Reading Transmedia: Re-contextualising the Written Word in Popular Web-native Genres

Towheed, Shafquat; Antonini, Alessio; Benatti, Francesca and Brooker, Sam (2022). Reading Transmedia: Re-contextualising the Written Word in Popular Web-native Genres. In: SHARP 2022 – Power of the Written Word, 11-15 Jul 2022, Amsterdam, NL.



Like electricity leaping from point to point, the power of the written word lies in the connection it creates – however briefly. Gatekeeping historical structures of distribution and publication all but guaranteed the publication of unrepresentative works alone. Webnovels and webcomics represent two genres of mature born-digital textuality that evidences the optimistic vision of web distribution: linking communities, elevating unheard voices, creating new modes and styles of storytelling unfettered by commercial limitations.
Their comparatively lengthy history (at least in web-genre terms) allows us to reflect on their affordances. What are the expectations of authorship and readership in the quintessentially transmedia space of webnovel and webcomic publishing? Absent traditional publishing, do traditional notions of genre and paratext still apply? What is the status of the written word when it experiences such perpetual and destabilising cycle of revision, translation, reconfiguration, remediation? Do they still count as “written words”? Or do they instead occupy an intermediate space between verba volant and scripta manent? What does the comparatively greater success of webcomics compared to webnovels tell us about the power of the written word versus images on the web?
This panel seeks to address each of these areas and beyond. Developing topics first introduced in the SHARP 2021 panel Transmedia Beyond Definitions, it will present three case studies that interrogate the characteristics of digital-native media and their affect on the dynamics between readers, authors, and publishers. Given the theme of SHARP 2022, this panel will focus specifically on the empowering effects of web-native genres, e.g., from supporting creative work based upon non-mainstream authors and topics, to how readers take control and adapt, flex and blend reading into their activities, habits and needs.

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