Out on the Wire is a graphic novel about podcasting. A visual representation of an auditory product. This alone made me excited to grab a copy, because the concept is unique. But it was the seriously valuable content that kept me up at night, flipping pages, highlighting my favourite bits, taking notes. It is the content that has me re-reading passages and poring over it like the bible of podcasting.
While podcasting is growing in popularity right now, it has been around the block a few times already. In 1999 cartoonist Jessica Abel released a slim yet fascinating graphic novel about This American Life and its rather unique storytelling methods. Out on the Wire is like the expansion pack of that first book. It looks beyond This American Life to include other podcasts like Snap Judgement, 99% Invisible, Planet Money and Radiolab. While these are all often lumped together in the nebulous genre of “narrative non-fiction” what Abel’s book reveals is the varied approaches and ideologies behind this new narrative form.
Out on the Wire is thorough as it goes through every step from conceptualising to publishing. Like a textbook but way more fun. As someone who is on their third podcast and has never worked in radio or with audio professionals, this was like a long drink of water at the end of the desert. I gulped in all the information, let in run down my chin, and finished with deep satiated breaths.
I’m not alone in my cobbled together, learn-on-the-job approach to podcasting. Currently podcasting is an egalitarian platform with a large community of amateurs coming at it with DIY styles.
If you are someone with previous radio experience then perhaps there will be some familiar ground covered. However this new push for podcasting, the ability for anyone to create and disseminate, means that many of us podcast-crazy peeps are complete n00bs when it comes to audio. Or we have audio experience but not storytelling. Or both of those but not the interview techniques. Whatever the gaps in your podcasting skill set: it is covered in this book.
Not only is this book packed with practical information but it is visually enthralling. Abel does a fantastic job of visualising stages of the creative process that we are all familiar with conceptually but don’t get the chance to actually see. One of my favourites is the discussion of the ‘German forest’ which is basically where you can find yourself halfway through a project when you suddenly realise you’ve lost your way. It happens to the best of us. In Out of the Wire as the characters discuss this foreboding feeling that is an integral part of the creative process, while getting increasingly lost in the seemingly endless forest. It is a beautiful way of evoking and exploring these ideas, and the term ‘German forest’ has now become a regular in my vernacular.
Naturally, the content of this book also comes in podcast form. Out on the Wire podcast is interactive with workshops and projects to take you through the story making process. It’s not an audiobook of the actual book, but a great companion. The podcast is absolutely free and absolutely priceless for all would-be storytellers, not only those wanting to write podcasts.
You can grab a copy of Out on the Wire from Jessica Abel’s website. While there, you might also want to check out her latest graphic novel Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars – yep, roller derby and Mars. That has to be a winning combination and it’s now happily on my to-read pile.