Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Secret Identity Saga (2006-- )

Secret Identity is a twice-weekly podcast that I've been doing with my good friend Matt Herring for close to five years now. We have recorded and produced over 250 shows, and for the past 200 or so, we've followed a pretty consistent format. Our first show of the week is very comic-centric. We discuss news and listener feedback, review current comics and look back at old comics each episode. The send show of the week covers, movies, TV, gaming and more, and features a Creator Spotlight segment, where we talk to someone from the comic, movie/TV or gaming industries. All told, we've interviewed well over 200 creators for the show, something we are extremely proud of.  You can see a complete list of the people we've interviewed on the About page of our website, http://www.secretidentitypodcast.com/.

Which brings me to the website portion of Secret Identity. For over three years, Matt and I have had a site dedicated to the podcast, where we post news, reviews and interviews related to all areas of geekdom as well. The site started small, but now features new content daily, as well as a forum where listeners hang out and talk about the show, comics, games and just about everything else.

Without Secret Identity, none of the other projects I have worked on would exist. I've met a ton of amazing people because of Secret Identity, and it has created opportunities for me to write that I am very grateful for.

I was actually interviewed about Secret Identity by Bob Heske over at InvestComics.com last year. Here's some excerpts from that interview that better detail what Secret Identity is all about:


Bob Heske: Your website is called "Secret Identity," yet I've just told the world who you are. Does this mean you have to kill me? By the way, how did Secret Identity come about?

Me: Are you kidding me? If I killed you, I'd be robbing the world of your creative talent, and I couldn't have that on my conscience. Not to mention, it's not often anyone wants to interview us, so we're very appreciative.

Secret Identity came about because a Matt and I and another friend of ours used to get together every Friday night during the first season of Battlestar Galactica. When the first season was coming to an end, we were looking for a reason to still hang out on Fridays. I was an avid listener of podcasts at the time, and had been thinking about starting one. So, we decided to start a podcast and talk about the same things we talked about at the comic shop, or whenever else we were hanging out.


Tell us about the co-conspirators behind SI - who the heck are Brian LeTendre and Matt "Matman" Herring? (Whoops, there I go again - blowing your cover!) How do you two divvy up responsibilities?

Matt and I are two very different people who happen to have some very strong common interests. He is an old school comics fan, and has a collection of well over 20,000 books. I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up on the Atari 2600 and Dungeons & Dragons. We're both big movie fans—Matt's a war movie fanatic and I love horror. As I mentioned above, we're both sci-fi fans, and I would say our love of comics and Battlestar Galactica was where our initial bond was made.

What's awesome is that when we first started Secret Identity, Matt and I had not known each other very long. Our relationship has developed along with the podcast over these past 3-plus years. Now we're like an old married couple, which is something the wives like to joke about on a regular basis.

In terms of responsibilities, it's a pretty good split. We alternate updating the website daily, so if I update today, he updates tomorrow. I edit and produce the podcast, which can be time consuming, but I've streamlined the process to a point where it's not too bad. Since I've been doing some freelance writing this past year, Matt has really stepped up and done a ton of creator interviews, which has allowed us to continue to feature a creator interview each week in the podcast. Matt is also a great ambassador for the show, and he's helped form a lot of great relationships for us in the comic community.

Everything else we sort of adjust on the fly. If one of us is sick, if work gets crazy, if there's a vacation—we adjust.


How hard is it running a website and a podcast and posting reviews for DriveThruComics? You also do periodic creator interviews and review games and films. What don't you guys cover ... and how do convince your wives let you get away with having all this fun?

It's extremely difficult, but we love it. We have put out at least one episode of Secret Identity every week for the past 200 weeks in a row. We've never taken a week off. That has only happened because we have very understanding families, and we really enjoy doing it.

On the Drive Thru Comics front, Matt M. McElroy from Drive Thru approached me about writing some reviews, and we cross-promote one another, which is really great for us. What I love the most about Drive Thru is that it's a hotbed of Indie creators, and I get exposed to a ton of books that I wouldn't otherwise come across. When I see one that really stands out, I can use the podcast and our website to highlight the book. That's actually one of the best things about Secret Identity, is we've really connected with the Indie community, and we can be a voice for it.

The most difficult part of whole thing is that after the podcast, website and recording interviews, Matt and I don't have a lot of time left over for marketing. For the past couple years, Matt and I have been very focused on making sure we were producing quality content, both on the website and through the podcast. We kind of had a 'if we build it, they will come” mentality. We're very confident in the quality of Secret Identity, but we know that we need to step up the marketing aspect of what we do in order to attract more listeners.


What's your traffic like for the podcast and on the website? How has it grown during your three-year tenure?

We're still pretty small, but we have a very dedicated group of listeners. We get approximately 400-600 downloads per episode of the podcast, and about half of those people regularly visit the website. That's a big jump from the 11 listeners who checked out the first show we did in 2006. We usually see some spikes around big conventions or when we have big-name interviews.

In addition to the listeners that have stuck with us since the beginning, what's really been surprising is the amount of friends we've made in the comic industry. There's a good bunch of creators that listen to us on a regular basis, and it always blows me away to see someone like Jimmy Palmiotti give us a shout out on twitter, or when we run into someone at a show and they've actually listened to the podcast.


You've recently hit the 200-mark for podcasts. What have you learned doing all these shows, and focusing who have been some of your most entertaining and outrageous guests?

What I've learned is that there are some amazing people in the comic industry, and comic creators are so much more accessible than other industries (gaming, movies/tv, etc.). We are very fortunate to have made some great friends that will remain in our lives long after Secret Identity is done. Here's a quick list of some of our coolest guests:

Todd McFarlane (Spawn)--One of our earliest interviews. Forget what you've heard about him, he's a really nice guy, a die hard sports fan and a great interview.

Aaron Douglas (Battlestar Galactica)--A totally laid back kind of guy, Matt spoke to him when Battlestar was at its height, and before the whole Cylon thing happened with Chief Tyrol.

Jim Salicrup (Papercutz, Marvel)—Every time we interview Jim, we are reminded that he is one of comics' great ambassadors.

Billy Tucci (Shi, Sgt. Rock, Heroes for Hire)--Billy's enthusiasm for what he does is infectious. To hear him talk about Sgt. Rock will bring a tear to your eye.

Joe Caramagna (Marvel letterer, Iron Man and the Armor Wars writer)--One of the hardest working guys in comics, Joe is starting to make a name for himself as a writer.

Kyle Baker (The Bakers, Plastic Man)—A great guy, and always very open and honest about what he thinks.

Bill Rosemann (Marvel editor)--Perhaps my favorite guy to interview. He loves comics more than anyone, and to hear him talk about the cosmic stuff is really fun.

Ed Greenwood (creator of the Forgotten Realms D&D world)--As a huge D&D nerd, I was totally starstruck while interviewing Ed. Truly a legend in the fantasy genre.

It's hard to pick just a few from the over 200 interviews we've featured in the podcast, as they are all interesting. My favorites are always the ones where we get a look at the process behind the product, be it a game, comic, movie or show. I'm a sucker for director commentaries and behind the scenes documentaries, so I love to talk about that stuff with creators.

**You can read the entire interview over at Invest Comics here.