Welcome to Night Vale: A Fandom Primer

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A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale.

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Surely almost everyone has heard about Welcome to Night Vale by now. Or rather, you haven’t heard anything. Do not look at Night Vale. Do not talk about Night Vale. Night Vale does not exist. And most importantly, DO NOT GO INTO THE DOG PARK.

Okay, no, I’m kidding. We are definitely going to talk about Night Vale today because it’s amazing and I’ve been geeking out over it for a couple of months now. I wrangled sk_lou into co-writing a primer post with me so this is our attempt to explain to you, dear readers, what exactly all the hype is about. Once you’re finished reading this we suggest you place your computer inside a circle of salt and then light fire to it while chanting the Greek alphabet backwards. Watch out for five-headed dragons and DO NOT APPROACH THE HOODED FIGURES.

So what is this Night Vale thing? Let’s go over the basics first.

Welcome to Night Vale is a (FREE!) podcast, produced by Commonplace Books and written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. It’s narrated by Cecil Baldwin, who is also the show’s main character, and the music is done by Disparition. You can find links to listen here and also follow Night Vale Radio on twitter. New episodes go up twice a month.

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Night Vale is a fictional desert town where lots of strange shit happens. That pretty much sums the whole thing up except that it really, really doesn’t. The podcast is haunting and smart, hilarious and terrifying, fantastical yet creepily realistic in many aspects. Cecil Baldwin hosts a radio show where he updates everyone on things that have been going on around town. Dead armadillos raining down from a sinister looking cloud is totally the norm in Night Vale and Cecil reports it much like your local anchorman might talk about an upcoming community yard sale. It’s sort of like Prairie Home Companion meets Orson Welles meets tumblr after dark.

There’s a recurring cast of characters (from Khoshekh, the station’s (male) pet cat who hovers over the sink in the men’s bathroom and gave birth to a litter of kittens, to Carlos, the scientist Cecil has a crush on and who seems to be the only one who questions the strange happenings in Night Vale) as well as local landmarks (Big Rico’s Pizza, the only pizza place in town that hasn’t mysteriously burned to the ground, and the post office, which was shut down due to an alarming howl coming from inside and frightening words written in blood on the walls). The Sheriff’s Secret Police govern the town by tapping into everyone’s phone lines and patrolling with blue helicopters and the Hooded Figures…lurk. Residents are encouraged to avoid them at all costs and to never, ever go into the dog park. Hiram McDaniels is a blogger who was charged with insurance fraud and has aspirations to one day become mayor of Night Vale. Cecil is a great supporter of his run for candidacy. Oh, and by the way, Hiram McDaniels is an eighteen-foot-tall, five-headed, fire-breathing dragon.

Welcome to Night Vale.

That little summary in no way covers all that Night Vale is. It’s so complex and honestly just so brilliant and weird that there is no way I could ever do it justice with my piddly little words. When people ask me about it, I say “Just go listen!” and then usually after an episode or two, they’re hooked. Like I said, the podcast is free so what do you have to lose? Besides your mind. Bwahahahahahaha.

*ahem*

Before I hand the reins over to sk_lou so that she can fill you in on the Night Vale fandom, let me link you to their website again, where you can not only find links to download the podcast, but also make a donation. The creators of Night Vale rely on donations and sponsorships to keep the show up and running and I encourage you to help them out if you like what they’re doing. And if you’re interested in Night Vale merch, you can find links to that as well. By purchasing your shirts and stickers directly from Commonplace Books, you’re helping keep Welcome to Night Vale free for everyone!

And now, the weather.

(Or, sk_lou’s part.)

It all started with an increase in the amount of purple and black on my Tumblr dash. Then, mixed in among the Dylan O’Brien gifsets and Setlock posts, came the mentions of angels changing light bulbs and bloodstone circles. Cecilos shippers and images of a radio host with a third eye and The Void. I began to see the words Night Vale pop of more and more frequently in my Twitter feed. The more I heard and saw, the more I realized ‘Hey! This looks right up my alley.’ I had to check it out.

I think this is how it started for a lot of the members of the Welcome to Night Vale fandom. The first episode aired in June 2012, and was fairly quiet on tumblr. Now that I am aware of it, I do recall seeing the very occasional Night Vale tumblr post. But it was in June of this year that the fandom literally doubled overnight. How? Why? No one knows. Maybe the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your House whispered about it in our ears as we slept.

Because WTNV is a podcast, the visual aspect is left up to the listener. Even more so than a book fandom, because whereas books typically include detailed descriptions of the characters, WTNV gives us very little. A tan jacket, an Indian headdress. The most complete description we’ve had so far is of Carlos, an outsider. Oh, and Hiram McDaniels. Because, hello! 5 headed dragon!

The Voice of Night Vale, Cecil, is just that. A voice. Fan artists are able to let their imaginations run wild and draw him however they wish.

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The most popular depiction of Cecil portrays him having blonde hair and glasses, a third eye and arms covered in tattoos, which are often sentient and can move. Some have run with the Lovecraftian element of the show, and have given Cecil tentacles.

Meg here, hijacking sk_lou's part. My headcanon is that Cecil is a dog. What.
Meg here, hijacking sk_lou’s part. My headcanon is that Cecil is a dog. What.

I do wonder now that pictures of the REAL Cecil Baldwin have been released into the wild, what influence it will have on fan art. Will we see less of the smartly dressed, blonde haired Cecil and more of this:

The actual Cecil Baldwin. I am intensely curious about that chest tattoo...
The actual Cecil Baldwin. I am intensely curious about that chest tattoo…

Search the Night Vale tag on tumblr and you will immediately notice a big difference from other fandom tags. There are no gif sets, no set pics, no manips. You will find loads of amazing fanart, cosplay pics, fanfiction, with the occasional ‘What the hell is this Night Vale thing” thrown in.

Once you’ve been drawn into The Void, and if fic is what you crave, hop on over to AO3. There are currently a little over 1300 WTNV fics on AO3, a large portion of which center around the relationship between Cecil and Carlos (and his perfect hair).

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The creators of WTNV have definitely taken notice of the fandom response. They have begun offering live shows in various cities, which so far have all sold out insanely fast. I think the recent San Francisco show sold out in under 5 minutes.

A tee shirt design contest is currently underway. Fan artists were asked to make submissions, and now through October 6, fans can vote on their favorite design. The top 2 designs will be printed and offered for sale on WTNV’s merchandise site.

If Meg and I have piqued your interest, I suggest that tonight, when the house gets quiet, switch off the lights, turn on the radio, and take a trip to Night Vale.

Today’s proverb: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, the pulsing lights will put you in a trance state from which you may never wake up.

tumblr_mqtvg1NCW21qa10uwo1_500Fan art sources, in order of appearance: 1, 2, 3, 4.

 

 

Meg Keysmash

Meg Keysmash

Historian with lots of useless knowledge about mules and pirates. Professional beast wrangler and full-time crazy cat lady with a sheep who walks on a leash. It’s often hard to tell whether or not she's speaking in euphemisms. Her gdocs is a vast wasteland of incomplete stories about dragons and teen wolves. She has a difficult time finishing anyth-oh! Posey is on Twitter!
Meg Keysmash

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  • Carrie C.

    FIRST EVER MELBOURNE SHOW
    ON MY BIRTHDAY

    • Liz Keysmash

      THAT IS AWESOME!

    • That’s so cool! I’d love to see it live. :)

      • Carrie C.

        it was so good 😀

        • Yay! I’m so glad you had fun. :) I saw them at NYCC one year and they didn’t do a live show but just listening to them talk about it was awesome. I’m sure the show itself is just incredible.