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Exclusive: Ben Acker and Ben Blacker on THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR #0 Comics

How many times have you been listening to one of your favorite podcasts and thought, “Man alive! This portable on-demand cast would be ever so much better if it had a graphic novel companion to go along with it.” Okay, chances are you may not have had that thought, but if there was ever a podcast that deserved one, it’s Thrilling Adventure Hour. For a decade now, the brainchild of Ben Acker and Ben Blacker has been bringing its unique brand of throwback radio play silliness and madcap cast of characters through its live stage show and in podcast form right here on Nerdist. Now, Thrilling Adventure Hour is once again poised to take over the world (or at least more of your spare time) with an eponymous ongoing series through Image Comics. But that doesn’t come out til February and waiting, as we all know, is the worst thing in the world, so what is an enterprising TAH fan to do? Read the exclusive Thrilling Adventure Hour #0 digital comics, of course! Whether you’re a casual fan or a longtime listener, these are a terrific jumping on point and will lead directly into Sparks Nevada #1 and Beyond Belief #1.

To take you deeper inside the world of Thrilling Adventure Hour comics, I caught up with Acker and Blacker to pick their brains over how the characters have grown over the last ten years, why they’re making the move into comics, what readers can expect, and much more. Plus, at the very end, we’ve got a special gallery for you of Thrilling Adventure Hour #0.

Thrilling Adventure Hour - Sparks Nevada - Cover

Nerdist: I didn’t quite realize that you had been writing the Thrilling Adventure Hour for 10 years. How has your process evolved and has your approach to characters like Sparks Nevada and Frank & Sadie Doyle change over time?

Ben Acker: Yes sir, ten years. I think the biggest change has come in terms of how we approach the characters in the Sparks Nevada universe. Casting actors like Busy Philipps, Josh Malina, Nathan Fillion and Molly Quinn means that the characters around Sparks become vital. Rather than Sparks and Croach being the focus with characters flitting in and out, we’ve landed in a much more soap operatic, sitcom place in addition to the space western of it all. And I think we like to do that thing Joss Whedon invented where we give the audience what they don’t know they want or hate that they want or learn after we do it that they wanted.

Ben Blacker: I think we’ve also learned to not be quite so precious about the characters (or at least I have). There was a time when I was very protective of Sparks, as if he were a real person. Now–because after 10 years, I think I have a better understanding of what it takes to make a story–I can’t wait to put Sparks or Frank and Sadie behind the eight-ball. The best thing we can do to and for these characters is take away the things they care about.

N: Obviously these #0 issues are great jumping on points for people who may be unfamiliar with the podcast/live show. Going forward, will people need to know to have a working knowledge of the podcast or will that just add an extra layer of enjoyment for certain readers?

BA: As we try to do with the show, you do not need to know what’s come before to enjoy an episode, but the more you immerse yourself, the more layers of enjoyment you will find. We want to reward old friends of TAH without alienating new friends of TAH.

BB: We should point out that the #0s are an ideal jumping on point for the ongoing series coming in February (Sparks) and March (Beyond Belief). The #0s are standalone tales that lead directly into the #1s.

N: What sort of challenges does writing these characters for a comic book as opposed to a live show present? Likewise, what freedoms does the comic book format afford you?

BA: Well, you may be able to guess this, but in the live show, we can use a lot more dialogue than a page with pictures on it will allow, but the comic book format lets us show instead of tell. The challenge is making them all feel of a piece.

BB: We have, over the years of working with the same actors, come to depend on Marc Evan Jackson (as Sparks) or Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster (as the Doyles) to sell jokes. And sometimes jokes that aren’t jokes. But we know that Paget saying “dinosaur” as Sadie will get a laugh. That won’t play in a comic.

N: Will we primarily be focusing on Sparks Nevada and Frank & Sadie Doyle or are you looking to bring the whole of the TAH canon to bear on the comic?

BA: It is our shared secret dream to bring the whole of the TAH canon into every medium there is.

BB: And not just the TAH canon! We have lots of ideas and characters that aren’t quite right for TAH that we want to explore, and comics is the right medium for many of those.

N: Are these stories all going to be original or will we see illustrated versions of fan favorite episodes?

BA: Unless there is an outcry for comics versions of podcast episodes, the plan is to do original stories that weave in and out of the podcast narratives, so that each medium will bolster the enjoyment of the other.

N: Between J. Bone, Phil Hester, Jordie Bellaire, John Rauch, and Marshall Dillon, you have quite a murderer’s row of artistic talent. How did you get them on board and how closely do you work with them to create the visual aesthetic of the stories you’re telling.

BA: I wish there was a more exciting answer than we loved their art and thought they were right for the stories we were telling and asked them if they would be down and they said yes. I should point out that our editor, Nate Cosby, is doing a heroic job of managing all the talent involved as well as making sure the books feel like the show and feel like comics. He’s great and he’s responsible for some of my favorite modern comics around. If you haven’t read Thor: Mighty Avenger by [Roger] Langridge and [Chris] Samnee, do it.

BB: When you have collaborators of such high caliber, the best bet is to let them do what they do. We weigh in occasionally about highlighting story points or sometimes because we have knowledge of the worlds that they may not, but it’s been incredibly satisfying seeing how they elevate our scripts with their work.

N: What character are you most excited for longtime listeners to see rendered in comic book form?

BA: This is a hard one. I think I am most excited about a character named Mr. Johnson in Sparks Nevada. The show has featured Shannon Woodward as the Widow Johnson for a very long time. Our first Sparks arc features her husband, a character we have heretofore never seen

BB: When we write Beyond Belief, I always picture the monsters as monsters. So it’ll be really cool to see Frank and Sadie standing next to a weird looking mummy or Cthulhu or ghost and–though they still “sound” like the characters we write–they’ll actually look like monsters.

To give you a sense of what’s coming your way, here’s a preview of the issue #0s.

Click to expand the thumbnails below.

Thrilling Adventure Hour #0 is available as digital comics right now. For even more Thrilling Adventure Hour, you can listen to the podcast right here.

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