The landscape of visual storytelling has always been a vast and evolving frontier. History tells us how stories were told visually through cave paintings, then carvings, followed by etchings on primitive tablets, and eventually masterpieces painted on canvas. Great strides were made with the advent of print technology and it opened the door to the mass consumption of stories being told through pictures. From print it evolved to moving pictures, then television, and now video games. (I know video games are just structured play time, but most tell stories and as such are an outlet for the visual storyteller.)
The visual storyteller: part artist, part writer. Some favor the visual, others favor the word, but all of them convey their story using visual means. For the last 100 years there have been more opportunities open to the visual storyteller then at any previous time in the history of mankind. Consider the talents who could not illustrate, but mastered photography. Or those whose written word was lacking, but brilliantly captured their stories on the screen. The geniuses who could combine their own drawings with their own words in picture books, comic strips, and graphic novels. And the illustrators who spoke volumes with deft strokes of paint. Had they been born in any previous century the world would’ve been denied their visions.
However, while the opportunities have been numerous, they are not without their exclusivity. In order for me to explain how I understand this landscape let me filter the world of visual storytelling through a geopolitical lens. I imagine the visual storytelling outlets as four major continents. They are the PRINT NATION, the FILM EMPIRE, and the VIDEO GAME TERRITORIES. Combined they make up what I call THE OLD COUNTRY. There’s also a new frontier situated across a vast ocean of opportunity. It is known as THE DIGITAL LANDS and is a wild uncharted territory. Let’s navigate these lands through the eyes of three travelers.
These three travelers are bright young storytellers who carry with them imaginative tales of wisdom, beauty, and truth. They are tales that they have only shared with their villages, but these stories have brought them so much joy they decide they want as many people to hear them as possible. Had they been born 500 years earlier, their tales would’ve never left the villages they grew up in, but now there are new lands that facilitate the sharing of stories to the masses. They each begin their quest to find a home for their tale; a place where their tale can be shared with the world.
After days of traveling she arrives to the PRINT NATION. It’s a beautiful land of gleaming old cities. From the grand Editorialopolis with its magazine and comic strip burrows to Comicland nestled below the majestic Graphic Novel Mountains. However, our fearless traveler has come to a startling realization. These cities are all walled. No one enters without an invitation from one of its citizens, and no one is granted citizenship without an initiation performed by the gate keepers: editors and art directors.
Frustrated but undeterred she sets up camp outside one of these cities. There she joins thousands of others also camped outside, trying and waiting to get in. She meets all kinds of fellow travelers. Some who have been waiting for years, and newcomers like herself. Before long she meets an interesting group of travelers who’ve decided they don’t need to be a citizen of one of these cities in order to share their stories. They’ve decided to start their own cities. Some, she finds, are successful, while others never get larger than the ground they made their stake in. A very few resilient folk seem to build their own castles by hand from the ground up, not a city, but in some ways just as influential. Others that she’s come to know have fallen in favor with some gate keepers and have been invited into full citizenship thanks to their own merits. Meanwhile, our traveler refines her story and tries to get it in front of the right people.
Then one day she meets an agent. This agent is an ambassador of sorts, able to enter any city and who knows the gate keepers well. He likes our traveler’s story and wants to find her a city she’ll be able to call home.
Time passes and the agent returns with exciting news, our traveler’s story is liked by one of the gate keepers and she is initiated into the fold. She has become a citizen and her story is going to be shared with the world.
He journeys north to the FILM EMPIRE and finds a similar social structure as our first traveler. Its kingdoms are large and powerful. They are filled with beautiful and creative royalty, but the walls are just as high and thick, if not more so, than the PRINT NATION’s. He, too, finds throngs of people camped outside these cities trying to get in. Many of these have their own stories to tell but are finding it difficult to get passed the EMPIRE’s own gate keepers: producers.
Our traveler soon figures that the best way for him to get into one of these kingdoms will not be by way of his own stories, but by working on other stories being made by the kingdoms. These kingdoms require thousands of workers to create the extravagant stories that they share with the world. And as a worker he’ll have better access to the royalty that run these kingdoms than if he were to approach them from outside the walls.
The years pass and our traveler proves himself as a worker. He’s contributed his unique talents to the creation of several stories, and as such has gained favor with the royalty. They ask him if he has any of his own stories he wants to share with the world. He tells his tale and they love it. He is initiated into the fold and begins production on his own story. Soon the whole world will be able to experience his tale.
As our traveler journeyed through the OLD COUNTRY she was disheartened by the walled cities and kingdoms. She saw how many never made it into these fortresses. How those who did make it had to sell off pieces of themselves or alter their stories to enter in.
Then she met a band of nomads who told her of a far off land where there were great cities with no walls. Where any who had a story to tell had the means of sharing it with the world. There were no gate keepers, no royalty. She was told the journey to this land would be audacious, but worth it if she just trusted in herself.
Soon she found herself in the DIGITAL LANDS. At first the lawlessness of it was startling to her. There were people doing whatever they wanted for good or ill. Some succeeding, some not, some stealing, and some playing fair. Despite the lawlessness, she found these cities had a way of regulating themselves that worked remarkably well. An alarming thing for her was that for every good story being told there were thousands of horrible stories. It was something she did not expect, but she took comfort knowing that, though bad, no one was stopping these travelers from sharing their stories. Some of these were even getting better in the process. And a select few were so delightful and unique in their voice she knew that had they stayed in the OLD COUNTRY the world would be denied these treasures.
Our traveler fell in love with this NEW WORLD, and found there was nothing stopping her from becoming a citizen. So she set up her camp, and began to share her story with the world.
I recognize this is a somewhat narrow or perhaps simplistic view of such an intricate world. And I know that each story traveler that has carved out his or her own success in this world has done so in his or her own unique way. My point is that there are several options in this landscape to get your stories out to the world. As a traveling storyteller you should know what you’re up against and what is available to you. Don’t discount an avenue because it might seem too hard or untested.
Learn from others but chart your own course.
>There’s a bit of an addendum in the comments section below about toys, theater, and dance if you want to read more.