Monday, May 20, 2024

Alexander Danner and Jeff Van Dreason at the “Greater Boston” table at January’s PodCon in Seattle. (Photo: Greater Boston via Instagram)

As cool as it is that Cambridge has its very own annual Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, this year that fall event will be accompanied by something unique: PodTales, a festival of audio drama and fiction podcasting.

Among the current explosion in podcasting – there are more than 700,000 to download and listen to, by recent estimates, with as many as 3,000 starting weekly – comes a thriving fiction genre that may be best known for shows such as “Welcome to Night Vale” or Marvel’s “Wolverine” epics, but has plenty of smaller players, many of them local. That includes “Greater Boston,” a speculative fiction audio drama by PodTales founders Alexander Danner and Jeff Van Dreason, and “Take the Mass Pike,” an anthology of offbeat short stories in audio form from Podtales social media manager Amanda McColgan.

PodTales will be free and family-friendly, like its partner the Mice comics festival, and bring together fiction podcasters for panel discussions, workshops, guest spotlights and to set up merch tables in a main exhibit hall.

The PodTales logo reflects its partnership with the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, or Mice.

The focus is on  independent podcasters, and “we’re trying very hard to treat every exhibitor with equal respect,” Danner said. But it is something of a coup that two of the creators behind “Welcome to Night Vale” will be at PodTales and speak on panels. They reached out, Danner said, because he’s shared stage time with them on panels at other podcasting events. 

In addition, podcasters Jordan Cobb (“Here Be Dragons,” out of New York), Sean Howard (the Canadian “Alba Salix, Royal Physician”) and Sophie Kaner (Boston’s own “The Penumbra Podcast”) are expected, and several exhibitors are using their time in Boston to do live versions of their shows. The podcast-adjacent Post-Meridian Radio Players will also be unveiling two shows Saturday before taking part in the festival Sunday, Danner said.

There are more than 100 exhibitors expected, representing more than 100 shows. (Unlike a comics expo where a table might be staffed by a single person, festivalgoers can expect more tables crowded with creators and actors, Danner said.)

Still, the creators have modest goals for the inaugural festival.

“We are taking care to work at a scale that we are confident we can successfully manage. You should expect PodTales to be a much smaller show than some others,” they said. “Think of this year as our proof of concept – if all goes well and attendees have a good time, we hope to expand to two days and a larger space.”

Danner and Jeff Van Dreason have already guided “Greater Boston” through three seasons of increasing weirdness (set among actual locations, but in world where the red line has seceded to form its own government), and have found impressive sponsors for PodTales, including Lesley University, which hosts the festival; the Himalaya podcast app; and PRX, the media company that has distributed shows such as “This American Life” and “The Moth Radio Hour.”

The festival was also crowdfunded, pulling in $5,201 from 129 backers in around three weeks. The initial ask was just $4,000. The crowdfunding goes on. “Anything we make from this point forward will help with our funding grants for artists in need and for building a nest egg that hopefully will allow PodTales to continue beyond this first year,” the founders said.  

PodTales is set to take place 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 20 (the second day of Mice) at Lesley University’s Lunder Arts Center, 1801 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square – next door to the comic expo. Information is here.