With loyal audiences and archives of material, narrative series released as podcasts and on social media platforms are ripe for graphic novel adaptation. This trend has spawned titles such as the popular The Adventure Zone (First Second) and FGTeeV (HarperAlley) series, as well as the sci-fi podcast adaptation Bubble (First Second) and the forthcoming Impact Winter (Image, Oct.), a postapocalyptic vampire story based on the hit audio drama series on Audible.

Spooky stories aficionado John B. Allen made a name for himself on YouTube and in podcasting as “MrBallen,” telling true crime tales with a macabre twist. His debut graphic novel MrBallen Presents: Strange, Dark and Mysterious (Ten Speed Graphic, Oct.), cowritten with Robert Venditti and drawn by Andrea Mutti, adapts eerie stories he claims are credible. Vignettes recount unexplained deaths in the supposedly haunted Valley of the Headless Men in Canada, a camper’s stalking on Mt. Rainer, strange phenomena in an abandoned Spanish village, and reports of the Beast of Gevaudan, a wolf (and suspected werewolf) that terrorized the French countryside in the 18th century.

How did you get started as a YouTuber and podcaster?

I was a Navy SEAL and was medically retired in 2017. I’d expected to be in the Navy a little longer, and it sent me into a tizzy, trying to figure out what I was going to do as a civilian. I met this entrepreneur in New York and we started a company to connect veterans with jobs. We began on LinkedIn, telling stories about veterans. Then the pandemic happened—our company was largely event-based, and we couldn’t host events. I’d seen the power of social media. As a Hail Mary, I told a strange, dark, and mysterious story about these hikers who went missing in Russia in the 1950s, the Dyatlov Pass incident. I went with my kids to a water park, and when I came back, I couldn’t even open my phone because there were so many notifications coming in. That was the moment everything changed.

How do you choose stories?

There’s always a reveal, a plot twist, at the end of the story. And we’re in the nonfiction space, so the story has to be at least credible enough that we can introduce it as a firsthand account. Finally, our channels are now big enough that the audience expects us to be innovative. In the old days it was just me and Google, and I was able to get away with doing well-trodden stories, but now we have a team of people seeking out stories that are true, have a plot twist, and are unique.

What made you decide to write a graphic novel?

I come from a family of book lovers and storytellers. Once I became a professional storyteller of sorts, I wanted to make a book, because that’s the most OG form of storytelling there is, short of telling stories around a campfire.

We’re doing it a little bit in reverse. We started with videos, and now we’re turning the digital content into traditional published artwork. We’ve done thousands of YouTube videos, so we have a good idea of our aesthetic and our audience is naturally inclined to be responsive to visuals—so a graphic novel just made sense.

What’s it like seeing these stories brought to life as comics?

Candidly, I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. I’d never made a book before, certainly not a graphic novel. But what Robert Venditti and Andrea Mutti have built with me is so special. It feels like we took the X factor of MrBallen on video and successfully moved it to paper.

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