Aaron Mahnke launched the Lore podcast back in 2015, which blends the world of fantasy and reality by delivering listeners true tales of terror that were ripped from the pages of history but sound like events straight out of a horror movie. Given the number of podcasts that are available, hosts rarely assume their series will become successes, but Mahnke quickly learned how he had tapped into a fascinating and compelling niche in the medium, with the podcast being named one of the best podcasts of that year by iTunes. From there, the world of Lore has explored a number of different avenues, all of which Mahnke oversees.
The host's captivating content turned first into live shows, before Mahnke released a series of books compiling both beloved entries into the podcast series and also offered up all-new stories. The concept was even adapted into a TV series for Amazon Studios, which earned two seasons, all while the podcast continued to crank out new episodes.
ComicBook.com recently caught up with Mahnke to talk about the history of the podcast, what the future might hold for the franchise, and his own personal connections to all things dark and creepy.
ComicBook.com: You're so entrenched in the world of the supernatural and spooky things, when you were growing up, or in high school, in college, when was it that you realized that your interest in these things was stronger than the people around you?
Aaron Mahnke: Well, I never thought about it in terms of comparison to other people. I can certainly remember when that particular interest was entering into my life, not where one day or one month in school, I was not interested in at all or maybe not aware of it, but then, all of a sudden, it was what I loved, but, for me, I think it goes back to about fifth grade. I can trace it back to a Scholastic Reading Club catalog that went home with me one day in fifth grade.
I picked up a number of books from catalogs like that, but they were mostly things like Star Wars and Knight Rider and E.T. and whatever else was popular in the '80s. But there was a book that I found in there, I don't remember the name, I can kind of see the cover in my head, that was supposed to be this collection of weird and unusual, but also true, stories. And so that was the gateway drug for me and that was when I opened up that book and I read stories that they claimed happened in history, but were also incredibly bizarre and spooky sometimes. That was, man, it was like a drug. I was hooked.prevnext
You grew up in Illinois and now live in Massachusetts, and I grew up in Massachusetts and met my wife in Illinois, where she grew up, and we both love this subject matter. Do you think that growing up in the Midwest and now living in New England has heightened your interest in dark things?
I don't know that my interests changed at all, whether it shrunk or grew based on where I live. I do know that, at least where I grew up in Illinois, there was a real strong sense of local folklore, even though, obviously, the Midwest has a much younger history than New England. There was a cemetery outside of town, pretty common in a lot of those 10-to-15,000 person communities out in the Midwest where a lot of the cemeteries are actually outside of town, because that's where these smaller communities were, and then folks moved into the big city. And so there are these forgotten and abandoned graveyards. I remember there being a legend in one of them and being fascinated by stories like that, fascinated as to why folks in the area were telling stories about that particular cemetery.
And, of course, you move to New England and that's around every corner here. A place that's seen people; white Europeans, from the very, very early 1600s and a good mix of cultures here, from Native American names and places on signs all over the place. And a little bit of the stories mingled, with English and French and Spanish, and it's a really neat little melting pot of folklore. While I don't think living in New England made me believe in this stuff any more or love the stuff anymore, I do think that being here helps keep that fire stoked, which is fine by me.prevnext
You're coming up on almost 150 episodes of the Lore podcast, so can you even come close to picking any favorites, or even a handful of favorites? Or, if not favorites, a particularly eye-opening episode that brought a lot of surprises?
I certainly can't pick a favorite. I usually tell folks that my favorite story is the one I'm currently writing, and that's the nature of this, it's ongoing, no seasonal break. I just write a story and then, at the end of the week, it's all recorded and produced. I read an outline for the next week and I hit the ground running and write that one. So I don't have one that I particularly think is a favorite. I love them all, but if I don't love a story, it doesn't make it on the show.
But with that in mind, there are certain types of stories that I gravitate toward, or maybe larger concepts. The very beginning of Lore, the first episode we talk about this thing that happened here in New England called the "New England Vampire Panic." And it was about this century of time, like 1700s to late 1800s, where people in small communities all over New England would experience an outbreak of something that was taking the lives of their loved ones. They would track it down to a dead relative who they believed was essentially sucking the life out of these people from the grave and they would dig them up, cut out their hearts, burn them, and sometimes make some sort of a tonic or a potion out of it, which they would drink in order to fight off this presence.
And over the years since I put up the very first episode, through new research on new topics and bumping into other things, that whole world of what's called "therapeutic exhumation," where people dig up a body to do something that has some sort of folk magic attached to it, that's really become a fascinating topic. And I think that, in the world of folklore, it's just super unique, this idea that people were doing this and they did it for generations and what beliefs went on behind those actions. Again, I can't pick a favorite episode, but, man, that's a topic that, if I had the time, I would try to go deep on because it's pretty fascinating.prevnext
Identifying Its Impact
I think I first listened to Lore around the time it came out, someone recommended it to me, and it became super popular. Since you were writing and recording and releasing these episodes in such an isolated setting, you obviously don't know how it's going to connect with listeners. Now that it has become this storytelling juggernaut among fans, when you look back at its history, do you remember when you realized how big it was becoming?
The lifeblood of a podcast is how many downloads it's getting. You talk about YouTube, and it's, "How many views am I getting? How many subscribers? How many thumbs up?" But for podcasts, it really boils down to how frequently a podcast is downloaded. I launched the show in March of 2015 and, for about a month ... I mean, we're talking about five and a half years ago, so relatively decent downloads for the first month in comparison to most shows out there now. But, again, it was like 100-150 downloads a day. Back when I launched, more than five and a half years ago, the average podcast over the course of its life and total of its episodes would never even see a thousand downloads. So the fact that, within 10 days, I could get a thousand downloads felt really good, but it was still small when you compare it to shows that were [popular] at the time, like Serial, which had really opened up the medium for its possibilities.
I think people looked at Serial and they said, "Wow, I could actually tell stories with podcasts instead of just making it about news or technology." And about a month into making the show, I think I'd gotten three episodes out the door and I noticed an uptick in my downloads. That's the speedometer that you watch for the health of your show. And it went from 100-150 downloads to one day it was like 350. And then it was 850 the next day, and the third day it was 3,500 downloads, and the trajectory on the chart was just incredible. I think I got to like 8,500 on the fourth day and I knew something was going on.
I assumed something was wrong, like, had I broken something with my RSS feed forcing people to download the show over and over again? I didn't know podcasting from the backend really well. I didn't know how to assess the situation, so I assumed it was a problem. Well, it turns out Apple had put the show in their "New and Noteworthy" slider on, at the time iTunes, which is now Apple Podcasts, and it was drawing a lot of attention to the show and people were downloading and listening. And I always caveat that to new podcasters and say, "Look, getting into 'New and Noteworthy' is not a silver bullet. It doesn't mean you're going to be successful. It's a moment of exposure. And if people like what they hear, they will stick around."
I was very, very lucky that folks heard what I had to offer and they liked it and they stuck around and the show just continued to grow from there. Within about three months of that, four months into making the show, I was at a size that I could sell ads on episodes and it allowed me to quit my day job and support myself full time with the show. I think, at that point, when you're getting a paycheck from what you do and it's 100% paying the bills, to me, that's the marker on the road that says this is making an impact in people's lives, but it's also making an impact in your life. Like, it changed the trajectory of my career and I'm super grateful for that.prevnext
The success of the podcast allowed you to develop books and two seasons of a TV show, and you were able to write the comic book series Wellington, are there other mediums or avenues you'd like to explore with Lore? Also, have there been talks of continuing the live-action Lore in some capacity or is it more that you made two seasons that you're happy with and that's all you need?
For the TV show, that's the answer right there, the last thing you said. I'm super, as my parents would say, I'm "tickled" that I got to make a TV show. I got a TV show built from something that I created. We had two seasons and each season was very different, then there are people that loved one over the other on both sides of that fence, but it was a great experience. It was great to be able to do that, because it's a gateway into a new industry, a great way to learn along the way because, folks, they're going to forgive you of being slower, not understanding things because you're the creator. They've got to put up with your ignorance and help you learn.
So it was a good opportunity and, yeah, having books published based on the content of the show, plus additional stories, was a really great way to take the core of what I do, which is just telling historical tales within the context around them, it got me the opportunity to take it to people who aren't necessarily audio people. Some people like to pick up a book and feel the paper or they want to read the words on a screen, so publishing the stories in a book format helped me reach a new group of people who might not have found Lore at all because they weren't podcast people. And there's been some bleed over with all of those things. People who found the TV show learned that it was a podcast first and came over to listen to the show and people who found the TV show discovered there were books and bought the books.
All three angles fed themselves, which is great. For four years or so, that was the focus of my efforts, was to make Lore in as many mediums as it makes sense to get these stories into the minds of as many people as possible because I really, whether or not people like the writing that I do, I think the stories themselves, the details, the people, the events that took place, I think they're worth folks remembering and being aware of. I really want to keep those sometimes forgotten tales alive as best as we can, so it was important for me to get those spread around and out there. But the last couple of years has really been spent on, "What else besides Lore?"
You mentioned the comic book. Wellington is tangentially related to Lore. It's drawing upon stuff that we've learned over the last five, six years, but it's not a Lore story. It's its own thing and I'm really proud of what we created with Wellington. The same can be said for, we have an audio fiction project that's in the works right now. We're wrapping up casting. We're going to production and, hopefully, we'll be out by the start of the new year. That is fiction. It's in the podcast space, but it's not a Lore spinoff. It just draws upon the stuff in the stories that people find so fascinating, but built into a fictional world, and I think it's going to be really fun. So I'm enjoying those little side projects and I think they're becoming more and more a part of my day-to-day stuff, which is great.prevnext
An Ending to Lore?
Turning your passion into a career is sometimes a double-edged sword, because now the thing that brought you joy has to pay the bills. Do you think you would come to a point where you could see yourself stepping away from Lore, possibly passing it over to a colleague? Or is it, as long as you're walking this earth, there will be Lore?
It's a good question. I sometimes think of ... who's the Goosebumps guy? I can't remember. Once I hear it, I'll be like, "Oh yeah."
Oh yeah. R.L. Stine. I mean, it's like, could he do anything different, right? I know he's written books that don't have "Goosebumps" in the title, but he always comes back to writing Goosebumps. I had a chance a couple of years ago to hang out with Jim Davis of Garfield fame.
We were at a dinner together with my publisher. So it was a lot of us, wasn't like a one-on-one thing. Then we spent time after dinner talking in a smaller group setting, and then, the next morning, we both had an airport run at the same time so we shared a car and went through security together. We're not best buddies, but I got a chance to really spend more than those five minutes you might get in a green room with somebody. And it was really great to hear from somebody, to just stand in their presence, who, for 40-plus years has been doing the same thing.
He's been making Garfield and it's infectious to see the joy that he gets from it still. And he'll do this ... I mean, this is a guy that could have retired 20 or 30 years ago. He's not a spring chicken, but he'll do this 'til the day he can't do it anymore because it's who he is. There's a point at which he went from being a cartoonist to the guy that makes Garfield. His career wasn't, "What cartoonist job can I jump to next? His career was making Garfield. His career became being Jim Davis and I do feel like there was a point in my life over the last few years where, not at that epic level, because Jim Davis is a legend, but when I went from being a writer who makes a podcast to my career being "Aaron Mahnke," and I think that, when I realized that, when I absorbed that into my brain, it made it easier to realize that I'm just going to get up and do the work every day.
And, yeah, some days the work is really hard. Some days I have tasks that I don't like as much as other tasks, but, honestly, it's a pretty sweet ride and I'm going to keep walking it for as long as people will let me tell them stories, because it's fun. It's fulfilling. It's rewarding. If people are going to sit around a campfire and listen to me tell them stories, I should show up and keep doing it as often as they want me to.
There's a long answer to a short question.prevnext
While I know some people listen to Lore all year, now that we're getting closer to Halloween, you'll surely have listeners who are tuning in to get into the spirit of the season who might not be familiar with the series. Do you have any advice for new listeners who just want to embrace the atmosphere by checking out specific episodes? And, for you and your family personally, do you get more excited for this time of year, given you spend the other 11 months investigating murder and ghosts and monsters and voodoo?
That's the funny thing about what I do, is like, I've heard from fans recently, I see them on Twitter just mention the Lore handle, but they'll say something like, "Now that fall is here, I get to start bingeing Lore again." And I'm thinking, "So there are months out of the year where you don't listen to the show because it's not the right season?" But for me, every month, I'm living in it. I'm making that stuff. And, of course, there are fans who listen year-round. But some people do really, they see the catalog of episodes that I have, there's 150 of them out, I'm prepping for 151, and they see it as a Halloween show and that's fine. I'm not going to fault anybody, they can plug different genres into different seasons of their life and maybe that helps them pass time or find more enjoyment that way, to each their own.
But, for me, every episode kind of falls into that world of Halloween. I tell folks that the episodes tend to fall into one of three categories: you've got people, places, and things. People are the wicked mortals who have done things that we have forgotten or that we love whispering about in the darkness. And there's the things, the monstrous creatures, the ghosts, the werewolves, the vampires, all that stuff that are so key to Halloween, and those are fun stories to tell, too. And then there's the places, there's the dreadful places. Maybe it's that local, abandoned asylum or it's some hotel downtown that everybody tells stories about.
So if people want to get in the mood for Halloween, I just say jump in. Find an episode. Pick one randomly. Try Lore roulette. You just hit "play" on some episode and see what comes up, I think they will be pleased. But I do work to really make October a Lore month. The show comes out on a regular basis every other week, but in October, I put them out on a weekly basis, full episodes every week. So there'll be four episodes in October instead of two and it just gives people a little bit extra Lore in their life. Every Monday there's something for them to hit "play" on in October and that's really fun.
Around the house, I don't think that we go with decorations. My kids love to trick-or-treat, they're of that age, although this year, they won't get to do that.
We don't go completely crazy. My friend over on the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast, Holly Frey and her husband, Brian, I mean, they're obsessed with the Haunted Mansion from Disney and all that comes with it; the aesthetic, the decorations. And Holly starts in early September just wearing Halloween clothes all the time and it's just fantastic. So I sort of live vicariously through her because I don't have the courage or the space to do it like that and she puts me to shame.
It's a fun season. I always loved it since I was a kid and I'm glad I get to tell people's stories that they can use to entertain themselves in October and beyond.
If you don't mind a recommendation, since you're out in Massachusetts, I do recommend you check out the documentary The American Scream about three families in New Bedford who each decorate their homes for Halloween. It ranges from the family that hopes to go professional to the family that never pays for decorations and just improvises things. It totally captures not just Halloween, but Halloween in New England, just like I think Lore really captures a creepy tone and the vibe of New England around this time of year, without feeling like a gruesome horror story, making it a great thing to check out to get in the Halloween spirit.
Well, thank you. I really appreciate that. That's very kind of you to say. And I'm glad I get to make it and I get to make it for a living, but I'm really glad that folks give it a home, they use it as something to put them in the mood or for entertainment. So it means a lot, it really does.1comments
New episodes of Lore debut each Monday in October. You can learn more about Mahnke's various other projects at the official Lore website.prev