stage five years earlier.

Is it possible to find even earlier examples of transmedia storytelling? What all these works have in common is that they’re not closed narratives so much as fictional worlds in which many stories take place. That sort of approach, and a healthy commercial mindset, would seem to lend itself transmedia storytelling, and perhaps even encourage it.

So what multi-narrative fictional worlds did storytellers build before Oz, and did their various manifestations influence each other and all contribute to a single world? Sherlock Holmes was popular enough to be adapted for the stage while Arthur Conan Doyle was still writing stories, and those dramatic adaptations have greatly shaped our popular image of Holmes, but I’m not aware of Conan Doyle bringing details from the stage into his stories.

Going back further rather quickly takes us into the realm of myths, from Robin Hood to the Golden Legend to the Greek gods. Undoubtedly tales, artwork, songs, and other narrative forms cross-pollinated to build those worlds. But there was no copyright, and no single author had control, so the rules were entirely different.

1 comment:

Jeff Gomez said...

Excellent and rarely made point, J.L. Indeed, transmedia storytelling has been around since very early artists interpreted the stories of their shaman on cave walls, spicing them with graphic depictions of battle and triumph. Lets not forget the pop culture of Japan, forever altered by post-World War II "keiretsu," speeding characters and storylines from manga to television to toys to film even as their universes enriched and chronologies expanded along the way.

Jeff Gomez
Starlight Runner