Interview: Steampunk Goes Transmedia With ‘Clockwork Watch’
By Ian Cullen Dec 3, 2012, 15:35 GMT
It\'s a five-year immersive participatory narrative told through graphic novels, interactive promenade theatre, online adventures, an interactive book, and a feature film.
Last weekend's "Thought Bubble Comics Event" in Leeds (UK) brought me into contact with a lot media happenings in the genre, but one person that really impressed me with his charm offensive and positive "can-do" attitude was Yomi Ayeni, who was at the convention all weekend to promote "Clockwork Watch " a project he has set up that crosses all streams of media.
I recently caught up with Yomi for MonstersandCritics.com and found out more about this exciting and innovative project.
Monsters and Critics: From what you told me about this at the convention. Clockwork Watch sounds like a fantastic idea, which is inclusive for anyone who cares to join in. Can you maybe refresh me on what it is all about for our readers?
Yomi Ayeni: Clockwork Watch is all about the story. Irrespective of how good Steampunk sounds, first and foremost this is a collaborative storytelling project which is set in a retro-futurist Steampunk vision of Victorian England.
It's a five-year immersive participatory narrative told through graphic novels, interactive promenade theatre, online adventures, an interactive book, and a feature film.
The aim is to create a sandpit where participants can experience a 'make believe' universe, interact with the story, contribute to an alternate history, and propose creative adjustments to the Clockwork Watch universe.
The three-part graphic novel story introduces the Steampunk world of Clockwork Watch. This is a time when clockwork mechanics and science are the two most important developments in the world.
Technological and social change are in the air – human-clockwork hybridisation is the talk of the town; the unwise employment of science has led to outcry and the public wants to know whether Science is about to play God.
The story is told through the eyes of Janav Ranbir, an 8 year-old Indian boy who comes to England with his parents at the invitation of Queen Victoria. Janav’s father - Chan Ranbir – is a leading kinetic engineer who is masterminding a new technology powering the production of clockwork servants.
The story follows the development of these ‘Clocks’, focusing on the backlash that such advancements have with local labour and Victorian society
M&C: How did you get into production and how long have you been cooking up Clockwork Watch?
Yomi Ayeni: I got into production through a job at the BBC, where I worked as a news producer juggling a 14-hour newsroom shift whilst also doing a university degree.
My first big break was as Creative Director on “e-Trippers” a reality TV show where the audience guided teams of contestants around the world. My second TV format won the Best Use of New Media Broadcast Award in 2002, and that was it…
The original idea for the Clockwork Watch came from Seductive Alchemy – a Steampunk party I co-produced in London (2007), with an online world that people could connect with.
Based on the feedback from this, and other similar parties, I decided to expand the universe into something more substantial. A further inspiration was that I was usually about the only black person at the events.
I was creating an immersive make-believe that seemed to alienate non-Caucasians, so I decided to do something about it by writing a story that they could associate with, and help to tell.
Let’s not forget that most of the Steampunk world is based on a colonial past that just doesn’t work for many people who may be interested in the scene. Clockwork Watch is non-colonial, and told from the view of an 8-year old Indian boy as he arrives in the UK.
Even I had a chance to revisit many of the aspects of the scene I’d taken for granted. This is Steampunk 101, but you can also make it what you want!
M&C: Of all the genres you could have chosen why did you choose to set this in a Steampunk styled universe?
Yomi Ayeni: Steampunk offers a world of make-believe, a chance to delve into the realm of anachronism, revisit and even re-purpose the Victorian heritage of many parts of our global history, yet it doesn’t distract from the story.
Personally I think there is a certain romanticism to the Steampunk genre, it sits within fantasy and science fiction and frankly – it’s also visually stunning and that freedom lends itself to the graphic novel genre.
With all the weird science associated with the genre, we’ve managed to sneak in a real science, history the ‘Maker’ ethic, which underlines many aspects of Steampunk. And I mustn’t forget the most important part of the mix – crowdsourcing – we want people to collaborate on not only telling the story, but also take their characters out into the world through role-play, cosplay, this is one way that transmedia extends the realm of make-believe.
Participants create characters online and can bring them alive at our live events.
M&C: Thus far you’ve got a comic book out, an interactive website and an open invitation for all who want to contribute as well as a live theatre element. Add to that the plans you have for a movie and webseries. What kind support and backing are you likely to need to achieve all of this and if there are any prospective sponsors out there how can they help?
Yomi Ayeni: Wowee! We’re in the process of optioning the film script to a Canadian / Dutch / British production team, which takes raising several million for the film off our hands – phew.
The live events, graphic novels and online world still need funding and we’re open to sponsorship. Personally I’d say we’ve done well on the Ł6500 raised through IndieGoGo, but this is a big project, and unless we get sponsorship we may have to go back to crowdfunding.
Clockwork Watch is a co-created concept, where participants create characters and use them to tell stories. Contributions are licensed under Creative Commons, which means each contributor owns their respective IP.
We haven’t got a deal for the comics because every publisher we’ve approached wants 50% of the entire project, including the content contributed by our participants.
The project has several facets that should appeal to potential investors as well as co-conspirators. Our website hosts fortnightly news reports from the story universe, all the content is released under a Creative Commons licence.
Participants use their characters to make creative adjustments to our story. The best submissions following the story arc are given Canon status, incorporated into the universe narrative, and the authors will be awarded a contributors credit on the website.
Each contributor retains ownership of their respective contribution, and we're pleased to announce that people are already using our creative sandpit. Laser Lace Letters is the first independent project to launch from inside our storyworld. Haley Moore, the creator, has total creative control and ownership of her IP. She has just raised $17,000 through crowdfunding to develop an independent business that originated from a story she contributed to our universe.
We are also working with Alchemist Dreams producer of artisan liqueurs, and have developed a background story around tone of their products, so it fits into our story universe. The product is an integral part of the Clockwork Watch story, as you will soon see.
M&C: Having flipped through your comic I have to say am pretty blown away by the art work. Who is responsible for the comic book side of things and will they likely have input into the visual design element of the planned film?
Yomi Ayeni: Thank you! Jennie Gyllblad, our artist will be very happy to hear that. She hand draws each book, and does the lettering too! It really makes a difference when compared to computer-designed graphics.
The only drawback is time – it probably takes 4-times longer to put each book together. The fact that our story starts before the “Steam-pocalypse”, offers an opportunity to design a world that actually explains Steampunk. It also gives us a chance to develop the look and feel for the actual film.
The costumes, Clockwork Servants, the styling and much more are all in Jennie’s hands. She is our ‘look and feel’ designer.
M&C: Everyone is inspired by somebody and am curious to know who inspires you and if you could have them become involved in Clockwork Watch what sort of role do you think they’d best fill?
Yomi Ayeni: Warren Ellis would be a great person to have onboard. I love his work, it borders on insanity at times, but he knows how to craft characters and handle expectations. I’d hand him the whole story arc of the Department for the Advancement of Sciences. They are evil people, who will stop at nothing to get what they want.
M&C: There are a fair few Steampunk influences out there in both novels and comics. Is there a particular writer or comic that has lent themselves to Clockwork Watch.
Yomi Ayeni: Neal Stephenson created an amazing neo-Victorian styled world in his book Diamond Age (1995). It blew my mind, and was probably my first introduction to the anachronistic styling of a clockwork world.
Even though the genre has been around for years, my interest was in the stories about an amazing age, where brass, steam and clockwork mechanics were the most exciting technologies around.
You can also take part and join in the Conversation at: www.facebook.com/ClockworkWatch