Ben Blacker had just arrived at San Diego Comic-Con when we met. The writer was preparing for a whirlwind of events surrounding Thrilling Adventure Hour, the live show he created with Ben Acker eight years ago. There's a signing, an official Comic-Con panel and four sold-out evening performances of the stage show that's captivated live audiences in Los Angeles and Nerdist podcast listeners worldwide.
Inspired by radio drama, Thrilling Adventure Hour has everything a genre entertainment–loving, pop culture fanatic could want. Tales of science fiction, mystery and, of course, adventure unfold with help from a cast — known as the Workjuice Players — that includes cult TV stars like John DiMaggio (Futurama, Adventure Time) and James Urbaniak (The Venture Bros.). Their roster of past guest stars — including Patton Oswalt, Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion — reads like a who's who of geek-world icons. Despite the cred, Thrilling Adventure Hour hasn't had a presence at SDCC until this year.
Blacker and Acker have a pretty good reason for trekking to San Diego: They just released a comic book. The hardcover, multistory collection features a host of artists working in collaboration with the witty duo to visualize regular show segments like “Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars” and “Amelia Earhart, Fearless Flyer.” The shift in media may seem like a reach, but it's not that far removed from the duo's initial goal.
“The show itself was always created to be adaptable,” Blacker says. He notes that one of the early motivations to start Thrilling Adventure Hour was to create a space where they could test out ideas that may eventually work for TV, film or comics. Still, writing for comics is a different beast.
The duo got their first taste of comic book writing last year, when they penned Wolverine: Season One for Marvel. “Comic book scripting falls somewhere in between what we do on the radio show and what television is,” Blacker says. They picked up a few lessons from their editor and from comic book scribes like Ed Brubaker, who has written for Captain America, and who told them, “Every page is a cliffhanger.”
The comic was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign last October. The team asked for $55,000 to fund offstage ventures, including a web series and concert film, as well as the comic book. In the end, they earned more than $190,000 in pledges. The book will be released via L.A. publisher Archaia, which focuses on beautifully designed, hard-cover comics. Technically it won't be out until August, but copies are available at Comic-Con.
It's a gorgeous representation of the show, and an intriguing one, too. Onstage, stories take shape as snippets of dialogue layer one on top of another. In print, the words come less frequently. There are panels free from conversation as Sparks Nevada explores Mars. “It was a great opportunity to flex a different kind of muscle,” Blacker says. “I feel like there are comedic beats, say, in the Sparks Nevada story that we could never pull off in a dialogue-based story.”
One of the most striking aspects of the comic is that the characters in these visual stories manifest in much the same way as their stage/podcast counterparts. Blacker attributes that to the collaborative effort between the writers and the Workjuice Players, citing the popular sketch “Beyond Belief,” as an example. In this segment, Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster play a couple who solve supernatural mysteries. “The way they generally have affection for each other informs the way those characters interact and the sort of words that they would use,” Blacker explains, adding, “Paget's delivery of a one-syllable word into four syllables, I think it comes across in the comic.”
You can find The Thrilling Adventure Hour comic book in the exhibit hall at the Archaia Booth (#2229). Ben Blacker will be at the booth with Ben Acker and several Workjuice Players for a signing today at 1:30 p.m. The Thrilling Adventure Hour panel will take place today at 4 p.m. in room 32AB. The shows at the Horton Grand Theatre are sold out.