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Scott Niswander of NerdSync Talks Superman, Captain America, & Scooby-Doo (EXCLUSIVE)

If you are a fan of comic books and YouTube, you have almost certainly watched a video by Scott Niswander, who runs and hosts the YouTube channel NerdSync. He has been making videos on the platform for over half a decade and has gone through multiple phases of reinvention over the years. Recently, I got the chance to interview him and ask him about the process behind the creative aspect of his channel. The contents of that interview are below:

Scott Niswander

What stories got you into comic books? What cemented your love of comics?

I had a childhood mentor who was super into comic books and superheroes, but I think what really grew my love of them was watching the first X-Men movie in theaters. Seeing all the cool characters and superpowers and eventually getting toys of those characters made my childhood brain go bonkers with fun ideas! Some of the first comics I read were the comic book adaptations of the early superhero movies like the 2002 Spider-Man film and even the Daredevil movie. I read those comic books cover to cover more times than I can count.

Poster of 2002’s Spider-Man movie

What made you decide to start a YouTube channel about comics?

I was in college for video production and filmmaking, and I got bored of learning about video production, and instead wanted first-hand experience with it. So, I fired up the built-in webcam in my computer, and started recording terrible videos discussing the one thing I felt somewhat knowledgeable about: comic books. Many years later, I’ve learned so much about video production through hands-on experience. I’m still learning! And it’s been fun!

The thumbnail of Scott’s first NerdSync video (Who are All the Green Lanterns?)

When did you decide that YouTube would be your full-time job?

Remember how I said I was in college? Yeah, so that didn’t work out well. I spent so much time making YouTube videos that I eventually stopped going to my classes. I just wanted to create more and more videos, and to hopefully one day have a YouTube channel that was successful. As you could have probably guessed, I failed out of college, which wasn’t great. I had about six months until I needed to start paying off my student loans, so the choices were to either stop doing YouTube and get a more normal job, or continue doing YouTube for those daunting six months and see if I can make it a success. I maybe had a couple thousand subscribers at this time. Nothing too big. But this was the summer of 2014, and the next Marvel movie about to come out was Guardians of the Galaxy, a property that hardly anyone knew about. So I made a video explaining the history of Star-Lord and it blew up! It’s still one of my most popular videos today with over a million views. I was five months into my six-month test to see if I could make it on YouTube, and it felt like such a relief that I finally made it work! From that point on, my channel grew in subscribers and my videos started getting a lot more views. I was finally able to make money off of them. Not that I had many bills to pay because I was a college dropout living with my parents. But still!

NerdSync’s “Why is Peter Quill Called STAR-LORD?” video thumbnail

Did you ever consider a career in filmmaking as opposed to YouTube?

Yeah, that’s what I initially went to college for. I was set on being a visual effects artist, but the industry then (and still today) wasn’t kind to visual effects artists. It felt stressful and scary. I wanted to make stuff on my own terms. I think nowadays, I’m definitely trying to create more cinematic videos than what I started out doing, just to try to tap back into those roots.

NerdSync’s “Mysterio Changed My Life (no, but seriously)

You completely reinvented your YouTube channel about 3 years ago now, where you started just making videos you enjoy on what you enjoy. What sparked this change?

I don’t really know. I think it was just this creative desire to experiment. I had been making the same kinds of videos for about five or six years at that point. Me, standing in front of a wall, talking about comic books with the same editing style and same background music. I felt a bit stagnant. I was inspired by other YouTubers I had seen making videos with props and costumes and colorful lighting and narratives running through their videos. Channels like ContraPoints and PhilosophyTube and Patrick Willems. I think that’s the thing that I took away from these creators the most — that I don’t have to just stand in one place and recite facts at a camera. I can tell stories. That’s what filmmaking is all about. And I think the videos where I embrace the storytelling elements the most — where there’s a narrative running throughout the video — those are the ones that I can put more of my personality into. And I think those are the videos that audiences relate to and enjoy watching the most. Once I saw that people liked the videos with more of my personality, the next question becomes, “So does that mean I don’t have to talk about comic books and superheroes all the time? Are people here for the info, or are they here for me and what I have to say regardless of the topic?” The last couple of years, I’ve been trying to talk about different niche nerdy media to try to find an answer to those questions.

NerdSync’s “How MARVEL Drama Created The Teen Titans

How receptive have fans been towards this change to more creator-focused videos?

I think people can see how much fun I’ve had making those because I no longer feel trapped making one type of art. I still love comic books and superheroes, but I love so many other things, too! It was a dream come true to finally start making videos about Scooby-Doo and Bob Ross and Dungeons & Dragons! There’s still definitely an adjustment going on with my subscribers. I built up my channel for 6 years on only talking about comics. Half a million subscribers who want to see me talk about Batman and Spider-Man and nothing else. And there’s been a sort of churn with subscribers. As I made this change, I did lose a bunch of fans. I crossed half a million subscribers in 2019, and then I stayed there, totally stagnant. If anything, I was losing more subscribers than I gained month over month. That was profoundly demotivating, but also strangely freeing. I felt like I was fine-tuning my audience. Getting rid of the people who only care about the info, not the person saying it. And now, I hope I’m continuing to grow an audience who are interested in me and my thoughts on any given topic, even if they’re not interested in the topic itself.

NerdSync’s “How Superman Fought the KKK… FOR REAL!

Before you switched to a chance in focus to longer-form videos, you did a few, such as “Superman’s Uncomfortable History with Nuclear Weapons”. Were videos like these test runs into this new channel structure?

Absolutely! That one and the video about the Marvel drama that created the Teen Titans. Those were both videos I worked on for ages and wanted to make sure had a higher production value. I had costumes and makeup and fun props that I still have hanging around the office to this day. I’m endlessly proud of those videos. They paved the way for me to do what I’m doing now.

NerdSync’s “Superman’s Uncomfortable History with Nuclear Weapons

Your most famous and highest viewed videos are all mostly from before you made that massive change to your channel. How much do you think that change in perspective in your channel affected view counts?

My early videos were meant to be highly searchable. They were answering a question that people might type into YouTube. Things like “who is Star-Lord?” or “what’s the origin of the Joker?” I was really trying to capitalize on SEO more than anything, and it works out really great! But it meant people were finding my channel because I was providing them info that they were actively looking for, not that they cared about what I as the messenger had to say about it. They didn’t care about me, they cared about the info. Nowadays, I still try to lean into trending topics, but mostly I focus around niche subjects. I want people to watch one of my videos and think, “I had no idea that I’d be interested in any of this, but I fully am now!” The problem with those kinds of videos is that they are, in fact, hard to market. If no one is searching about Jack Kirby’s collage art, it’s hard to get people to find a video of mine about Jack Kirby’s collage art. But I think there’s value in getting your audience to care about the messenger even if they don’t care about the topic of their message too much. I will watch Hbomberguy talk about video games I’ve never heard of or played for hours because his style and depth of his analysis are spectacular! I listen to Mildred from Scaredy Cats talk about horror movies I’ve never seen every week because I think they are extremely funny and insightful. And that’s something I’m trying to embrace more with my own work. I don’t think I’m quite there, but I’ve also made less than 20 videos total since I started trying to make this transition. Ask me in another year or two, and I hope I will have finally made that transition.

NerdSync’s “History of Jack Kirby’s BONKERS Collage Art for Marvel & DC Comics

About a year and a half ago, you released the video “Captain America Punching Nazis: Why Comics Were Always Political”. What sparked you to make this your longest video ever.

It was certainly my longest video at the time, but I’ve made a couple that are even longer since then, haha. I didn’t set out to make that video as long as it was. I just knew that the subject of politics in comic books was and continues to be a heated debate, so I wanted to address every single angle I could think of to make my video the “definitive response” so to speak. To prove that comics creators since the start of the industry have been blatantly putting their politics in superhero comics. It was a monster of a project with constant rewrites and revisions, but it accomplished what I set out to do, I believe. People still disagree with me, obviously, but mostly in ways that indicate they didn’t actually watch my video. Which I think proves that my video is extremely comprehensive and good, actually.

NerdSync’s “Captain America Punching Nazis: Why Comics Were Always Political

The video after that, “A Critical Analysis of Scooby-Doo: A Franchise at War with Itself”, was 50 minutes long. What made you decide to make an extremely long video on a subject never covered on your channel?

I believe I had made at least one previous Scooby-Doo video about how Shaggy is a vegetarian because his voice actor Casey Kasem also didn’t eat meat, and it did surprisingly well on my channel. It’s still the most viewed Scooby-Doo video on my channel. So I had a feeling that a Scooby-Doo video would do well. But also, I had been writing and planning that video since 2017. I always knew that I was going to make a giant video exploring the themes of the entire Scooby-Doo franchise, but I just needed an excuse to finally do it. Luckily, there was a new Scooby-Doo movie that came out around the same time, called simply Scoob. It was… not a great movie. But it meant that Scooby was in pop-culture again, even if only temporary. This is what I meant earlier when I said I still try to lean into trending topics. It helps my videos get found even if they are niche subjects.

NerdSync’s “A Critical Analysis of Scooby-Doo: A Franchise at War with Itself

So after this video premiered, people started referring to you as a “Scooby-Doo Youtuber”, despite, at that point, you only had made one video on the franchise.

Yes, and they are correct. I am the best and only Scoob-tuber now. (Don’t tell Billiam I said that.) I have a lot more Scooby-Doo videos planned for the future. Too many, in fact. Nobody can stop me.

NerdSync’s “The original Scooby-Doo cartoon is objectively terrifying!

Soon after you made a 50-minute video on your experiences learning and playing Dungeons and Dragons. This was a far more personal story than many others you’ve done. What sparked you to make that?

To be completely honest, I just made an off-hand tweet about how I wanted to make a video essay about Dimension 20, my favorite D&D show. Then people from Dimension 20 reached out and wanted to collaborate with me on it, so now I felt like I had to do it! People really seemed to like my videos where I get personal, like when I talked about how the Spider-Man villain Mysterio put me on a path down video production, or how Thor’s journey through the MCU hit home for me emotionally. However, D&D is a topic I had never covered on my channel before. If I were to make a video about it, I didn’t think people would have watched it unless there was some kind of personal narrative told throughout it. If it was just a “Here’s why D&D is rad!” video, then anyone could have made that. But only I could have made a video about my personal journey to start playing this really great game with my friends!

NerdSync’s “My Quest to FINALLY Learn Dungeons & Dragons (and why you should too!)

Immediately after that video you made yet another Scooby-Doo video (this time about the movie Zombie Island). Was this due to the success of the first Scooby-Doo video, or is it due to the fact that you just greatly enjoyed the video subject?

Halloween is just the perfect time to talk more about Scooby-Doo! To be honest, most of that video script was made from stuff I cut out of my earlier video where I analyzed the entire franchise of Scooby-Doo. I do that a lot. I’ll write a really long video, cut a bunch of sections out that are still full of good info, so I turn those sections into their own videos. Plus, obviously, I genuinely enjoy talking about Scooby-Doo more than most things!

NerdSync’s “How Zombie Island Broke Scooby-Doo (for the better!)

A month after that, you made your longest video yet: “Unraveling the Real Bob Ross”. Why did you, a creator with a channel dedicated mostly to comics, decide to make your longest video ever about a painter?

I really don’t know! I have just been watching Bob Ross videos on YouTube for ages. I started picking up on interesting details over the years, and I would tell my friends fun facts about Bob Ross until I was blue in the face. I just felt like he was and still his this enormous cultural icon, and it’s weird that we don’t know more about him. No one had made a video essay exploring this legendary artist, and I was obsessed enough with his mythology that I felt like maybe it was up to me to do it. Now, of course, there’s a Netflix documentary all about Bob Ross that hits on many of the same beats that my video did. So I’m only a little extremely bitter about that. I knew the video wouldn’t do well. It still hasn’t really picked up much traction, but I had so much fun making it. The twist ending specifically is something that I’m incredibly proud of!

NerdSync’s “Unraveling the Real Bob Ross

More recently, you have had videos much more frequently, with there typically being 2 videos a month, one 40 minute video and one 20-30 minute video. Is this a schedule you are striving to follow now or has this just been coincidence that you’ve had one longer video and one shorter video each month?

It’s funny, I don’t really aim for specific video length. I just write until I’m done writing. Maybe that means a video is 40 minutes long, maybe that means it’s 20 minutes long. Maybe it means I make a feature-length documentary about Bob Ross! Who knows! My goal currently is to release new videos every other Friday, but I’ve run into some snags with things like holidays, vacations, and my own personal mental health. Burnout is a real thing on YouTube, and it’s hard to manage it. I think the hardest thing is seeing well-meaning comments from fans who are like, “Take your time! You don’t need to post a video this week if you’re struggling. Just breathe and post a video when it’s done! No pressure, man!” Which is incredibly kind, obviously, but it’s also unfortunately not accurate. If I try to lean into trending topics so my niche videos can be found, I really do have only a few key days to get a video up. Pop culture moves so quickly. If I want to make a video capitalizing on the release of a new Marvel movie, but I miss it by even a couple days, people have already moved on. So, I don’t know, I’d like to take my time on things, but I really don’t have that luxury sometimes. And that pressure eats at my brain until I’m tremendously anxious and depressed. I’m just taking it one video at a time these days. Trying my best.

NerdSync’s “The Scooby-Doo movies are in the wrong order AND I CAN PROVE IT!!

So you started reviewing the 1960s Marvel cartoons on your channel. What made you decide to go through the process of tracking down this obscure media and reviewing it?

I had been using clips of these cartoons in my previous videos because I think they are extremely funny. Plus, at the time, Falcon and Winter Soldier was airing, so I knew a Captain America video would be pretty topical. It’s been endlessly enjoyable to watch through these cartoons and share their wackiness with the world! I’m glad people are loving them!

NerdSync’s “The Captain America cartoon Marvel wants you to forget

How does your creative process work? What makes you decide which topics to cover on your channel?

I have an endless list of topics that I want to cover, and I’ll never get around to all of them. Mostly I try to see what topics might be trending around the time I want to release a new video — new movies, shows, holidays, etc. — and look through my list of topics to see what videos might fit best for those tentpole events. On weeks when there’s no obvious trending thing, I try to see if anything in particular is grabbing me.

NerdSync’s “How Pixar movies hack your emotions, from Toy Story to Luca

So once you have the topic chosen, how do you start your research for a video?

Usually I’ve already got some research going. Either I’ve found an article that’s interesting or read something in a book that sparked the idea in the first place. I’ll buy a whole bunch of books about the subject matter I want to tackle, scour the internet for primary sources of information, and try to figure out my specific angle. How do I want to uniquely tackle this subject matter. I have a philosophy that if someone else already made a video on a subject and I have no new angle or info to add, I won’t make my own, but instead point people to theirs. Once I have my angle figured out, I do a whole bunch of research and writing until I have a script that’s way too long. Then, if there’s time, I share the script with some YouTube pals of mine who give me feedback and tell me what things to cut or change. That’s always an invaluable part of the process, and I think you can really tell when I skip that step because I ran out of time. Working with others on the script is always so helpful. Once the script is finalized, I make a shot list of what I need to film, gather the props that I need for the video, and head off to film for likely days on end. After that, lots of editing! Often times when I’m editing, I’ll think of better jokes or more info that I can include, so back to filming again until my needy brain is satisfied with the final art.

NerdSync’s “I was wrong about Invincible…

Now for the question fans of your work are most excited to hear you answer: what is next for your channel? Are you able to share what kinds of videos and video topics you have on the horizon?

Oh boy! I only have videos until the end of the year planned out. Lots more Scooby-Doo videos from the world’s best Scoob-tuber. Continuing to cover old Marvel cartoons, of course. But the video I’m most excited about is going to be about Marvel’s The Eternals and ancient astronaut theory. I think debunking a bunch of myths and conspiracies from the show Ancient Aliens through the lens of Marvel comic book characters will be tons of fun! I’ve not planned anything for next year, but I want to do something wild! I want to create some kind of long-form narrative that runs through all my videos. I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull it off, or if I even have the writing chops to create an interesting year-long narrative, but I would love to try! I want to keep challenging myself and doing weirder things and just having fun with it!

NerdSync’s “I binged A Pup Named Scooby-Doo because I’m depressed.

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Written by Donovan Reed