Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Viva! La Procrastinacíon!

Rather than get work done or make progress on my writing, I’ve been distracted by ideas from another avenue of popular culture goodness. Consarn short attention span.

If there is a way to procrastinate, I will find it. Oh yes.

Scipio at the Absorbascon recently mentioned a website called “Pendant Productions.” Pendant produces new “audio dramas” and distributes them as free MP3s. They're focused right now on big-timey pop culture items, particularly comic books. Thus far they’ve created series around Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and have made quite a few "radio" episodes for each.

Upon this discovery, my inner nerd said “Giggety!”

I haven’t listened to them much, I admit. The inner giggety arose from a desire to do it myself. I have a long-standing affection for old radio shows, four years of college radio experience, a love of nerdiana, and a damn sexy baritone voice. (Really. I do.)

Fuse comics, which I love, and radio shows, which I could make? Hell yeah!

The Pendant website explains how they do it. The key is audio mixing software, several sorts of which are freely available on the internet. Folks audition and record their lines from their own homes, sending in MP3s via email. Then, one lone sucker assembles a sophisticated radio program all by his lonesome, splicing in the lines from the actors and sound effects.

Giggety.

I’m already monkeying with the free software package Audacity to see how it works.* I’ve downloaded a buttload of sound effects from the internet. Shortly I’m gonna get me a microphone and headphones. I'm gonna see if I can make this jazz work.

Fans of old-time radio call it “the theater of the mind.” Any dang thing you want can be put into audio, provided you supply a few basic noises. Pteradactyls wearing top hats? Sure. A ninety-foot tall robot Spiro Agnew that spits oatmeal? Easy. Comics, with their outrageous visuals, are a natural for translation to audio.

Translating comics requires one key change in style: regular comic-style violence doesn’t work. Sounds of gunfire, clashing swords, or punch-ups don’t convey much excitement when piled one atop the other. Violence, to provide excitement, has to be brief and the result of the story’s path. Simply throwing in the odd dust-up won’t do anything beyond bore and confuse listeners. Get the listener all keyed up about a situation and then throw in a single shot or kaboom…that’s how you get ‘em to jump.

A few comic characters seem natural for radio.

Daredevil: The man is blind, for crying out loud. His superpowers are based on his super-hearing and other super-senses. You can’t see the Gladiator? Neither can Daredevil. The sound effects could put you in DD’s shoes easily and effectively. Righteous.

Shadowman: He’s a jazz musician and he works in darkness. Again, an audio bonanza. Plus zombies. Everybody loves zombies. Horror, action, mystery, drama, music--sounds like good radio to me.

Captain America: His foes would translate to radio brilliantly. Batroc’s outrageous Frrranch accent? Zut alors! What would MODOK sound like? His hoverchair? His bizarro voice? Sweet. Cap’s customary punch-ups would have to be downplayed, though.

The Question: Detective shows were common on radio, and for good reason. They provide lots of tense dialogue, plenty of story flexibility, and suspense. Throw in the basic ookiness of The Question (“My god! He has NO FACE!”) and it’d work.

The Warlord: Take one (1) standard-issue modern Action Hero. Place in one (1) whacked out fantasy world inside the hollow Earth. Oh hell yes. Audio could construct the wild, wild world of Skartaris nicely. Shrieking dinosaurs, insane landscapes, sorcerers, gunfights, slave revolts, beautiful queens, major battles…yep.

Jonah Hex: Westerns work on radio. Gunsmoke was one of the best radio shows ever made, consarn it. Plus, people’s reactions to Hex’s face would horrify listeners better than comic art could. His stories depend an awful lot on mood, something audio can provide. Hex’s sad and violent stories, coupled with fitting music, would tug hard on listeners.

But when you get right down to it, there’s one character who is custom-built for radio. Power of imagination? Rooted in visualization? Strange, alien settings?

Who fits the bill?

Who else? Green Lantern.

For yuks, I’d start it with Kyle Rayner. An artist and general pudknocker, minding his own business, is stopped by a tiny blue man who calls himself a "Guardian of the Universe." The little blue man gives Kyle a magic ring and tells the boy that he's the last of a galactic police force. The little blue man vanishes, leaving Kyle with a weird story and the most powerful weapon in the universe. Shortly, Kyle finds out that the ring can create anything he can imagine, that it is driven by willpower, that it must be recharged by a "green lantern" battery every twenty-four hours…and that the only other human to ever wield the ring was also the one who destroyed the Green Lantern Corps.

Our Hero would protect the Earth from cosmic menaces, travel in space, meet embittered former GLs (“Another human? Wasn’t the last one enough?”) rebuild the shattered Corps, and forever look over his shoulder, certain that soon the great destroyer, Hal Jordan, will come for him.

I’m not a big GL fan. Still, the power ring is so obviously right for audio drama that it’d be my first choice. (Picking Kyle over Hal, well, I like the idea of rebuilding a shattered GLC and the looming menace of Jordan out there somewhere. Recast the story with Hal, and I suppose you could do it with Sinestro, but I don’t think it’d work as well. A good Hal Jordan setup would be fine too.)

Now…only to get off my ass and do this!

Herein lies the challenge.

Regular readers will notice the blistering pace I’ve maintained with The Champions Project (cough, cough). Now, I am finally happy with the story for Mephisto #2, and I will post it soon. But my self-imposed deadlines are long since dead, as are my dreams of getting this sucker done in a timely fashion.

Soy el slackass grande.

That being said, I will finish the whole freakin’ project, dammit. It just won’t be on schedule. Let us not even discuss the progress I've made in revisions to my novel.

Here's the plan. This weekend I will throw myself into the Champions Project and learning how to mix together a basic “radio show.”

Shortly thereafter I will begin work on my own audio project and offer it to Pendant once it's done.

Yes…yes, I will…I will overcome my slackassery! I will! YAAR!

Probably.

Any suggestions for comic-to-radio translations? Who would work and why?

--------------------------------
*The song "Kung Fu Fighting" plus reverb equals Mega-Rockitude. Whoa-ho-ho-hooooo!

8 Comments:

  • I'm thinking Dr. Strange would be a natural. His dialogue is already always descriptive purple prose anyway, and the outrageous stories and magicks and monsters would be a great fit!

    Dammit, now you've got me thinking about getting the software! I want radio Dr. Strange!

    By Blogger Chris, at 6:00 PM  

  • Dude, you totally have to do this.

    By Blogger Dean Dad, at 9:09 AM  

  • Green Lantern is a character with a very visual gimmick. How would you convey the various ring constructs? It may be okay to have someone say, "A giant green penguin with a rocket launcher? What the- ?" but that could get repetitive. If you can find a way to get the "ring magic" across to listeners, then a GL radio show could work. I like the idea of the looming menace of Hal Jordan, and the ex-Corpsbeings not trusting a human.

    By Anonymous Mike Loughlin, at 9:12 AM  

  • Yeah, I've been reconsidering my "Green Lantern is perfect for radio" idea. The super-cool green constructs would have to be very limited in number to work, since listeners wouldn't be able to visualize tons of 'em.

    Hm.

    To me, Dr. Strange is all about the Ditko Flair, so I'd have a hard time figuring out how to translate his visual appeal to radio. I'd have to consult with Neilalien, the biggest Dr. Strange fan alive. I'm sure he could figure it out.

    Though I'm a huge Spider-Fan, I can't see translating him to radio. Again, hm.

    By Blogger Harvey Jerkwater, at 9:40 AM  

  • I'm not feeling your choice of Kyle over Hal at all. Besides, using Hal would give an excuse for Tom Kalmaku to tag along as his sidekick, an absolute necessity for radio:

    "What's he doing now? He's...forming a glowing green hammer and anvil to pound those monsters into submission!"

    Hmm, maybe Green Arrow is a better choice for radio. Lots of:

    "Shhh-thukk!" "Wow, you pinned that crook to the wall! I never saw marksmanship like that!"

    By Blogger RAB, at 4:06 PM  

  • You must do this thing.

    By Blogger David Campbell, at 4:46 PM  

  • DOCTOR - FREAKIN' - STRANGE!

    It's basically Green Lantern + Warlord with a touch of the Question.

    I found a great blog that has downloadable old trax.
    ONE such album is supposedly for making "drama show music and sfx"

    Here's the link to the specific album, but the whole damn site is shweet!

    http://checkthecoolwax.blogspot.com/2006/05/cooks-tour-of-high-fidelity.html#links

    ~P~
    P-TOR

    By Anonymous SanctumSanctorumComix, at 10:59 AM  

  • Well, you're a goddamn genius. Daredevil, Captain America, and The Question, no doubt...DD's an absolutely crazy natural, and I hate that I didn't think of that myself. Also: I confess I doubted you on Cap and The Question, but your extremely cogent points about the freaky Batroc-accents (not to mention how tailor-made for radio the line "stop him you fools, he's only one man" is...CRASH! BANG! AIEEE!), and the whole "my God he has no FACE" thing convinced me very swiftly indeed, indeed. But. I hear you with the GL thing as an extended plotline integral to the whole idea of the series, I do. I really do, and you're right! It could be so much more than just an adaptation of comics form, (unlike the Cap and DD which could obviously be just about lifted straight out of it and plopped into sound files), it could be perfect radio on its own! A truly brilliant idea, just great...but unfortunately, I gotta agree with the difficulty of conveying the wacky ring shapes. I love the idea, Kyle Rayner and all, really love it! But what about the wacky ring shapes?

    I don't know. Maybe the feel of the thing is perfect dramatically, but it's just the Green-Lanternness that's somehow wrong? Of course I suppose there's a way of de-emphasizing the ring-shapes in favour of ambiguous stuff like "Use the ring to hold back that avalanche!" "I'm...trying..."

    Further research needed, no doubt. But I think you could only ask the listeners to fully visualize one big shape per episode, maximum.

    Doctor Strange could be unbelievably good, but would I think be rather tricky to accomplish, because as you note, Doc's mindblowingness has a powerful visual component, and it's hard to see how this could be done without. But strangely, I think another, equally visually messed-up Ditko creation would be better-suited to the radio treatment: that's right, my beloved Shade, The Changing Man. But not the Milligan stuff. Just the Ditko stuff, see? I honestly think it could work brilliantly. You have a special buzzing sound-effect for when the Miraco vest starts working...

    Oh my God, I can hear it now, I really can. Shit! I can totally hear that show!

    Some suggestions now: "Robin", with first-person voiceover narration, and a very mysterious Batman voice...kind of like ASBAR done right, or Batman: Year Three...and of course The Spectre: "my God, it's...a giant donut...coming...to EAT ME!" or, you know, something, how is The Spectre not like The Shadow anyway, really...

    And...

    The Invisibles (hah!)

    Morrison's Doom Patrol ("Jane. Hi.")

    The Fantastic Four (imagining a lot of bearded-Reed-lab-emergence here...the Galactus trilogy would be pretty perfect, so would the Beehive story...)

    The Human Target

    Iron Man (radio seems pretty good for stories where people keep secrets, and Iron Man's got the most secrets per page of any superhero comic, in my opinion...)

    Adam Strange (weird how I keep coming back to the same things all the time!)

    And finally, my vote for the most perfect radio-friendly comic, coming ready-made with the most relentlessly expositional dialogue ever written...THE ORIGINAL X-MEN! Mutant menaces...interminable does-she-doesn't-she romance...telepathy...endless overblown cliffhangers...LOOK JUST THINK ABOUT IT OKAY???

    Or, how about...

    THE FREAKIN' ATOM! How cool would that be, for God's sake? No, no, that's gotta be the best one. THE ATOM. It's as natural as DD.

    Real, real good idea, Harvey. You're starting to scare me with this, keep it up.

    By Blogger plok, at 6:23 AM  

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