The following is an excerpt from Tyler Weaver’s Comics for Film, Games, and Animation: Using Comics to Construct Your Transmedia Storyworld. Tyler Weaver teaches you how to integrate comic storytelling into your own transmedia work by exploring their past, present, and future. He discusses the creation of the unique mythologies in comic stories and digs into the details of comic construction, from pacing to scripting to collaboration.
From the penny dreadfuls to the pulps, from radio to comics and television, serialized storytelling has been a classic tool for bringing audiences back for each and every installment of your story. The infamous phrase, “To be continued,” inspires anger, rage, and frustration, but also a desire to return again, to see exactly how your favorite characters will get themselves out of the latest cliffhanger (a technique coined after author Thomas Hardy left the hero hanging off a cliff at the end of an installment of A Pair of Blue Eyes2) concocted by the writers whose job it is to toy with our emotions and allegiances (and to generate ratings). Serialized (or fragmented) storytelling is the act of designing stories that occur over multiple installments within the same medium. While a staple of comics storytelling since its inception, (Superman’s first adventures in Action Comics #1 and #2  are an example of early comic book serialization) and a necessity for the survival of the newspaper comic strips, another form of fragmented storytelling became part and parcel of the comic book: episodic storytelling.
Episodic storytelling features the same characters in different adventures, but starting at a point where all has returned to normal. In comics parlance these are known as “done in one” adventures, something the Golden and Silver Ages used to great effect. The episodic structure makes much more use of the audience’s goodwill towards the characters, as you visit them when all is normal—not when they’re facing certain death.
A combination of serialized and episodic storytelling is “serio-episodic,” which feature stories that are episodic in nature, but have an overarching mystery to them. Lost is a prime example of this, as (especially in the early seasons), there were trials and tribulations to work out, but an overarching mystery that was not resolved until the very end of the show (and even then, many questions were left unanswered).
A technique I made use of with my Whiz!Bam!Pow! project was what I call “perceived serialization.” Perceived serialization creates the illusion that the adventures of a character in a comic are ongoing, even though we only produced one comic book. By numbering the comic, Whiz!Bam!Pow! Comics #7, we implied that there were issues before and, of course, issues that followed by ending the adventures of both characters (The Sky Phantom and The Sentinel) with a cliffhanger. We created a fake reality, one where you could imagine people returning to buy Issue #8, or following the anthology since Issue #1.
This was done by making the comic book a character itself, with a distinct back story, fleshing out the creators of each book (the creator of The Sky Phantom, for instance, is the lead character in the novella The Treacherous Path of Peril), and creating a mythology around that particular comic book as it’s viewed today (in the Whiz!Bam!Pow! world, the comic book is worth $1.5 million, and the backup character of The Sentinel went on to become that universe’s Superman).
Serialization is a powerful tool in the transmedia arsenal, both as a standard cliffhanger tale (though be careful not to make it expected for the audience to jump media forms to learn the outcome of your cliffhanger), and by employing tricks such as perceived serialization to deepen the world and the legend of the story you’re telling.
Excerpt from Comics for Film, Games, and Animation: Using Comics to Construct Your Transmedia Storyworld by Tyler Weaver. © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. Comics for Film, Games, and Animation can be purchased Amazon.com, BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.