Take A Trip To Sidebar Nation

There are plenty of comics podcasts out there, but the guys behind the Sidebar Nation chatfest  — Dwight, Swain and Adrian — are some of the most knowledgeable, opinionated and flat-out funny geeks ever to rock the mic. We had the pleasure of meeting Dwight at Dragon*Con, and Swain moderated the excellent Dark Knight panel. Based out of Atlanta, the Sidebar Nation crew has interviewed some of the biggest names in comics, and their fandom runs deep. They’re super cool to boot, and I learn something every time I tune in. G3 chatted it up with the guys via e-mail, and they were kind enough to answer our nosy questions. If you haven’t listened to their podcast, check it out at their site or via iTunes. You’ll be glad you did.

The Sidebar Nation crew: Dwight, Swain and Adrian

G3: What was the catalyst for the show? It’s obvious that you guys know a LOT about comics, so did the podcast grow out of conversations you were having already?

Dwight: Swain and I have always had these long and frequent art-centric conversations. Shortly after the advent of podcasting, and being fans of the comics medium in general, we decided to give our ideas and opinions a broader audience. I only know as much about comics as I’ve read though, so I really can’t say I know a lot about current storylines. My real collecting period started in the mid to late ’80s and through the ’90s.

Swain: Dwight’s right. We’ve been buds for quite some time and comics fans for even longer, I think. And our talks tended to go waaay off the rails. Once we started listening to podcasts and then, of course, comics podcasts, we decided to give it a shot. Three years later, here we are.

G3: What are your backgrounds? Do any of you work in the industry, or are you just extremely well-informed fanboys?

Dwight: I have done various things in small press (code for never published/maybe digital) and worked as a graphic designer for seven years. I still do that kind of work when I am asked to and if its profitable. I guess one can say, if I were playing D&D, I would be an adept. Ha ha!

Adrian: I was born and raised in Atlanta, where I eventually went to the Art Institute of Atlanta for a year. I also worked in a comics shop for about four years. So just by constantly reading new things and haunting the Art Institute library, I began to acquire most of my working knowledge of comics and art. But I think we three are very well-informed. I’m definitely a stickler for facts. I’m the guy who talks aloud back at podcasts if they don’t get their facts right. I don’t work in the comics industry proper, though I’ve had minute brushes with it. For several years, I freelanced as a graphic designer/illustrator. I stepped away from it once I had my first child, but now I’m back with an exclusive emphasis on just being an illustrator.

Swain: I do not work in the industry, comics-wise or art wise. I drew and studied art when I was much younger, but never pursued it to that end. I consider myself now to be more of an enthusiast — an art nerd, if you will. Comics is something that I’ve always loved, and with that, yeah, I guess I am a fairly informed fanboy.

G3: One of the things I really like about the show is that you’re very candid, and you’re not afraid to share your opinions if a project isn’t up to snuff, or if there’s an industry practice that bugs you. Considering that you interview many prominent creators, has that ever been an issue, like someone saying, “Dang. You kind of went off on my golf buddy (so-and-so).”

Darwyn Cooke and Adrian at Dragon*Con 2010

Dwight: No, we haven’t really had any issues with creators, only other longtime fans who felt we were perhaps too flippant, and ready to dismiss the comics medium as fodder for a bigger entertainment industry. That has in fact, engulfed most of the older more socially relevant comic related-properties. But yes, we do go off on tough love soapboxes at times, and some fans of comics have expressed their anti-praise.

Adrian: That’s definitely something that we strive for. It’s our podcast and a forum to air our opinions on subjects near and dear to us. Otherwise, why do it? As for a creator coming back and not liking how something went down, it really has never been an issue at all. But if so, then as Swain is wont to say, “A hit dog will holler.”

Swain: Not yet, although nobody likes everything that comes up on our show. Generally with interviews though, you wanna talk to people who have things that interest you. Thus, you’re really there to celebrate something or someone you think is good. It’s the nature of this type of interview show. That said, my stance has always been if a guest asks me my opinion on a project of theirs that I don’t like, I’ll tell ‘em. I think that’s fair.

G3: Since you’re based in Atlanta, what can you tell us about the comics scene there, both from a fan perspective and a creator perspective?

Dwight: Atlanta is great for comics. There are a number of small bookstores that have been around for a while, and that have a pretty significant amount of diversity in comics and art related to the genre. There are also a lot of talented locals here who are either in the industry or aspiring to be, and it makes for a interesting hodgepodge of creative energy. It can be somewhat hard to network at times, but you can eventually find a few people if you go to the right places like conventions and comic shops.

Adrian: The fan scene in Atlanta is fairly tight-woven. You see the same people at the same shops and local haunts around town pretty often. You may not know their names, but you know them by face. So it’s cool to have that occasional mutual connection when you are rifling through back-issue bins or checking the New Release shelf. Plus, these days, most fans are artists who are trying to do comics themselves. As such, there is a proliferation of smaller sects of local artists banding together. While some are studios, most are groups of like-minded people who love doing comics and illustration. And these groups always have six degrees of separation where “this guy knows this guy, and he does life drawing classes with this girl…” Great fellowship and sharing usually happens as a result. Ultimately, I love the spirit of D.I.Y that springs forth.

Swain: It’s strong to me. A handful of really good comic shops, Dragon*Con, lots of creators live here. I think it’s one of the better places for comics in the U.S.

G3: What titles are at the top of the Sidebar Nation crew’s pull lists right now?

Dwight: Sadly, I’m not collecting anything right now, unless it’s an artist or creative team I like.

Adrian: I don’t read new mainstream titles at all, but I have my exceptions: anything by Darwyn Cooke, the Hernandez Brothers or Kyle Baker. I am really enjoying Chris Samnee on Thor: The Mighty Avenger. I’m always on the lookout for new books from Fantagraphics. I also enjoy the annual hardcovers of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s manga from Drawn and Quarterly.

Swain: I’m with Dwight on this one, although moreso for fiscal reasons. I don’t have a pull list any longer. The prices for monthly comics have pushed me away from being that committed. I do, however, stop in weekly and try to find something of interest. IHowever, I do still follow names I like here and there: Ed Brubaker, John Paul Leon, Skottie Young, Bryan Hitch, Eric Canete …

G3: Many people still think of comic book fandom being almost exclusively white and male. Not to put you guys in the diversity box, but your podcast stands out because you defy that stereotype. Is that something that’s important to you, or are you just doing your thing and letting that speak for itself?

Dwight: I have to say that for me, it’s always been about the quality of the individual experience inside of the stories or characters I was reading. Much in the same way so has been the rather unconscious effort to be relatable, purely on the insights or follies of my own opinions. Diversity has never been a true point of contention or interest to me. I related to Peter Parker and Sam Wilson, while at the same time digging into and understanding the plights of Vanth Dreadstar, Adam Warlock and Norrin Radd. So the short answer is we let our thing speak for itself.

Adrian: It is something that is very important to me. Like if you saw me in person and didn’t know anything about me, I would just be a big black guy. So a person may already have preconceived or stereotypical notions about people who look like me. But once you hear me or Swain or Dwight speak and what we know, it’s always satisfying to see that melt away. So whether people want to admit it or not, there is an undercurrent of race and gender that runs through our hobby and the industry. Just like the rest of the world at large. Also, while I’m mentioning gender, we’ve never made an issue with female creators being defined by their gender. If you’re good, you’re good. That’s all. So it really sticks in my craw quite a bit when male interviewers will all but say, “You’re pretty good…for a girl.” I really can’t stand that.

Swain: I think we’re just doing our thing. The show is good, to me, because we gravitate towards good work first. I rarely think about all that other stuff.

G3: Given the depth of your geekery, you must have some strong opinions about the future of comics. If you had an audience with the Powers that Be, what would you ask for more of – or less of, for that matter? (Our personal gripe is Event Mania.)

Dwight: If I could say anything to the PTB, it would be, “How about letting characters mature to expiration and the let their sons an daughters pick up where they left off instead off reinventing the origins of what has been successful before?”

Adrian: I would ask for lower cover prices on the monthlies. One of the reasons I don’t read many new releases now is that they are cost prohibitive. Even $2.99 for an issue is too much. That’s three dollars for almost 5 to 10 minutes of entertainment? Price the issues to move and be cheap, accessible entertainments like they used to be. Save the high production values for the hardcover or paperback.

Swain: I’m with you girls. (I’d like) way less events and corporate-driven storylines. The best comics in the history of comics have always been created by folks who had a story to tell, the talent to pull it off and opportunity. I say let the writers and artists do what they do. Guide them for sure; it’s the publisher’s money being spent, but cut ‘em loose!

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