We're excited to announce that the Skies of Fire #3 Kickstarter will officially launch next Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016!
For the first 72 hours of the new Kickstarter you'll be able to purchase the print copy for $7 - including shipping!. If you're thinking about buying a copy do so early. Supporting us in the first days helps immeasurably with getting the word out and attracting new fans!
We'll see you next Tuesday!
- Ray and Vince
As a writer, I am constantly seeking out and working on new stories. From a young age, I loved reading about epic adventures like The Hobbit, watching hard-boiled noirs ala The Third Man, and playing immersive game titles (Final Fantasy VIII anyone?). These were things I had fun doing and eventually made me decide to pick the path of spinning my own stories.
In college, I took classes on screenwriting and story development. I read Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces, McKee’s Story and many others, all in hopes of honing my skills and learning how to churn out a good tale.
It wasn’t until recently did I start thinking about a question I should have asked myself years ago: Why tell stories?
I’ve been so preoccupied in trying to make a good story I didn’t really stop to think why. Sure you can say, “Well, Vince, cause it’s fun.” And you’d be right! But, fun isn’t enough for me. I want to know why it’s fun. What makes it fun in our minds? Why are our brains lighting up when we watch a movie, read a book, listen to music, or stare at a painting for too long?
Here, I hope to put down my thoughts to this question and give you guys some fun and cool videos and works I found online that touch on the subject. If you don’t like reading scientific publications, don’t worry; I’ve tried to cram my favorite finds into this (hopefully) bite-sized article.
Let’s jump in.
Stories go way back before written history, when it is believed our hunting and gathering ancestors told oral stories around campfires. Evidence of storytelling goes as far back as 39,000BCE in Spain, where hand stencils and symbols have been found in cave dwellings.
In 1993, archeologists in Greece discovered the Dispilio Tablet. Dating back to 5260BCE, the inscriptions are the oldest ever discovered. Though we do not know what is written on the tablet (publication of the discovery still pending), it is probable that stories would’ve made their way into written form at this time.
The oldest known written story goes to the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh dating back to roughly 2,600BCE. The story follows a king who goes out in search for of immortality. Not too shabby to be humanity’s first quest, eh?
By 1,700BCE, we see an explosion of stories worldwide, with texts unearthed in places like India and Egypt.
Over the next few centuries, stories continue to evolve and grow. With society developing at a faster and faster rate, more mediums get discovered. Theater, music, poetry, and art become mediums of narrative that are shared with everyone.
It’s not until about 800BCE that the Greek myths of Hercules and the gods are written down. This is also around the time when we have the first written evidence that people started thinking about why we tell stories.
Between the 1st and the 13th century, we see a dramatic shift of stories in Europe. Out goes the old Roman myths and in comes Christianity. Scandinavian myths remain strong, spreading through much of Northern Europe.
When the printing press was introduced in Europe in the 15th century, the world was teeming with stories and myths. The press only fanned the flames and made these works more accessible.
In the Enlightenment era, we slowly see an increased diversity in our stories. Once bound strictly to the Christian faith, storytellers begin to delve into more non-religious tales.
Coming into the 20th century, cinema begins to win the hearts of people. By 1980, videogames jump on the bandwagon with Pac Man, one of the earliest and most popular game protagonists.
The rest is history.
What Is A Story?
Before we continue, we need to define what a story is. As seen from our brief history on… well, story; they can span over multiple mediums. An exact definition is in order.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a story is:
An account of imaginary or real people
and events told for entertainment.
That sounds about right. I like how they use the word “account.” It leaves the definition open to all mediums. Although, I personally wouldn’t use the term “entertainment” in the end. I wouldn’t read a news story for entertainment value, especially if it’s about something tragic. But, hey, these guys have been defining words since 1857, so who am I to say they’re wrong?
But do all stories follow this definition regardless of cultural, social, and temporal differences? According to Joseph Campbell, they do. In his theory of The Hero's Journey, Campbell states that stories follow one path:
A hero ventures out, meets obstacles, and overcomes them.
From Super Mario, to Harry Potter, to Social Network, this is true. Think of you favorite story and see if this sentence applies. So regardless of where your are or at what time a story has been written, it should have the same structure.
Science of Story
Now that we got the definition out of the way, let’s get into the juicy stuff.
I could jump straight into the Greek era of Plato and Socrates, but their theories are based more on philosophical meanderings than actual studies. There wasn’t much when it came to controlled experimentation. And forget about brain scans. Besides, they were too focused on telling stories of their own, and how to craft even better ones! Ah, my college days :)
Actual scientific experimentation came about in the 20th century. With controlled studies and MRIs, we finally see a good picture of what stories are doing to us.
In 1944, two scientists created the Heider-Simmel experiment. In lieu of explaining what the experiment is, let’s just do it. Please watch the following video:
What did you see in the video? If you say, “A bad guy kidnapping someone, and a hero coming in to save the day,” Congratulations, you’re not a robot! According to the results, 117 out of 120 people described a similar story. Only three people said they just saw shapes moving around a white background.
This test shows that human beings have an innate predisposition to storytelling. We can project stories onto inanimate objects!
What does this prove? That storytelling is essential to our existence. Perhaps we are genetically inclined to tell stories? Now that’s a bold statement. In fact, whether the need to tell stories is genetic or socially learned is still heavily debated within scientific circles.
Let’s face it, the science of storytelling is still in its infancy, and some of the most notable studies are only showing up now. But let’s not get bogged down by the sad reality and move on.
So we know that humans are naturally inclined to storytelling, yet the question remains - why? Here are some theories:
Some scientists theorize that storytelling is a way we bond with others. Empathizing in similar stories allows us to build strong communities. It is unsure of who first coined the term, but many scientists have held on to this theory - Jerome Bruner being one of the most notable. I’ve attached an interesting paper by Elizabeth F. Churchill on the matter below.
Evolutionarily, this is a good thing. Two heads are better than one, after all. And you can really get to building an awesome civilization when everyone is on the same page (pun intended).
Going back to all the ancient civilizations that predate globalization. Generally, one set of stories prevailed in each community. Whether it’s Greek Mythology, or Christianity, these stories were often believed by only one notable civilization. When there was a difference in stories, we see nations split or even go to war!
It’s harder to see nowadays, as we have become more intermingled than ever before, but stories as a social glue is still quite prevalent. Think of all those World of Warcraft fans, or how about sports? Funerals have been carried out in WoW's world of Azeroth to mourn players who decide to stop playing the game! People still rally together through the stories and heroics of their favorite sports teams.
Stories have, and continue to, be used as a rallying cry for social change and togetherness.
Another prevalent theory is that stories are told to transfer knowledge from one generation to the next. Those 17,000 year-old cave paintings in Lascaux, France, were not some way to spruce up a musty cave, but rather a tool to teach others.
What the images are supposed to teach us is still up for debate. Some say the animals represent their spiritual beliefs, while others believe that they may form a basic star chart. Perhaps it was a hunting journal, showing to-be hunters what they can expect to hunt next season.
Skip a few thousand years down the line and stories really pick up on this theory. Stories like Gilgamesh can be seen as a cautionary tale, telling the reader: “Hey, don’t look for immortality, cause there is none!”
But why transfer information in story? Why not just write the information and be done with it? Isn’t it easier to pass on information in its basic form, rather than spin them into elaborate adventures or artistic frescoes?
Yes, however, thanks to science, we now know that transmitting information through story has some amazing advantages for the listener.
For one, it lasts longer in the mind. Recent studies by Paul J. Zak from Harvard have shown that people who are taught courses through storytelling techniques often have a clearer idea of the topic and can recall them much faster weeks later. The results are so astounding that Zak said it “blows the standard Powerpoint presentation to bits.”
What he discovered is that stories affect the brain’s synthesis of oxytocin levels. They give the audience a natural high, probably due to the evolution of the neural pathways as nature finds telling stories as the best way to keep them stored in the mind.
Other studies by Keith Oatley from the University of Toronto seem to prove this theory. Oatley mentions how the brain seems to be hard-wired to efficiently digest stories.
Which way do you find easier to learn the year Columbus sailed for the Americas?
Most students would pick the second one. The information, put into poetic limerick, is more memorable due to its story-oriented aspect.
Emotionally charged information also lasts longer in the mind. We are creatures of emotion, so when we associate information with feelings, they are more easily recalled when we feel those same emotions. There is also scientific backing that information travels further when baked into a story. Emotional investment adds value to the knowledge making it a more worthwhile topic of discussion.
Another way it helps with transferring knowledge is that it’s easier to comprehend more complex knowledge through storytelling in a shorter amount of time.
Jill Eck from the University of Wisconsin-Stout made a study where she experimented this teaching method in scenarios where students needed to learn a lot of information in a short amount of time. The results correlated to storytelling being the best method of transmitting information that “sticks.”
This is so important in our modern world as more and more courses get shorter and shorter to accommodate the fast-paced lifestyles we’ve all come to live in. Companies are pushing for more story-driven teachings in order to get new employees up to speed and competent in the quickest way possible.
It’s easy to understand this when you consider how knowledge is packed into a story. With stories, we see the cause and effect chain of actions and events. In a way, we get to “experience” the results of certain actions without having to test them out in the real world.
This simulation, similar to play fighting in animals, gives us knowledge that is backed up with implementation. It gives weight to the information, as you don’t need to test it to see what the outcome will be. Want to know what will happen if a ship hits an iceberg? Go watch Titanic. You don’t have to do it yourself.
Stories don’t only show you what happens, but also reveal to you why they happen.
This is probably why people are more inclined to watch stories with tragic and horrifying twists and turns. The brain is duped into wanting to see the outcome so that you know what to do if similar events befall you in real life. The same thing happens with post-apocalyptic genres. Want to know how to survive a zombie apocalypse? The Walking Dead is a dead ringer.
One final theory I’d like to talk about on why we tell stories is how they give us the tools to identify who we are and contextualize the world around us.
According to Jonathan Gottschall from Washington & Jefferson College, humans are judgmental and truth seeking by nature. The reason behind this is that we are always trying to define who we are and what world we live in. In order to do that we need to categorize: good vs. bad, big vs. small etc.
Stories can help us decide who we want to be. When you watch The Lord of the Rings, who do you associate yourself with? Are you an Aragorn, or a Frodo? If you said Sauron, that might be a little concerning.
The fact of the matter is we, as human beings, side with the people we relate to the most. We learn from their mistakes, parade their courage as our own, and push to be aspects of them in the real world.
According to Zak, studies have proven that people who watch action films like James Bond or 300 tend to walk away with a braver and more dominant mentality. We adore heroes who struggle to beat the odds, and admonish villains who want complete power.
Studies by Paul Bloom from Yale University on 2-year-old children has shown us that they can already place judgment on who is good and who is bad in a story. When offered toys of those characters, they’d reward the hero and punish the villain.
The last study I'd like to mention is the Simon Baron-Cohen experiment. This was a study to see how stories can affect how we read people’s faces. Take a look at the picture below and pick which expression you think the person is showing:
Studies have shown that people who read more are statistically more inclined to pick the right emotion for the face. Which one did you pick?
All in all, these experiments have shown us how we use what we learn in stories to paint our perception of the real world around us. This is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because we can easily define the world around us, but bad as it can be used by people to paint the world for their own ends – Hitler’s Mein Kampf comes to mind. It seems the pen is mightier than the sword.
We End Here… For Now.
There are dozens of other theories on why we tell stories, but these were the ones that stuck out for me and are probably the most popular.
Which one do I believe in? For now, all of them! (Is that a cop out?). We have found evidence that all of them can be valid in our lives, and they all work on the mind in similar ways. In fact, Identity seems to borrow heavily from the Social Glue and Knowledge theories, needing a bit of both to even exist.
I believe that we tell stories because it’s in our evolution. Genetic predisposition and social learning has built up this awesome brain that activates when we hear stories because it is the most beneficial thing to do for the survival of our species. We get high on stories so that we can learn more efficiently, bond more amicably, and understand who we are.
Whether we are young or old, we can all get together around a table or campfire and tell wondrous tales of adventure as a way to become better people ready to build a better world.
Some Cool References
I hope you enjoyed this article. Though I am no scientist, I used a lot of referential work that can be found online and through books. If you are interested to know more, I recommend going out there and researching the subject for yourselves!
There is a lot to learn, and in the coming years, new ideas and theories will be discovered that will change what we think of stories and why they are important to us. I have barely scratched the surface on this subject and will continue to dig deeper in search for the truth.
For now, here are some awesome links to works I’ve used to put this article together and some extra stuff that will kickstart your exploration into this expanding field.
Joseph Campbell - Hero With a Thousand Faces - An amazing read. He brings up some great story ideas and philosophies like Jung's collective consciousness into the mix.
Why We Tell Stories - An great program about storytelling with some of the world's finest minds at the 2012 World Science Fair. I used this as a springboard into the subject and my research. Well worth a watch.
Paul J. Zak - Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling.
Elizabeth F. Churchill - An introduction to the Social Glue theory.
Leo Widrich - The Science of Storytelling.
Keith Oatley - Empathy Upgrade.
Jerome Bruner - Making Stories: Law, Literature, and Life.
We have a busy fall convention slate coming up, culminating in the mothership, New York Comic-Con 2015, which both Vince and Ray will be attending. Here's the full schedule of where we'll be:
United Kingdom / Ireland
August 29-30, 2015 - Ireland Comic-Con
A couple of weeks ago Vince attended MCM Dublin and had a blast. This is kind of a retroactive announcement, but here are some pictures from the con!
September 24th-26th 2015 - Salt Lake City Comic-Con
So that means next weekend Vince and Ray will be, for the first time, exhibiting simultaneously while at different conventions! Exciting times for Mythopoeia! If you happen to find yourself at one of these cons please come out and say hi!
In part one I talked about how continuing an ongoing series influenced the design of our campaign. Part two covered our experiences with research, analytics, and advertising, while in part three we explained the differences we see between offset and digital printing. In this post I’ll be detailing our shipping process, mostly discussing the materials and tools we use and why.
Shipping is quite an interesting experience. On the one hand it basically amounts to manual labor, but there’s something deeply satisfying about delivering to the people who supported you, especially when the names become familiar over multiple campaigns. It’s also nice having a natural ending point for the work. Sometimes doing creative work feels like climbing an endless mountain -- you can always revise a script some more, or write more blog entries, try to get more press, etc.. It’s a good feeling switching it up every once in awhile, doing straightforward, honest work.
One of the things we greatly improved upon from the first Kickstarter was the packaging of our shipments. We were a bit naive about this the first time around, and shipped most of our packages with bubble mailers.
We thought that the layer of protection provided by the layer of bubble wrap would be enough. That didn’t turn out to be the case for a number of the packages, as indicated by our backers, some of whom were very disappointed at our packaging.
In the buildup to issue two, we knew we really had to improve the materials we shipped our books in or else risk the wrath of our supporters again. We looked into other Kickstarters, asked around and came up with the following materials:
These things are amazing. They’re made of pretty stiff cardboard, have their own adhesive, and don’t weigh a ton. Honestly, probably the best way to mail single to triple issues of floppies. They can still be bent, but it takes extraordinary effort to do so.
Because of the chipboard mailers we received approximately 1/3rd of the complains from our first Kickstarter while shipping almost double the amount of packages. Some damage in the shipping process is inevitable -- a lot of mailmen are handling this stuff, and sometimes they may lose their patience and end up folding or stuffing things into tight spots because they’re having a bad day or just want to get on with the rest of their job. Understandable.
We make it our policy to always replace damaged items so long as backers show us evidence of the damage. We always want to make our backers happy and ensure they have the best possible experience we can deliver. Superior packaging and good communications along with replacing damaged merchandise is all part of that.
Pricewise, Chipboard Mailers were about the same per unit as Bubble Mailers, so they didn’t add too much if anything to our costs. They are a little bit heavier, but that doesn’t translate necessarily into more postage (more on this later). A single chipboard mailer can fit maybe three 36 page comic books.
Along with chipboard mailers, we also decided to add bags and boards to our comic packaging for the second Kickstarter. I think we just were a little out of the loop of the comic scene our first time out, and didn’t realize how much these little touches added to the customer experience.
To be honest, we didn’t want to do it the first time around because bags and boards are a little on the pricey side. In total, they cost about a quarter per unit, which adds up rather quickly. They’re even more expensive in the UK, and harder to source. We had to look up individual merchants from ebay in order to get a decent price that was still about 40% more expensive than what we would pay in the States.
Still, bags and boards provide a quintessential ‘comic experience,’ and adding them as standard shows that we really care about the quality of our product and the delivery therin. It also takes a little bit more time packaging everything, but again if it makes the customer that much more satisfied and happy, then it’s worth it in our eyes.
These are the items on my desk while shipping. And no, I'm not getting sponsored by any of these guys :).
The online tools/platforms we use are designed to save us time. If need be, we could just do everything out of Kickstarter, but it would probably mean not only more labor for us, but an increase in the amount of packaging mistakes. The flip side is that the tools are an additional charge that takes away from our bottom line.
BackerKit is a back-end web platform designed to support crowdfunding fulfilment. There are a number of tools in its suite, the most important of which is a survey / spreadsheet system that helps creators organize backers by batch categories. So for instance, I can with the click of a couple buttons see all of the US-based backers who ordered a red sticker, copy of issue two, and postcard. Instead of packaging them individually, I can finish them all off in one go assembly line style. This saves us a lot of time and helps dummy-proof us from our own packaging mistakes. Of course, those types of mistakes are still made, but we're fairly certain the percentage is reduced because of the greater organization BackerKit provides.
The other main benefit of BackerKit is that it can act as a secondary storefront for add-ons or preorders. In our experience, this has helped BackerKit more than pay for itself. The addition of another storefront typically adds something like 8% of your original funding amount on average, which is a nice little boost.
Pricingwise, BackerKit has a three tiered system where they take both a percentage of your total raised as well as some from the pre/add-on orders. Again, in our experience BackerKit has paid for itself and then some each time. That may not be the same for everyone.
We decided to offload all of our add-ons to Backerkit for our second campaign. This meant not listing individual prices for the Kickstarter and telling people who wanted add-ons to wait for the BackerKit survey. I think we actually lost some potential revenue because we lost perhaps some spur of the moment purchases, but it saved us the hassle of having to figure out add-ons without a clear logistical system in place.
So, would I recommend BackerKit to other Kickstarters? Yes…. but with some trepidation. The services BackerKit provide are great, but the customer service can sometimes be lacking. Keep in mind the only time we access BackerKit is during our fulfillment. If we have to wait for BackerKit to respond (which we’ve had to do time and time again), that means we’re not shipping books and twiddling our fingers. Both Vince and I have other commitments, so it’s hugely frustrating when the time we allocate to ship is wasted because the platform designed to save us time is in fact holding us up.
It’s also a little buggy at times. It’s kind of funny because I’ve played video games all my life, right? So I know what a bug is… I know one when I see it. When I’ve talked to their customer service reps about certain technical issues in the past, their neutral response is always along the lines of ‘oh no… can’t possibly be something on our end!’ If not in words then in tone. I wish they would be a little bit less assured of their technology and a little bit more ...accepting of their faults.
That said, the added revenue is nice and there’s no doubt that the systems BackerKit provides are useful logistical tools. They’ve also gotten better as a service the longer they've been at it.
For domestic shipping, we use Stamps.com to buy postage. Stamps.com costs about $15 a month, but they give you a free trial and some credit for postage when you first get started. The system is pretty intuitive and each package saves us an average of .25 cents over going to the post office or using BackerKit's built in postage (which goes through endicia).
So, as long as you're shipping 60 media mail packages or more the service pays for itself and saves you money. It definitely saves you time over the USPS website, which is kind of a hot mess.
Main benefit? You can cut and paste domestic addresses, and it has a plug-in that allows us to print for the DYNMO 4XL without having to fiddle around with settings. For each package that saves us maybe fifteen seconds, but it all adds up when you start to deal with hundreds of the suckers.
Suspending the account is a bit of a hassle. You can't just do it on the website and have to talk to a customer representative. They'll try and appease you by offering free months of service, but I think they do that in the hopes that you'll eventually forget about it and keep on getting charged. Just got to stay on top of it and cancel right away.
We use media mail to ship the majority of our packages. This is the cheapest option so long as the package only contains books or other forms of media. Media mail is also measured by the pound, so there's a huge amount of leeway with regards to packaging material. That's why I said earlier that the switch to cardboard mailers - despite being heavier - did not effect our shipping costs. Two comics bagged and boarded is going to be under a pound in both chipboard and bubble mailer.
There's some info online stating that media mail is not suited for comics or magazines because those items contain ads. Our books don't contain ads because we self-publish, so...
Your mileage may vary. Know that USPS reserves the right to inspect any package that's shipped through media mail to ensure that the service is not being abused. Use your best judgment.
So, international shipping is going to be a doozy no matter what. One of the main problems is that Kickstarter accounts for shipping as part of your total pledge goal. That means even if you correctly estimate shipping for different regions, international orders will inevitably shrink your margins because while the fundraising target may be the same, a disproportionate and unconsidered amount will go towards shipping internationally. Yaay.
Still, it's just something you have to deal with. It sucks for us as creators, but it probably sucks even more for our international backers. They'll typically be among your higher backers because of shipping, and it's nice seeing that people from different places believing in your project.
For Mythopoeia, we're a bit lucky in that Vince and I are based out of different parts of the world. I mean overall it's a net negative when it comes to working, but for shipping it's definitely a plus! Because Vince is in London, he handles all of the European and African orders we get (we haven't gotten an order from Africa yet), while I handle NA/SA/AustralAsia.
To save costs, we'll ship a portion of the books directly to London from a printer. Unfortunately, we didn't properly account for merchandise shortages this second Kickstarter, and so I had to ship two international packages directly to Vince so he could fulfill the rest of his orders. That costed a lot of money... less than if I had to ship all the international orders, but still a decent amount.
Then something else happened. Because we were afraid of the merchandise getting lost, I stupidly bought a high amount of insurance on the packages I sent to Vince. The Royal Mail Service saw the purported value of the packages and asked Vince to pay a high VAT tax. He had to do it... it delayed European shipping by several more days, and in the end we probably spent as much money on European shipping as had I decided to ship it from here in sunny Los Angeles. The tax man got us, and he got us good.
So advice for international shipping? Not much, because we haven't figured it out yet, either :).
Final Installment: Lessons Learned, Things We Would do Differently
Part I: Continuing an Ongoing Series
Part II: Research, Analytics, & Advertising
Part III: Digital vs. Offset Printing
If you found this information helpful please be sure to check our comic, Skies of Fire. If you're already a fan, don't forget to sign up for our mailing list, follow us on twitter, and like us on facebook!
- Ray and Vince