Between the BalloonsHere is Part Two of my interview with Aubrey Sitterson, where we mainly discuss his ongoing serialized podcast SKALD.  We also got into some fantasy genre talk, Conan the Barbarian, and who is sitting at his celebrity RPG game night…

RM: You are currently writing comics and hosting two different podcasts.  Does the multi-tasking of projects keep you focused?  If not, why give yourself such a heavy workload?

AS: In short, because I love all the stuff that I’m doing and each of these projects scratches a very different itch. SKALD, as a spoken word podcast serial, is a completely different medium than comics, and requires a very unique approach. Plus, as something that I do on my own, I have complete and utter freedom to pursue my weirdest storytelling interests and desires. It’s a place to experiment and try things out so that I can continue learning about serialized storytelling.

STRAIGHT SHOOT, meanwhile, is something else entirely, as it has less to do with telling stories, and more to do with talking about them. By verbalizing what it is that I like about certain wrestling shows, storylines or matches, again, it’s an opportunity to learn about what works and what doesn’t, while also figuring out what techniques and approaches I can utilize in my other work.

I don’t know if the multi-tasking keeps me focused, but each of these projects is rewarding to me in a very unique way and, best of all, they each impact and inform my work on the others.

RM: What was your inspiration for the project?

AS: As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been working in comics for years, but despite having a lot of published work at almost every major American publisher…I was still struggling to get something going consistently. I’d tried my hand at webcomics and Kickstartered projects, but inevitably, my collaborators would get a better offer, lose interest, get too busy with other stuff or simply drop off the face of the earth. I realized that I needed a consistent showcase for my storytelling abilities, and, just as importantly, it needed to be something that I could do completely on my own, with no one else to screw things up, lag behind or otherwise get in the way.

With more than a year of STRAIGHT SHOOT under my belt, I realized that I’d become really good at talking, using my voice to convey emotion and the complexity of thoughts and ideas that might not come through as clearly in the written word. And I already knew that I had storytelling chops – I just needed an outlet for them. So, given what I had to work with, creating a spoken word story podcast seemed like the obvious choice.

I then realized that despite the fact that there are approximately eight bazillion podcasts out there, there’s no one doing what I’m doing with SKALD. There are radio-style serials, but those tend to have a bunch of actors and sound effects and, for lack of a better word, pretty cornball elements to them. There was no one telling a serious, consistent story by themselves on a weekly basis, and there’s certainly no one else doing 30+ minute episodes in a single take.

RM: Growing up were you a big Conan the Barbarian fan or a RPG guy?

AS: Both! My first exposure to Conan was actually the early 90s cartoon series. It was…pretty not good, so what I really latched onto was the aesthetic, and the idea of this hulking, savage hero who solved things through brute strength and force. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started picking up the Del Ray Robert E. Howard volumes, and I fell head over heels for all of his work, especially Conan, Solomon Kane and Bran Mak Morn.

Growing up, I loved RPGs, but, like a lot of folks who grew up in the Christian South…I was forbidden from playing Dungeons & Dragons as part of the still very palpable fall out from the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. But none of that stopped me from going all in on Magic: The Gathering, Final Fantasy and, brace yourself for extreme nerdery, text-based Multi-User Dungeons like Dawn of the Dragon.

RM: In your opinion, why do you think that Conan continues to have ongoing success, but when it comes to other sword and sorcery titles, they tend to be short runs or mini-series?  There are the occasional outliners, like Skullkickers.  As an author and an editor, is there something wrong with this style of comics?  If so, how would you go about fixing them?

AS: I think that Conan continues to have more success than other, newer fantasy concepts, titles and characters for the same reason that Superman is still one of the most popular superheroes. Conan was the first sword & sorcery hero, and every one since has been either a take on that archetype or a reaction to it. It’s like Plato in Western philosophy – his influence is so great, his shadow so long, that it’s impossible not to fall under his sway.

There are definitely more fantasy comics out there than just Skullkickers. Rat Queens, Head Lopper & Orc Stain all come to mind, and I think you could even make a good argument that Prophet is more fantasy than science fiction. But ultimately, fantasy comics struggle with the same thing that romance, crime, sci-fi, historical fiction and any other genre of comics have to contend with: In America, for better or for worse, superheroes are this particular medium’s preferred genre.

As for how to “fix” fantasy books, I think it comes down to something that, once again, affects pretty much every non-superhero genre of comics, and that’s the fact that, too often, comic book creators try to ape what’s been done in other mediums. There are a lot of great lessons for comic creators to learn from other mediums, but it’s important to always keep in mind that comics has it’s own very specific strengths and weaknesses that must be played to. Too often, no matter the genre, folks try to do “A comics version of ______” and they inevitably end up with something that’s a lesser version of what they’re imitating and a comic that is middling at best.

I think that the solution lies in figuring out how the tropes and idioms of sword & sorcery – or any other genre for that matter – are best explored and exploited in the very specific confines of the comic book medium. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but I’m working on something currently that should show folks exactly what I’m talking about. More on that when I can say something!

RM: What are you currently playing and who is at your game?

AS: In the past year, I’ve been fortunate enough to fall in with a massive interlocking group of folks that I play Dungeons & Dragons 5ed games with. I’m currently playing in two campaigns, DMing two others, and I participate in planning and running quarterly all-day “mega-campaigns.”

It’s a big group, but the folks I play with the most are Nick Robertson, Adam Hyatt & Bobby Halick of Maker Studios, Steven Moreno of Six Digits Productions, DC’s Amedeo Turturro, Skybound’s Jon Moisan and our mighty, mighty DM Haven Reininger.

RM: If you are having a celebrity and/or wrestler RPG game, who is invited and why?

AS: Oh man, great question. Am I the Dungeon Master? I’ll assume I’m the Dungeon Master. So, first off, we’re keeping it at four players. Any more than that and things just become unwieldy, with folks feeling like they don’t get enough time to shine. Here’s my list…

Cody Rhodes: For as long as I’ve known that guy I’ve been telling him about Dungeons & Dragons and how much he’d love it. I’ve also been known to send him photos of particularly interesting in-game tactical challenges my group is facing. I’m a fun guy to text with. Cody is 100% one of the types of conscientious wrestling storytellers that I mentioned earlier and I’d love to have him at a table, as I’m sure he’d approach things in a very, very different way than your average player.

Glenn Danzig: Mostly I just want an excuse to hang out with Glenn Danzig. But I also think he’d be super fun in a D&D game, as he’d either a) Make things relentlessly dark and grim or b) Play completely against type. Whichever way it goes, I’m hoping he plays as a Bard so he can croon at us.

Billy West: This dude is one of my absolute favorite voice actors, having voiced numerous Futurama characters and, of course, my personal favorites, both Ren and Stimpy. I would hope that he’d come up with a new wacky voice for his character, but I’d also be totally fine with him just voicing his low wisdom, low intelligence barbarian as Stimpy. I’d also plan on leaning on him for voicing NPCs.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus: She is, hands-down, the funniest person on television right now. She’s arguably been that way since late-period Seinfeld, but Veep absolutely clinches it. I have no idea if she’d be into going on a D&D quest with myself, Cody, Glenn & Billy, but if she wasn’t, it’d probably be even better, as we could count on some really awful, harsh, biting insults.

RM: Is there anything else about Skald project in particular you would like to plug or want new listeners to know before coming on board with episode 69?

AS: I know that a lot of people feel compelled to start SKALD from the beginning, all the way back with episode 001. I see the numbers and people outright tell me as much. But, honestly, I’d encourage folks to just jump in headfirst with whatever episode is most recent. Reason being is that a core tenet of my work is that everything I do must, absolutely must, be better than what came before. So the newest episode of SKALD? It’s always the best one.

Also, I very much see SKALD as being similar to a long-running comic book – albeit one that you can enjoy whilst commuting or sitting at your desk at work. That means that, like any good comic book, SKALD is written so that any episode could potentially be someone’s first, giving them everything they need to know while also enticing them to go back and check out what came before. If you were interested in Superman comics, you wouldn’t start with Action Comics #1 would you?

My suggestion is for people to download the most recent episode, or, at the very least, one with an opening line (always included in the description) that seems most interesting to them. Once they’re hooked, they can go back and catch up via the podcast itself or the prose volumes I release on Amazon!

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Thanks for checking out Part Two and stay tuned for our final installment of the interview where we talk about Professional Wrestling.  In the meantime, make sure to check out GI Joe x Street Fighter issue #6 at your local comic shop and Comixology on July 27th.  Also make sure to check out Aubrey on his podcasts SKALD and Straight Shoot, available wherever you listen to podcasts!