An Awesome Decade of "PvP" with Scott Kurtz

The Eisner Award-winning Scott Kurtz is easily one of the highest profile cartoonists on the Web. His "PvP," which chronicles the exploits of a fictional video game company and its employees, is one of the most popular Webcomics and is collected monthly in print form through Image Comics. But it's not just static figures on a screen or page anymore. Earlier this year "PvP" became an animated series, but -- as Kurtz is not one to follow the crowd-- instead of producing it traditionally as a DVD or television project, the "PvP" animated series is published on the Web.

Lest you think Kurtz is just all about "PvP," know that in 2006 Kurtz joined with writer Aaron Williams on the Image Comics miniseries "Truth, Justin and the American Way," a book that plays homage to all things kitschy and fun from the '80s. The series was recently collected as a trade paperback.

"PvP" fans have reason to rejoice this November, when Image is releasing "PvP: Awesomology," a massive collection of the online strip, shipping this November -- just in time to help fans celebrate the series' tenth anniversary in 2008.

CBR News sat down with the often controversial Kurtz to talk about "Awesomology" and what makes it so awesome, in addition to everything else on his awesome plate.

One thing which rarely seems to be brought up when people talk about your success and longevity is that you seem to be having a lot of fun.

I'm glad you said that, because so many times, people only interview me about the business end of things. I am having a blast. It's a lot of fun to write comic strips. I love it. The business end is a necessity. And I admit that I'm learning to enjoy the business end more, but it's nerve-wracking and difficult. It's the scary part. I've tried giving that to other people to handle for me and it doesn't work out. I have to worry about it. I have to freak out about it. That's my penance for getting to have the fun stuff.

But I think people forget that the fun stuff is why I'm in this. My readers afford me the best job in the world.

It's been almost a decade now that you've been writing and drawing "PvP." Looking back on it, does it feel like you've been doing it this long?

Yes and no. It's strange because you look back over 10 years of your life and you observe little rebirths that you experience along the way. I was 26 when this started and I'm 36 now. So much of me has changed and of course that's going to be reflected in my work. I look at the archives and see proof of 10 years of work, but it really feels that I've only now just hit my stride. I finally feel like I've found my pacing with the strip. I'm finally feeling satisfied with my art and my writing. It only took 10 years.

Do you think about the strip any differently now than you did at the beginning?

Absolutely. I've become so attached to these characters and their interactions that I'm not sure I remember how I got through the day before I got to visit with them daily. Obviously, at the beginning "PvP" was a hobby and now it's my livelihood.

Does it get harder to come up with new stories or do you find that you know the characters better and it's easier in that respect?

It's getting more challenging because I'm not satisfied doing the same things I've already done. I sit down to write a strip and I say to myself, "This has to draw in new readers, satisfy dedicated fans and still be fresh. Oh, and it has to be really funny." So there's more pressure to get it right, now for me. But I'm not sure that's external. I think that's an internal pressure. I just want "PvP" to stay relevant. Luckily, as I grow so do the characters and they do get easier to write. Most days they write themselves.

I wanted to ask about changing the strip because there have been changes to the status quo which have affected the characters. Obviously you're looking for ways to introduce new characters and explore different facets of the existing characters, but how hard is it to balance that with keeping a consistent tone and feel to the strip?

I'm really bad about introducing new characters and then not following up with them. I hear that a lot. But it's just like real life. You meet new people and try them on, and see if they stick. I think it's interesting to go back and see the "PvP" gang meet people and either those people stick or they don't. Butler really stuck. His relationship with Robbie is a favorite of mine. I became enamored with that relationship and less interested in his interaction with his couch partner Jase. So I decided Jase grew up and moved on. And I hope to revisit that, but I think it works. People move on and change. I think it's good if my characters do too.

What do you like about the comic strip format? You've changed the presentation and the look of the strip over the years, but you've kept the same basic comic strip format.

I like comic strips because it's a perfect little moment you get to share daily with an audience. It's an exciting challenge to find a punch line every day and try to make it better than the previous day. It's a great feeling to look back and see that thousands of those shared moments added up to this collective impression of a cast of characters. It's just very comfortable and accessible.

Do you ever see yourself stopping the strip and moving onto other projects?

For sure I'll be doing other projects, but I don't see myself ever moving on from "PvP." I'm sure one day in the future, nobody will give a damn about "PvP" anymore and I'll still draw it once a day just so I can read it myself. So long as I keep drawing it, these characters won't die.

Why come out with the "Awesomology" hardcover and will it be in the dimensions of the paperback collections or like the other Image hardcovers?

Is it egotistical to say "I just want to hold it?" I picked up the "Complete Invincible Library" and I was amazed at the heft. I was like, "Damn Robert, this has real heft to it." I was proud of him. It's awesome to see it all in one brick. Plus it's 10 years. It's a big milestone and it deserves something special to commemorate it. I think "PvP" has earned a hardcover.

It's going to be the same size as all the Image slipcase hardcovers with a color insert. This is like the "ABSOLUTE PvP Volume One."

Q: "Awesomology," just for people who haven't paid attention over the years, will be the four Image collections plus the Dork Ages trade - anything else?

The "Awesomology" will have all four volumes from Image, the Dork Ages, the lost "PvP" trade "Striptease" (which features really early strips) and a full color cover gallery. Plus a ton of pin-ups and original art that I've collected from other comic book guys over the years.

The trade is out for "Truth, Justin and the American Way." Are you and Aaron Williams planning another project?

Aaron and I got to meet our Justin artist, Giuseppe Ferrario, in San Diego this year. It was the first time we got to meet in person. Giuseppe asked me when we get to do more "Justin." So expect more. Aaron and I want to do original graphic novels from now on with "Justin". One adventure per book. Maybe 50-60 pagers. Like Tintin books.

Why that particular format? It's sort of unusual.

Mainly to be easier on Giuseppe. He's very busy and "Justin" earns its money on the back end. I don't feel right giving Giuseppe monthly deadlines when I can't pay him an up-front page rate. This way, we can all make a new book at our available pace, and then people get a new story all in one sitting. It'll be nice to visit those characters again and leave you anticipating the next one. I think that's better than soliciting a series or mini-series and then generating bad feelings because life interferes with production.

"PvP: The Series" is winding down its first season, is there going to be a second?

Unless [production company] Blind Ferret is lying to me, yes. We're ending the year by animating the "PvP Christmas Special" in three parts. We're so stoked about that. I wrote the Christmas Special back in 2001 during my Dork Storm run. To see it animated is going to be awesome.

We're also about to launch on the Xbox Live Marketplace. You'll be able to download the series to your Xbox 360 (as well as "PvP" gamer pics and themes).

What did you learn from the process of working on the series about how animation works that's going to change how you make the next one?

I learned the importance of varying your camera angles. I also learned that my writing works better read than spoken. You have to write totally different for spoken word than written word. It took me a long time to figure out storyboarding. I was putting way too much work into it and not getting across the basic information the animators needed. I really enjoyed trying out voice direction and putting together the animation cut of the audio track. Arranging all the voice cuts to create conversational dialogue is a blast. God bless Garageband. Thank god it came free with my Mac.

Why make a Web-based animated series, why not just sell the property to some Hollywood jackass knowing they'll never do anything with it and just take your wife on a nice vacation with the proceeds?

Hey, don't get me wrong. I'm happy to sell "PvP" to any Hollywood jackasses willing to pay enough to take my wife on a nice vacation. But so far, no jackasses have approached with a serious offer. And those that have are barely offering enough to take the wife to Wendy's for a value meal.

No, Blind Ferret is the only animation studio that approached me with an offer I was even willing to consider. And look, fans are getting animated "PvP," I still own all my rights and Xbox came calling. I'll take that.

Was it hard getting the right voices for the characters?

That was grueling, but we got really lucky. Dino Andrade got some grief over his portrayal of Skull. I always pictured Skull's voice as higher and not deeper. At first a lot of fans were expecting Brad Garrett's voice to come out of his mouth. But nobody complains anymore. I think they get it now.

Bob Bray is the living embodiment of Brent Sienna. I almost didn't pick Bob. My wife made me go back and listen to his audition again. She said, "That's Brent, baby." And boy was she right.

All of our actors are top notch and they all really love the series and the strip. None of them knew what "PvP" was when they started and now they all ask what they can do to support the strip. They're great.

Is there anything in the Christmas special, a scene or a moment that you had think through differently for the animation?

In the Christmas special, Skull admits he believes Santa to be Superman. So he sends his Santa letter to (then "Superman" editor) Eddie Berganza. That scene, unfortunately, had to be dropped. I also had to change the three laws of department store santas from being a sign on the wall to being a monologue during Skull's trial. Other than that, I think we left it all the same. We've beefed up the trial a lot more. There's more to it.

You were working on a project with Frank Cho a while back that never materialized, what ever happened to that?

We hemmed and hawed. I was reluctant to draw it and I know Frank really wanted me to draw it. He believed in my art much more than I did. So we ended up stalling on "Summer Days" too long and then Frank got an opportunity to go play with Marvel characters and he had a new baby on the way. I mean, you just don't pass up on those opportunities. You go draw Spider-Man. So one day we'll get to do all the other stuff. We're young. I would love to do a comic strip with Frank still. No reason we can't.

You also have a book coming out with "Checkerboard Nightmare" creator Kristofer Straub called "How To Make Webcomics." Why did you write it and can we get a preview of what we can expect to find in it?

The main reason Kris and I wanted to write this book was to give back to comics. When we grew up, we devoured books on making comic strips. These days, kids are stuck with the same books we read at their age, but everything has changed. These kids aren't aspiring to be in papers. They don't even know about newspapers. They want to go straight to the web. But there are no books out there about that. We want to change that.

The best way to get a preview of what's to come in our book is to listen to our sister podcast, Webcomics Weekly. You can find it at www.halfpixel.com/ww.

Is there more planned for Brent and the Honorable Order of Macintosh Operators? Because fans seem to really enjoy pumping their fists in air and chanting "H.O.M.O. for life!"

Brent's love affair with Apple Computers will continue. Especially now that I'm a full time Mac user myself. H.O.M.O. 4 LIFE!

Now discuss this story in CBR's Image Comics forum.

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