Brainiac On Banjo #059: Four-Color Audio!

In certain circles, I am known as a radio drama fanatic… and, of course, in certain pentagrams as well. Not just the old stuff whose echoes faded as television became a thing, but the new efforts as well. Even more so.

Full-cast audio means exactly what it’s labelled. Gather up a bunch of perfectly-selected actors, give them a well-written script, an awesome array of appropriate sound effects, a digital recording facility with more computing power than the Mars Rover, a director to beat the band and a producer whose pen ever runs out of ink, and together they tell fantastic stories into the microphones.

The listener provides the visuals. As such, the crew is ripping your sense of wonder out of your very soul and encouraging you to paint all those pictures within the comfort of your very own brainpan. As such, this is a perfect medium in which to grow heroic fantasy. Here, all the work percolates in your head and you become such a vital part of the production team that, really, you should ask for royalties.

Whereas it’s been nearly non-existent in the United States for the past half-century, such full cast drama never went away in Great Britain. A bunch of gifted risk-takers in the UK got together in 1996 to create brand-new Doctor Who audios, full-length stories starring almost all the surviving stars of the classic science fiction series, including a great many who are involved in the current BBC programs. Big Finish Productions has been so successful they’ve been offering about three or four CDs of new Doctor Who material for most of this time. I’m okay with an abacus, but I can’t count the number of hours of programming produced by Big Finish. I would not be at all surprised if they’ve done more Doctor Who oriented full-cast audio in the past 24 years than the BBC has produced Doctor Who television in the past 56 years.

They’ve also brought other well-known properties to the microphone, including Dark Shadows, Blake’s 7, John Steed, Strontium Dog and Judge Dredd. That means they’ve been planting heroic fantasy comics characters into fan’s heads, allowing us to be our own artists. Pretty cool.

Lance Roger Axt

Whereas other companies have played around with the form, it has taken this long for U.S. producers to commit to building a bandwagon and a long, paved road upon which they can drive.

Bill Dufris

One such outfit is called AudioComics, a part of Lance Roger Axt and William Dufris’s Pocket Universe Productions planetoid, and they’ve done more than just a bit of work over recent years. They’ve produced – among other projects – Elaine Lee and Mike Kaluta’s Starstruck and Jamal Igle’s Molly Danger, and they’ve adapted the X-Files comics created for IDW by Joe Harris. Amusingly, this four-hours-plus production stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

And now they’ve added EC Comics’ Vault of Horror to their release list.

That’s one hell of a challenge. Whereas there were plenty of precedents to this subject matter in the old-time radio days – Arch Olber’s Lights Out immediately comes to mind – those of us who are comics fans tend to hold the EC Comics library in the highest regard. These comics were exceptionally well-written, even better-drawn, and remarkably influential.

When it comes to quality, we need not have been concerned. This stuff is great – even if you use your own mental pictures instead of those initially provided by Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Harvey Kurtzman, and those others of equal pedigree. The Vault of Horror AudioComics receives my highest endorsement. This, along with five bucks, might get you a cup of coffee.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that next month Marvel Comics is jumping on that full-cast bandwagon through Serial Box, starting with a Thor multi-parter and followed by programs featuring Black Panther, Jessica Jones, and the Black Widow. Gee, I wonder how they came up with that line-up? Snarkiness aside, I’m listening forward to their work.

All this stuff is available wherever better audiobooks are sold. Any, probably, some of the ones who sell the less-worthy stuff as well.