Fans of the pulp-influenced parody podcast The Thrilling Adventure Hour – whose crossover with fellow podcast Welcome to Night Vale was, as of last week, #14 in ALL albums on iTunes – may not realize its creators are big fans of comics, with their Eisner-nominated TAH anthology at Archaia, and their work on such Marvel books as Thunderbolts and Wolverine: Season One.
But now, they’ve really made the leap to comics with not one but two new ongoing series at Image – and they’re both Thrilling Adventures.
As announced today ahead of New York Comic Con 2014, The Thrilling Adventure Hour will launch two new ongoing series this February, featuring art by Phil Hester and J. Bone, respectively. We got a special exclusive in-depth talk with Acker and Blacker about these new books, along with a couple pages of debut art from Sparks Nevada.
Newsarama: Ben, and…um, Ben, tell us about the two new books.
Ben Acker: These books are 10 years in the making! We're so excited to premiere The Thrilling Adventure Hour Presents:SparksNevada, Marshal on Mars, and The Thrilling Adventure Hour Presents:Beyond Belief. (Do those names seem unwieldy to you? It's only because there aren't words enough to contain the adventures, emotions, and ideas contained therein).
Ben Blacker: Both books are based upon properties we've been writing for a decade now in The Thrilling Adventure Hour stage show and podcast (on the Nerdist network). While we love working in both theatrical and aural media, after seeing how beautifully the TAH anthology graphic novel turned out last year (still available from Archaia press!), we were eager to continue the comic-book adventures of some of our favorite pieces of the show. SparksNevada, Marshal on Mars – our space-western, and Beyond Belief – our "Thin Man with ghosts," seemed like the obvious places to start.
Nrama: Of the various TAH concepts, what made these particularly good choices to work as expanded series?
Acker: While all of the worlds of TAH are rich, Sparks and Beyond Belief have always been the anchors and emotional centers of the show and podcast. Sparks has always been our most world-buildy, serialized story. We've invented a lot of characters over the ten years of writing Sparks, and comics are a place to explore them and the world they inhabit in a deeper way.
Blacker: And Beyond Belief has always been hyper-verbal, due in large part to the screwball comedies to which it pays homage as well as the expert tongues of the actors who bring the married mediums at its center to life, Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster. Comics gives us the opportunity to open up the world of Beyond Belief and show people the ghosts, mummies, vampires, and monsters that we've only been able to suggest in the past.
Nrama: What's it like working with J. Bone and the team on Sparks?
Acker: We brought on Nate Cosby to edit both books, and he could not be a more passionate and adept collaborator. So, we can't give him enough credit for getting these books off the ground.
Blacker: J. Bone is unbelievable. There may not be anyone working in comics who can do human comedy and human emotion with the same expertise that J. does. We've been big fans of his since Alison Dare.
Acker: And the rest of the team... Do we really need to tell you that Jordie Bellaire is the best colorist working in comics? She knocked us out with what she did on the TAH OGN, and we're thrilled to have her back.
Blacker: And Marshall Dillon is lettering both books and he's bringing an amazing nuance and personality to his work.
Nrama: And what's it like working with Phil Hester on Beyond Belief?
Acker: Nobody in this business draws monsters like Phil Hester! So we're excited to let him loose on some of the supernatural business that goes on in Beyond Belief. But more than anything, Phil has a terrific sense of humor and timing, and that's most important for BB. He adds some subtle character work and the expressions he comes up with sell our jokes and emotional beats in the same way the actors in the live show do. He's so impressive.
Blacker: And he's being colored by John Rauch who somehow makes the book spookier and funnier and warmer. We're so impressed with this team.
Nrama: It's interesting that in both cases, the books are done by artists who also have backgrounds as writers. How does that help in the collaborative process, and what's different in crafting stories for these concepts for comics, as opposed to the 100% non-visual medium of podcasts?
Acker: Honestly, that Phil and J. are both writers as well is part of why we trust them with our babies. They understand storytelling on a deep level, and they're often able to save us from some of our rookie mistakes.
Blacker: It does feel like we've been pulling one over on the audience for the past ten years, telling stories in the audio form that are better suited to visual storytelling. So, we're relishing this opportunity to add the visual element, while still relying on the strong characterization and big ideas that've been necessary to tell these stories until now.
Nrama: Of the other TAH concepts, which others would you most like to bring to comics?
Acker: All of them?
Blacker: Sparks and Beyond Belief are the most obvious concepts to make the leap to comics, and that's why we did them first. But we have plans to translate all of the TAH properties and more. We love writing comics and we love the collaboration with the artists, editors, colorists and everyone involved.
Nrama: And dangit, if podcasts are going to come to comics, name which podcasts you are NOT involved with you would most like to see in comics form. Marc Maron's WTF 100-Page Super-Spectacular? Ira Glass' "Adventures of Torey Malatia?"
Acker: Our pals at Superego seem a fun fit to jump media. It would be fascinating to see their brilliant brains tackle the structures of the comic book medium. As an improvised podcast that is then edited and produced into the best, funniest 3-4 minute sketches, it'd be interesting to see them live in the worlds they create.
Blacker: Scott Aukerman's Comedy Bang Bang would also be a cool translation to comics. He's done it once with his IFC show, and it would be fun to see Scott's sense of humor translate to comics.
Acker: And Chris Hardwick should get ten illustrated pages at the end of every popular comic to interview the people involved as well as interested celebrities.
Nrama: Chris Hardwick’s “Talking Comics.” Give us the hard sell on these books.
Acker: Do we really need to? One look at J.'s and Phil's art, and you'll be sold. But if you really need more: If you're already a TAH fan, we're confident you'll find in these pages the same humor, pathos, and big, weird ideas that you've grown to enjoy in the live show and the podcast.
Blacker: If you're wondering about continuity, don't. These issue #0's are meant to be jumping on points and take place before the events in the podcast episodes. The subsequent mini-series will lead up to the podcast stories and then take place in and around them. It's gonna be neat. It's gonna be something that's never been done before.
Acker:If you're entering these worlds for the first time, we hope you love these comics and the characters and worlds contained therein as much as we do. And if you do, there are about 200 episodes of the podcast featuring many of these characters available to you on the Nerdist network and on iTunes.
Nrama: What are some books/creators you're currently enjoying?
Acker: We read so many Marvel comics every month. Marvel is really having a heyday right now with Soule's She-Hulk, Gerry Duggan's Deadpool and Nova (we like his Gotham Manor too), Fraction's Hawkeye of course, G. Willow Wilson's Ms. Marvel harkens back to Lee and Ditko's original Amazing Spider-Man in the most heartwarming way while still feeling completely contemporary. All-New Ghost Rider feels like the most modern superhero book on the shelves. The Walking Dead continues to be great. The Mercenary Sea.
Blacker: Snyder's Batman. Clone. What Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner are doing on Flash Gordon is making that character exciting in a way we've never seen. And of course, there are all the ambitious and remarkable content from Image: Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's Sex Criminals to Brubaker and Phillips' Fatale and The Fade Out, to Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' Saga, Rucka's Lazarus. We're in a comics renaissance right now.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Acker: So many things! The monthly stage show rolls on at Largo in LA as well as on tour-- it's too soon to say where, but we're visiting a bunch of cons and cities in the first half of 2015.
Blacker: We also write for the Netflix/Dreamworks series Puss in Boots, which is incredibly fun.
Acker: And there's a lot of very big TAH stuff on the horizon to which we can only allude, including more ways than comics to see the characters you love in new ways.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Acker: Are you guys watching Manhattan on WGN? It's so good! Like Mad Men, but instead of advertising, it's science!
Thrilling Adventure Hour’s two new ongoing series debut at Image Comics in February 2014.