Welcome to the conclusion of our two-part talk with Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, creators of the hit podcast Welcome to Night Vale. In this part, we talked to the creators about some of their biggest influences, favorite modern horror, and just what guests they’d love to have visit Night Vale.
Newsarama: Jeffrey, Joseph – I was curious about your familiarity with classic radio and classic radio suspense, especially with the live shows – have you ever listened to things like “Quiet Please” or Orson Welles or Arch Oboler?
Jeffrey Cranor: I have very little awareness or experience with classic radio drama or suspense. I mean, I’m aware of the form, and I’m familiar with the genre, and I think The Thrilling Adventure Hour does a great job of paying homage to that form of radio.
But we’re more interested in community radio – a lot of Night Vale is inspired by listening to community radio in my home town of Mesquite and also, a bunch of talk radio. We’ll listen to a bunch of that, the ridiculous call-ins.
And single-person storyteller tales – that’s been an influence on Joseph and myself more than anything else. Just one person, sitting on the stage, telling a tale – there’s something very Homeric about that.
Joseph Fink: Yeah – I would say a lot of stuff people sometime assume was an influence are things I’m not that familiar with! I heard “The War of the Worlds,” but I don’t know much of Welles’ other radio work, just storytellers and monologists. It’s more influenced by small-scale theater, where Jeffrey and I both started, and still has a major hold on us.
Nrama: Well, then I’m going to regret this next question about H.P. Lovecraft’s influence, as I was going to ask about how you captured the creeping dread, those very specific elements of old Weird Tales stories…um, minus the racism. What are some elements of classic horror you’ve looked toward, if not classic Lovecraft, and why do these stories resonate?
Fink: That’s another thing people area always assuming is a major influence, and the funny thing is that Lovecraft is not something that I’m into – in fact, I strongly dislike his work.
Nrama: See, man, Commonplace Books’ website threw me! They have that Lovecraft anthology!
Fink: Yeah, I just don’t like his work, and I don’t think it influenced me, though I do like horror in general, and I recognize the strong influence Lovecraft as a writer and idea man had on horror.
Cranor: I definitely had a strong Stephen King influence growing up – he was one of the first writers I really knew growing up. Reading his nonfiction book Danse Macabre – that really talked about the EC Comics and Lovecraft’s influences. Like Joseph, I’m not a fan of Lovecraft’s work, and he kind of sounds like an awful person.
But his influence on other writers was considerable, and those in turn were writers who influenced me – that concept of growing dread, of something so terrifying that to look upon it would cause you to lose your mind. That existential aspect was very interesting to me.
I’ve always been interested in Stephen King – especially his short stories. That idea of containing whole worlds within those few pages, really tackling existential ideas – that’s something incredible to grow up with, and spend your formative years reading.
Nrama: You just described my childhood as well – I remember reading “Survivor Type,” where the guy washes up on an island and gradually eats himself to survive—
Cranor: Yeah! Where he fully uses all the cocaine to start surgically taking himself apart and eat himself…it’s amazing.
Nrama: Any other specific horror authors you’d like to recommend? Your fans might pick some stuff up.
Fink: Well, Jeffrey and I are both huge fans of Shirley Jackson…
Cranor: So great. One book Joseph and I both reread at the same time over the last few months was a collection of short stories called Revenge by Yoko Ogawa…
Fink: Oh god! That was so good. It’s very scary, it’s very disturbing.
Cranor: There’s a vaguely Lynchian thing going on with her work. It’s poetic, it’s not always clear why things are happening, everything is sort of beautiful and upsetting.
Fink: Another author I really love is Marisha Pessl – I just reread her book Night Film and it really stuck with me.
Cranor: Another one I recently read, and it’s not technically horror but it really, really stuck with me, was Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. There are absolutely horrifying moments in that book, really horrific imagery, but ultimately it’s about a husband whose wife leaves him. But the terror of being alone, that existential loneliness, the dreams he has – that sticks with you.
Nrama: One thing I wanted to ask is if you’ve ever considered writing your own Night Vale comics, or perhaps doing an anthology with different creators like The Thrilling Adventure Hour, where people could do their different interpretations of the Night Vale characters?
Cranor: Yeah, we’ve been approached by a few different places…and by a lot of different people in different media, but the thing is, we only want to get involved with things where we feel we can devote the proper time and energy.
So right now, that’s live touring and the Night Vale book we’re writing. It’s not something we’re ruling out, but once we’re done with the stuff we’re working on now, we’ll stop to think about what we’re going to do next.
Nrama: The book, from what I understand, is an original story?
Cranor: Yeah, we made the decision not to make this an anthology of existing episodes – it had to be a unique tale, told through the voice of a novelist, not Cecil Palmer, because it’s a different medium. So with the stage show, we have to be conscious of the audience and engage them, and that’s similar to the situation with the novel – you can’t just have the voice of Cecil Baldwin reading them the whole thing.
So we wanted to make sure we built a fresh story. We’re both writers, so we worked together to create this new story, and spread it out across 80,000 words instead of 2,500.
Nrama: Ooh! You’re making me want to do some math as to how many episodes this book would be the equivalent of…at 2,500 words times 47 episodes to date minus the live shows…using my calculator…that’s 117,500 words, so this book is almost as much as 2/3 of the series to date.
Fink: It’s a lot easier when you’re cranking out works every week anyway, and you have for quite a long time. The concept of writing some more…it’s not easy, for sure, but it’s less intimidating when you’ve been doing it for a few years.
Nrama: And is there a release date for this book yet?
Cranor: Fall 2015. Nothing specific, but it’ll be in that time frame.
Nrama: Another comics question – you work with Kate Leth and release your merchandise through TopatoCo, so I’m curious as to whether you’ve gotten to know any of the other creators or discover any webcomics through there.
Cranor: Well, we don’t get to meet a lot of the people. We do know Kate Leth, and she’s just great. We had a chance to hang out with her at Emerald City Comic-Con, and she’s a lot of fun.
I got to meet a couple of people at Emerald City – I met Joey and Emily from A Softer World, which is a strip I’ve read a long time. A lot of people who work at TopatoCo, are people whose work I’ve admired for a long time – The Perry Bible Fellowship is one of the funniest things ever. I’ve been reading Octopus Pie off and on, and I’ve been reading Kate or Die for quite a while – she was one of the first people I was a fan of before I was doing Night Vale.
Fink: Those are so great.
Cranor: Three Word Phrase is also great stuff.
Nrama: To wrap up, a couple of quick questions. First – who would you most love to have on the show, to embody one of your characters, or someone new you would create for them?
From my point of view, I never think of “I have to have this person do this voice,” because it’s more important to get the character out there. When we wrote Dana the Intern, we thought of people we knew, and Jasika Nicole came up, and luckily she said yes. It’s often just people we know or people who know people we know. But it’s almost always someone we have a shot at getting.
Let me think…there are people I’d really love to meet…okay, the first name that pops into my head is Julie Klausner. She’s awesome. It’d be awesome to meet her, but I don’t know what she’d do, because it’s not an interview show! I’d just love to meet her, that’s all.
Fink: For me…first, I want to second the Obama thing. We would definitely write a part for him.
We’ve gotten to meet a lot of exciting performers, and many of them haven’t had a chance to be on the show yet. As we meet more people, and make connections, we’re able to bring more people on the show.
For me, it’s more like bringing in people I want to write with – we had Glen David Gold write an episode with us recently, and that was kind of a lifelong dream for me, getting to work with him. I don’t think he meant to start a whole plotline, but he did. I’d love to work with Deb Olin Unferth, and we have emailed back and forth, but she’s busy with her own life. Jeffrey and I both love the playwright Will Eno, and want to work with him on an episode.
So yeah, it’s more of a wish list of people I want to write with than voice-actors.
Nrama: And one final, very stupid question: What would a comics shop in Night Vale be like, or at least the graphic novel section of the library, dangerous as that might be?
Fink: I think that’s a perfect question for the fan art and fanfiction people. That’s something they’d be able to answer perfectly for you.
Nrama: In great detail, I’m sure.