Of Arcana, Dark Souls, Maiden, and Marketing


I want to market Arcana like Iron Maiden.

No, let me rephrase that.

I want to market Arcana like motherfucking Iron Maiden.  

A little context is in order here.

As preparations for the Arcana Kickstarter gather steam (especially in terms of art direction), I find myself thinking about the relationship between marketing and world-building in musical-visual settings.  I’ve also been watching Iron Maiden documentaries, especially those that feature interviews with frontman Bruce Dickinson (who also happens to be a professional airline pilot, manning the controls of the band’s touring jet called Flight 666 and Ed Force One).

Iron Maiden paint scheme on the Final Frontier World Tour 2011 B

Iron Maiden is a glorious juggernaut of a marketing machine, starting with a foundation of solid songwriting and musicianship that combines with visually harmonious cover art to create a world.  And this audio-visual world sells concerts, t-shirts, bandanas, posters, and countless other knick-knacks in a way that most bands can only dream of.  It is telling that even Kiss, themselves masters of theatrical marketing, expressed a certain awe of the early Iron Maiden’s capacity for merchandising.

And none of this clever capitalism seems particularly crass to me, since at its heart it is based on a cohesive vision of the imaginative world to which the band gives access.   From the beginning, Maiden recruited cover artist Derek Riggs to paint gorgeous, dystopian settings in which the band’s mascot, Eddie the Head, could wreck his mayhem.  And these covers don’t merely supplement the songs: they are an extension of the world created by these songs, rich with detail that can be pondered lovingly while immersing oneself in the Egyptology of “Powerslave,” the pulp diabolism of “Number of the Beast,” or the cybernetic time travel of “Somewhere in Time.”


It’s not surprising, then, that Iron Maiden commissioned a video game, wryly titled Ed Hunter, that allowed players to explore the worlds depicted in these album covers as immersive three-dimensional environments.


Creativity meets marketing at the same crossroads where audio, visuals, and interactivity intersect.  I’m reminded of the two most beautiful pieces of Dark Souls merchandise: unofficial and unlicensed recreations of boss battles in the rough, retro, Gothic style of 80′s heavy metal t-shirts.   These fan creations seem to speak, saying “This is what it sounds like to live inside of Dark Souls, and this is how that sound looks.”  Such audio-visual echoes are at the heart of what is sometimes called transmedia, but with an authenticity that starts with a core vision and markets *around* this vision (rather than the opposite, exploitative approach often favored by Hollywood, which has sometimes besmirched the concept of transmedia).



In a short documentary piece on “Faith and Music,” Bruce Dickinson speaks of his inspiration by the sacred and the demonic, set to the tune of his own musical rendition of William Blake’s “Jersualem” in the background.  And all this spiritual discourse strikes me as perfectly in keeping with the marketing machine that is Maiden, because Blake found himself in an eighteenth-century version of the same conundrum.  In his tiny printer’s cottage in Felpham, Blake sought to give verbal and visual expression to his own unique vision in a way that would be true to his spirit, while attracting enough of an audience to keep his shop running and his body alive.  Blake didn’t own or pilot a jumbo jet, but his imagination soared, and one could easily imagine him launching his own Kickstarter “in the infernal method” if a wrinkle in time allowed him to travel from his era to our own.


What I want from Arcana is a vision sufficiently striking and appealing to our intended audience of gamers, occultists, and metalheads that our Kickstarter rewards aren’t just supplementary trinkets, but natural extensions of a gorgeous, Gothic world.

I shall not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hands, till we have built Arcana in South Dakota’s frozen lands.

(Up the Irons!)

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