Get Yourself in Order: Talking Comics with Travis Starnes of the CMRO

cmro1Travis Starnes charts the complete chronology of Marvel Comics on his Website and in his podcast, The Complete Marvel Reading Order (CMRO). He strikes an informative and entertaining balance, with assistance from his brother (and long-time SCR film correspondent) Josh Starnes and Phil Malone. Together they track the tragectory of one of the “Big Two” comics companies, starting with the release of Fantastic Four #1 in 1961.

Generally presented in a chronological order according to production date, the intent of the order is, “To have the events from issues flow in a way that makes sense,” as stated in the website’s FAQ. Travis started the website purely for his own edification, as evidenced by its very personal but straightforward web address:

Ironically, Travis was never much of a comic book reader when he was young. “I was always one of those guys that scoffed at comics, until recently. After reading [series like] Preacher and The Walking Dead, and reading through the Ultimate series, I decided to go back and take a look a the main Marvel Comics line.”

As a self-proclaimed completist (what comic fan isn’t?), he took it upon himself to compile a comprehensive list of the main Marvel Universe.

cmro4“I have scoured the internet,” he says, “and while I see many people asking about a complete reading order, I have never been able to find one.”

His Website, which has seen many improvements in its seven years of existence, hosts almost 10,000 visitors weekly from around the world. The CMRO podcast, which is now heard by thousands of listeners, is a later addition. Two years ago, to get a boost for his new format, Travis paid for a mention by pop-culture’s own comic book guru, Kevin Smith.

“It wasn’t the Smodcast proper. It was one of his daily shows when he first started up, Jay and Silent Bob Get Jobs. Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes spent ten minutes trying to find a better name for the Website, but they couldn’t.” The mention got him the traffic he wanted and set his podcast off on a running start.

I sat in with Travis, Josh, and Phil as they recorded an episode discussing Journey Into Mystery #93, which comes in at #56 in the CMRO.

When I arrived at Josh’s house, he greeted me at the door. He introduced me to Travis (the brothers are twins, but you’d never guess it from their appearances) and informed me that Phil would arrive momentarily. I took note of the living room wall full of VHS movies and began scanning the titles when Phil knocked on the front door. The four of us climbed the stairs to the loft that as serves as Josh’s office and the recording studio.

cmro2I took a folding chair that had been laid out for me and sidled up to Josh’s large wooden desk, with a Mac Mini, small equalizer, and some video recording equipment. They assembled in their desk chairs around a shotgun mic hanging from a boom in the center of the space. Each wore the unofficial podcasting uniform: sneakers, jeans, and a T-shirt. Josh and Travis fired up their respective iDevices, while Phil indicated his handwritten notes to me.

“I’m not rich like these guys,” he said, grinniny wryly, and Josh announced that he was pressing the “Record” button.

The podcast plays out like an audio version of Mystery Science Theater, with the events of each comic book providing context for the trio’s educational and entertaining observations. Travis introduces the podcast and his cohosts. He speaks quickly, like a radio DJ, and opens the conversations with a broad opinion. Displaying the appropriate amount of brotherly love, Josh often offers up his own opinion as a counterpoint, dryly interjecting a verbal warning, “I’m gonna punch you,” to reinforce his distaste for some of his brother’s opinions.

Phil is not shy, himself, and jumps in with amusing observations and sharp witty asides. The low register of his voice stands out from the brothers’, and his delivery would be desirable for any comedian. Josh, ever the journalist, asks Phil to clear up a statement he makes, comparing Thor’s fight with some Russian soldiers to the Reich invading Russia.

“So,” he asks, “you’re saying Thor is a Nazi?” Phil nods: “Well, he does have blonde hair.”

The group has a fun time with their reviews, which definitely engage the listener. As they speak, they each display an understanding of the medium and the history of both the Marvel Comic books and the industry as a whole. Travis discusses the evolution of different art styles and Phil makes wry comments about the horrible scientific understanding of those early writers, while Josh gives deep background on the Bullpen and what forces drove the production of these books.

I know I’ll be back to listen to these guys make their way through the Marvel back catalogue. For any fan of the medium, the Website is a fun tool with which to explore the Marvel Universe. The podcast brings depth and context to the issues through the personalities of the hosts and the knowledge and insight that they bring to the listener. Do yourself a favor and click on over to and thumb through the long boxes. You won’t regret it, true believers! END

(Photos by Levi Rieken.)

Interview by . Interview posted Thursday, June 27th, 2013. Filed under Features, Interviews.

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One Response to “Get Yourself in Order: Talking Comics with Travis Starnes of the CMRO”

  1. Travis Starnes on June 29th, 2013 at 12:52 am

    Thanks for the Write-up Levi,

    I want to give a shout-out to all of the users at the site as well. The guys there are amazingly dedicated and much (if not most) of the work is being done by users of the site itself.

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