I spoke with Jeff and Matt about their Star Wars podcast Comics With Kenobi.
What was your introduction to Star Wars?
Jeff: My brother took me to see The Empire Strikes Back when I was about 4 years old. Han saying “Laugh it up, Fuzzball” was the funniest thing I had ever heard at that point in my life. The characters, dialogue, and story literally changed my life.
Matt: I was living in Huntington Beach, CA, from 1974-76 and my mom had heard about the film being made through friends of hers. She was, and is, an immense fan of science fiction, so she told me about it. When Star Wars came out, we were living in Germany, but for some reason, it didn’t come to the cinema. That did little to deter me. With my parents’ help and my aunt and uncle in the U.S., I devoured everything Star Wars in all the magazines. From the U.S. my relatives dispatched magazines, etc., newspaper clippings and more. We got the novelization and other assorted periodicals and books, including a script of some sort (not real).
My first real exposure, at least toy-wise, was in 1978, while on a Rhine River cruise with my mom. We stopped at a small town, trooped up to the old town square and in a toy shop they had some of the action figures! My mom got me Luke and R2-D2. More toys followed by mail and at 8-years-old, my room was wall to wall Star Wars posters, bedsheets and more.
By the time I had gone back to the U.S. for a visit in 1979, my Aunt Trish took me to see the film at the drive-in in Flatwoods, Ky. She said I sat on the hood of her Blue Dodge Dart and recited the dialogue word for word. I also remember my grandmother, Eloise, and Trish driving me from the airport in Cincinnati to a Toys R Us and we loaded up on ALL the Star Wars toys they had.
Who are some of your favorite characters and have those favorites changed over time?
Jeff: Han Solo has always and will always be my favorite character. I can’t imagine that ever changing. I find that I typically have a favorite character from each iteration of Star Wars.
Han is my favorite from the films (although I’m also a big fan of Poe Dameron these days) Bossk is my favorite bounty hunter because of the character design and the action figures that have been produced. Hondo Ohnaka is my favorite from the Clone Wars cartoons, I love his moral ambiguity. Doctor Aphra is my favorite of the comic book characters for similar reasons, and Kanan is my favorite character from Rebels.
Matt: It’s always been R2-D2, in terms of the main characters, but my affinity for the Gonk Droid runs quite deep. Of course, as the films came out, some characters moved up and down, but not R2-D2. That droid, along with Chewbacca and, now, BB-8, are the only characters in Star Wars that will actually get you out of trouble, not get you into it. As for other media? Suralinda Javos from the Poe Dameron comics series. No real mystery about that, either. She’s a journalist and I’ve been getting paid to do journalism since I was 15 (I’m pushing 50 now). I’m also quite partial to Doctor Aphra for reasons I’ve made plenty clear on the podcast.
When did you make the decision to start your own Star Wars podcast? Had you been a part of other podcasts (either as a host or guest) before?
Jeff: I had been producing my own shows for MarvinDog Media for several years, and had been blogging for Coffee With Kenobi when Matt asked for a volunteer to assist him in covering the comic books as an add-on to the main show. Matt and I had a good rapport, and I enjoy reading comics, so I volunteered, and the rest is history.
Matt: I had gravitated away from Star Wars, but only slightly, during the 2000s after Revenge of the Sith was released. I still devoured the West End Star Wars RPG material, but beyond that, I didn’t really do anything else related to Star Wars. I was a long-time comics reader, but I stopped in the late 1980s. Mercifully I missed the 90’s era and all the flotsam and jetsam that accompanied it. Though, from time to time, I did pick up a Star Wars comics title here and there.
I got back into comics in 2005 after the birth of my first child, my son, Jerry. Our flat in Frankfurt, Germany was only two blocks from Terminal Entertainment and on my daily walks, pushing him in a pram or carrying him in a Baby Bjorn, I’d stop in and talk to the owners. They got me back into comics and dug in deep.
When Disney bought Star Wars, I’d been covering comics professionally for AP as a side lark, so I knew all the folks at Marvel. When I left AP, I didn’t want to lose those friendships. I started diving into Star Wars podcasts and, on a lark, messaged Dan Zehr and Cory Clubb to see if I could write about Star Wars comics for Coffee With Kenobi. About six months after Star Wars, Vol. 2, #1 was released, I told Dan that there should be a Star Wars comics podcast and that I’d be happy to do it. He put me in touch with Jeff and, lo four years and counting, we’re still doing it.
It’s great fun, even moreso now that we’re weekly, instead of monthly. (Frankly I’m surprised ANYONE listened to those early episodes, given we did a month’s worth of comics in 2-3 hours. I’d like to apologize to everyone who endured those marathons and beseech their forgiveness.)
How would you describe your podcast to someone who hasn’t heard of it yet? How is it different from other Star Wars podcasts?
Jeff: Comics With Kenobi is a weekly review of the current Marvel comic book releases, with the IDW releases covered in our Young Padawan Editions. Our show is unique among both Star Wars and Comic podcasts because of our strict focus on Star Wars comics, as well as the background of each of our hosts. Jeff is just your average comic reader, while Matt has extensive knowledge of both comic book history and the industry due to his experience covering comics for The Associated Press.
What Jeff lacks in knowledge, he makes up for in enthusiasm, and what Matt lacks in…well, Matt doesn’t really lack in anything in this area. The other thing that sets our show apart is our reluctance to be overly critical of the creators, but instead our desire to try to understand where the creators are coming from and why they made the choices they made.
Matt: Our chief aim is to help keep people up to date with all the comics, from Marvel and IDW, obviously, but also fan-made works, too, including webcomics (A Star Wars Comic is utter brilliance and why Jim Mello and Alex Ray aren’t working at Marvel or IDW is beyond me), comics-based animation and strips, too. As Jeff wrote, we like to constructively criticize, when merited. We’re not harsh, we’re not pedantic and we don’t like to build walls. It gladdens me, us even, that several people who write, illustrate, color, letter, and edit Star Wars comics listen to our show. It gladdens us further that many, many more (at least 13, we like to say) also listen to us.
Tell me about your first episode (or first few episodes) and how your podcast has changed since those first few episodes.
Jeff: The main difference in the show then and now is length. Matt and I were only recording once a month, and therefore we were covering 4 weeks worth of comics instead of 1, resulting in shows that ran as long as 3 hours. By going weekly and focusing on just a few books at a time, our discussions are richer and allow for deeper dives into each title. Beyond that, I feel like Matt and I found a groove with one another pretty quickly, so I don’t know that our interactions have changed much.
Matt: As our listeners have likely noticed, we tend to focus on Marvel’s comics on the main show, but we also know that Star Wars is for kids, which is why we were elated when Amy Wishman Nalan agreed to co-host our Young Padawans offshoot which focuses exclusively on IDW’s Star Wars Adventures comics. Amy’s kids, Emily and Micah, are a part of the show, and we have the greatest time breaking down each issue and hearing their thoughts. It’s akin to what Yoda said: “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.” Amy’s also critical to ensuring our coverage of Star Wars comics is expansive, particularly when there’s controversy, such as the Vader: Dark Visions #3 issue.
What are your top three favorite Star Wars comics (either the entire series or a particular issue) and why are they your favorites?
Jeff: Doctor Aphra – the entire series has been a blast. Even the arcs or issues that don’t land completely for me offer something that I can latch onto and be entertained by, not the least of which is the character of Aphra herself. She IS the Star Wars answer to Indiana Jones and I cannot get enough.
Star Wars – the main title, and the entire series. I realize this is an easy answer, but the fact is that THESE characters and THIS era is what Star Wars is to me. The creative teams that have come and gone have each brought something unique and interesting to the proceedings, and I have yet to come across a story arc that does nothing for me.
Darth Vader – Volumes 1 and 2. When both series started, I thought “Do we really need MORE Darth Vader stories?” And the answer was always a resounding “Yes, you dolt.” The creators of both volumes mined the character for narrative and artistic gold on a regular basis, and I found myself fearing and feeling for the character, and simultaneously hating and loving the creatives for it.
Matt: I loved Poe Dameron and was grateful we got 31 issues. Like Jeff, I am in deep smit with Doctor Aphra because she’s such a staggeringly interesting character with so many flaws and so much potential. Then there’s the supporting cast of new characters that complement the existing ones from the films and TV shows that we all know and love. But, for me, it’s the mini-series, all of them, even Mace Windu. I’m a firm believer that contained 4-, 5- and 7-issue series, even the adaptations (which have been quite entertaining) capture everything that’s truly Star Wars!
Of the canon comics which series do you think is the strongest and what comics do you think have maybe missed the mark a bit?
Jeff: I think Doctor Aphra has overall been the strongest overall. Each story arc has led to a satisfying conclusion, and the issues that don’t work for me have been extremely few and far between. As for the weakest/missed the mark, the first arc of the Poe Dameron book fell apart in the last issue, but the series itself was loads of fun. Vader: Dark Visions didn’t seem to perform the job it set out to do, there were moments of sheer brilliance but more than a few moments that seemed ill-advised and poorly-executed.
Matt: I thought Mace Windu — which was widely derided — is, in terms of its story, the most probing of the Marvel Star Wars comics. It really painted a picture of the hubris of the Jedi Order and made it so much easier to understand why the order totally missed the rise of Palpatine and how much danger they were actually in. Another standout was Charles Soule’s Obi-Wan and Anakin because it set the foundation for Darth Vader Volume 2, but also gave us as Star Wars fans and friends the first real inkling at how far back Palpatine’s machinations began to take root.
If you could pick a new Star Wars comic series what would it be?
Jeff: I would love to see a limited series set during the Original Trilogy era, preferably just before Empire, drawn by Alex Ross and written by Devin Grayson. Alex Ross’s artwork would be amazing for this universe, and Devin Grayson’s ability to write to the psychology of characters would give us new insight into the characters that we know so well.
Matt: Oh, that’s tough because there’s just much to be explored and understood. Still, I’d love to get a comics anthology version of the “From a Certain Point of View” but with characters on the periphery — a new Rebel recruit arriving at Yavin IV or a mechanic aboard Home One or a droid becoming part of fleet — Imperial or otherwise. I’d love it if Claudia Gray or Daniel José Older were brought into writing the comics, too. As for art? Fiona Staples, Ming Doyle, and Margaux Saltel. I’d also love to see Angel Unzueta return, too.
Do you have favorite parts or least favorite parts about producing a podcast?
Jeff: My favorite part of producing the show is the friendship that I’ve developed with Matt. The big reason I love doing the show is that it gives me a weekly appointment to check in with my friend, and we just so happen to get to discuss Star Wars comics. My least favorite part is the editing. I actually enjoy editing, believe it or not, but it CAN get a bit tedious if we have audio issues or if my dogs or neighbors make too much noise while recording.
Matt: Definitely getting to know Jeff quite well. We text and talk daily and, despite the geographic distance, are amazing friends. That’s why I love doing this podcast. It’s not work. It’s a chance to catch up with Jeff for some quality time and we just happen to talk comics. I also really dig the interaction with our listeners through Twitter, too. That’s why we do this, to help keep people entertained while edifying them. My least favorite part is the editing, too, which is why I coerced Jeff into doing it!
For new listeners can you recommend 2 or 3 episodes that would give people an idea of what the podcast is like?
Jeff: I would start with Episode 2, because not only will it give you an idea of how the show started, but it will also give you a good example of the breadth of our coverage, since we took time to discuss a fan-made comic and interview the creator, as well as a discussion about why digital comics cost the same as print. One thing that always interests me is our discussion of the economics of the comics industry
After that, Episode 39 is the first issue of the weekly version of the show. It will give you an idea of our ongoing format as well as provide you with an example of our fanboy love of Jim Mello and Alex Ray’s fan-made masterpiece A Star Wars Comic, in addition to our thoughts on the film The Last Jedi. If that discussion doesn’t give you an idea of how we handle the things that are divisive, I don’t know what will.
After that, I would go with the latest episode, whatever number that happens to be when you’re reading this. If you’re currently reading Star Wars comics, this is the place to end so that you can pick up next week with our next show. If you haven’t made it through all the books we discuss, just hold out until you’ve finished them. Unless, of course, you aren’t worried about spoilers, in which case we can give you a great idea of what you missed and show you why you need to GO READ THEM!
Matt: What Jeff said.
How do you decide what the subject of your podcast is going to be? Do you know what you’ll be talking about months out ahead or do you decide more in the moment?
Jeff: Marvel and IDW decide what our content is going to be, since we are reviewing current books. The only exceptions are when Matt or I stumble upon some fan work that we want to feature, or when Matt manages to snag an interview with a creator/editor due to his well-honed networking skills. Other than that, I just show up and talk. We typically discuss any discussion topics in the week leading up to our recording. It’s very informal.
Matt: It’s pretty cut and dry when it comes to the weekly comics. I keep close tabs on the solicits — we even run the covers for the issues three months out — and then I track their release dates, taking care to note if they’ve been pushed back or pushed up, which we also include in our weekly news roundups.
Who are a few people you’d love to have on your show as a guest in the future?
Jeff: I’d love to get Charles Soule and Phil Noto on the show. We have admired their work so much, I would love to learn about their process.
Matt: I’d love to have Elsa Charretier and Pierrick Colinet join us to talk about their creative process and what it’s like to work as team writing, illustrating and writing Star Wars comics stories. Another person would be Simon Spurrier, who writes Doctor Aphra, as well as Jody Houser because she’s written such amazing stories.
One interview that I think listeners would really love would be to have a member of the Story Group talk about the overarching process for pitching Star Wars comics stories and how they move from the embryonic stage to fruition.
What Podcast episode have you received the most positive feedback about? Did you know it would be a winner with listeners?
Matt: Definitely the Vader: Dark Visions #3 episode, but also anytime we cover Doctor Aphra, we get a great deal of feedback.
What kind of equipment do you use for recording Comics with Kenobi? Any overall tips for new podcasters?
Jeff: I use a Yeti Blue microphone with some earbuds that came with my iPhone a few years ago, and I record on my HP laptop and edit with Sony Sound Forge and Sony Vegas software. It’s a very low-budget enterprise, but I don’t think you can tell based on the usual audio quality. My advice is to get yourself a decent mic with a USB input if you aren’t planning to do any live shows and if you plan to use Skype or some other online audio service to record with your co-hosts. There’s no reason it has to be an expensive enterprise. I’ve always said that podcasting is the most punk-rock enterprise out there because there are literally no rules. I’ve recorded shows using nothing but my cell phone before, and nobody has noticed the difference!
Matt: I have several mics — when you were with AP as long as I was, you are trained not just to write, edit, take photos, but also do broadcasts for radio and video.
What are some of your favorite Star Wars focused podcasts?
Jeff: Coffee With Kenobi – which I would list even if I wasn’t contractually-obligated, Star Wars: In Character – although it’s NSFW
Matt: It’s true, Coffee With Kenobi is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, but they, along with or label mates are quite enjoyable. Despite my love for Star Wars, I tend to keep it at arm’s length so my Star Wars podcasts are not many, but I quite enjoy JediCast from Jedi Bibliothek, Hearts of Kyber, Talking Bay 94 and Skytalkers, among others.
Have you been to a Celebration before? If so, what was the experience like? Will you be in Anaheim next year? Going for the podcast stage? How about other upcoming conventions?
Jeff: I attended Anaheim 2015 and Orlando 2017. I enjoyed both, but I found Orlando to be a bit too crowded and too large for my liking, although that’s a matter of personal preference. I hope to make it to Anaheim in 2020, but I haven’t secured tickets yet. We plan to apply for the Podcast Stage, hopefully we have more luck than we did for Chicago. That is currently the only convention that I have any plans to attend, but I reserve the right to change my mind.
Matt: Really enjoyed Star Wars Celebration Orlando and was going to go to Star Wars Celebration but I held off … for reasons. I’m glad I did, but I’m excited about going to Anaheim next year.
What are you the most excited to see or read in the Star Wars universe coming up in the next year?
Jeff: Obviously I’m VERY excited about The Rise of Skywalker, and I am absolutely giddy about what I’ve seen from The Mandalorian on Disney+
Matt: Like I have been for every Star Wars film, I’m stoked beyond belief for The Rise of Skywalker. I’m also more than excited for Disney+ and the Star Wars TV content, but also the comics. Goodness, all the comics!
How can people who want to listen to your podcast find it and help support it.
Jeff: Search for Comics With Kenobi wherever you listen to podcasts, and spread the word via social media whenever you get the chance!
Matt: Reviews! It goes without saying that reviews — preferably good ones — help a podcast no matter what platform it’s on. If you like it, write it down but also tell a friend.
You can find Comics With Kenobi on twitter here!