Living in China for four years doesn’t do much to feed one’s comic book fandom. Sure, Marvel and DC have brought comics to the mainstream via superhero franchises, and this success is readily apparent in China (look no further than meteoric box office numbers or Hollywood’s relentless pandering to Chinese audiences). Children know and love Chāorén 超人 (Superman) and Biānfúxiá 蝙蝠侠 (Batman). But actual comics? They’re rare, even in first-tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, or Shenzhen. Going digital is really the only option for expats— although you may be able to find scant few trade paperbacks on China’s Amazon service. Still, that sensation of opening a physical, freshly printed mànhuà漫画 (comic) is one that continues to elude me.
Fortunately, modern day expats can still feel like a part of the larger comics community. When the so-called Great Firewall of China blocks your favorite social media sites or YouTube (though a VPN can usually remedy this), podcasts are the answer. It was in 2017 that podcasts truly became an indispensable part of my daily routine. It’s the comfort of familiar voices in my ears, chatting about what I love in my native tongue, that erases the feeling of wherever I’m at in the world and brings me home again. Two podcasts—and one video series—are the nexuses that connect me to the greater comic book world.
Word Balloon with John Siuntres features in-depth interviews with writers, artists, and editors from across the comic book industry and beyond. The podcast is especially useful for aspiring comics creators as Siuntres asks just the right questions. Creators chronicle their entry into the industry and the pitfalls within. Other prominent discussion topics include the Big Two versus creator-owned comics, Kickstarter and financing comic woes, industry anecdotes, and other behind-the-scenes action. Siuntres has that booming pitch-perfect voice born to be on the radio, and he brings his decades of experience as a Chicago sports commentator to the table. Frequent and recent guests include Tom King, Greg Pak, Jim Zub, Matt Fraction, and Brian Michael Bendis. Sure, there’s no shortage of idle chatter or even entire episodes not related to comics (Siuntres really likes Star Trek), but there’s enough here to be well worth it for every Word Balloon in your podcast queue.
THE COMICS CANON
The Comics Canon features one comic series as its focus per episode—usually an arc or a handful of issues—and its two hosts scrutinize the story for its worth into what they call “The Comics Canon.” Its epic opening music sets the tone for each hour-long episode (and injects my brain with feel-good chemicals as no other podcast intro can). The Comics Canon is focused and tight, free of the extraneous tangents that drag down other comics podcasts—and completely ad-free. Hosts Curt and Kevin clearly do this as a labor of love. It’s evident in their wealth of comic history knowledge and their additional segments like The Spinner Rack (comic recommendations), Cannon Fodder (reader mail), and Classic Comic Ads. Many episodes topically tie into comic-related movie or TV releases such as their Ragnaroktober celebration of Thor: Ragnarok focusing on “Ragnarok and Roll” and “Planet Hulk.” Though many episodes focus on DC and Marvel, Curt and Kevin dole out love for indie titles like “My Friend Dahmer” and “The Eltingville Club”—and the occasional odd crossover: “The Punisher Meets Archie.” It’s a fun, subjective look at “the greatest comic book stories of yesterday and today.”
STRIP PANEL NAKED
Comics are an obviously visual medium—so how can audio podcasts truly talk about the comics art form in a meaningful way? That’s where Strip Panel Naked comes in. Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou vivisects comics by taking a razor-sharp look at only two or three pages per episode. Each segment (usually from six to twelve minutes) focuses on a comic’s strength: dialogue, color, panel composition, and other techniques unique to the comics medium. This Youtube video series urges you to slow down your reading, and really take in the full artistic achievement on display. It’s a true celebration of the inimitable art of comics.