Appreciation: Welcome to Night Vale

Joseph Fink's wonderfully odd, off-kilter creation is a piece of art that's irresistible.

Joseph Fink’s wonderfully odd, off-kilter creation is a piece of art that’s irresistible.

I’d heard about this podcast called Welcome to Night Vale from several friends over the last few months. As is usual for me, I came to the party later than everyone else but that’s kind of the beauty of podcasts. Try one and there are more and more to download and check out.

After I listened to the first one, I scratched my head and thought about what I’d just heard. It was strange and beautiful and reminded of — I didn’t know what. So I cued up the next one. And the one after that.

Are you familiar with Welcome to Night Vale? If not, dear readers, it’s presented as a community radio broadcast with the sonorous voice of Cecil telling you what’s happening in the desert town of Night Vale. There’s sports reports, traffic reports and weather. We’ll get to those in a bit.

The first thing I thought was that Night Vale was a town a lot like David Lynch’s and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks. It’s peopled with interesting, mysterious characters like Hiram McDonald, the Faceless Old Woman Who Lives In Your House, interns who mysteriously die or disappear and organizations like the Sheriff’s Secret Police. It’s the organizations that make Night Vale even weirder than Twin Peaks.

It took me about four episodes to decide that Welcome to Night Vale also had a distant relationship with The Twilight Zone with jets disappearing and reappearing inside the school gymnasium, pterodactyls menacing the town via a rip in the fabric of space/time and any number of other incidents that draw the scientist Carlos to town to investigate.

Ah, Carlos. Cecil tells us how perfect he is, how melodious the man’s voice is. Quickly, Cecil tells us he’s in love with Carlos and the courtship is on.

But that didn’t tell me what the missing element was for me. And then I was struck as if by thunder: Welcome to Night Vale recalled to mind the bizarre and wonderful Mister X comic created by Dean Motter. Almost to a ’T’. You probably aren’t familiar with Mister X.

Go ahead, look up that comic. It’s absolutely worth your time to seek it out and read if you already listen to Welcome to Night Vale.

Okay. What I haven’t mentioned yet is that there are places in Night Vale that are off-limits, more mysterious characters lurking in the background and lots more unusual events occurring than anywhere else in the U.S. This makes the UFO conspiracy location of Area 51 look like  a kindergarten playground. The other comparison that needs to be put in play here is that the podcast is presented seriously and the laughs come from uncomfortable truths, ala the Mama’s Family sketches from the old Carol Burnett Show. It’s all tempered by the normality of all the strange things.

Night Vale would be an interesting, terrifying place to live.

But the weather would always be interesting. On the broadcast it’s a song by an artist I’ve never heard of. Usually it’s more than just curious music, too.

Finally, and I have to wrap up here, I want to tell you that if you like the weird, the mysterious, the off-beat, you will probably like the podcast. Best of all – it’s free! Download and listen at your leisure.

Listen closely though, so you can identify which surveillance helicopter is which. Your life may depend on it.

Jason Arnett is a storyteller living in Kansas and writing in the plains of the fantastic. Some of his work can be found at www.jasonarnett.com

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