SPECIAL REPORT: Comic Podcasts and You
Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Posted By: Liz Reed
Whether you’re a diehard Wednesday’s stack follower or just looking for a good laugh, it’s easy to pick your pleasure out of the hundreds of comic-focused podcasts available on the World Wide Web. Podcasts have been around since the 90s, and as Podcastfaq.com bluntly phrases it, “The genesis of podcasting lies in the introduction of digital files known as MP3s.” In 2004, an article in The Guardian brought Apple’s rising mp3 player into the mix and the term “podcast” was born.
Seven years later, can we safely say podcasting is growing in popularity and demand, especially in the comic community? As @Chris_TOMP tweeted at me recently, “there's a touch of irony in using a purely auditory channel to talk about a purely visual medium.”
Limitations aside, eMarketer predicted by 2013, 17 percent of U.S. Internet users (37.6 million people) will download a podcast a least once per month. Pair this with statements from Brian Baltosiewich, founder of radioexiles.com, in a recent Radio Ink article about the endless possibilities of cars equipped with Internet, and we may have an argument.
“‘We're in the podcasting game early and people are still kind of learning about these things,’ Baltosiewich says. ‘We provide shows that sound very much like what listeners are used to hearing on their radios, with real people, real broadcasters they can relate to and interact with... We're on the edge of the future of all this. Thirty percent of internet users listen to some form of internet radio, be it music, like Pandora, or podcasts. In a couple years that number will double. When it does, we'll be five years old and ready for the explosion.’”
But enough of the data, let’s just focus on what’s already out there and how fans are responding. I spoke with hosts from three very different podcasts about their shows, the future and how they keep up with the trends. Despite struggles in finding sponsors and monetizing their shows, these hosts reveal how podcasts enhance discussion and strengthen the comic community. For example, if comic websites provide the “gathering place” for comic fanboys and girls everywhere, comic podcasts deliver the extra “oomph” of information and commentary these sites need to sustain (and entertain) their audience.
Self-described as “a comics and pop culture podcast about comics and pop culture, destructive in its awesomeness,” War Rocket Ajax started a year and a half ago as a forum for comics people to talk about… well, non-comics stuff. It might not make sense, but the founders, Eugene WarRock and Chris Sims, wanted their podcast to be more than your average “stitch and bitch” and hopefully make their audience laugh along the way.
After WarRock’s rap career took off, comedy writer Matt Wilson joined the show and as of June 13, War Rocket Ajax published its first episode as the official podcast of AOL affialiate Comics Alliance. While some podcasters see mergers as the end of their creative freedom, Wilson and Sims, who is Comics Alliance's senior writer, instead embrace the opportunity to feature bigger guests and reach more fans than they ever could’ve imagined.
“We get a much larger audience who can interact with us,” Wilson said. “We do a lot of audience interaction and we’ll take questions from Twitter and ask those questions to our guests. So it’s a way to have more people in the audience and a way to get guests on the show that we weren’t able to get before.”
And his take on “creative control” of the show?
“Most of the changes that have been implemented mainly have to do with length are self-imposed,” he said. “Nobody at Comics Alliance told us we had to do that, but since we’re moving up to a bigger stage, we want to keep it concise.”
Wilson said the new episodes will include round table discussions with other Comics Alliance writers about topics like the DC company relaunch and more supplementary coverage to content on the website.
“I think it’s telling that Comics Alliance wanted to have an official podcast,” he said. “People were asking for it—There’s an expectation from their fans to have this form of media to provide commentary. I don’t think podcasting will ever overtake any other media, but people will expect these to be here for their interest to listen to their subject.”
Move over boys, the women hosts of Comics Slumber Party are out to prove they not only read comics, they know comics.
“People are like do you actually read these? Do you read comics? That kind of thing happens,” Molly Jane Kremer said in reference to her job at a comic shop. “And the very socially awkward guys won’t even go near you.”
But a few nervous fanboys didn’t discourage Kremer and her fellow hosts, Wendi Freeman and Avi Brown, when they decided to launch their first podcast in 2005.
“We have such a vibrant comic community in Chicago and so many people willing and open to talk to us,” Freeman said. “We thought it would be great to get the girl perspective.”
From the latest comic books and pop culture trends to “who’d win a pillow fight” debates, Comics Slumber Party doesn’t commit itself to one idea or following to ensure fun and chaos with every podcast.
“I’m always trying to make it more applicable to people who don’t read comics and still make it interesting,” Brown said. “Most comic fans are very aware of pop culture so we just talk about what we like.”
Comics Slumber Party’s biggest setback? Scheduling problems. Brown, Freeman and Kremer all have work outside the podcast, making it difficult for them to release weekly episodes. While they wouldn’t pass on the opportunity to make a profit, the hosts just want to have fun.
“I’m glad we don’t make money on it yet because it’s a learning experience. There’s a lot of nitty gritty details, different formats, different ways to record,” Freeman said. “Podcasting as a whole is so young, it’s a punk rock medium.”
Their response to fanboy fantasies?
“We are always wearing hot outfits, painting nails and braiding each others hair,” Kremer said with a smile.
“Oh, and there’s a king-size bed behind us as we’re recording,” Brown added.
On the other side of the world, Tim Young runs a podcast made by and for comics creators. As an employee of an educational contractor in Japan, Young doesn’t always get the chance to flip through Wednesday’s stack, which ultimately influenced the international comic coverage and commentary in Deconstructing Comics.
“There’s a pretty low goofing around factor in our podcast in general because we’re really interested in comics and serious about liking them and making them (when we have time),” Young said. “I don’t know if ‘news’ is the right word, but I think of it as almost an academic type of thing, a scholarly thing. We’re seriously discussing how comics work and how you can make it better. We’re definitely different.”
What started as three guys analyzing comics over coffee transformed into a podcast dedicated to helping artists, especially new comics creators, find inspiration and constructive criticism. Young and fellow co-founders Brandon Kirkham, Mulele Jarvis, who worked on FULL THROTTLE stories in a few DARK HORSE PRESENTS issues and Kumar Sivasubramanian, an English Language Consultant for Sunrise Inc., use their diverse backgrounds to guide their discussions and content.
“I think we don’t immediately appeal to (the Wednesday stack) group,” Young said. “iFanboy might meet their needs better than we would because we’re basically looking for a niche inside a niche. It makes us harder to find much of an audience. That’s the most difficult part. Especially being in Japan, it makes it hard to get exposure and go to the cons.”
But he did mention that their current followers, which comprise mainly of artists, respond positively to podcasts that scrutinize the unordinary, like “newspaper strips, undergrounds, Web comics, manga, European comics and more.”
While Deconstructing Comics is purely hobby, Young wants to eventually find more sponsors to expand his reach. With more and more comic sites realizing the potential of podcasts, hosts of smaller shows can dedicate more time and energy thanks to branding and investment.
“Podcasting and the internet in general has really enhanced the community in general,” he said. “Sitting here in Japan reading my comics, I feel more a part of the comics community now than I did back in the day when I went to the comic book shop. There was no place you could go to listen to interviews or hear people in another city talking about what came out this week. Podcasts add another layer to that; it’s that much more of a community builder than a message board and Twitter. iFanboy has made this their business, there’s an audience for it. If someone can make their living off of it, it obviously works.”
With hundreds (possibly thousands) of comic podcasts on the web, it’s difficult to pin exactly who will be the real winners if eMarketer’s podcasting popularity predictions become a reality. From my conversations with the hosts of these three podcasts, it was easy to tell they got into the business for the love of the community rather than the (nonexistent) money, which remains true for a majority of the main players out there.
However, the pending success of War Rocket Ajax’s partnership with Comics Alliance could pave the way for future geek culture sites’ podcasts. After all, why would they try to reinvent the wheel when there’s already a plethora of comic/pop culture podcasts itching for exposure?
The women of Comics Slumber Party didn’t hesitate when they told me they’d jump at the chance for an official partnership and Young of Deconstructing Comics also expressed a great interest in sponsorship possibilities. From their perspective, it’s difficult to say no to funding something they’re already passionate enough about to work for free. Oh, and greater access to geeks across the country? Podcasting and comic culture sites are a match made in heaven! I anticipate this not-so-new trend will catch fire yet again in the upcoming years.
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