Written by Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor
Monday, 29 October 2012 08:02
The following is an interview with Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, the creators of the hit stage show and podcast, The Thrilling Adventure Hour. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with Acker and Blacker about the recent launch of their Kickstarter campaign to usher the show into multiple forms of media including a graphic novel, motion comic, web series, and concert film. With nine days remaining in the campaign, the creators have already surpassed their first campaign goal, thanks to the amazing support of their fans.
This interview was conducted on October 25, 2012.
Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: First and foremost, the Fanboy Comics staff loves The Thrilling Adventure Hour! Did you ever anticipate such a huge fan following for the stage show and podcast when you started the production eight years ago?
Ben Acker and Ben Blacker: Thanks! Man, we never imagined that we'd have the kind of outpouring from fans that we've seen at shows, on Twitter and Facebook, and on our Kickstarter campaign. From the very beginning, we've just been writing and producing the show that we most want to see. The fact that other people respond is so flattering.
And, the fan response was pretty quick and overwhelming, in the best way. Very soon after we began the show, we sensed that a community was forming around it. From everyone involved in the show to the people who came to see it, there was a really inclusive, warm vibe going on. It was clear that we were no longer just doing a show with our friends for ourselves but putting together something that a community of people could enjoy together. And, the community that has rallied around us—first just to fill the little 100-seat M Bar where we started, then to fill the 260-seat Largo at the Coronet, to the podcast listeners who say hello every week and find each other and draw the characters and make soundclips of Paget, and now who've been unbelievably supportive on our Kickstarter campaign — we feel a part of it, too. It's wonderful. This community that has sprouted up around TAH is so creative, positive, and giving; it really means the world to us.
BD: You recently announced that you were partnering with Quixotic Transmedia to produce a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of ushering The Thrilling Adventure Hour from stage and radio show to graphic novel, motion comic, web series, and concert film. What inspired you to take TAH into these mediums, and how do you feel that the show will benefit from these new avenues?
BA/BB: The show was always designed for the component segments — Sparks Nevada, Beyond Belief, Moonshine Holler, Ace American, and the rest — to eventually spin off into other media. We love creating characters and building worlds, and as much as we love putting on the stage show and producing the podcast, we want to offer our fans new ways to engage with and explore the show and its characters.
The graphic novel will be an anthology containing stories from the various worlds of the show. It will be exciting to us and, we hope, to the fans, to get to see Sparks Nevada showdown with a giant robot, or Ace American scale Castle Brunholdt, or Frank and Sadie Doyle toast their own cleverness.
Likewise, we know our cast is a big part of the show's popularity, so the goals for which we're now reaching — the web-series, motion comic, and concert film — will showcase our troupe of actors, the WorkJuice Players (including Paul F. Tompkins, Paget Brewster, Busy Philipps, James Urbaniak, and lots more) and our amazing guest stars.
The scripted web-series is an opportunity for fans to get a glimpse backstage. It's always such a crazy, fun rush being back there before and during a show —it's like The Muppet Show back there — and we wish we could bring all the fans to see it. This is the chance to do that. We're building some fun stories around our players and guests, so it'll be an engaging and funny series. We looked at other web-series that we like, The Guild and Husbands among others, and used those as our model. We just want to immerse you in the hectic, often emotional, fun of putting on the show.
The concert film is our chance to bring the show to people around the world. We hear from fans everywhere—from as far away as the UK, Italy, Australia—that they wish they could see the show. Well, now these far-flung fans will have the chance! We got a brilliant comedy director in Neil Mahoney (he directed Paul F. Tompkins's Comedy Central special, You Should Have Told Me), and Largo has agreed to let us film there for an intimate audience (our Kickstarter allows you to be a part of it!). Attending a TAH show is a really special experience — we feel this way even after eight years — and we're so excited to share it with people everywhere.
BD: The initial goal of the Kickstarter campaign is a hard cover graphic novel to be published by Archaia Entertainment and released at San Diego Comic-Con 2013. What plans do you have in mind for the design of the graphic novel, and what can you tell us about the creative team behind the project?
BA/BB: We've really whet our appetites for writing graphic novels from having just worked on Marvel's Wolverine: Season One. We love the form. We love the difference between writing radio plays and writing comics. It's a different language for what the audience sees. And, the audience will get to see Mars, ghostly Manhattan, hobo times. Every world we've created in the show will be featured and explored in the graphic novel. We'll have “feature length” Sparks Nevada, Beyond Belief, Moonshine Holler and Ace American stories – where feature is the length of a comic book. We'll fill the rest of the book with shorter tales based around the show's shorter features – Captain Laserbeam, Tales From the Black Lagoon, Colonel TickTock and Cactoid Jim among others. There are also some irresistible breakout characters to whom we want to give some pages – Philip Fathom and the United Solar System Alliance. We couldn't be more excited to write every single one of our worlds in this, our first Thrilling Adventure graphic novel (between us, we're referring to it as “Volume 1”).
We and editor Joe LeFavi have assembled an unbelievable collection of artists to join the creative team. Some are personal friends of ours, like Ben Edlund (creator of The Tick!), Jackson Publick (creator of The Venture Brothers!), and Evan Larson (a friend of ours for over a decade – he designed characters for our animated pilot presentation of TAH a few years ago and some of our most popular posters). Some are folks who’ve contributed fan art over the years. We found Tom Fowler, Andy Hirsch, and Natalie Nourigat in this way, and their stuff just knocks us out. And, some are artists we know from just being fans of their work: Randy Bishop, Michael DiMotta, Chris Moreno, Doc Shaner, Jeff Stokely, and lots more. It's going to be really incredible. It fills us with pride to say that every single artist working on the book is actually a fan of Thrilling Adventure. They get us and they are all about the kind of graphic novel experience that we intend to provide.
BD: Many independent creators have taken to initiating Kickstarter campaigns to fund their endeavors. Why do you feel that this method of fundraising has become such a dramatic force for creators, and do you feel that it will continue to play such a large role in the entertainment industry?
BA/BB: The Thrilling Adventure Hour is our baby. As we take it into other media, we want to ensure that the spirit and sensibility of the worlds that we’ve created aren’t lost in translation. The state of the Hollywood system makes it difficult to achieve that goal and produce something creatively rewarding. Even in new media – things like web-series that should be fairly creator-driven – finding funding can take longer than writing and producing the series itself. So, after 10 years of writing and creating for TV, we’re really eager to explore all of the exciting stuff happening outside The Industry. The show and podcast have allowed us to dip a toe into that vital and interesting world where creators just create. Now, Kickstarter is empowering us to dive in. It’s allowed us to ask our fans if this is something that they’d want to see, and so far the response has been an overwhelming yes. With Kickstarter, fans can now take a more active role in driving that success and maintaining that vision as it grows and reaches its potential.
Growing into other media opportunities allows us to collaborate with friends, peers, and those of whom we deeply respect and of whom we are fans. There's no better guy than Joe LeFavi, and we couldn't be bigger fans of the folks at Archaia, who make simply gorgeous graphic novels. Our pal Chris Storer makes unique, music videos and narrative films – they are wonderful and strange. Google him. Check out his Nick Lowe video for real. His vision is the most specific and his enthusiasm is matchless. It bothers me that we're not working together right now, but I'm doing this now. Jump Creative on the motion comic are doing amazing work. We are great big fans of what they do and can't wait until they work with us. Neil Mahoney has agreed to direct the concert film. That's fantastic. Neil is a great guy, he's been a friend for a long time. Concert films are his bread and butter. He's probably shooting one in his head right now. He did Paul F. Tompkins's You Should Have Told Me and FreakDance – that's right, a dance movie. The one with a sense of humor. As with the artists on the book, all of these people are simply the best people we could find to bring our worlds into their media.
BD: For our readers who may be interested in donating to The Thrilling Adventure Hour, are there any specific backer rewards that may pique our readers’ interest?
BA/BB: Our rewards — both from us and from the cast and friends of the show — are really cool! We weren’t interested in just offering up the graphic novel. We wanted to use Kickstarter as another creative outlet to entertain our fans and offer them stuff that they’ve been wanting forever. We’ve got the full TAH music collection. Original artwork. Limited-edition posters, toys, and other TAH collectibles. Signed scripts used during the show. And tons of opportunities to interact with the cast during live shows, private recordings, rehearsals, and table-reads. A few lucky backers can hop on-stage or shadow members of our stage show, graphic novel, web series, and concert film in order to learn the trade and earn real experience. We’re even offering one-on-one meetings and Skype calls with popular Hollywood actors, writers, and producers. If we were aspiring writers or actors today, we’d be thrilled to have these kinds of opportunities!
There are also a few unique rewards that you’ll only find on our Kickstarter campaign. WorkJuice Players are making personalized crayon drawings and paint-by-number watercolors for each graphic novel. Paget and PFJ donated one of their Beyond Belief costumes worn only once on stage. And, we made these great DIY podcast kits, where we send you everything that you need to make your own version of our show — script, sound effects, music, and more. The Beyond Belief package especially is cool, as our friend Adam Rogers, an editor at Wired magazine and the author of a forthcoming book on the history of alcohol, created two specialty cocktail recipes included in the deal. And, if anyone shares with us DIY recording, we’ll share it online!
And, we're adding new rewards constantly! So, if there isn't something there now that you like, check back tomorrow! Seriously, it's that often that we add rewards.
BD: Fans of The Thrilling Adventure Hour stage show know that you have a solid collection of talented players, with whom you have also worked on other projects like the film Drones. Will we see more of these actors in the TAH web series or film?
BA/BB: Yes! Part of the impetus for the web-series, motion comic, and concert film was that we have such fun working with all of these terrific actors of whom we're huge fans. Once a month just wasn’t doing it for us! So, we’re excited to continue pulling more guests (both new and old) from our very deep bench on all of these new projects. It's ridiculous that we have amazing actors like Joshua Malina, Colin Hanks, Jason Ritter, Gillian Jacobs, and Jenny Wade eager to do more, and we barely have enough for them to do every month! Entering into other media is finally giving us a chance to rectify that.
BD: Being that we focus on all things “geek” at Fanboy Comics, would you care to geek out with us about your favorite radio shows, films, comics, or web series?
BA/BB: We are mass consumers of TV. So many of the names that you recognize from our campaign come from being fans of the shows in which they're involved: The West Wing, Community, The Venture Brothers, Buffy, Freaks and Geeks. We also love The Wire, Deadwood, Parenthood, Modern Family, New Girl, Breaking Bad—these are all ensembles we'd love to raid!
We’re also big comic book fans. Lately, we've been mainlining Scott Snyder's Batman run, Locke & Key, The Walking Dead, anything Ed Brubaker writes, Adam Beechen's Batman Beyond stuff, Ultimate Spider-Man, Morning Glories, The Sixth Gun, Witch Doctor. There's so much good stuff out there these days.
And, Looper is one of the best films of the year (Rian Johnson once guest-directed our show)! We also dug The Avengers (heard of it?) and The Cabin in the Woods, too. A good story told well is difficult to do in film, and these writer/directors accomplished it.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about The Thrilling Adventure Hour and its Kickstarter campaign?
BA/BB: First of all, we appreciate all of the support we've received thus far. Our goal is a lofty one (or four lofty ones), but we're confident that, with the help of our unbelievable fans, we can accomplish it. For information about EVERYTHING we're doing, visit our website: ThrillingAdventureHour.com.
If you're new to the show, download the podcast on iTunes or via Nerdist.com. Start with Beyond Belief — any episode. They're not serialized, and they are fun, funny, and accessible. If you like space-westerns, start from the beginning of Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars. It's more serialized, though episodes can stand on their own. And, if you want something lighter, check out Captain Laserbeam, Moonshine Holler, or Colonel Tick-Tock. Those are definitely the silliest and lightest pieces we do. Also, not serialized.
If you're already a fan of the show and want to support our campaign, go to www.kickstarter.com/projects/tah/thrilling-adventure-hour-the-graphic-novel-and-bey. We're eager to put the worlds and characters of TAH into your brain in novel and fun ways, and giving in any amount is a huge help. If you've already donated and can't donate more, please tell your friends! TAH is and always has been a community. We're proud that it's grown to the size it has.