One may not be familiar with the term transmedia but chances are that most individuals have been exposed to it in some form during their lives, especially those living in western society. Before expanding into the topic any further, it is important to define what exactly transmedia storytelling is. According to Henry Jenkins, transmedia storytelling is defined as, “a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story” (Jenkins, 2011).
In simpler terms, transmedia storytelling is using more than one form of media to expand onto the overarching story of a body of fiction. One of the oldest examples of transmedia story telling that is familiar to most people comes from one of America’s favorite cartoon characters, Mickey Mouse. Mickey made his first appearance to the public in the 1928 short film “Steamboat Willie,” and two years later he, and other cartoon friends, would reappear in January of 1930 in a comic strip that followed a gag-day format, thereby expanding the presence of Mickey Mouse and Friends from the silver screen to print (Korkis, 2003).
Transmedia endeavors aren’t always just for the sake of storytelling though. Oftentimes transmedia tactics are used as a marketing strategy; this method of promotion is called Media Mix, or mediamikkusu in Japanese, and was developed and popularized by the Japanese from the 1960s through the 1980s by pairing newly popularized anime with other forms of media and commodity goods (Steinberg, 2012). Japanese Media Mix can even been seen in the American market today with franchises such as Pokemon, which includes trading cards, clothing, television programs, food, videogames, toys, household appliances, and movies.
Before elaborating any further, it is important to cover what a transmedia extension is. Transmedia extensions are, figuratively, branches stemming from the tree trunk of a brand. Each extension is reflective of a different form of representation for a brand, and each of these representations may serve a different purpose than the other extensions do, as well as synergizing to expand the overall comprehensiveness of a series (Jenkins 2007). For example, the 2015 film “Mad Max: Fury Road” was accompanied by a four issue comic book series of the same name, the events of which take place before the events of the film, with the intent of providing readers with more insight into the vague backgrounds of the film’s characters Immortan Joe, Max Rockatansky, Imperator Furiosa, and Nux.
One brand that has been incredibly successful at creating transmedia extensions is DC Comics. DC is well known for their comic, television, and film characters, which include Batman, Power Girl, Aquaman, Harley Quinn, Green Lantern, Black Canary, Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Arrow, Joker, Lex Luthor, Killer Croc and Flash to name a few. Reading this list of names is likely to provoke memories or at least recognition for most readers, but how exactly do we know these iconic heroes and villains?
The answer to this question from a public relations standpoint is truly fascinating because of DC Comic’s long-standing reputation, prolific repertoire of characters and tales, period of existence and expansion across multiple media platforms. It is reasonable to deduce that one’s knowledge of these icons is largely based upon how old he or she is and what preferences that individual has.
Batman is perhaps DC Comic’s most prominent character, along with Superman, and it is likely that everyone you know is familiar with him, but it is the ways in which we are familiar with him that really demonstrate how expansive DC’s brand is. For example: my grandfather knows the rough-and-tough, mafia-murdering Batman from his original appearance in Detective Comics in 1939; my father knows the delightfully campy, and child-friendly Batman from the 1960s Batman TV series starring Adam West; and I am familiar with Batman because of the mid-1990s cartoon, Batman: The Animated Series, the various Batman action figures I played with as a child, and the gritty Christopher Nolan Batman films, lovingly dubbed as the “Nolanverse” films by fans. These representations don’t even begin to scratch the tip of the iceberg of the myriad ways Batman has been embodied through different artistic interpretations and media platforms over the course of his 77 year history, all of which have influenced and built the character how we, as an audience, see him today.
While Batman is a wonderfully interesting character, his entirety is only a microcosm of what DC Comics represents. There are literally thousands of DC characters and storylines, many of which are incarnated across different media forms, mainly comic books, television shows, films and web series, so that they may add to the overarching DC narrative. But what exactly is the DC narrative, and if so many different versions of a character exist though different stories across different platforms of media, then which one is his or her true representation?
All of DC’s characters exist within what is called the DC multiverse. A multiverse is defined as being the collective of an infinite number of universes (Jones, Robbins 2010). Following the rules of the real-life theorized multiverse, the characters and stories of DC Comics all exist as being canon, and equally valid, within the mythos of DC. The DC multiverse is overtly referenced in many DC series and in some it even serves as a central plot point, such as “Injustice: Gods Among Us,” a comic book series and paired videogame that explores the interactions of DC characters and themselves from different universes (Beatty, Wallace 2008). Essentially each storyline that belongs to DC Comics, regardless of the media platform it respectively utilizes, exists as an independent and parallel universe within the comprehensive multiverse.
Here is a comprehensive guide to the DC multiverse as it exists in comics.
Because of DC Comic’s decision to canonize all forms of their characters and stories, every new addition is simply an expansion of what already exists in their titanic collection. DC’s distinctive mentality for continuity is what makes them the ultimate transmedia powerhouse; every version of each one of the thousands of characters and stories told by method of comics, film, novels, television and web series are all connected and harmonize with one another to weave the most intricate and sprawling tapestry of mythos ever to be told.
DC’s narrative is so massive that it’s hard to compare it to anything else. No other work of fiction has been running consistently for so long (Detective Comics is active today and has had biweekly issues since 1939) and no one else has so fluidly transitioned between different media forms for story telling so successfully. According to the online movie profit database, the-number.com, DC Comics holds three films that are placed within the top 100 highest grossing movies of all time, and one within the top 20 grossing films of all time. 2016 also marks the beginning of DC Comic’s new triple-A blockbuster movie lineup for the next several years; films coming this year are “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad,” both of which are projected to achieve record breaking performances in the box office. Additionally, according to DC’s official website, there are five DC owned shows that currently air on prime time television (“Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Supergirl,” “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” and “Gotham”), all of which have been met with mostly positive critic and viewer reception. These factors all contribute to DC’s massive success through transmedia storytelling and serve as exceptional transmedia extensions.
Although oftentimes the brand itself will endeavor to make transmedia efforts, sometimes consumers take matters into their own hands and expand on an existing brand. This is certainly the case with famed horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and his unique literary philosophy, Cosmicism.
Here is a link to all of H.P. Lovecraft’s works available for free as public domain.
Lovecraft wrote all of his novels within a persistent universe, termed the Cthulhu Mythos posthumously, in which mankind dwells blissfully unaware of large and chaotic aliens, called Elder Gods and Ancient Ones, trapped sleeping within the earth or roaming freely through space and other dimensions (Lovecraft, 1928). Lovecraft’s novels used these creatures as tools to examine humanity’s lack of awareness or importance in the universe around it as a part of Lovecraft’s literary philosophy called Cosmicism. Cosmicism is an examination of humanity’s relative lack of meaningful knowledge and significance pertaining to the universe outside of earth and the projection of its idolatrous mentalities into the cosmos (Riemer 2003).
Now regarded as one of the best weird fiction and horror writers today, Lovecraft had very limited popularity during his lifetime, though he was celebrated by other authors of similar tastes. When Lovecraft died of cancer in March of 1937, several other authors with whom he maintained written correspondence expressed concern over his last several works that had not been published (Biography.com editors 2016). The most prominent of these authors was August Derleth, who was rejected by many publishers when trying to publicize Lovecraft’s final unpublished works. In response to this rejection, Derleth founded Arkham House Publishers where he proceeded to publish Lovecraft’s works himself and continued to write and publish his own novels set within the Cthulhu Mythos (Errikson 2010).
It was Derleth’s dedication that kept Lovecraft’s brand alive past his death and made it possible for others to expand on Lovecraft’s mythos and philosophy to this day. In fact, Lovecraftian Horror is a whole subgenre of literature and film devoted to expandion upon the original sentiments of H.P. Lovecraft. Countless authors, including the prolific horror author, Stepthen King, credit Lovecraft as inspiration for their macabre works (Elsworth 2004).
But Lovecraft’s legacy and brand do not just dwell lazily in one media form as if they were Cthulhu trapped sleeping below the sea, but rather have successfully expanded across several media platforms. Perhaps the most successful manner in which Lovecraft’s brand continues to thrive is on the silver screen. Films like “Re-Animator,” “The Unnamable,” “From Beyond,” and “The Whisperer in Darkness” are all liberal retellings of H.P. Lovecraft’s novellas and short stories. Additionally, “Necronomicon,” “Cthulhu,” “The Evil Dead,” “Cabin in the Woods” and “Dagon” are films that draw heavy influence from and expand upon Lovecraft’s philosophy of Cosmicism and in some cases his Cthulhu Mythos (Kaye 2015).
Lovecraft’s influence and brand can also be seen to have an impact on music and games. Metallica’s “The Thing That Should Not Be,” Dream Theater’s “The Dark Eternal Night,” Black Sabbath’s “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” The Black Dahlia Murder’s “Throne of Lunacy” and “Thy Horror Cosmic” are all songs that directly tell tales set within the Cthulhu Mythos; the bands H.P. Lovecraft (sometimes stylized as just Love Craft) and The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets frequently reference H.P. Lovecraft, his mythos or Cosmicism in their songs (Heaton 2012).
The PC gaming service, Steam, has a search filter option titled “Lovecraftian” where users can find games set in the Cthulhu Mythos or pertain to Cosmicism. Among these titles are “Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of Earth,” “Darkest Dungeon,” “Alone in the Dark: Illumination,” and “Nightmare on Azathoth,” all of which take place in settings directly described by Lovecraft, but have plots unique from Lovecraft’s original works.
Although he has been dead for 79 years, H.P. Lovecraft’s brand will surely continue to live on as it has through the ages due to the dedicated support of his consumers. As long as there are horror fans with eyes to read and watch, ears to listen, and hands to play and scrawl, Lovecraft’s definitively timeless, transmedia legacy will continue to send shivers down their spines.
DC Comics and H.P. Lovecraft, among many other brands, have come to realize the potential benefits that transmedia efforts may yield, but there are still many brands out there that have yet to utilize transmedia storytelling. One brand that does not currently have any transmedia extensions, but would greatly benefit by taking advantage of them is League of Legends.
League of Legends is an online multiplayer videogame. Specifically the game is a real-time strategy game set in a battle arena. Gameplay revolves around quick reactions and tactical knowledge of the game. League of Legends, also called League or LoL, has 27 million unique players who log in daily, and 67 million unique players who log in each month (Tassi 2014). These statistics mean that LoL is the most played game worldwide by a huge margin. The reason for such high active player numbers is because anyone with a working computer can play the game for absolutely free.
Riot Games, the development studio behind League of Legends bases their business on a microtransaction model; Players can spend real life money on in game currency that’s used to buy cosmetic items in the game. These purchased items provide no functional benefit to players and are purely aesthetic. Utilizing the microtransaction model, Riot Games earned a gross income of an estimated $964 million dollars between January 2014 and September 2014 (Chalk 2014).
League of Legends is a fun pastime for many, but to some it is a career. Salaried professional gamers frequently play LoL in conferences called eSports tournaments for prize money, which can range into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Additionally, these players, much like real sports athletes, are often sponsored by gaming peripheral manufacturers. These same gamers, along with nonprofessional players, often have a personal livestream where they regularly stream themselves playing games of League to large audiences watching from their homes around the globe. Watching streams is free for the viewer, but because of streamer endorsements and advertisements placed on the streams, some amateur streamers can earn six figure salaries from broadcasting themselves, and professionals can make well over a million dollars between streams, sponsorships, and prize earnings. The 2014 League of Legends Championship Series, commonly referred to as the LCS, boasted an incredible audience of 27 million viewers, exceeding the viewership of the World Series, The Daytona 500, and the NBA Finals for that year (Schwartz 2014).
It seems like League of Legends is radically changing the world of eSports and shattering many misconceptions individuals have held concerning the validity of videogames as an industry, especially as one available for free. Yet, most people do not even know that League of Legends exists. Other, much less successful videogame brands are known by the vast majority, for example, Angry Birds, a widely popular game that is not available to players for free. This is the exact reason why I believe League of Legends as a brand would benefit from transmedia extensions.
There is a plethora of people who would be drawn to the LoL brand if they were ever exposed to it. I think that League of Legends should expand their franchise into an online miniseries, a comic book, a film, a mobile game app or even trading cards, so that gamers and non-gamers alike may delve deeper into the world of League.
Here is a link to all the available champions in the game.
The game has over 130 different playable characters, called champions within the game, each with its own unique backstory. I believe that League of Legends, through the use of additional forms of media, could appeal to a wider audience and even become a household name similar to the Pokemon franchise. The potential for League to craft a brilliant tale that intertwines the characters distinctive to League of Legends is nearly limitless. Adding depth to these already likeable and familiar characters through the introduction of an alternative League of Legends narrative experience, be it a web series, film, novel or comic, would propel old fans to look at the brand with new vigor, and lead new ones into a potentially fascinating, profitable and fun new world.
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