One of the central stories in "The Thrilling Adventure Hour" is now a comic book hero. How does he survive the transition from podcast to comic?
“Here’s the problem with writing characters for ten years, as we’ve been doing with The Thrilling Adventure Hour: You fall in love.” Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, the writers and creators of the The Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast wrote these words in the liner notes accompanying Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars #0, the digital preview to the comic book adaptation of one of the core stories for “the new style podcast in the style of old time radio.”
The Thrilling Adventure Hour mimics old radio plays live on stage once a month where they’re taped, then cut into episodes that are released weekly as podcasts. Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars and the soused Nick and Nora Charles-like supernatural adventures in Beyond Belief run each month, along with other stories that rotate through the third slot including The Cross-Time Adventures of Col. Tick Tock, the Batman TV-show-like Capt. Laserbeam, Jefferson Reid, Ace American, and Amelia Earhart, Fearless Flier.
Many of the podcast’s characters first received comic book treatment last year in The Thrilling Adventure Hour graphic novel, and now Sparks Nevada #1 is out with the debut of a Beyond Belief comic due on the stands soon. Acker and Blacker have written comic books so they’re familiar with the medium, but the pleasures the comic and podcast offer are very different.
On the podcast, the stories are largely vehicles that let the characters interact, and they’re very funny because of Acker and Blacker’s witty writing and the detailed performances by the actors. Mark Evan Jackson plays Sparks Nevada as laconically aggrieved, while Mark Gagliardi often portrays Nevada’s Martian companion Croach the Tracker as comically petty. Few jokes of that sort survive the transition to the comic book page; in fact, few jokes make it to the page. There are a few attempts to graphically represent Nevada’s grumbling half-inner monologue, but it doesn’t the same comedic impact, even when I imagine Jackson and Gagliardi’s voices while reading the text.
Instead, the Sparks Nevada comic is more about the story and the Martian frontier that Nevada and the show’s characters inhabit. Fortunately, Acker and Blacker—and artist J. Bone—maintain the show’s light tone, so the more adventure-oriented comic is consistent with the podcast world, and they take advantage of some of the possibilities that a visual presentation of the story allows. The first issue flashes back to a pre-Mars Sparks and introduces us to his parents before picking up Nevada escorting a stagecoach on the Martian plains. Acker and Blacker promise that the comic’s stories fit into the podcast’s canon, so the issue’s title—“The Sad, Sad Song of the Widow Johnson, Part One”—suggests that we’re about to find out how she became a widow since she’s Mrs. Johnson when the story begins.
Whether these charms compensate for what is lost likely has a lot to do with your interest in world-building. It’s not a priority for me, but the characters are sufficiently developed that I understand those for whom it is. I’m more interested in the possible Beyond Belief television show because Paul F. Tompkins’ easy, drunken disdain for most of humanity and Paget Brewster’s ability to aristocratically bend a vowel are essential to my affection for their stories. But I can’t fault Acker and Blacker for trying comics because neither podcasts or comics are proven ways to financially cash in. The comic seems more like a way to continue to scratch a creative itch.
“We’ve been writing a monthly show every month for ten years, and Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars and Beyond Belief have been a part of that show from the very first one,” Acker and Blacker wrote in the liner notes. “And it’s still not enough! Because we have more Sparks stories and more Frank & Sadie Doyle stories and more Croach stories and more stuff about the Red Plains Rider and Barkeep and Felton and Cactoid Jim and Bobo Brubaker and Nightmares the Clown and Donna Henderson and every other character we’ve ever invented for the show and those stories don’t all fit into a monthly show because the monthly show would be one hundred hours long.”