In January of 2011, a troupe of actors called The Workjuice Players brought their staged old-time radio drama to the podcasting airwaves, introducing the world to their long-running show, The Thrilling Adventure Hour. Begun as script-reading of a spec script for Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars, in creator Ben Blacker’s living room, the show expanded to include 15 different short radio shows, with the aforementioned Sparks Nevada, and Beyond Belief as the most popular. The latter starred Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster as Frank and Sadie Doyle, respectively; socialites who fought the supernatural in between martinis. In A Spirited Romance, the now-closed stage show lives on in comic book form, bringing Frank and Sadie’s brand of ghost-busting to a new audience while reminding long-time fans just why they loved the Doyles.
Written by Blacker and co-creator Ben Acker, A Spirited Romance is the first collection of stories based on the popular podcast. With a “love at first fright” prologue, the book is an extended tale of Frank and Sadie helping de-ghostify the neighborhood where Sadie’s dear friend Donna Donner has just moved. For anyone familiar with Tompkins and Brewster’s character portrayals, one cannot help but hear the dialogue in their voices, especially Brewster’s charmingly upper-crust, Mid-Atlantic articulations. The moment I fell into the book was perhaps the duo’s most punctuational moment: the first time their martini glasses went “clink!” It brought me back to the years of shows put out by the Workjuice Players, and the innocent joy of such a truly remarkably written and performed show.
A Spirited Romance and Beyond Belief would not work as cleanly but for a combination of clear things that draw in the reader and listener. First, Acker and Blacker’s writing is spot on. Their dialogue is crisp, funny, and always driving the story back to its center, that being another item on our list: Frank and Sadie’s relationship. The Doyles are, and always shall be, madly in love. They are charming and delightful, drinking their way hilariously through demons and danger, but, in the end, the show is about the love of the two for each other and for their friends. In the main story, the pair not only gladly help Donna, they aid a little girl and her imaginary friend in banishing the monsters under her bed before tackling an infestation of tuxedo-ed druids. At times they ignore whatever great horror might be lurking to ensure that the right thing is done by all involved. Frank and Sadie are truly wonderful people who complement each other, both as partners and, often, aloud.
Like I said earlier, as an avid TAH listener, I have the impossible task of trying to read this comic as new readers might, erasing Tompkins and Brewster’s voices from the speech bubbles. Forgive me, but I simply cannot. Nor should I! Acker and Blacker’s writing and those voices are what makes the show work so well, especially as it evolved over four years on the air. The fact that artist Phil Hester captured the two actors fabulously (I wish I could write that word as Sadie would say it) in the comic just makes it harder to separate. I encourage anyone reading the comic, or its eventual successor concerning Sparks Nevada, to look up the podcast, pick up the Live DVD, and enjoy a fantastic show that ended too soon. I suppose the comics will suffice. *Clink*