The Media Expansion of a Sword & Sorcery World

The Media Expansion of a Sword & Sorcery World

The Elephant and Macaw Banner The Fortuitous Meeting-smallWhen Douglas Cohen pulled “The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara” from the Realms of Fantasy slush pile, he wrote on his blog: “I expect Christopher Kastensmidt’s dynamic S&S duo of Gerard van Oost and Oludara to do wonderful things in the future.” So I suppose I can blame everything that followed on him — I would never contradict Doug, after all.

In 2011, the novelette was a finalist for the Nebula Award, perhaps the first S&S story since Fritz Leiber´s “Ill Met in Lankhmar” in 1970 to receive that honor (at least that I’ve found — Saladin Ahmed´s Throne of the Crescent Moon made the list a year later). The story also tied for the Realms of Fantasy Story of the Year Award, as chosen by readers.

When RoF closed, the second novelette in The Elephant and Macaw Banner universe (as it came to be known), was accepted at a different magazine, where it awaited publication for four years, greatly delaying the series´ progress in the U.S.

In Brazil, however, things have taken a different path. In 2010, Roberto de Sousa Causo, one of Brazil´s most well-known speculative fiction editors and authors, asked to see the story. The news that RoF had published a Brazil-inspired S&S novelette had aroused his curiosity. The day after I sent it to him, he asked if he could publish it in Portuguese.

The story went to Devir Livraria, the Brazilian distributor of an envious set of licenses: Dungeons & Dragons, GURPS, World of Darkness, Magic: The Gathering, board games, graphic novels and much more. It turned out to be a great fit for the fictional universe I would build.

From 2010 to 2012, Devir published the first three novelettes in pocket book format.

[Click any of the images for bigger versions.]

At the same time, I began considering other medias. Previously, I had worked for fifteen years in the video game industry, part of which I spent as Creative Director of Ubisoft Brazil. From that long experience in the entertainment business, I developed an eye for telling stories across different media.

Elephant and Macaw novelettes-small

The first novelettes, as published by Devir

My first move was to work with comics, a visual medium with a relatively low-cost (when compared to audiovisual products, at least). I decided to write the script myself, which was a major conceptual leap. I was used to working with visual storytelling from games, but comics have their own language. The format also presents technical limitations which don´t exist in other media, such as panel and page layouts.

So, after spending several months studying the medium, I found a great partner for the project: artist Carolina Mylius. To make the job easier, I decided to adapt the first novelette, which is a type of origin story for the two protagonists, and one I had already imagined scene by scene during my writing.

The tendency of the prose writer, when moving to comics, is to over-write the narration, try to tell with words what the images are already showing. I let the images and dialogue tell the work, and only used three texts of narration over the course of 92 pages (two of which are on the first and last pages).

The graphic novel was my first collaboration within The Elephant and Macaw Banner universe, but as Carol and I had worked together for years during our careers in video games, it went smoothly. I gave her a lot of liberty on the visual side of storytelling, and trusted her judgment.

The project earned the series its first sponsorship, from the Dutch bank De Lage Landen, which allowed us to hire the colorist SulaMoon and produce high-quality art in full color. It took four years for us to take the project from conception to publication, but the result was well worth it. As you can see from the pictures, the two artists did a stunning job.

Elephant and Macaw graphic novel-small

Elephant and Macaw graphic novel 2-small

Images from The Elephant and Macaw Banner graphic novel
(photos by Herick Henrique – Reading with a Fox)

For the next medium, I went back to my game development experience and decided to develop a board game. The main characteristic of games is interactivity — allowing the player to be the hero — and creating a game from scratch isn’t something I recommend for those without experience. I developed eight different prototypes before establishing the final game mechanic.

Playtesting a prototype of Elephant and Macaw-small

Playtesting a prototype at Lends Club – Porto Alegre

That project, which includes more breathtaking art by SulaMoon, will be launched this year, alongside the series´ first novel. That´s no coincidence, as the board game is thematically tied to the novel, containing 53 cards with all the novel´s major characters. The simultaneous launch will allow me to take advantage of the cross-marketing possibilities between the two projects.

Elephant and Macaw Artwork for the upcoming board game-small

Elephant and Macaw Artwork for the upcoming board game 2-small

Artwork for the upcoming board game

To date, the series is being widely adopted in schools. The graphic novel, just six months after launch, has gone to over 300 school libraries. Teachers all over Brazil are working with the novelettes and graphic novel in classrooms.

Student art inspired by Elephant and Macaw-small

Student art inspired by Elephant and Macaw 2-small

Student art inspired by the graphic novel

Students performing Elephant and Macaw-small

Students performing a play based on the stories

I’ve lectured over 100 times at schools and events during the last five years. Every invite is an honor. The most rewarding part of all is seeing young readers, many of whom have no prior habit of reading, enjoying my stories.

Speaking to students at the National Literary Journey – Passo Fundo-small

Speaking to students at the National Literary Journey – Passo Fundo

That sums up the first five years of The Elephant and Macaw Banner, and if all goes well, there is much more to come. There are plans to launch a pen-and-paper RPG based on the universe in 2016. Discussions are under way for a video game project and beyond, but those kind of projects could take years.

The more these collaborations grow, the more my part in them must inevitably shrink. I see this as a good thing, having others expand the world and tell stories I could never imagine on my own.

The first graphic novel was a straight-up adaptation, but from here on, I plan to move on to a more transmedia strategy–where each new media tells a never-before-seen story, increasing bit by bit the narrative depth and mythology of the world.

For those interested in learning more about The Elephant and Macaw Banner universe, there is a website at EAMB.ORG. I´m launching the first three novelettes in e-book format on Kindle on July 7th (with other formats to follow by the end of the  year).

Covers for Elephant and Macaw-small

Covers for the upcoming Kindle launch

Feel free to drop me a line at elephantmacaw@gmail.com. And let me end by giving my heartfelt thanks to John and Black Gate for the chance to write about my series!

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Wild Ape

I think this is brilliant. You are not creating short stories, you are creating and empire. Some of the most successful companies begin with a game and then branch off into fiction. You guys are doing just the opposite it seems. It will keep drawing customers and fans in many different ways. Do you sell stock in the company?

I rarely buy advanced copies but at 99 cents it was an easy risk.

Very VERY cool, Christopher, thank you for sharing this! I admire and applaud your hard work and perseverance, especially the cross-platform appearances AND the educational connection. I look forward to news on the board game and seeing how EAMB continues to grow. Congrats!

Wild Ape

I am proud of you for a couple of reasons:
1—you are channeling Conan and Robert E Howard who is my favorite writer.
2–you are a native Texan which brings more glory to my beloved state.

I wonder if your Kastensmidt name comes from the rich heritage of the Fredricksburg area. I would jump at the chance to invest in this. Consider a kickstarter at least. You stand to tap into a huge market of Portugese, Spanish, and English markets. Kudos to your entrepreneur spirit.

[…] artigo, “The Media Expansion of a Sword & Sorcery World”, conta sobre a expansão do mundo para outras mídias ao longo dos últimos cinco […]

[…] adopted in schools around the country. For the curious, Black Gate recently published an article here, which gives an idea just how far this series has come […]

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