Live Event Blog: Transmedia and Visual Storytelling

By Maria Davison

We're excited to get started with Dan Archer's talk on transmedia and visual storytelling, but you still have a few minutes to join us in RJI 100A.

After a few technical difficulties, we're finally getting started! He's telling us a little bit about himself. He's a graphic journalist focusing on transmedia, and he'll be speaking at the ONA conference next week. He's going to tell us about his journey to his current work and dispel some mistaken ideas about using cartoons as journalism.

Right off the bat, here are a few things things Archer uses (along with drawings) in his work:

1. Interviews
Using graphic journalism allows him to tell stories without sticking a camera in his face, which has some advantages. It also allows for easier feedback loops, which allows them to send it to the NGOs they work with on the ground, and they help with accuracy.

2. Oral testimonies
For some of his works, Archer has included oral testimonies from sources to approach sensitive issues, like birth rights in Britain. He recreates these testimonies on a visual platform.

3. Visual explainers 
Like with any other visual media, he tries to lead the reader's eye through the page and allow them to follow the thread, but unlike film, it's not a passive experience for the consumer. They can linger on the bits of the story that stick out to them.

4. Drawing objectivity
He references Joe Sacco's work to talk about objectivity in drawn work. A criticism of this kind of journalism is that you can't be objective when you're drawing a scene, but Sacco inserts himself into his work to question the whole concept of objectivity. Archer did the same thing in his graphic work about human trafficking in Nepal. He shows people questioning his intentions, and he explains to them exactly what he's doing.

5. Narrative data visualization
On several projects, he's married data visualization and narrative visualization to explain events, like the financial market and events in the Iraq War.

6. Interactivity
Archer created a serialized comic that he then turned into an iPhone app, and the sources would pop up when you tapped the screen. On other projects, he's used interactive elements to present different sides of a story, which allows him to break out of the linear nature of text.

He says he has nothing against textual storytelling, but the emergence of new technologies has allowed for so many different storytelling platforms.

He wants to provide a sense of transparency. Stories aren't built on a single moment, and he wants to show readers that. His role is sometimes like a courtroom sketcher. He draws while he speaks to people and it creates a great sense of dialogue and trust with his sources, which he says has led to richer stories. Sometimes he even includes the artwork of those he interviews, which creates even more trust.

When he was in Nepal, the BBC contracted him to do as story using one of the testimonies he had recorded. It had an incredible number of hits in just a few days. But that's hard to do with breaking news sometimes, especially with Twitter. 140 characters is the opposite side of the creative spectrum, he says.

He says he tries to take as little artistic liberty in his work as he can. He takes a lot of pictures to reference, but not usually of people. He tries to reference photos as much as he can. He also works directly with interviewees to make sure what he's drawing is accurate.

He's also experimented with documentary animation. He's working on a way to create animation without jeopardizing the accuracy of the work. He has a prototype, and he hopes it puts the viewer in the scene to foster a sense of connection.

Archer went to Ferguson last month and created sketches of the events. He found that the media that was there hadn't really released a timeline or a physical layout of the places, so he drew both.

In the future, he wants to take all of these different mediums that he's used before work all across platform. He wants to incorporate multiple devices to create a "story world," instead of a story with a beginning and an end.

He's currently working on creating a three-dimensional model of Ferguson, Mo. using Unity. The model is then connected to an iPhone app. Whenever you cross certain "beacons" in the model, a part of the comic with storytelling pops up on the app. Other beacons bring up richer content, which is available on iPad.

Here are some of the stories that work best on this platform:

  1. Recreating oral testimonies
  2. Building cognitive bridges 
  3. Capturing moments
Follow Dan Archer @archcomix and @empatheticmedia. Thanks for joining us!

If you want to watch Dan Archer's presentation, check out our video on YouTube

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