While superhero movies may be a little oversaturated right now, the comic books they’re based on continue to captivate readers. Connor Goldsmith is a literary agent and host of the Cerebropodcast, a deep-dive into Marvel’s iconic X-Men series. Each episode, Goldsmith and his guest chronicle the history of a different character, discussing the impact that they have had in their lives and how they relate to them - often through a queer lens.
The show has recently reached its one-hundredth episode, with animated short-form videos increasingly going viral on social media such as TikTok, fuelling greater and greater audience growth. PodPod sat down with Goldsmith to discuss what he’s learned about himself from the podcast, and how he plans to expand it going forward.
How would you describe your podcast?
Cerebro is a character-by-character exploration of the 60 years of the X-Men franchise from Marvel Comics. It has a startling, Byzantine-complex continuity to unravel. My guest is always someone who has something interesting to say about a character, and we go through their whole history and explain the retcons, the stories that don't make sense, the stories you need to worry about and the stories you don't need to worry about. And by the end of it, hopefully we've caught you up so that when you read any new comic with that character in it, you have a sense of their history within the franchise.
We also dig really deep into the mutant minority allegory that's core to X-Men. So we talk a lot about race and gender and sexuality and religious minorities. And that's part of where having guests is really helpful, because they can speak to experiences I can't.
Why did you start your podcast?
I started this show because I was going stir-crazy in the quarantine lockdowns in 2020, and I needed some kind of social outlet. My dad is a comic-book collector - an X-Men collector specifically - so I grew up surrounded by this franchise. It was sort of a bonding thing for us. So I have this crazy, encyclopaedic knowledge of X-Men. I sometimes joke that it's my first language!
But another significant factor was that in 2019, Jonathan Hickman and a team of writers that he assembled did a huge revamp of the X-Men franchise, which had been laying fallow for a while. I was back in and really enthused after I'd been on-and-off for a few years, and a lot of new fans were approaching X-Men for the first time.
What advice do you wish you’d been given when you first started?
I don't think people understand the editing process and how intensive it is. I'm very, very intense about the edit, because I want my guests to come across as best as they possibly can. I cut about 20% of the raw audio, so that's a lot of work.
I have a full-time day job, but a lot of my evenings are spent editing. I’ve got an app that takes the “ums” out, so that was very helpful. It's called Descript and it's super useful - but even then I have to check each one manually, so it's not foolproof. A lot of it is editing for flow, to make the conversation pop as much as it can, to make the guests sound as erudite as I know they are, but it's nerve-racking to be a guest on a podcast.
How many people does it take to create an episode of your show?
Mine is very independent. It's just me. I don't have a team, really. I have my Discord server moderators who are an enormous help to me, but I produce it myself. I book the talent myself. I edit it myself.
Do you monetise your podcast?
I have a Patreon; that is where almost all of the funding comes from. It helps me keep this all going. It helps me keep my life going at this point, because publishing is a real feast-or-famine industry; particularly agenting, because agents make money on commission. So we only really make money if we sell books, and not every year is a good year. It’s nice to have a really consistent monthly income stream from Patreon.
I'm hosted by Red Circle and they connect me with advertisers, so that's helpful. I have a merch store, too – my friend Valentine Smith, who's been a guest on the show a couple times, and my friend Karen Charm, a designer who's also been on the show – we have a store where we sell t-shirts with references to the show, but the margin on that is pretty small. It makes enough money that I can pay the artists, which is nice.
How do you promote your podcast?
The primary engine for promotion initially was Twitter, but that website is so borderline unusable at this point that it's not really my focus any more. But I still have 17,000 followers on there. I also promoted it by going on other shows; I guest-hosted Jay & Miles X-Plain The X-Men, and so that's a huge inroad into X-Men fandom.
And then there's TikTok, which is something I never planned. I don't understand TikTok. I am too old to get it. I just turned 35, and I've never felt older than when I tried to figure out TikTok. But one of the big early supporters of the podcast is a meme account called Krakoa Welcomes. It’s run anonymously and is just funny X-Men content. They started making these videos and we eventually established a more formal relationship. That has been huge. Those videos get millions of views sometimes and a lot of Gen Z fans are coming to the show from TikTok, which is really cool because I don't think that that's a listener base that I would have accessed otherwise.
What have you learned about yourself since starting your podcast?
That the only thing holding me back is fear. That if I just sit down and do the damn thing, people will respond to it. You don't need to be perfect or a role model or, like, good representation as a gay person or whatever to be meaningful to people. I think talking about my own messy life a little bit has made me a figure of interest to some people in a way that's kind of fun.
At the first table I did at a convention, people I've never met told me how much my work means to them and how much I mean to them. And that was a really heady experience that it took me a couple days to process! That's strange, but it's beautiful too. I mean, people tell me they came out to their parents because of my show. There are lots of straight white guys who email in like, “Hey, I've always loved the X-Men, but I never really thought about all of these ways of reading the text until I listened to you and your guests.” That is really meaningful to me. And so adding more nuance into the conversation, I guess, is something that I've learned is possible and I feel really good about being able to do that, to whatever extent.
Who listens to your podcast?
I would say that the biggest listenership is queer and trans comic fans who haven't necessarily felt like they had a space to talk about comics with people like themselves or to unpack this stuff.
In that way, Jay & Miles X-Plain The X-Men was a huge trailblazer in this space and I'm very grateful to them. And Jay Edidin came on my show early on, which was a big boost to my initial listenership. But at this point, I think the listenership itself is very broad. I know of comics professionals who listen to the show. It's been really cool to see it take off.
What was the last podcast that you listened to?
I have a couple that I listen to really faithfully. I've been a big Who? Weekly fan for a long time. Also, Sexy Unique podcast, which is about reality TV shows, particularly the Bravo sphere. I read for a living, so when I'm not at work, I like to sit down and marathon the Real Housewives Of Wherever and relax my reading muscles a little bit. The Sexy Unique podcast is so funny. It's my friends, Lara Marie Schoenhals and Carey O'Donnell, and they're hilarious.
I don't listen to other X-Men podcasts. I've listened to occasional episodes of Jay & Miles, like interviews and stuff with creators, but I don't want to accidentally steal ideas from anybody!