On Podcast Names and Prep, Design Elements, Finding Audiences, and more: It’s the May 2022 Mailbag!

We have a lot to dive into in this month’s Mailbag Q&A, so let’s get straight to it!

When you settled on the “Off Panel” name for your podcast, what lesser names that you’d thought of did you leave on the cutting room floor? – Alex Dimitropolous

I don’t think I’ve ever told this story, but there was never another name considered for Off Panel! Back when I was at Multiversity Comics, I remember even telling people that if I had a podcast, it would be called Off Panel. I don’t even know why! It just felt right, I guess. It was Off Panel from the start, and it was the entire list.

SKTCHD on the other hand had many, many, many names considered. So many names considered. I remember there were a lot of them that were something like, “The (insert comic book word here)” or other names with all caps and no vowels, because both of those were non-comic site trends at the time. I don’t think I ever got that far down the path with other names, but sometimes, I wish I did. One of the most common mistakes with SKTCHD (and Off Panel, for that matter) is getting the name wrong. Off Panel is often Off-Panel or the SKTCHD podcast, SKTCHD is frequently Sketched, Sketch-D, or any number of other pronunciations or misspellings. And I get it! They’re unusual names. That’s part of the problem with going the odd name route I did. It leads to understandable mistakes.

How do you typically prepare for Off Panel interviews, and which one(s) did you spend the most time preparing for in these seven years of the podcast? – Alex Dimitropolous

My preparation is pretty simple. I normally start with an email thread to myself in which I drop random thoughts in the lead up. Structural ideas — I always have a structure for my podcasts — or big, obvious questions are what that initial thread tends to be comprised of. I also read whatever I’m supposed to read, and sometimes things I’m not supposed to. Cliff Chiang is a great example. When I was going to talk to him about Catwoman: Lonely City, I went back and reread Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman work, knowing that was a big influence for the story and Chiang himself. The comics are obviously a big guide, and I take notes while I do that (Tillie Walden’s Clementine: Book One recently passed Nicole Goux and Dave Baker’s Everyone is Tulip as the #1 most noted read ever) that eventually get dropped into the same email thread, if they weren’t there already.

From there, I go through the google machine looking for old interviews. I largely avoid title specific interviews, because reading interviews where, say, James Tynion is asked, “What’s Batman going to do in (insert issue here)?” just isn’t useful. My favorites are larger interviews that dig in a bit, most often found on outlets like TCJ or non-comics sites, to be honest. Brian K. Vaughan’s a great example this week. He’s done a lot of very interesting interviews. But those aren’t always an option, so I often read a little of everything, even title specific interviews.

This might sound like I’m reading interviews to find questions to ask, but that’s not true. I typically read them to determine what I should avoid asking. It’s always really clear what people hate talking about. Not because it’s a tough subject or something, but because they get asked about it all the time. There’s nothing worse for a creative interview than to ask them the same questions they always get. But you can also sense what they’re not interested in. Some people like talking business. Some enjoy craft talk. Find what they enjoy and lean in.

Once I have a better feel for everything, I convert my notes from my initial thoughts, comic reading, and interview reading into a Word document with my intro scripted out. I organize it into a document that normally has section headers (i.e. “Early Days,” “Specific Title We’ll Be Talking About,” “Larger Industry Talk”) that I use as organizers. I typically do all of that…and then throw it in the trash as soon as we start talking. A good example of that was my recent Tynion podcast, or really any time Jonathan Hickman comes on. I ask my first question, and then it just…becomes something different than I ever planned. But that’s the point. As I tell my guests before we start recording, it’s meant to be a free flowing conversation. The hope is I’m prepared enough that I can move forward with any direction we go in.

As for the most prepped part of the question, that’s tough to say. Hickman always makes me bring my A game. Jeff Lemire’s first appearance might have been the apex of my over-preparedness. Walden found me reading an unusual amount of interviews, even for me. Ronald Wimberly may be #1, though. Wimberly is intimidatingly smart, both in general and in terms of how he views comics. I wanted to be ready for anything. So…I prepared a lot. BKV may be approaching that level.

I will say, my preparation is an extension of nerves. I used to get really nervous when I first started. I realized the more I prepped, the less nervous I was. So my goal was to not be nervous at all. That doesn’t always work. I was nervous for Wimberly, Walden and BKV. But not as nervous as I might have been thanks to all my prep!

I don’t know if you saw the deluxe edition of Mazebook that Dark Horse is releasing, but it’s fantastic. I especially loved the embroidered title in red thread. What are some of your favourite book design elements on deluxe editions of comics? – Mark Tweedale

From a holistic design standpoint, I love the Grass of Parnassus collection AdHouse did. That’s not really a design element as much as a full design, and it’s also not a deluxe edition. But at the same time, I love that. Also not a design element, but the inclusion of footnotes in the Kaijumax hardcovers to explain Zander Cannon’s references and inspiration was a nice touch. That was a deliberate choice in differentiating those collections from the regular trades, so I’m going to call that a fit.

One problem with this question is I don’t have a ton of deluxe editions! Most of the time I just get the first version I get, and that’s that. I guess I’m mostly just thinking of collections or graphic novels I love the design of, and specific elements that come with.

I will say, one Deluxe Edition I have is Karl Kerschl’s hardcovers for The Abominable Charles Christopher. I just received the latest and I love all of that. One of my favorite elements is the place in the beginning to write your name as owning it. Do I do that? No! Do I love that it’s there? Yes!

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