(A quick note: by its very nature, this post will contain major spoilers for The Magnus Archives – if you’ve not listened to that and you want to, do so first.)
I recently discovered The Underwood Collection (Tumblr), a fan-made audio drama podcast created by Pitch Library based on the mythology of The Magnus Archives, probably one of the more popular serial horror audio dramas. I think this is the first fandrama based on an original audio drama work, rather than a TV show (see eg lots of Star Trek and Doctor Who), so I wanted to talk to the team who made it. To that end, I chatted with Cornelia, the head of Pitch Library, and who plays Ulysses, the collection’s Curator, to get a sneak peak of a couple of episodes ahead of its release on the 27th.
To begin then, tell us a little about The Underwood Collection.
Cornelia: Much like our parent podcast, The Underwood Collection is a tale of horrors. At the forefront is Dr Ulysses Bamba, voiced by yours truly. They are a former researcher at The Magnus Institute, now curating the stubborn statements found in the American sister branch, The Usher Foundation - specifically, a subsection called the Underwood Collection, from which our podcast gets its name. As with the Archives, the Collection has secrets of its own, which come to light as the plot unfolds. And from there it’s spoilers all the way down!
In addition to Ulysses, though, our listeners will be meeting the curatorial and archival staff of the Foundation. Ulysses’ assistant and fellow transfer from The Magnus Institute, Cassian Sedgewick, is voiced by Oran Talbot. The archival duo, Lead Archivist Morgan Gaiman and Archival Assistant Mars Barker, are voiced byJaime Brewer and Julian S, respectively. And last but certainly not least, Luna Zephyr lends their voice to the Head of the Usher Foundation, Adriene Blake.
Fanfic is often the first way a new speculative fiction writer explores their writing talent. Is that true here? Are you new to creating audio drama, or are you an established team?
In some ways, yes to both— we are an established team new to creating audio drama. Pitch Library has existed since late August, primarily as a vessel to create The Underwood Collection, though our long-term plans have expanded to include other original podcasts. We’re both finding our footing in this process of trial-and-error, which is a very typical (and fantastic) experience in fan spaces, and are looking to branch out in the future. The majority of us hope to continue creating audio drama after Underwood’s five-season run, and this fanspace has opened up the unique opportunity to produce creative content across countries and even continents.
Who had the first idea of putting together a fandrama of TMA, and was there any one particular moment in the show that inspired them the most?
The idea of creating a fandrama was my own, though I can’t take credit for the inspiration. Rather than an exact moment in the show, I was taken by a statement, which our own Luna Zephyr, later the voice of Adriene, had written. Their gorgeous prose led me to seek other fan-made statements, and, when I noticed that these statements often received little recognition, I wanted to pay homage to the writers in the TMA fan community by recording them a la TMA itself.
And that was supposed to be it. I meant to record a series of unrelated stories, which would allow me to try my hand at editing and soundscaping, nothing more. You can imagine how well that turned out.
The moment I allowed myself the inklings of a plot, the idea of the “independent horror anthology” was gone, and by the end of the month, Pitch Library was in full swing. Though the bones of The Underwood Collection were technically my idea, I can’t properly emphasise the creative contributions of the writers and cast members who worked with me to build the lore behind our Usher Foundation, and the characters you’ll hear within it. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Given there's now been four series of TMA, you've got a lot of canon to be aware of. How did you build your show around those elements? Can we expect to see new Fears?
Because the show is meant, in many ways, to be a “supplemental” to TMA, we’ve intentionally kept our narrative as close as possible to its canon. To that end, I can say that we will not be revealing any new Fears. However, the Fears will be handled differently here than they are in TMA - for example, knowledge of the entities and their names is a given fact, rather than a reveal to a longtime skeptic. The mythos behind the existing fears is expanded upon and explored, both to enrich the plot and tie it back to the source material, and the major events of TMA are viewed through a very different perspective.
You're planning a set of five ten-episode series. Have you always had an endpoint in mind for the overall show?
Yep! Once it became clear that we were creating a show with a plot, the ending was one of the first things conceived.
Fanfiction has often had to walk a careful line, such that the canon creators can claim to be unaware of it, so that they can avoid claims of stealing of fan work. How did you work with Rusty Quill to deal with that?
This explanation is long, complicated, and mostly comprised of boring administrative stuff, so I’ll keep it short: two and a half months of conversation and correspondence. To that end, I can’t speak highly enough about working with Rusty Quill to make this podcast possible. The company’s support and kindness, especially that of COO Hannah Brankin and CEO Alex Newall, has been and remains to be invaluable. The courtesy with which Pitch Library’s team was treated continues to blow me away, and their positive response to our project has been overwhelmingly gratifying. It wasn’t so much that we were walking a line of plausible deniability, but rather that both teams were collaborating in order to make the podcast’s release as smooth as possible for all involved.
Speaking of Rusty Quill, we're all still waiting for the fifth and final series of TMA. Do you have any concerns about reveals in the canon that might throw a spanner into your intended arc?
If Mr. Archives himself walks into the Usher Foundation and blots it out of existence, I would have concerns. Barring that, nope! This is a bit of an extreme answer, but The Underwood Collection was designed to adapt to the canon of TMA by focusing on the emotional arcs of the characters and allowing the context to change if necessary. New reveals and plot twists — the season 4 finale, for example — have only served to enhance and enrich our show in turn.
And that script, is it written only by a fixed person/team, or is it collaborative? Given all of the statements, are they an opportunity to let some of the cast write? Does the show work on a similar principle to TMA, using statements as the skeleton around which the plot is built, or are you taking a different approach?
As I said earlier, The Underwood Collection is built as a “supplemental” to TMA, so statements are also the base of and the heart of the show. Though our overarching plot is largely fixed, individual episodes are a collaborative effort between the writing team, voice actors, and myself. We work together to create individual stories which serve the overarching metaplot, while featuring many individual talents.
Speaking of statements, the trailer gives us hints of the trusty old tape recorders floating about. What's your theory regarding who they belong to? Do you have an answer to that in your show?
Personally, I am of the pet theory that the tape recorders are a manifestation of the Beholding, “belonging,” if to anyone, to the listeners. When characters wonder who is listening to the tapes, when the answer is in fact us, it feels as though the audience is asserting our existence as part of the Eye, and part of the horror. As for our answer on the show— in order to keep in line with Magnus canon, we leave a lot implied, so I can’t promise an explicit answer as to the tape’s ownership. However, there will be an explanation to why the tapes are doing just a bit more than collecting dust in the back room.
Obviously you're big fans of TMA, but what other audio dramas do you listen to? And what would you like to hear a fandrama of?
This isn’t quite an audio drama, but my favourite narrative podcast as of now is Rusty Quill Gaming, which I found through TMA and have been in love with ever since. I have a strong appreciation for its accessibility to new listeners and value the metacasts for their emphasis on responsible, respectful storytelling. With regards to more traditional audio dramas, I’m a longtime fan of The Penumbra Podcast, especially the Juno Steel stories. It was actually the first audio drama I ever heard, and I’m very excited for the progression of season three. I also adore Wolf 359, heartbreak and all. (Arguably the heartbreak is the best part, but I digress.) Recently I’ve been exploring smaller audio dramas like Death by Dying and Kaleidotrope, which have both been fantastic thus far.
As for fan drama? The potential of it instantly makes me think logistically, accounting for licenses, budgeting, profit or lack thereof, streaming services, and so many other factors it would take all day for me to list them. However, I understand that my breaking down podcast creation from a deeply administrative standpoint would make for terrible reading, so I will spare you.
That said, I’d love to see a fan drama of The Bright Sessions - the basic episode format of a therapy session lends itself nicely to be replicated, especially in the lore-rich sandbox of Lauren Shippen’s Atypical world. Whether aiming for a simple “slice of life” story or a more complete narrative, a TBS fan drama could illuminate what’s going on across the scope of Atypical life.
Thanks for all of those answers, and best of luck for the upcoming release!
As I said, I had a sneak preview of a couple of the first season episodes, and fans of TMA will find a lot to like. Because of the way the series is set up, teasing you with the truth of the world would feel somewhat redundant, so it’s able to dive headfirst into the horrors that we know are approaching with crushing inevitability. The best example of that is a statement given by one of the avatars of “The Void”, one of the aspects of The Vast, a creepy little tale about the hollowness of bones. As always, these are read by the main narrator, who does a good job of embodying other voices.
There’s also a hint of that longform plot, with a conversation between Ulysses and Adriene, the Usher Foundation’s head, about the previous curator. As seems to be mandatory for these sorts of orgnanisations (looking at you, Elias), Adriene, as the person most in charge, is just a bit off, swinging from cheerful in one instant to menacing in the next, with very little in between. Ulysses takes after Jonathan Sims, with a slightly grumpy nature, which is likely the result of living in a world where horrors are very real.
The show released its first episode on the 27th January, so listen to episode one below: