2014: The Year in Stories

2014: The year in storytelling

I’m a writer. I tell stories. So, much of my perspective of the world is through a lens focused on how we mere human beings reach for the divine through our fiction, the stories we tell of what might be instead of what is. While a popular thing to do this week is lament all the political and social strife that have left their mark on our minds and hearts, I want to take a moment to be a bit contrarian and talk about how 2014 was a great year for the art of storytelling.

Movies fell in love with science, and scientists

Interstellar, The Theory of Everything, and The Imitation Game sold audiences on hard science and engineering, and the very human stories behind the people who make it all happen. In a time when so many people feel that America is falling into an age of anti-intellectualism, this was a huge and welcome trend.

Comic book stories on the big and small screens aren’t as much about superheroes; un-super heroes shone too

The comic book industry has long provided a treasure trove for the movie industry, but this year so a little departure from focus on the guys with crazy powers and focused on the heroes who can’t fly, don’t have super strength, and don’t have healing factors. Gotham took Batman out of the Batman story and mostly focused on the crazy but fascinating crime drama of Gotham city, sticking to a simple formula of cops vs. robbers. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Season 2 mostly did away with the superhero stories from season 1 and focused on the human team and how they had to use tech, smarts, and guts to win the day. And the blockbuster comic movie of the year, Guardians of the Galaxy, stars a guy who is pretty much your average bro (despite being half alien).

The book industry didn’t change much, which is maybe a good thing

Although we did see some big battles among publishers over digital distribution, and there were some experiments that may change the future of how people pay for books and how authors get paid, for the most part the year in fiction books was pretty similar to previous years, with young adult stories selling well but also big names like King, Grisham, and Murakami topping the charts. And we also saw the continuation of a trend that should surprise no one: movies sell books more than anything else.

As Variety notes:

Nine of the 10 top selling books of the year were tied into a film adaptation or film franchise of some kind, with various publications of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars,” first published in 2012, occupying three of the 10 slots. The success of Green’s novel and its film adaptation, which earned more than $300 million in global box office this year, propelled his 2007 title “Looking for Alaska” into the tenth spot, marking the only standalone, non-film-related novel on the book list.

2014 saw some changes in the storytelling industry, and trends are starting to shift. But most important of all is the recognition that we DO still have a thriving storytelling industry that uses fiction to help us gain perspective on reality.


Penny Arcade drops ads for Crowdfunding

I love comics, and I love geek humor, so it should be no surprise that I’m a big fan of Penny Arcade – the web comic about two snarky video game nerds and their exploits. But now I’m going from fan to fanboy because the guys at PA are doing something that could be the future of digital independent publishing on the web – they’re ditching the ads, and asking their fans to donate to their cause on Kickstarter.

Crowdfunding is getting increasingly popular with tech startups and indie artists, but it’s nothing really new. As Penny Arcade’s Kickstarter page plainly says, “After the ‘dot com bubble’, we ran the site entirely on donations for over a year. The word crowdfunding hadn’t been invented yet; back then, people simply called it ‘begging'”. But with crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, RocketHub, Sponsume, and GoFundMe all doing big business, independent creators no longer need to feel like they’re going around with their palms up, looking for a handout. The idea behind all of this is simple: let the people who are most interested in your product fund you from the start.

For Penny Arcade, this means that instead of doing the traditional thing of sticking ads all over their site, they can go directly to their fans and say “Hey, if you’re tired of these dumb banners, just contribute whatever you want to help us take them down and still pay the bills.” If that weren’t motivation enough, the PA boys have additional incentives for your donation dollars. Contributors who drop $25 or more can get exclusive prints of some of PA’s spin-off comics sent right to their door, and the big spenders get even cooler gifts like passes to the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) or a visit to meet Penny Arcade founders Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik in person for lunch (and given their sense of humor, I’d imagine this would be the most epic lunch meeting of your life.). PA has already wildly exceeded their original funding goal of $250,000 and now have $460,000 from their adoring fans.

I’m excited that the “famous” indie artists are finally getting in on the Kickstarter bandwagon because it gives further validation to this model. Instead of giving more money to the corporate machines that indie artists and their fans historically loathe, you can go directly to your fanbase and say “just pay us whatever you want.” It reminds me of the time Radiohead went “pay what you want” with the release of their “In Rainbows” album. At the time it was a groundbreaking move for a major artist, but the recent trend of Kickstarter success stories (the Ouya video game console, Pebble e-ink watch, et al) is proving that this idea has legs. Perhaps in the future we’ll see more and more artists ditching the old models and offering their fans direct methods to support their favorite creatives while getting a little something extra too.