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Tycho / on Wed, Jun 8 2005 at 5:00 pm

On Stuff

Do you remember this old thing?

When we started Penny Arcade, I really cannot express to you how much I hated User Friendly.  It was utterly impenetrable to me as a piece of comic expression, in that even perceiving the joke required a comprehensive grasp of the Linux command-line interface.  The art, shall we say, lacked power.  Of course, these reasons were just things I decorated my hatred with.  The truth of the matter is that I hated User Friendly because it was more popular than Penny Arcade.  That we would go on to make something just as impenetrable about a topic in the same general neighborhood is not a point that’s lost on me.  That we play the role of “the reviled despot” for new comics is not a surprise to us, and one day it will be your comic about relationships that the next ravenous generation will endeavor to unseat.   

Penny Arcade essentially represents “entrenched success” for many people, and it is resented, perhaps even reviled, and I can understand why because we’re super entrenched.  So they hate it for that reason in addition to manifold other reasons, and sometimes we make it easy for them, like when we suggest that their emperor may not be fully dressed.  You might recall that this is not the first time we have tangled with the man.  I can’t imagine what it must be like when your revolution goes on without you.  What does one do with the armbands and the elaborate podium?  The fact of the matter is that people are making their living at online comics, and they don’t owe him for the privilege.  They’re doing it with a combination of donations, merchandise, advertising, and conventions.  No-one has thus far employed fairy dust to a positive economic effect.  To put it succinctly, I think our great sin is that we’ve managed to stay afloat without his imprimatur.   

If you don’t keep up with the webcomics scene, it may surprise you to find out that something I wrote just over a week ago has since become infamous.  I felt confident that the initial conversation generated would eventually split into the two now well-known camps who would iterate the same tired process they always do until someone else managed to deviate from Webcomics Orthodoxy and call down the same automatic response.  Never did I imagine that my fairly uncontroversial statements - which I’ll go into in a moment - would warrant a new sermon from Scott McCloud himself, because they don’t. 

People have decried the post for my use of an image of Cat Garza, who they all say is a very nice person, but the image I used isn’t some weird screencap I waited and waited for to cast him in a bad light - it’s the image I got from the site itself.  I’m not sure when it became offensive to suggest that a person who smokes pot is a pot-smoker.  And as far as the points themselves, made in the most offensive, juvenile way possible, all I’m suggesting is that a) There is no fucking The Man, and b) I Hope Your Infinite Canvas Comics Double As A Nutritious Meal, because creating a comic that can’t be printed out is not pragmatic.  That’s the long and the short of it, but the discussion ended up going elsewhere. 

The first way it went is that I was opposed to art.  This is not actually true, but if you’re the sort of person who thinks that an independent comic constitutes some oppressive edifice that needs to be eradicated, it’s possible you believe a lot of things simply because it is expeditious to do so.  I am not opposed to the creation or codification of human experiences utilizing sequential or heretofore unknown visual relationships.  I happen to believe that the magic of comics is their almost universal legibility, but that’s a personal thing and I don’t expect you to subscribe to my newsletter. 

The second way it went is far, far more effective.  This way, the thrust of Scott’s demand that I apologize, is based on a quote he got from Scott Kurtz out of an IM conversation he and I had.  I’ll reprint it for you here:

“Somebody’s making a video documentary about webcomics without letting on that either of our sites exist (again).”

With the exception of accidentally selling our website and then subsequently selling the print rights without reading the contract, I’m proud of what our strange site has accomplished.  That said, I was being sardonic when I typed that into MSN.  Scott says that the creators of the documentary did contact us, but something you might not know is that all of this filming took place two years ago.  I don’t remember being asked, too late to help them with it now, and it’s not relevant anyhow because being in a documentary or not being in a documentary is not a big deal.  I feel like Penny Arcade has achieved just about all it’s ever going to.  I know that we were lucky and continue to be so.  I am typing this post wirelessly from the top of an elephant made out of pure gold.  I think we’re doing alright.

Scott can say that I based all my opinions about the film from a seventy second trailer, but

  • he used a single sentence to determine my motivations,
  • and

  • if that trailer is not representative, I might suggest that it does not serve its intended purpose.
  • There is a lot to be said about revolutions and whatnot, or creative expression, and if listening to people drone on about it frustrated me I don’t know what to tell you.  Discussions about the act of creation and the resultant output can and are looped endlessly.  I don’t have a problem with that being part of the conversation, but when it is the only conversation I may say something you don’t appreciate.  The only revolution I care about is the one that gives creators the ability to make a living.  I don’t know when this happened, but it’s true now and I’ll force it into the dialogue if I have to.   

    We don’t play Webcomic Community reindeer games or laud their aging sovereign, and near-universal antipathy has always been the result.  At the core of it is a discussion about business, whether Scott McCloud wants to phrase it that way or not.  It is about the ability of a creator to earn a living.  We will never see eye to eye on this because he is a charlatan.  Imagine if Moses had lead the Israelites not to the promised land, but to an empty fucking parking lot.  Now, imagine that they loved him for it.  I’m not so sure I should be the one apologizing. 


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