Interview: Graeme McMillan and Jeff Lester on Wait, What? Podcast, the Comic Industry, and Crowdfunding
Source: Wait, What's Patreon
In 2009, Graeme McMillan and Jeff Lester started the Wait, What? podcast, a comic-themed show hosted on the Savage Critics website. A few weeks ago, the pair started an ongoing Patreon crowdfunding campaign to spin the podcast out onto its own site. Yesterday, they announced that they were giving away five copies of Oily Comics' Summer Bundle as prizes to their listeners and Patreon supporters.
I spoke to McMillan and Lester via email about their podcast and crowdfunding experience:
Christian Hoffer: Is Wait, What? named because that's the reaction you get when you tell them that you have a podcast?
Graeme McMillan: I honestly have no idea how we ended up with that name. It happened five years ago, and I can barely remember what happened last month, as demonstrated by the fact that I forgot to take Justice League of America off my pull list for the entire length of that Forever Evil crossover. I’m sure there was some kind of in-joke involved. Jeff?
Jeff Lester: I don’t think I’ve ever told Graeme this, but I thought of calling the podcast Wait, What? because I worried that, between Graeme’s accent and the things that tend to come out of my mouth, “wait, what?” would the phrase we’d each use the most.
McMillan: You have never told me that! That is hilarious and horrifyingly accurate when it comes to the way that most people respond to anything I say.
Hoffer: Why did the two of you decide to start a podcast five years ago?
McMillan: Because we like to talk! Jeff and I used to hang out and talk comics when we both worked at Comix Experience in San Francisco — well, Jeff worked there, I wrote for Brian Hibbs’ Savage Critic site and the store newsletter — and when he quit, we wanted to have an excuse to keep talking for hours about comic books, if only to save our wives from having to listen to us doing so every time we saw each other. It really was just an excuse for us to talk about our mutual obsessions and/or things we hated.
Lester: Yup, although our wives still have to put up with a ridiculous amount of this when we all hang out.
Hoffer: How do you think the comic industry has changed in the last five years? Do you think it's changed for the better, or for the worse?
McMillan: It’s changed for the… different? It’s easy to point to things like Marvel and DC’s increasing corporatization as bad things and be all doomsayer about the industry, but at the same time, I think we’ve got a far healthier (creatively, at least) independent industry than we did in 2009. Even just having things like Velvet and Sex Criminals instead of Captain America and Iron Man feels like an improvement in a lot of ways, and that’s before you get to stuff like Letter 44, Flash Gordon, the Gold Key line, The Midas Touch, or anything from creators like Charles Forsman, Lucy Knisley, Erika Moen, and so on. Man, now I’m kind of feeling better about today’s comic industry than I normally do, and I’ve not even got to 2000AD or Saga. Is… is this optimism?
Lester: It’s really hard to tell if the comic industry has changed for better or worse, in no small part because the comic industry more or less conquered the world.
And I’m not just talking about the proliferation of superhero movies or whatever: I mean that the practices of the industry—dubious labor practices obscured by an endless supply of willing freelancers, the emphasis of brands over individuals (unless it’s to celebrate how well an individual is serving a brand), the constant need for content—are now how so many other industries operate. All the talk we hear about the creative class, even as they’ve been turned into people on an assembly line, tasked with turning out so many listicles or reality TV shows in order to survive? Comics did that first and best. So my hope is that, similarly, the model of indy comics—whereby creators striking out on their own are supported by a pre-order direct market and have the opportunity for both freedom and reward—might actually be taking hold in other industries with stuff like Patreon, Kickstarter, and Steam.
So, yeah: I’m hopeful about the comics industry’s current direction, and I’m hopeful about what it might mean for the rest of the world as well.
Hoffer: What do you think separates Wait, What? from the gazillions of other comic based podcasts out there?
McMillan: We’re far more disorganized and have a longer run-time. More seriously, I’d say that we’re really close to something like House to Astonish, which is also just two guys talking about what’s going on and reviewing recent releases, than we are Let’s Talk Comics or Word Balloon or whatever. We’re more likely to go off on odd tangents in terms of subject matter, because we both tend to talk about old things that we’ve rediscovered/re-read on the show, so it’s not unusual for us to talk about 1970s Marvel books, or an obscure indie book or zine that we’ve gotten from the library but not heard that much about. So… unpredictability? Oh! And we occasionally have guest appearances from my dogs, because they’re loud.
Lester: Yes! We have to be careful the listeners don’t throw us over for Graeme’s dogs.
Also, we’ve gotten emails from listeners that really appreciate our candor so I think that’s worth mentioning? We’re pretty good about digging into why we don’t like something, but also about questioning our own and each other’s biases and I think that gives people an informed way to weigh our opinions: I think when you know I like terrible Batman stories almost as much as good ones, it’s easier to gauge whether that Tony Daniel Detective Comics trade I’m raving about is really a smart use of your time and money or not.
Hoffer: How do you guys find the time to run a podcast, considering Graeme writes for The Hollywood Reporter (and probably a billion of other sites too), and Jeff does...whatever Jeff does?
McMillan: Hey! Right now, it’s only Hollywood Reporter and Wired. And maybe some other places if things happen. And Thursday afternoons, when we record, are pretty much out of bounds for anything other than the show, unless I’m fighting a losing battle with deadlines.
Lester: Hey! Jeff does...all kinds of things, Jeff assures you! My deadlines are a little more long term and self-imposed so I can push my schedule around more easily when it’s time to record (and edit, and write show notes, and post) so I’m really grateful Graeme is able to carve out the time for Wait, What? He’s inspiringly tireless, that Graeme McMillan!
McMillan: Jeff is too kind and also too modest. People, go and look at AirportBooks.net to see one of the longer-term deadlines that Jeff hints at above.
Hoffer: Why did you decide to start a Patreon campaign?
McMillan: We wanted to take ownership of the podcast, and make it its own thing as opposed to part of the Savage Critics website, where it’d been for five years — that kind of thing, and the amount of work that we (Jeff especially) puts into it, costs time and money, and so we figured why not? The worst that could’ve happened was that everyone ignored us, and that’s not an unfamiliar feeling to either of us.
Lester: Yeah, we are really, really comfortable with being ignored. Having listeners turn out to support us has been thrilling but somewhat disquieting. Our self-esteems just aren’t built for that kind of recognition.
Hoffer: What will funds for the Patreon be used for?
McMillan: Hosting, our labor and plans for world domination TBD.
Lester: Yeah, if you check out our milestones, I think our ambitions are obvious: at a certain (relatively achievable) level, the Wait, What? website becomes something easily mistaken for a full-fledged comic website, with a high number of written posts and additional podcasts. That’s my crazy version of an endgame—creating a website where a writer and editor as talented and opinionated as Graeme can create content as idiosyncratic and as candid as our podcast, and I can write comic book reviews that are really essays about Watergate and Star Wars and Alien, and how each in turn created the other. If our listeners want that site, Patreon supporters can help us create that site.
And if they don’t, well, they’ve already helped me write more about comics in the last month than I have in the last three years, and given us a huge burst of inspiration for the podcast episodes we’re doing. It’s all gravy.
Hoffer: Do you think that more comic websites and podcasts will turn to Patreon for funding in the future?
Lester: One of the things I appreciate about The Outhousers is that you guys have news and opinions, opinions beyond just “hey, [fill in the name] is doing the work of their career.” I’m hoping Patreon will give people a similar independence and fearlessness, allow them freedom from advertising and exclusive previews so that they can actually engage in some constructive—or at least entertaining—negativity, without fear of publishers cutting off their largest shot at income.
McMillan: Back when we started talking about Patreon, I don’t think we knew of any other comics journalists — or whatever we are — using it, but before we launched, the Geekbox got theirs up and running, and I know of at least three others who are about to launch or at least seriously considering it. I think it’s something that’s going to grow at least as long as Patreon is a workable model.
Hoffer: What sort of rewards are you offering for those who give to your Patreon?
McMillan: This is where I can point out the thing I’m surprised that no-one’s taken us up on yet. There’s a reward level where the sponsor can choose a comic for us to read and review on the show. If I were a publisher and creator trying to get some attention for a book, I’d totally sign up for that level, get us to review that book, and then cancel the patronage after a month. I mean, talking as the person whose podcast it is, I would rather they didn’t cancel the patronage, but seriously: it’s formalized payola (Okay, with the proviso that they don’t know what we’re going to say when we review it, but if they believe in their product, that shouldn’t be worrying). WHY ARE YOU NOT JUMPING ON THIS, COMICS INDUSTRY?
Lester: I never realized this was even an option until Graeme pointed it out and I helped come up with these rewards! This is terrifying.
Hoffer: How the hell did you convince Oily Press to donate five of their summer bundles to you, and how the hell do I get one?
Lester: Let’s just say that, as per the terms of our agreement, the only copy of the videotape formerly in our possession is now in the mail on its way to Mr. Forsman.
As for how to win one of these crazily great packages of summer comics goodness, please listen to the latest episode of the Wait, What? podcast (which will drop mid-day on June 30th) for the longest, most digressive contest rules ever recorded. It’ll be worth the listen!
McMillan: This one’s all Jeff.
Hoffer: One final question: Jeff, does Graeme talk shit about me behind my back?
McMillan: I don’t talk shit about anyone that doesn’t deserve it.
Lester: I’ll be completely honest: all the time. Seriously. To a terrifying degree, and in almost obscene detail. (Graeme, this is Alan Moore interviewing us, right?)
Wait, What's new website can be found here. Their ongoing Patreon can be found here. Savage Critics can be found here. Oily Press's website can be found here. McMillan's work on The Hollywood Reporter can be found here. Lester's work at AirportBooks.net can be found here. Other podcasts mentioned in the interview include House to Astonish, Let's Talk Comics, and Word Balloon.
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About the Author - Christian Hoffer
Christian Hoffer is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Hoffer is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.
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