Got Mythology? (The Makings of a Transmedia Publishing Company) #storytelling
As I mentioned back in early February in Part V of “Five Easy Pieces”, my uncle, Ralph F. McCarthy, is a translator of fictional works and mythologies between the Japanese and English languages — he’s a very special kind of curator. Ralph has worked with many prolific writers and modern storytellers, including Ryu Murakami (In the Miso Soup, Coin Locker Babies, Popular Hits of the Showa Era), Yayoi Kusama (Hustler’s Grotto), Suzanne Kamata (The Broken Bridge) and Osamu Dezai (Blue Bamboo).
What’s particularly interesting about his craft are the discoveries made between a Germanic (English) and a character-based language (Japanese), as well as the cultural nuances that permeate the writing itself. This lends to what I call transferable mythology: the opportunity to dimensionalize pre-existing storyworlds through new archetypes (character expositions) that reflect cultural shifts and new societal paradigms.
The notion of archetype plays a significant role in storytelling when you consider, for example, how much Japanese society – formerly a very restrictive patriarchy - has changed in terms of gender identity roles.
Further, this kind of curation can have profound cultural impact across media as stories are adopted and shaped as new, recontextualized bits of information or immersive experiences (flash mobs, interactive displays, live action role playing, etc.). Here is an example of how curated stories can engage people in physical environments (blending the virtual and the physical).
The role of the modern publisher.
Recently, Ralph was given back the American rights to a body of adapted work that his primary publisher, Kodansha International, had held since the inception of their relationship over 25 years ago. What’s not so surprising is how it happened: Kodansha, like many other Japanese publishers of comics and short stories – including Tokyopop and Manga – have been struggling to develop new revenue models in their own domestic markets, as well as in Europe and North America. As a response to these woes, storytellers like Murakami started bypassing their publishers altogether and distributed their material through new digital channels, and have also experimented with multi-platform executions of their works.
What is surprising is that companies like Kodansha have been sitting on a wealth of material that is rife for multi-platform explorations but have been doing little if anything about it.
[Stories, stories and more stories! Just a few in the mythological warchest.]
Much in the same way brands have become publishers that buy and own their own media properties, individuals are now charged with the enviable task of turning stories and mythologies into something more than what’s written on the page. Further, if they want to distribute and profit from those stories, they need to leverage their own networks. In other words, they need to become far more resourceful.
A popularized body of work.
The short list of Ralph’s interpretive work, includes some titles you may have heard of:
American Folk Tales
The Arabian Nights ("Aladdin" and "Sinbad the Sailor")
A Picture Book without Pictures by Hans Christian Andersen
You’ll notice that these are stories that have been told in cinema and other forms of mass media across other languages, which begs curious questions about public domain, adapted IP rights and copyright (especially in online spaces). But that aside, the real boon in this is, again, transferable mythology.
Why is transferable mythology so important?
For a few reasons:
It can be renewed. Think of how many comic franchises have made the rounds, successfully, across different media. Now think about how may new iterations can be (co)created based on cultural shifts.
It can be adoptable. With cultural shifts come new ways of adapting and adopting these stories and respective mythologies as new media. Here’s an example of how the Avatar mythology is used for live action role playing:
It has unlimited scale. Much like the Bible (arguably one of the greatest transmedia storytelling platforms of all time), transferrable mythology calls to action the adoption and adaptation of stories in perpetuity — as long as we’re around to tell or make stories, then we have opportunities to profit from them, albeit responsibly.
Think of these as levers for good, sustainable storytelling practices.
Well, it seems my uncle’s situation is turning into a family affair. He’s already asked my mother (Mary McCarthy) to broker new multi-platform deals on his behalf, given her past experience as an executive in the publishing and digital media worlds. I will help map out the story architectures and help package these up as cross-media or transmedia offerings, as well as begin discussions with a host of filmmakers and other storytellers who are thirsty for rich material.
But the more exciting part is that this would be a true hub-and-spoke model: we don’t need to own the content production pipeline, we can simply team up with the best content producers appropriate for each project and work with a range of new media platform providers to get these stories distributed.
Now of course, as an independent publisher, this will require some crafty thinking around revenue models, but this is precisely the kind of challenge we’ve been waiting years for... And now, technology has caught up, along with an extended tail of niche audiences who are ready and willing to engage with new content.
More to come on this as things progress...