I’ve listened to comics podcasts for years. But this is the year I’ll make the ludicrous claim that comics podcasts sorta saved my life.
In Glen Weldon’s The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture (Simon & Schuster), Weldon quotes comedian Scott Aukerman about the Gen-Xers I was on the tail end of: “We were the first generation without a draft… We didn’t need to worry about life and death, so we channeled all that time and energy into obsessing over this TV show or that comic book.”
We can take for granted now the rise and reign of nerddom, flowing from uber-nerd Batman himself (who studies and sit-ups his way to superhero) to the infiltration into all things of the notion of “nerding out,” even about subjects as un-nerdy as sports and fashion. Generations raised on that vibe are graduating into the cultural elite, and writing fancy-schmancy Simon & Schuster books about it. Weldon’s affably obsessed voice is radio-clear in his writing, perhaps because his actual voice graces NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, which regularly graces my ears. It’s on my podcast list next to Robots from Tomorrow, DC3Cast, and Pop Culture Hound, the latter three part of the Multiversity network of podcasts.
In an adolescence absent the threshold threat of something like a Vietnam draft (we barely even had reason to fear a drafty room), our main resources for the innately necessary contemplation of mortality, existence, and apocalypse were the imagined worlds that comics and pop culture offered us. Disappearing into those capes and crossovers, those explosions and extinctions, we didn’t flee calamity, social ills, and warfare; we nuzzled doggedly into their minutiae (as long as they happened in Gotham or Genosha), the panels helping us to cope with them in the flesh.
By the way, you know the other thing my generation of nerds in their late-30s to mid-50s is doing right about now? Caring for their elderly parents and friends, managing doctor’s visits and insurance claims as many of our forebears drift from the golf course or the Mahjong table into hospice or chemotherapy. That was me for much of this last year. Driving for hours to pick up my mom, hours to accompany her in the waiting rooms, hours on the long road back. Mind racing through treatment options, translating not just words but cultural mindsets about medications, the vast emotional baggage. Worn, worried, and regretting lost hours of work (or writing for Multiversity) drained into a black hole of appointments, on the lonely stretches of those long car drives, my id searched for a respite that a straight-edge like me, whose worst vices are coffee and fanaticism, could indulge in. To breathe, take a toke, get faded.
For me (and I know this is an oddity) that sweet relief was surprisingly frequently Pop Culture Hound Chris Thompson rhapsodizing questions to a creator like Mike Dialynas or Marcelino Truong. Robots from Tomorrow’s Mike and Greg flipping through another Previews catalogue to note the green section esoterica or the Marvel events Mike will read a year in the future on Unlimited. Even the DC3Cast’s Brian, Vince, and Zach’s pulping of stilted Rebirth titles and mysterious (to me) wrestling references became a ritual unloading, their deep-knowledge banter about DC becoming a warm drink in a friendly pub amid the cold winds of a rough time.
Comics podcasting is a crowded party. (MC’s aren’t the only ones I listen to, not by a long shot. Been heard bumpin’ SKTCHD, Comics Alternative, BlackComicsChat, Creator Owned Stories… the list goes on…) It’s a contradiction of sorts, an audio-only platform full of fervent fans of a visual-only medium. And sometimes, I ask myself, is it not enough that I spend embarrassingly many hours thumbing through trades, bagging and boarding, scoping Comixology sales… I gotta also have strangers intimately intoning in my ears 24/7 about Dan Jurgens and Dr. Who?
Yes. Precisely because of all the serious, real-world weights I carry, yes. As the hollow tree to hide within after walking long in the woods of life and death, yes. Because although voices streaming over an app can’t replace real human community, in a fractured world where we must attend to so much in isolation, thoughtful chatter about shared loves across space and time is kind of a nice thing. And that makes possible a more open, a more available, a more ethically accountable but also more diverse and welcoming comics community, like message boards without the trolls, like comic shops without the gatekeepers, like a really good comics website by folks who love comics, but with a theme song.Continued below
One night this year, crossing the Bay Bridge, bleary-eyed, bemoaning our political discourse (“sad”), despairing of mom’s latest CT results, I commanded Siri to pipe Robots from Tomorrow through my Bluetooth speaker. The lads, Mike and Greg, were lost in a reverie about John Arcudi or some such, when Mike suddenly switched into his rare and priceless rant mode. I don’t remember what it was about, but I laughed out loud (I’m of the generation constitutionally opposed to using the word “lol” in earnest). And I realized, it was the first time I’d laughed all day.