Xiaochang and I just got back from Turner Networks where we did a presentation on spreadability and many other convergence culture-y things. One of the first requests we received was to address the issue of transmedia narratives across borders, in my case, specifically across Latin America. My first, very silly, reaction was to say "sorry guys, there is nothing there" and then proceeded to obsessively look for evidence to prove me wrong. Of course, there is much transmedia storytelling in Latin America, I just hadn't read these properties as such. In these two posts, I'd like to share with you the three cases I presented to our partners in Atlanta.
First, "El Chavo del Ocho" (The Kid from Apartment 8), this sitcom grew out of a comedy sketch in 1971. It tells the story of an homeless boy that lives in a barrel in the middle of a low-income housing complex surrounded by un-empathic yet comedic children and adults. The children are all played by adults and in fact Roberto Gomez, the show's creator and protagonist, played "El Chavo" until his mid-sixties when he thought it might be "grotesque" to play a boy.
With very low production values and focusing mainly on repetitive gags this show is still on-air through re-runs in some 20 countries and has in fact had an uninterrupted presence all over Latin America during almost 40 years. "El Chavo" is an icon of shared popular culture in the region.
By the mid-70s, when it was clear that the show had become an international success, its creators launched a comic book series that worked with the same premise, characters and gags but that was able to follow the characters outside of the show's limited number of sets. With few modifications, the comics where distributes in almost every country where the show ran.
When Roberto Gomez was about to retire he decided to publish the Chavo's diary, telling the full story of this abandoned child. It is written in a child's voice and has drawings by the author. Today, this might form part of the production "bible" where the story world's canon is documented.
The fact that both the book and the comics were available in the whole region is notable because even today. When a show is distributes internationally, its transmedia extensions tend to be left behind; for instance the case of "Heroes", you can watch the show in Brazil, but not access any of the transmedia material. As long as transmedia is only considered part of local marketing strategies in stead of, potentially profitable, extensions of the story, that will probably continue to be the case.
"El Chavo" has also been expanded through merchandise. Lunch boxes, towels, posters have been available all over Latin America since the show begun, but, given the success of its animated adaptation and the original show in the U.S. this year Target started carrying an exclusive line of fully bilingual "Chavo del 8" toys. These continue to be important extensions of the show, but not exactly what we'd call transmedia. Through adaptation they replicate popular aspects of the show in order to extend the experience and the consumption.
Over the years, "El Chavo's" presence has also grown due to abundant fan production, fanvids, mashups, parodies are present all over the web, but probably the popular fan-led contribution to this canon has been the adaptation of the game "Street Fighter" into "Chavo Fighter". Apparently it was first created in Brazil because all the characters names come from the Portuguese version.
"El Chavo" presents a case that is transmedia storytelling in most "conventional" sense of the word (if you could say such a thing). It expands the narrative and the story-world across different media relying heavily on television as its driving platform. In my next post I describe two other Latin American properties that don't fit with this rather clean-cut version of what transmedia storytelling may be.