I’m ending the Make It Then Tell Everybody podcast. It’s been around for a little over ten years and it feels like a good time for me to move on and turn my attention to other projects. I’ve set up a donation page here if you wanted to drop me a tip to say thank you. Thanks! Bye!
That’s the shortest version of this story. There’s always a longer version of every story, and I’ve thought for a long time about how to write this. Here’s that longer version. I’ve added footnotes1 here and there for a little extra flavour.
I should quickly say that I’m not quitting making comics. I still make comics, I still love making comics, they rule.
Here’s the story of the podcast. I’m sure I’ll miss some bits, or gloss over other bits, or emphasise stuff that felt emotionally significant over stuff that wasn’t as memorable. It’s been over ten years, I don’t think I can still remember everything.
The first proto-versions of the Make It Then Tell Everybody podcast date back to about 2008. In 2008, I took a job at a university, writing a degree course in comics and then teaching it. It was the first degree program in comics in the UK2, and I worked really hard for a long time to make it good3. I quit in 2019, more on that later. There’s a few other comics or comics-adjacent courses around the UK now4.
Back in 2008-ish, I wanted to find something for my students that gave them an insight into the making-of side of things, but couldn’t really find anything that ticked all my boxes. I am generally of the belief that I am not allowed to complain about anything that I’m not willing to try and fix5. I started a blog for my students called The Comics Bureau, where I’d collect up various comics-related articles, interviews and news. I later had the idea of interviewing as many comics people as I could6, and published it on the site.7 It was interesting and introduced me to a lot of people, but I don’t think it exists online anywhere any more8.
So anyway, when we had guest speakers come and talk at the university, I would be the person called on to host the q&a at the end. Over time, this turned into me just chatting with the guests while the students listened in.9
Back in 2012 there was this new-ish thing around called podcasting10. My brother Simon, a podcast pioneer11, encouraged me to record some chats and put them online. That’s what we did when Lizz Lunney12 asked me to host panel discussions at the Birmingham Zine Fest in 201213. These chats were recorded14 and formed the first couple of episodes of the show.15
The show had always had at its heart a guiding principle – that it had to be useful to someone listening in. I didn’t mind if it was some technical knowledge, a fresh perspective, a cool pen, whatever, it just had to be useful.
I thought at the time that I’d interview “all 50 people working in comics” and then call it a day. I soon found that the more people I spoke to, the more people there were to speak to. Each new person was a bridge to a new group of people. Seems obvious now, but this was the very early days of social media, so these links weren’t quite as apparent as they are now.
The first hundred thousand downloads was cool. The first million was also really cool. The company I host the podcast with changed the way they deal with stats a few years ago, so I don’t have a definitive total number of downloads over the years16. A few million? Not entirely sure. I do know that it was listened to in over 160 different countries. That blows my mind. A couple of times, the podcast reached the top of the charts and the front page on iTunes too17. Pretty cool.
As podcasts got more attention, they started to change. Big players like the BBC and then Spotify started to flood the charts with slickly produced radio shows, and independent creators started to get edged out of the charts. There was a big push to monetise too. I tried sponsored ads at one point, which was nice money for a minute or so of talking, but it didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t feel like adverts fitted into the ‘it has to be useful’ ethos of the show, so I stopped answering those emails. I started a Patreon18 instead, which enjoyed some modest success and introduced me to some really lovely people. It didn’t carry the household finances by any means, but did mean I could invest in better equipment19.
I put the show on Spotify for a while, which seemed to do okay, but I quickly felt uncomfortable given Spotify’s generally bad track record at being a company that is good for creators20. Pulling the show from Spotify generated a small flood of vindictive messages about exactly what kind of tofu-gobbling snowflake I was.
All the while I was doing this I was also working myself closer and closer to an early grave at the university. I’d been promoted and had extra, more stressful responsibilities. I’d take extended breaks from the podcast so that I could get everything else done. I loved meeting and chatting with new people, but the admin burdens were not insignificant; scheduling, reading up, making notes, recording, editing. It ate into an already busy schedule as a full time teacher, parent and independent cartoonist, and the podcast was the easiest thing to drop when I got exceptionally busy.
I sometimes get messages from people saying they really like the podcast, that something someone said on it changed the way they work, or helped motivate them, or de-baffled a process. That is a good feeling. I like that a lot.
Far, far more frequently, I’d get bafflingly mean-spirited messages about audio quality, or choice of guest21, or some other thing that infuriated them. I’d see web traffic coming in from twitter and comics news sites, but also from darker places online like 4chan and the like, hoping that I’d have a particular guest on the show who might share personal details that could be used against them. There were periods when this kind of thing happened a lot. The thought that a nice gentle chat I had with someone could be weaponised against them was a terrible thought.
Eventually, in 2019 I quit my teaching job to become a Freelance Dan. That was a great move. Best decision I ever made. Now, I get to see my kids when they are awake and my stress levels and blood pressure are low enough that I don’t endure 90+ hour migraines very often any more. Pretty. Damn. Sweet.
I’d noticed for a while that the tone of the podcast was gradually changing. Early on, people were happy to talk shop whenever, but over time I think the show started to become seen as another stop on the marketing trail. People outside of a marketing schedule were less inclined to come on the show as they didn’t have anything to sell, and people inside a marketing schedule were kind of burned out after finishing a big project and felt compelled to be in sales-and-promo-mode. Comics people, I love you, but squeezing enough conversational calories to sustain an engaging 45 minute chat out of an average kickstarter campaign is hard work, and not a generally fun listen.
I think the podcast got listed on a bunch of college course handouts and marketing websites- I started getting a ton of emails and messages from people. Some were people I’d planned to get on for a chat, or from cool creators who I’d not heard of before, which was a joy. The majority, however were from people who’d obviously never listened to the podcast, getting my name wrong, addressing the email to ‘hey podcast host!’. That sort of stuff is pretty demoralising. Emails from PR companies promising to get me “big name” interviews with people who didn’t make comics, a ton of emails from NFT and crypto people22. The more emails I got, the fewer responses it seemed I got to my own outgoing emails.
I also started to worry about whether the prospective guests I might have on the show were going to be revealed as terrible people, and then I, by association, would be seen as a terrible person. Day to day, I actively try to not be a terrible person, and it became very hard not to second-guess every decision for fear of getting it wrong.
I’d look at the stats and see fewer and fewer people actually listening. There’s been some talk in podcast-type circles that the pandemic reduced podcast listening habits as fewer people were commuting. That kind of checks out, but the downward trend was already in motion. I felt like the podcast was getting less and less useful for people, and if I’m honest, it started to become much less interesting to me.
I also started to get the feeling that people might not see me as ‘Dan Berry, creator etc’ but as ‘that podcast guy’. I’d meet people at conventions who’d exclaim stuff like ‘oh, I didn’t realise you made comics as well?!’ or ‘Is this your first book?’ Gotta be honest, after doing this for as long as I have, that’s disheartening.
So I took a break to recharge and reassess. I found that I didn’t miss making the podcast. I didn’t feel the need to hurry back, and it felt really good not to feel obliged to be on the eternal treadmill, eating the infinite feast. I got the chance to work with cool new people, try out new stuff, expand my horizons23.
So that’s it. I won’t be making the podcast any more. If you enjoyed it at all over the years, there’s a few ways to say thank you. There’s the donations page, where you can leave a tip24 if you’d like. You can go back through the 240+ episode archive 25 and listen in, maybe buy a book or some merch from people. Tell a friend, share this post.
To everyone who listened regularly or just dipped in, became a patron, got excited to make comics, delivered snacks to me at a show, chatted with me at a show, sent me an email, invited me to be a guest at something, showed me your work, hired me to do something, swapped books, shared a table, stood on a street corner discussing where to eat, eaten together, told me that my voice replaced their own in their internal monologue from listening too much, suggested guests, offered advice, let me sleep on your couch, shared a link or left a review;
To everyone I chatted with for this podcast; Thank you so much for your insight, generosity and time.
On to the next thing.
1 – Turns out, quite a lot of footnotes!
2 – This was at the North Wales School of Art and Design at The North East Wales Institute, which became the School of Creative Arts at Glyndwr University, who knows what it’s called now. They changed the names of things a lot.
3 – More than once I was hospitalised with suspected brain haemorrhages, that’s how hard I worked on this thing. In hindsight, the first time that happened I should have taken the hint that this was a profession that would devour me.
4 – I’m proud that the work I did helped pave that road, but oh boy wild horses could not drag me back to working in the British higher education system. It’s… not good there.
5 – This will not, as you will know if you have spent any amount of time with me, stop me from complaining, loudly and persistently about ev er y th ing.
6 – My recollections of this are hazy, but I think I sent the same set of questions to about 50 comic artists working in the UK. Maybe I repeated it the following year too? I really can’t remember.
7 – This was around the time everyone was making their ‘Influence Map’ and sharing it. Oh what a time to be alive.
8 – Ah, no – it is partially archived on waybackmachine. I can’t look.
9 – Memorably, one un-named guest speaker who was very, very drunk. I’ll tell the whole story one day, but not now.
10 – I always wanted the podcast to be audio-only. I wanted it to be something that didn’t require someone’s entire attention. I wanted people to be able to listen while they drew, which is why this show about entirely visual stuff is entirely non-visual.
11 – Simon and his writing partner Tim produced a bunch of different podcasts early on, even doing a 24h podcast marathon once, where they recorded and released a podcast an hour for 24 hours. Clever sods.
12 – Lizz and I did entertain ideas for a while of turning the whole make/tell thing into a bit of a podcast/festival/show extravaganza, but it sadly never came together. Lizz is great.
13 – There was an accompanying exhibition that went along with these panel discussions – showing the rough prep work for a page alongside the finished artwork. It was cool. Kristyna Baczynski did the artwork for the poster, and Kristyna’s became the artwork of the podcast. Kristyna is great.
14 – This is when I first used the Jim Guthrie track Hug Me Til I’m Blue. I’d just done a music video for Jim’s album and he kindly let me use it. Jim is great.
15 – I’d returned from a trip to Algeria the day before, where I’d been a guest at the big comics festival they have there. Nobody had told me not to drink the tap water, so if you listen closely to those first two episodes, you can probably hear the gastric distress tightening my voice and trying to loosen my bowels every now and again, filling me with the fear of catastrophically befouling myself in front of everyone.
16 – In trying to justify the time I spent on the podcast to my boss at the university, I worked out that at that point, humankind has spent well over a hundred years listening to the show. 17
17 – In the ‘visual arts’ or ‘arts’ categories, not the main one, but still, it was a good feeling seeing my podcast briefly ranking above 99% Invisible.
18 – I went through a baffling phase of including a photo of me wearing a different hat with each patreon post. I still don’t know why I did that.
19 – I started out with a little zoom dictaphone (An H1?), which I’d prop between myself and the laptop, which was running Skype. I then got a Tascam DR-40, which was eventually upgraded to a Zoom H6. I used Røde M1 mics for a long time, and then a Focusrite Scarlet Solo with a Røde NT1a which turned out to be way too sensitive for my needs so I swapped it out for a Shure Sm7b.
20 – There’s a load of ways in which Spotify isn’t a good company. Talk to a musician about it. In 2021, Spotify made $108.9 million US dollars from podcast advertising revenue. Do podcasters get paid per stream? Nope. Podcasters are expected to monetise themselves and give their product to Spotify for free. Also, the way they seemed to be intending to expand and track listeners particularly didn’t sit right with me.
21 – I’d fairly regularly get a furious email from someone demanding to know why I refused to interview a particular creator (who I’d usually either never heard of or had already been on the show).
22 – No effin thanks.
23 – For reference, see the rest of this substack. I’m having a blast.
24 – I had to have my arm twisted by a couple of close friends to set up this donation page. Please feel no obligation to leave a tip. The thought of asking for money while I’m taking something away makes my skin crawl and my heart hurt.
25 – Which I’ll leave up if I can, but I might explore a different way of archiving it that isn’t a financial drain.