Welcome to Night Vale is the podcast that has, it seems, appeared out of nowhere like some sort of mysterious glowing cloud. Although the fortnightly show is in fact a little over a year old, it is only in the last few weeks that its success has snowballed; it now tops the iTunes podcast charts in several countries, and has gained an incredibly enthusiastic and creative fanbase. So what is the appeal of Night Vale? I’m currently listening to the series so far for the second time, and it only gets better with repetition.
If you search blogging site Tumblr for posts tagged with #welcome to night vale (or indeed just #night vale) you will discover just how much creative influence this weird and wonderful podcast has; some of the art and graphic design being created by fans is quite incredible. The show’s creators, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, have a kind of vivid and absurd imaginative power which appears to resonate with a lot of young, talented, and creative people who want to be an active part of Welcome to Night Vale, rather than just passive listeners – and this is one of the most beautiful things about the show and its growing fanbase.
Welcome to Night Vale feels to me like a surreal hybrid of J.B. Morton’s Beachcomber (if you’re a Night Vale fan and are not acquainted with Beachcomber, I cannot recommend it highly enough) with elements of The Mighty Boosh and a little bit of A Series of Unfortunate Events thrown in – as well, perhaps, as a sprinkling of that strange twitter account, @horse_ebooks.
The podcast takes the form of a local radio show broadcast in the small desert town of Night Vale, located somewhere in the USA, and is narrated by the sonorous and beautiful voice of Cecil Baldwin. Things in Night Vale are … odd. It’s as if every conspiracy theory ever dreamt up comes true in Night Vale. Shadowy figures, secret police, unidentified helicopters, hovering cats, angels (which categorically Do Not exist), and mysterious dog parks are all a part of the landscape of Night Vale. Alongside all the weird, however, is a rather touching love story between Cecil, the radio show host, and Carlos (beautiful, perfect Carlos), a scientist who is studying the strange phenomena in Night Vale. What is really lovely about this thread of the narrative is how utterly mundane it is; it is absolutely Not A Big Deal that Cecil has fallen in love with another man. In fact, this relationship is shown as completely normal in direct contrast to all of the strange goings-on. It is a kind of comfortingly ordinary foundation upon which to build such an unsettling story.
All episodes of Welcome to Night Vale are available for free from iTunes, Stitcher, and Feedburner, and their website can be found here. I fully recommend giving it a listen – especially if you are a fan of the surreal and the absurd. It really is rather special. I think I’m going to have to buy myself one of the rather fetching Welcome to Night Vale t-shirts (available here) – it really is that great. 10/10