Top Ten Comic Book PodcastsA column article, Top Ten by: Steve Morris
Podcasting is one of the fastest-growing forms of entertainment on the market -- and best of all, they're usually free. Imagine a radio show tailored to one of your specific interests, released weekly for download over the internet. That's essentially what a podcast is. And the comic book market is absolutely flooded with them, perhaps unsurprisingly. There are podcasts for all kinds of comics, with all kinds of hosts and ideas behind each different show. And with there being such a massive, overpowering range of podcasts available, it can be a little daunting to go through iTunes (or whoever you wish to download from, let's not forget the independent places too, you guys) and try out each show one-by-one. There's hundreds of them, and most of them last about an hour each week.
So isn't it simply DARLING that Comics Bulletin have decided to do all that hard work for you? To trawl through hours of garbage and endless new permutations of the word "awesome" (VERY popular word amongst comic-book fans, it turns out) in order to pick out the highlights and provide you with a top ten list shorn of all sub-par audio delectments. Delectments, incidentally? Not a word. How delectable. Bearing that in mind, and also bearing in mind that in several cases we'll be talking about podcasts owned by other comic-book websites, thus earning their eternal wroth and curses, let's get into this top ten list and hope that nobody who makes a podcast is actually a current practising sorcerer.
10. Comic Geek Speak
Impossibly prolific and a great introduction into the podcasted world of comics, Comic Geek Speak has several different hosts, some of whom are in-studio but many of whom exist via Skype. There isn't much in the way of news, with the focus more particularly on reviews and discussion about new stories, and the focus tends to be on DC books above anything else. But they tend to bring on a rather wide range of guests -- from writers to publishers, editors and shop owners -- which gives you a chance to look into the greater world of comics. The conversations almost always manage to turn back to Batman somehow, though. A fun, light listen, the hosts have a good dialogue with each other, bouncing around a topic with glee. The reviews sometimes struggle to say anything beyond "this was awesome," but the interviews are typically great, with all kinds of different people dropping by to talk excitedly about their new projects, and about pop culture in general. There's also quite a lot of lists, which I rather enjoy.
9. Wait, What?
Another official podcast, this time for Savage Critics. What, What? is unafraid to absolutely jump into a news piece or comic book review and attack it from multiple perspectives, creating something which achieves a strange sense of balance by the time each episode concludes. Hosts Graeme and Jeff pick up the news and shake it around a little, trying to achieve a sense of depth and insight about what's actually going on here. While not every discussion heads in the right direction, and sometimes it can be a little frustrating when a heated debate starts going in circles with neither one backing down, there's a lot of fun lines and ideas thrown between the pair, who are more than keen to take opposing sides on a point and wrestle with each other. They also have a lot of interesting thoughts about the industry as a whole, whether you agree or vehemently disagree with them, and the pair are easily led into discussions about journalism, writing, reading, theory and comic-books as a whole. For some reason they think Rich Johnston is a legitimate journalist, which is of course nonsense, but when they hit an interesting topic, they can spend hours mining it for interesting debate.
8. Comics You Can Dance To
That's right, the official podcast of Comics Bulletin -- which in and of itself is the first and only way for you to get all the latest commentary on the comic books you love, duh -- makes it onto this list. Strange, that. Although still relatively new, the podcast has been growing into confidence every episode, as hosts Nate and Danny establish a tone for the podcast. Each episode begins with a short ramble about anything that comes to mind, followed by an interview, and finally a section talking about the comics from that particular week. The interview takes up most attention, and is interesting for the unique way that the hosts tackle questioning. Rather than a back-and-forth exchange, the podcast seems to be more centred around the idea of getting the guest to talk. Short questions open up the interviewee to go into a tangent -- which works especially well with people like Matt Wilson (we may see him again on this list) and the most recent interview with Joe Keatinge. Comics You Can Dance To is still working on establishing itself, but looks to be slowly growing into something fascinating and unique.
7. Pop Culture Happy Hour
This is a little bit of a cheat. Pop Culture Happy Hour isn't technically a comic-book podcast, although the hosts do frequently discuss comics as a topic. It's more concerned with culture in general, but sometimes they do episodes which are entirely concerned with comics, and those episodes are rather great. The hosts are infamous for having somewhat snooty attitudes towards certain kinds of culture, but that rarely ever translates towards comics. Glen Weldon is usually the man who handles comics, but the rest of the hosts are also fairly knowledgeable about the subject. PCHH is important as a comic book podcast because it's not a comic book podcast. It's a cultural round-table which tends to address comics as a legitimate, equal form of entertainment to music, film, sport and so on. It has an outsider's perspective on comics; meaning they can't name Supergirl's cat but could probably pick Supergirl out of a lineup next to Batwoman and Huntress; and their evaluation of stories like Before Watchmen is absorbing.
Recommended episodes: Superheroes, Fried Chickens and Sacred Cows.
6. Comic Book Club
Recently picked up by the Nerdist network of podcasts, Comic Book Club is a live stage show which brings writers, editors, comedians and artists up to talk about their new projects, and the comics they're enjoying right now. As such, its entertainment varies wildly from week to week, and it provides a show which works best when you know the guests and already enjoy their work. Things don't go particularly deep, and the participation of an audience means that things stay light-hearted, quick-paced, and centred around snappy one-liners. When you have a guest who knows how to work a crowd from the stage -- like James Asmus -- this formula works out very well for the hosts. When a guest comes on who is perhaps a little stagestruck or somewhat introverted, things are more difficult. The audio quality comes and goes -- another problem with live shows -- but things move along at a quick lick, and often go off on fun tangents. It's not for somebody looking for a serious insight into a particular guest, but it's light and breezy.
5. The Comixologist
Almost certainly the most positive and optimistic podcast around; with hosts Jake and Slim creating a warm, genial atmosphere to talk about the week's new releases; The Comixologist is the official podcast of the digital downloading service... Comixology. Bearing that in mind, you will have to remember that it's part of their remit to make sure you buy lots of comics from them, so you won't really hear much negative talk about books -- but that's not because they're overlooking bad stuff, more because they just don't talk about what they don't like. But what they do like is a diverse range of comics which covers most everything. There's a bit of a focus on Marvel, with the two very fond of books like Fantastic Four and Daredevil (and incidentally, Daredevil? The most talked-about comic in podcasting) in particular. They do look at Vertigo, Image, IDW and other publishers too, but their interviews tend to be related to Marvel. With each episode running under an hour, the interview nip along at quite a pace, but the pair have a good habit of getting interesting insights into the passions of writers like Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Fred Van Lente, Crystal Skillman and Jonathan Hickman. It's especially a good podcast if you're feeling ill and happen to be lying on your bed, drinking Lucozade (other drinks are available) and moaning gently to yourself every five minutes. It'll pep you up.
4. Word Balloon
Host John Siuntres has a background in radio, and that shows throughout Word Balloon, his podcast (hosted by iFanboy) in which he interviews a number of A-List writers and artists about their process, their ideas, and anything that comes to mind. Thoroughly professional and almost always fascinating, he can pick up on his interviewees almost immediately and establish an interesting dialogue with them. With writers like Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Waid making regular visits, Word Balloon makes for perhaps the most in-depth and analytical comic book podcast you could hope for, revealing strange things about the guests you wouldn't expect. This is all held together by Siuntres, who manages to have a functional knowledge about even the most obscure books ever released -- in a recent episode, he manages to surprise Mark Waid by pulling information about Waid's run on Ka-Zar out of thin air. Siuntres makes for an engaging, intelligent host, who gives the audience enough information to keep them in on the conversation, but isn't afraid to go into a long discussion about a character nobody remembers. You know you've made it as a comics professional when John invites you onto the show.
3. Awesomed By Comics
After listening to hours and hours of men talking about fighting and rap music and all kinds of manly things which aren't really very interesting at all, it's always a relief -- and quite a joy -- to find one of the several podcasts with a female host. This isn't just because it shows more diversity within comic-book fans as a whole, but because it means we don t have to hear seventy takes on Batman every week. Evie from Awesomed By Comics actually dares to broach topics like Gail Simone and X-Men and all the other comics which aren t made up solely of rugged men being rugged, and it creates a different tone for the discussion. It helps that she and her co-host (and husband) Aaron take to the mike professionally, letting their chemistry as a couple keep the conversation following. While one takes a pause, the other jumps in with something. They also are quite keen to correct and bicker with each other at any available chance, which is always entertaining, and keeps things light.
Each episode is broken up into a series of awards, for things like "Cover of the Week," "Hero of the Week," and the dreaded "Crap of the week." This makes it easy to dip into on any given week, because new comics will be reviewed and inducted into the nominations, and any episode can serve as a jumping-on point.
2. War Rocket Ajax
Possibly the most well-known comic-book podcast there is, War Rocket Ajax is the official podcast of Comics Alliance, and therefore the enemy of Comics Bulletin. Hosted by Chris Sims and Matt Wilson (who also edits and produces the show, and surely deserves more credit for the level of audio quality he brings to proceedings), the podcast is thoroughly professional. Slickly running from one topic to another, the energy level never drops as the pair first discuss what they've been up to for the past week, then review the latest comics books, and THEN start off an interview. Sims has a strong reputation within the comic-book community, which means he's been able to book some A-List creators like Matt Fraction (who frequently appears on the show, normally to do something weird with a T-Pain microphone), Mark Waid, Scott Snyder and Jeff Parker. The interviews are varied but always interesting, with Sims' extroverted sense of humour infectiously propelling the guests into discussing their career and thoughts on the industry. Wilson sits by the sidelines, but has a tendency to sneak in all the best jokes, and acts as a moderator for when things start to get out of control. One of the least for-kids podcasts out of a group of ten podcasts decidedly not for kids, the fact that many of the people involved are typically drunk during recording can make things slightly unruly and hard to keep up with. But when the show brings in somebody like Laura Hudson or Andy Khouri, fellow comic book journalists with an established idea of how to work around Sims and Wilson, WRA can lead to some of the most insightful and on-the-nose discussion about the industry you'll find anywhere.
1. House to Astonish
The most intelligent and fascinating podcast within the comic-book genre, House to Astonish is run by Al Kennedy (from 100 Days of Comics) and Paul O'Brien (from the X-Axis). Two reasoned and interesting writers, these two combine every two weeks to provide a slow, but smart, overview of everything that's happened over the past few days. Generally choosing not to hold interviews, each episode is made up of Kennedy and O'Brien methodically dissecting every piece of news for the main two comic companies, before then breaking things down and looking at the fortunes of companies like Image, Dark Horse, and IDW. It may not have the energy of other shows, but House to Astonish feels smarter and more rational than anywhere else. They can take a story and look at it from the perspective of the fans, the writers, the companies involved, and make sense of some of the more bizarre business decisions.
O'Brien, in particular, is a noted and eloquent reviewer, and those skills translate perfectly to audio, as he delves deep into any given issue to address the art, the writing, the themes, the ideas involved. Instead of simply calling every issue "awesome" or "lame," the pair properly address each book with a reverence and wit which can't be found anywhere else. There's a dry British sense of humour in each episode, too, although it can sometimes be so subtle that you won't pick up on something until two days later. But with such intriguing, articulate analysis with every new episode, House to Astonish really is the best comic-book podcast out there.
Recommended episode: The most recent one.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favourite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. Never forget! He writes The Book of Monsters, a webcomic which updates every Sunday with a new story, monster, and artist. Join in!