Cross-medias stories are expanded with memes, merchandise

Published on Thursday, 17 October 2013 21:08 - Written by By Michael Hale Guest Columnist

For many, comic books, shows with magic and aliens were the kinds of things that were indeed popular within their respective formats when growing up.

“The Avengers” was dominantly a comic book, one that might flirt with an animated kids TV series here or there. Shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Char-med” were indeed popular, however, their appeal outside of being a TV series never reached beyond that format. Products were created that were intended to work within the media sphere of TV, print, and (eventually) the Internet. Hardly did those three things ever explicitly meet in a way that changed the cultural landscape of school or office watercooler conversation, let alone education, the arts or business.

Some might point, rightfully so, to the success of “The Avengers” and the release of the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” television series as the crowning moment in what can be called the most successful cross-media story/plot of all time. A hit comic book became a movie (a hugely successful one, one built impossibly off multiple other films) and then it spawned an in-universe TV series that has recently aired its fourth episode.

So what is it about, “The Avengers,” for example, that foretells the possible future of what we as people label “entertainment?”

Simply put, media is growing and our hunger for new ways to see good stories is growing with it. A person can watch the TV series “Once Upon A Time,” a show where fairytale characters exist in our world, and, through Facebook, hear about the comic called “Fables,”which is remarkably similar.

With a little more digging they can then discover that Telltale Games is coming out with a video game set in the “Fables” universe called “The Wolf Among Us,” which stars the actual Big Bad Wolf(man). Why is this game remarkable? Because it is coming off Telltale’s last big game venture, a game set in the universe of “The Walking Dead.”

Yes, the “Walking Dead” game was based off the hit TV series.

Yes, that TV series was based off a comic.

While the ability for media in one genre to germinate ideas in another media genre is amazing, it is television that can still be considered the ultimate battleground for our imaginations. While voices can be raised about the power of the home console video game system, the comic, or even the theater, perhaps no greater series demonstrates how awesomely powerful TV is for us as an entertainment-craving culture than “Breaking Bad.”

“Breaking Bad,” the award-winning series, which recently concluded its multi-year story this month, has become one of the biggest media sensations since “The Sopranos” before it. “Breaking Bad” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” do not share any plot or theme similarities, however, both are powerful TV programs in their own right. The writing and pop-culture impact of “Breaking Bad” have ensured that the name Heinsenberg is no longer just connected to a famous German physicist, but also the black hat-wearing mug of Bryan Cranston’s Walter White character. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” might see its feet struggling for footing with viewers now, but the fact it exists at all is a remarkable feat of business strategy that can only have succeeded because people will watch it.

Another huge game-changer for showcasing the impact of TV on popular culture and the media has been “Game of Thrones.” The setting first created by novelist George R.R. Martin in 1996 has spawned internet memes, reports of people naming their children after characters of the books-turned-HBO-series and tons upon tons of merchandise. The novels, as a series (which are spectacular, though not yet completed), were the backbone of HBO’s daring plan to adapt an intellectual property. However, the overall success of the plan has to be the fans who watch the series. Conventions, fan-works, art books and more have resulted from the fans love of not just the series but of entertaining stories.

As our ability to see media cross into new fields of existence daily, we seem to dominantly nurture the ones with the best stories. “Breaking Bad” is about a man who seeks to truly live even in the face of his ultimate death. “Game of Thrones” is (at heart) about how families and nations endure even in the face of tragedy. And “The Walking Dead” is literally about surviving the worst of experiences and overcoming loss. We might re-color our love of good stories with aliens, gangsters, zombies or dragons, but we still demand stories that engage us.

As new stories emerge from diverse new media outlets, it’s important that we try new shows and pursue new avenues for ideas. Ask if a popular new show has a comic spin-off, a novel series it was based on, or if there are plans for a video game. While this is not always the case, it could be and might lead you to a new passion. While many cringe at TV adapting from books instead of making new ideas (which “Breaking Bad” has proven still occurs), some argue that adaptations bring awareness of old things to new crowds.

If you like “Game of Thrones,” check out the books, such as “The Walking Dead?” The comic is outstanding. Is “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” proving to be as fun as “The Avengers” for you? Look into the comics. Explore the growing web of media gems that are being spawned from so many good stories.

Michael Hale is currently a graduate student at the University of Texas at Tyler and a general aficionado of comic books, films, video games and all things geek-related.