Using Text, Images & Music for Transmedia Storytelling

Panel 1 of Afua Richardson's webcomic illustrations of A Negro Speaks of Rivers.

Panel 1 of Afua Richardson’s webcomic illustrations of A Negro Speaks of Rivers. Click the image to visit the NPR site to see all four panels. (Image: Afua Richardson)

While not technically a transmedia story — defined as one or more related stories told across two or more forms of media — a poem by Langston Hughes and graphics by Afua Richardson are a powerful example of the impact of integrating text, images, and music. Hughes’ poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers is the basis for a webcomic presented by NPR Books and Code Switch. Afue Richardson, an award-winning illustrator, created the panels for the webcomic and a video.

Hughes’ poem is short — just 103 words in 13 lines — and the webcomic is equally short — just four panels — but there is a depth to this work that is breathtaking. I’m not usually a fan of comics; I enjoy the visual aspects of good comic illustration but the use of multiple panels on a page is to me, very distracting. I like the individual page-sized panels that Richardson uses because they give me time to explore much more deeply each illustration without feeling compelled to hurry on to the next panel. I can savor Richardson’s artwork, pulling out the small details what she includes before moving on to the next panel.

The video uses the same text and images but integrates voice narration and music, adding even more to the storytelling. Unlike the webcomic panels, the viewer has no control over the pace at which the story unfolds and stopping to savor the visual details of the illustration is not really an option. What the video adds is its own flow and pacing, taking the viewer along for a wonderful ride.

As I’ve already noted, this work doesn’t meet the technical definition of transmedia storytelling. However, the techniques used to integrate text, images, narration, and music provide some great examples that can easily be adapted to transmedia narrative design.

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