All Hail the Glow Cloud
All Hail the Glow Cloud:
How Welcome to Night Vale Won My Heart
By: Leah Zoller
I tend to describe the podcast Welcome to Night Vale as a surrealist fantasy version of Prairie Home Companion. Each 20-25-minute episode is narrated by Night Vale Community Radio host Cecil Gershwin Palmer (voiced by Cecil Baldwin), who gives community updates for the rural desert town of Night Vale, where John Peters–you know, the farmer?–grows imaginary corn; a floating cat hangs out in the radio station men’s bathroom; wheat and wheat byproducts may attack; and a five-headed dragon is running for office.
In addition to community updates, the weather report features music from an eclectic variety of artists, and the (fake) sponsorships have been targeted to serve the needs of the community:
Step into your nearest Subway restaurant today, and try their new 6-inch mashed potato sub! Top it with a delicious assortment of fresh vegetables, like french fries and Nutella! They’ll even toast or poach it for you! There are several Subway locations in Night Vale, all easily accessible through witchcraft and chanting. And between now and November 30, buy nine reverse colonics and get a free 40-ounce soda or freshly baked tobacco cookie! Subway: Devour Your Own Empty Heart! (“Episode 8: The Lights in Radon Canyon”)
What initially drew me to WTNV was it’s clever social media updates and the fanart, mainly of Cecil and Carlos the scientist, who comes to study Night Vale’s anomalies (of which there are many). Imagine my delight when, in the very first episode, Cecil comments on Carlos,
He has a square jaw and teeth like a military cemetery. His hair is perfect, and we all hate and despair and love that perfect hair in equal measure….
Carlos told us that we are by far the most scientifically interesting community in the U.S., and he has come to study just what is going on around here. He grinned, and everything about him was perfect, and I fell in love instantly. (“Episode 1: Pilot”)
That’s right, it’s canon. Based on my fandom experiences, I had expected to find yet another ship that I’d love completely but the creators would deny any queer* goings-on. And yet here was Cecil flat-out admitting to having a crush on “perfect Carlos.” (I won’t spoil how it turns out for new listeners, but you won’t be disappointed!)
In addition to writing canonically queer and genuinely interesting, full characters into a wonderfully rich SFF landscape, creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor have established Carlos as a man of color, and have encouraged fans to use their imaginations when depicting the other characters in their FAQ: “What do YOU think they look like?”. The fan art interpretations feature Cecil, Carlos, and the supporting cast as all races, skin tones, shapes, sizes, and gender expressions. There are tons of examples in the wtnv tag on Tumblr, but Buzzfeed has a good overview of fan designs on their show overview for those of you just getting started. There’s even a “dress up Cecil” game on Deviantart by Tacotits where you can create your own headcanon Cecil!
A year and a half after its first episode, WNTV occupies the #3 spot in the US iTunes store for popular podcasts after hitting at the #1 spot in July 2013, beating out This American Life. WTNV episodes air on the 1st and 15th of each month. Check out where to listen on the official website, and enjoy the official Twitter and Facebook for more surreal updates.
*Queer is the umbrella term I use for LGBTQIA as it’s the most encompassing term, and we don’t know how Cecil and Carlos identify.
Guest contributor Leah Zoller writes The Lobster Dance, a blog about gender and Japan, and I’ll Make It Myself!, a blog about food, geekery, and gender. When she’s not listening to WTNV, she enjoys baking fandom cakes, drinking an absurd amount of tea, and reading manga about queer themes. She has an MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan.