Over the course of the past four years, Twitch has built a digital empire where gamers gather to watch popular online personalities play games such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and DOTA 2. The site attracts an average of 100 million viewers per month and now, Twitch looks to expand their territory further by partnering with Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare, the creators of Image Comics’ Rocket Girl, to bring Brandon and Amy’s topical comics industry radio show, Podcorn Podcast, to a livestream near you.
As the current production intern for Amy and Brandon, I can testify that they are some of the most enterprising creators working in comics today. For almost a decade, Brandon lent his editing skills to DC Comics on titles such as Daytripper and Sweet Tooth. Amy’s art has appeared in groundbreaking books like Madame Xanadu and Batwoman. Together, they have been working on Podcorn Podcast for the past two years, providing experienced insight into what it means to be a freelancer in the comics industry and the challenges that come with producing a creator owned book like Rocket Girl, which recently began its second arc. Their partnership with Twitch will allow them to interact with fans in real time, answering burning questions like: “what does DaYoung’s chest symbol mean?” and”why teenage cops?” and “why male models?”
The show premieres this Thursday, June 11th, at 7:30 PM EST, with new episodes to begin at the same time each week on Twitch. With a guest host line-up of prolific creators including Paul Pope, Sean Murphy, Stacey Lee, Shane Davis, Amy Chu, Frank Barbiere, and Michael Kaluta, Podcorn seems set to bring Twitch; Brandon and Amy; and the comics industry into a new era of unprecedented audience-creator collaboration. I recently sat down with Brandon, Amy, and Marcus ‘djWHEAT’ Graham, Director of Programming at Twitch, to discuss what they each hope to gain through their partnership.
Alex Lu: Marcus, Twitch has developed its audience by centralizing its content around video games. Why do you want to be involved in comics?
Marcus Graham: In 2013 we partnered with ReedPOP, the world’s largest producer of pop culture events, to become their exclusive live streaming platform. This relationship enabled us to have a presence at a number of conventions where gaming was the sole or secondary offering, such as the various PAX events, New York Comic Con and C2E2. At the broader pop culture events, our programming would feature both gaming and comic-related content, and our community really took a shine to comic culture. In many cases, the genres overlapped, since a lot of games are based on comics, so there was already a very strong connective tissue. Another way to look at this is that at the core of Twitch is video games, but the interests and passions of gamers go well beyond that. Comics is just one of the many things that are widely accepted in the culture of gaming. As a comic book fan, I’m excited that this kind of unique content is available on Twitch.
Lu: What led you to Amy, Brandon, and Podcorn specifically?
Graham: I mentioned that we attended NYCC, and it was there where I got a chance to interview Brandon and Amy about Rocket Girl. During the interview, I discovered that they did a comic book podcast. I asked them if they had ever thought about turning that podcast into a video program so they could expand their audience and take advantage of the ability to showcase comic art, guests, etc. After many months of keeping in touch, the Podcorn group put together the exact show we had envisioned and are now making the transition.
I was drawn to Podcorn not only because Brandon and Amy are both great and well spoken, but because it’s fantastic these comic creators can offer an insight we rarely get to see. I see a strong parallel between video game developers who use Twitch and what Podcorn is doing. Game developers discovered that Twitch was a unique way to get in front of their fans and people who love video games, while building a stronger community through social video. Podcorn is doing the same thing with comics!
Lu: Amy and Brandon, one of the unique things about Podcorn is that the both of you are working comics professionals as well as hosts. You both provide unique insight into the industry that most podcasts can’t offer. What inspired you two to start a podcast?
Brandon Montclare: The inspiration was pretty simple: I very much like listening to comics podcasts. Our Rocket Girl collaboration started on Kickstarter, and as a fun way to connect with backers we did things like audio Q&A. From there we eased into what became the regular Podcorn show. That connection with fans is still the biggest draw–but we’re also not jaded on talking comics: creation, the business, our personal likes and dislikes. At first I don’t think we connected-the-dots to realize we were the only professional creators doing a show. Creators are on podcasts all the time, but of course that’s usually just as the guest. It’s safe to say we’re comics professionals first, and podcasting is an ancillary interest. But even though we’ve preserved the informality, we’re proud of the show and try to do our best with it.
Amy Reeder: The impetus was all Brandon. It must be his radio voice! And maybe something about being a wordsmith writer and having more to say. I’ve been along for the ride and it’s been an interesting experience…I am not often opinionated online and this is the one place you’ll hear me get semi-bold.
But it was pretty easy to get started because the things we talk about on the podcast are the sorts of things we talk about in person, anyway. Industry gossip, creating comics, and what we thought of the stuff we watched and read.
Reeder: Video actually intimidates us a little! It’s not an easy process. However, when Twitch offered to feature us on their website, who could say no? It’s a great opportunity, and Brandon and I are always looking for ways to reach out to potential fans outside the general comics channels. Get it? Channels?
Montclare: As Amy said, it’s really the opportunity. Twitch asked us to try doing what we do on their platform. It’s a very exciting partnership–we hope to grow our regular audience while giving them more with the video aspect… but we also want to reach/recruit new comics readers. Twitch users are definitely the right demographic, so hopefully some of them will tune in and start down the path of a deeper appreciation for comics.
However, we needed technical help! So we conscripted Mike Furth, who does comics content on YouTube as The Comic Archive. I’m sure it’ll take time for us to get our footing with the video (and the bigger challenge, live broadcasting!), but we’ve been doing some practice runs and are excited for the official launch.
Lu: How has the development process been? Run into any interesting problems along the way?
Graham: Turning any show from audio to video can be difficult. As content creators, we tend to fall into habits, and sometimes those can be very hard to break. However, I’ve been incredibly happy to see the Podcorn team work hard to transition from one form of traditional media to this new form of live streamed media that’s taking the world by storm. The Podcorn team has been running tests and tweaking their broadcasts to ensure they can satisfy their existing fans, while attracting new ones.
Reeder: It’s actually taken longer for us to put together than we had thought originally–we started talking about this way back in October, and we’ve slowly improved our act so we could have a really solid launch. There’s all the logistics–not just doing video, but making it LIVE; adding visual elements, so people can actually SEE the comics we’re talking about; getting all sorts of equipment and programs to support doing live video. We’ve gotten help from some stand-up people–including Chris Robinson, who moved on to be an editor at Marvel; Mike Furth, the video guy behind The Comic Archive.
It’s weird to think about. Because I remember when we put our Kickstarter video together, we just had no idea what we were doing, and it was actually the most stressful part of the process.
Montclare: It did take us a while. Looking back, we probably could have started this a few month sooner. But at the time, it was all unexplored territory. One of our fears has been whether or not we’d be accepted by the Twitch core users. They have an amazing, unique community with rules and customs and Amy and I are truly outsiders. That’s a little intimidating. However, we are invited guests; more importantly, we’re coming with good intentions and genuine respect! Plus, comics gets the same rap: that the fandom is intimidating when a new reader goes to a local comic shop, walks a convention floor, or immerses himself or herself into superhero continuities.
Lu: What do you hope to gain from this unique partnership?
Montclare: Personally, I just want to keep having fun, but I think there are some big, global elements that are intriguing. Podcorn definitely doesn’t represent all comics–but our medium has a much smaller audience than stuff like video games, not to mention TV and movies. That being said: comics is second-to-none in content creation. The Batman: Arkham Asylum and Lego Batman video games; the Marvel movies; and The Walking Dead, Flash and Arrow TV shows… comics creations have dominated the top brands in all media for a loooong time. When a platform like Twitch gets behind a show like Podcorn, it’s a great opportunity for comics themselves to re-connect with fans who came to these characters through ancillary media.
Graham: As a fan of both gaming and comic books, it’s fantastic that we can bring these two communities even closer. Some of my favorite broadcasters on Twitch are huge comic fans, and we find ourselves throwing in comic book talk on our streams and while we’re together at events. I hope that other fans of comics on Twitch get a chance to discover new content and maybe we’ll open the world of comics to others who aren’t even aware of how engaging comics can be. Additionally, Amazon, who owns the digital comic book site, Comixology, recently acquired Twitch. There is a natural synergy being explored which can benefit both gamers and comic fans around the world by strengthening the partnership between communities.
Reeder: Honestly, I just want to have a good time, connect with fans, and collaborate with the cool people at Twitch. Everything else is gravy!