Finding the Fun in Comics: An Interview with Jerry Ahern & Don Ventura of Cape Town Community
Comic books have always held a very special place in my life. I’ve often said it is only because of comics that I learned to read. Growing up in a non-traditional family setting, that featured many years of homelessness and nearly no time in elementary school, it was the world of DC and Marvel that shepherded me. It was through the wonderful pictures in these comics that I gradually learned the relationships between the words and the images. I’m not sure of the exact moment I began officially reading, rather than just looking at the pictures, but I’m sure Steve Rogers and Hal Jordan were present. Years later, as family matters improved and I returned to a more traditional setting, I turned my back on comics. It just wasn’t the “cool” thing in high school, so I traded my “stacks” for a basketball and moved along. This was followed by an “on-again, off-again” relationship that lasted for several years, until I learned that comics were cool and that there were people out there like me. Comics not only make me a better person; they’ve made armies of people better.
So, what does this all have to do with Cape Town Community (CTC) and their podcast? Well, CTC embodies what I’ve learned to value most in comics. Comics are smart; comics are deep; comics are touching; and most importantly, comics are fun. We live in a frantic world, replete with stress in nearly every corner of our day, but just as comics saved me from illiteracy as a child, they continue to be a sanctuary for me. It is the understanding of the power of comics that I appreciate most about CTC. Life is filled with innumerable things to be upset about; but Miles Morales taking over the mantle of Spider-Man or Wonder Woman changing her costume are not amongst them. CTC is about the love of the medium and, while they do offer criticisms on a number of things, they always do so in a positive way. The CTC podcast contributes to the culture of comics and their fandom in a very important way, as they consistently remind us that comics are fun and that we can have negative opinions without being negative individuals. It is for these reasons (and so many more) that I set out to interview the creative minds behind CTC, Jerry Ahern and Don Ventura:
SM: How did Cape Town Community come into existence? What was the process of going from idea to implementation?
JA: “Don and I always talk comics, it’s how we became friends. We have similar senses of humor and tastes. We also both had blogs so sometime during 2010 we merged the two together. Then after a very brief conversation about doing a podcast Don went off and sold a kidney to buy the equipment needed for us to do a show. It literally felt like it was overnight from talking about it to doing the show.”
DV: “Yeah, it kind of just happened really quickly. Jerry said “we should do a podcast” and I considered that a verbal contract. Considering that we live in California, the most litigious state in the nation, I figured Jerry had no choice but to participate. Once we decided to do the show we met a few times about it and emailed one another ideas until we hammered out a format, which has remained consistent from the beginning. I think it was October of 2010 when we first discussed doing a podcast and we were up and running by mid January of last year.”
SM: One of the things I enjoy most about your show is the balance between critiquing the books and artists, while still maintaining a positive attitude. Is this balance something that you’ve set as a goal or is it something that has just organically occurred?
JA: “For me the goal of doing the podcast was always to talk about something we loved. I was tired of going on websites and message boards where fans just complained. So for me, doing the podcast is being the other voice, because the people who love this stuff are not heard nearly as much as those who trash it.”
DV: “Which is unfortunate. I don’t think we made a concerted effort to do anything but really be ourselves on the show. While we can both be a couple of sarcastic S.O.B.’s when we want to be, I think we’re by nature positive guys. Also, before we got started I believe we discussed that we would not trash on something without backing it up with something substantive—whether someone agrees with us or not, we try to support our opinions. On occasion one of us might let out a solitary ‘meh’. Feel free to call us out on that. I don’t believe that it the norm though.”
SM: Seeing as how your podcast is one of my favorites, I’m curious what are some of your favorite podcasts? Are there any that you use for inspiration for your own show?
DV: “I listen to iFanboy and Word Balloon regularly. The guys on iFanboy always provide thoughtful discussion on the comics they’re critiquing. John Siuntres (from Word Balloon) is a great interviewer. It doesn’t really matter who he’s talking to, you’re always in store for a good discussion. But the review portion of our show is really based on At the Movies, the old Siskel and Ebert movie review show. Just two guys going back and forth explaining their reactions to the books they just read.”
JA: “This is where I am snob. I don’t listen to any podcasts. When we first discussed doing a show I set out to find some and I quickly stopped. I was afraid that if listen to how other people did their show I would over-think how I would come across. I have met some great people who do podcasts and we have all discussed doing a show together one day but even then I never went back to listen to their show. I hope that doesn’t make me a jerk.”
SM: With comics moving into an increasingly larger role in our culture, what do you think the long term future is for this medium? Do you see the comic world’s increasing presence on TV and in movies ultimately diminishing its role as literature? Will Cape Town Community Podcast of 2020 only be doing TV and movie reviews, because nobody reads anymore?
DV: “I think we are just beginning to see the shift towards digital. Comic readers haven’t yet embraced it wholly, but in five years or so I wouldn’t be surprised if digital sales outpaced print. But I don’t think comics are dead—they’re evolving.”
JA: “Yeah, comic books are not going anywhere. How they are sold and how many books are published will obviously change but kids of all ages will always be able to buy Superman and Spider-Man comics. As for Hollywood and TV, they have always made a good profit from these characters. Clearly right now super heroes are a hot item, but I compare them to Westerns, where there was a time that all anyone was making both for TV and films were Westerns and then the focus changed. I really hope it doesn’t change anytime soon but eventually it will and then Don and I will be doing a podcast about the latest musical or Halloween remake.
DV: “Or a musical remake of Halloween”
SM: As you know, cons are a bit of an addiction of mine. What do you guys enjoy most about con culture? What are some shows that you think are must attends in 2012?
JA: “Cons are awesome, just to be there, to be around people who are all excited about the same thing. Though I have to admit cons are becoming fun because “some” people are starting to recognize Don and I. Not too long ago Don and I were talking to Scott Lobdell and he said he listened to our show. That was a great feeling.”
DV: “Cons are great because you’re around people who are into the books and the culture just as much as you are. It’s a place where Speed Force, Kandor, and Symbiote are not obscure references. They’re used in metaphors or punchlines. I dig that I can go up to a creator and just start chatting it up about whatever they’re working on. Like Jerry was saying about talking to Scott Lobdell, I can’t think of another entertainment medium where you’ll find folks who are as approachable as comic book writers and artists. We’re excited about attending Wonder Con since it’ll be held in our backyard—Anaheim, California! I’ll be attending Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle this year, which is great because I’ve heard that the focus is on comic books and the guest list is amazing.”
SM: In reflecting back on your podcasting lives, what are you most proud of? How do you feel about where you are at as a show, relative to how you begin? Have you exceeded our goals? Is it as much fun as you thought it would be?
JA: “Don once made a joke that until we have listeners from Nigeria we were just going to keep going. Then shortly later we got listeners from Nigeria. I want to keep building an audience. I want people to be just as excited as I am about what writers and publishers are doing. I love doing the podcast because I get to hang with a great buddy of mine and talk comics and movies and every once-in-a-while “Hanna Montana”. Who wouldn’t love doing that?”
DV: “I’m proud of the shows we’ve produced over the last year. I think Jerry and I have found a format that works best for us and it appears that people are responding to what we’re doing in that our numbers jump, little by little, with each succeeding episode. We’d like to see more listeners, but we realize that we are still a new show in an ocean of comic book podcasts. I didn’t expect it to be as fun as it is to record. On more than one occasion I’ve had to edit out long stretches of me laughing uncontrollably.”
SM: For those that might be thinking of producing their own podcast, what are some suggestions you have for them? What should they know before getting involved?
JA: “Don can say more about this than I, because he produces the show. He’s done just about everything, so I would say find a Don. Other than that I would say make sure you have something to say. The feedback Don and I get is that people who are listening like that we can have a discussion on what it is that we like or don’t like.”
DV: “Even though we’re still novices, I’ve wanted to write a piece on the site about this because there is so much to say on the subject of podcasting, from the production to finding a format for the show. I’d say the most important piece of advice is to do the show you want to do. If you’re going to try to be iFanboy, Kevin Smith, or even Howard Stern, I think you’re setting yourself up to fail. Just say “what would I like to listen to?” and go from there. After that, make sure to do your research on equipment, podcast hosting and recording programs. It can become daunting at first, but if you’re handy with Google searches you’ll find everything you need to know on the web.”
SM: What are some goals for Cape Town Community in 2012? What are you most excited about for this year?
JA: “Well for one thing I am getting married to a beautiful girl named Casey. And how that relates to Cape Town Community is that Don will be marrying us. That’s a great feeling. With Don marrying us I am also screwing him out of going to San Diego this year. I feel like Dr. Doom that way. My goal for 2012 for Cape Town Community is write more for our site. I have a series of interviews I do called “That’s What She Said”, which is getting thoughts and opinions from the ladies out there in comic-dom. I want to do a lot more of those. As for the podcast I want to continue building our audience. With Wonder Con coming up Don and I will be running around yelling out our names to get the word out. Then after that I hope to get Don to sell another organ so that we can start putting up videos. We have had some talks about that so hopefully something will happen but only if we can do the videos in 80s cartoon over the top loud voices. hehehe.”
DV: “Jerry is keeping me from Comic Con this year! Actually, he’s getting married on the same weekend “The Dark Knight Rises” hits theaters so I think this whole wedding thing is a passive aggressive act to tell me he hates doing the show. Of course, I kid. Jerry’s right, we’d love to do webisodes at some point and begin interviewing creators for articles and Special Edition episodes. We’d also love to get more contributors to the site. People who aren’t all caught up with “monetary compensation” and all that jazz.”
I want to thank Jerry and Don for taking the time for this interview. Although I’ve tried many comic-related podcasts, Cape Town Community has been one of the very few that I’ve continued to follow. The marriage of their thoughtful analysis and cheerful banter has made it so that whenever there is a new show up on iTunes, I move it to the top of my listening priorities. Stop by www.capetowncommunity.com to visit their site and to listen to a show that never forgets that the most important thing about comics is FUN.