Talking about Comics in Pete's Basement

So there are these four guys. They’re graphic artists in their late twenties and early thirties, and they talk, extensively, about comic books, every week in one of their basements. What are you imagining? Scrawny dudes with thick plastic black glasses held together by tape? Dungeons and dragons posters? Collector’s item figurines and shiny weaponry replicas? Nerds with high pitched voices, still without facial hair, boasting about their judo skills, with mom coming down every few hours to check in and offer cookies and milk?

It’s not? Well, good. Pete DeLuca would probably like to meet you. It’s in his Greenpoint basement where he, Ramon Chamorro, Steve Deninno, Adam Wiesen, and director and producer Roger Kenny, convene every Saturday to discuss what’s good and bad in comics each week for their video podcast, Pete’s Basement.

And, while there are some figurines and swords down there, and two of them are black belts in karate, they’re anything but your average comic book geeks, whatever that may mean. Instead, they’re gruff, crude, born-and-bred New Yorkers who aren’t afraid to talk shit—on each other, on the creators behind the comics they read, and on those other geeks they run into at comic con.

“From the very start of this show, we’ve tried very hard to break the stereotype and let the world know that regular people do read comics too. It’s not just for those pimple-faced virgins at the age of twenty-six; it’s also for normal people,” DeLuca said. “The problem with stereotypes is that they’re often true. There are people walking around comic conventions that have scarcely seen a breast in their entire lives. You look at them, and you’re like—why? Help yourself. I want to help you. For us regular guys, they’re giving us a bad name. If you classify us as that kind of geek, we’re just going to kick your ass.”

The show is the brainchild of Kenny, who approached DeLuca with the idea in 2007. They recruited three more of their friends and colleagues for the show, and the first episode aired in January 2008. The basic format of the show involves DeLuca Wiesen, Deninno, and Chamorro sitting around a table in DeLuca’s basement, talking and riffing about the comics that have come out that week. As artists and life-time comic book aficionados, they’re basically experts in the field, but the show is casual and unpretentious—they’re not afraid to use harsh language, rant about what sucks, and give each other a hard time.

“It started because we needed somebody else to talk shop with,” DeLuca explained. “My neighborhood friends are not into comics at all, and I still get viewed as a geek amongst them. It’s really refreshing to have other people to sit and talk with. It’s like being back in high school, when I could do that with everybody all the time. It’s just kind of nice to have other people to geek out with.”

The show is a way to sift through the good and the bad given the huge amount of new content that gets published each week. To give an idea, DeLuca’s personal collection includes about 6,500 books.

“Our basic concept is that we want to tell you what’s good and what you should totally be avoiding and not wasting your money on. We’ll waste our money on it,” DeLuca said. “There’s so much out there right now in the industry—it’s a little overwhelming, especially if you’re just getting into it. With the economy the way that it is, people can’t afford to be spending three to four dollars per books that span eight issues or cross over into other books or side stories.”

It’s a lot of work—DeLuca estimates that he reads a few hours, or about ten comic books, each night. But it’s work that they love and that the fans appreciate. Their website receives almost 40,000 hits per week, and they receive weekly letters from other comic-book lovers who also want to talk comics, some of which have become personal contacts with the podcasters.

“It was kind of remarkable. We never thought we’d have fans,” DeLuca said. “When people started writing in, more and more every week, it was like—huh? People are watching this shit? We love the fact that people are wasting a half hour of their time watching us and taking the time to write us letters. I think for them, it’s the same thing. Despite the fact that the four of us decided to go on the internet with it, it’s just like a little community of fans that gets to talk shop back and forth.”

The popularity of the show has helped the group to expand their content as well as their access to the comic book world, including behind-the-scenes episodes at comic conventions, interviews with writers and artists in the industry, and contests and giveaways for fans.

“We’ve met so many cool people through the show; it definitely would not have been possible without it,” DeLuca said. “I don’t think we would have had the guts to even try. When you’re standing in line with your books trying to get stuff signed, it’s just fan and creator. When you’re actually talking to them, you get to know them a bit more. You see who’s a jerk and who is the nicest guy in the world.”

As the show has progressed, they’ve played with production a little more, including goofy special effects and small story arcs, such as in the “Skrull” episode, in which the members battled each other in epic fights in the culmination of several episodes, in which it had been subtly suggested that the group was slowly being infiltrated by shape shifters. They’ve also started to incorporate some advertising, on their website and during the podcast, but only for products they think their fans would enjoy, and only via small, fun segments that don’t seem to break up the flow of the show.

Pete’s Basement is approaching its 100th episode, which airs the first week of December.

“As long as fans keep watching and writing us letters and this stays fun—and I really can’t image comic books not staying fun for geeks like us—we’re going to keep doing it,” DeLuca said. “We didn’t start this for anybody else but us, so as long as we still enjoy it, we’re going to do it.”

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