Scott Kurtz's "PvP" is one of two pillars one might use to build the modern Mecca for web-comics. Along with "Penny Arcade," it has inspired countless imitators and dozens of new creative voices following in Kurtz's footsteps. In May, Kurtz celebrated the tenth anniversary of "PvP." Not content to rest on his laurels, the tenth anniversary story-line introduces possibly more change to the characters than they've seen in a decade. In the first part of his interview with CBR, Kurtz discusses his thinking on those major changes: the marriage of Brent and Jade, Francis and Marcie's "leveling up," the departure of Skull, and why Kurtz was not content to leave the strip unchanged ten years later.
There's lots of big changes going on with "PvP" right now. Let's start with Brent and Jade's marriage. What made you decide that this was the time to finally marry off two of your central characters?
Around the third year of "PvP," I made an edict that Brent and Jade would never get married. I felt that I would end up with "Moonlighting" syndrome: once you marry the protagonists that have sexual tension, it ruins it. But the years passed and I and my marriage grew - I've been married twelve years now - and I realized I was writing Brent and Jade as a married couple. Their banter and conversation is a reflection of the way I interact with my wife. So they were already married. They were married in the hearts and in their spirits. It was pointless not to marry them.
So around year seven, I got very comfortable with the idea that they would eventually get married. But we were close enough to the tenth anniversary that I thought we'd wait until then, have them get married on that very day.
Writers of sitcoms and other formats are scared to death of breaking that sexual tension you mentioned. They so desperately want to avoid becoming "Cheers," where nobody has any idea what to do next. But you've really proven you can have that dynamic and make it feel fresh.
It made me realize that maybe the problem with "Moonlighting," or any show where it's ruined once you break the sexual tension, is that there's nothing to the characters but the sexual tension. So the secret is, in your writing, there needs to be more than "Will they or won't they get together?" I was inspired by "The Thin Man" movies from the 40s about a married couple, Nick and Nora. Those are brilliantly written, clever and hilarious and awesome. That's when it dawned on me that when writers sit down to write a married couple that's interesting, it can work.
So let's talk about the departure of Skull. What spurred that decision? Given that he's more or less the mascot of "PvP," I'd assume he'll return at some point.
Well, I don't want to give anything away. But I'd been doing this for ten years and I wanted to shake up the dynamic of the strip. I didn't want to get to the ten year anniversary and have nothing change. "Well, that was a great strip! Here's ten more years of the same stuff again!" Obviously, if Skull went away forever there would be a riot among my readers. So I don't think it's too difficult to figure out if he's coming back.
It just seemed like a natural progression. Part of getting married, at least for me, was a public statement: "I'm not a kid anymore." I wasn't a dependant anymore. I was starting a family that would take on dependants. It's cliche and stupid to have grooms be afraid of getting married because, "Oh, I have to sleep with one girl and I like banging chicks!" A lot of times what it's really about is fear of that public statement that you're not a kid. You're supposed to be a responsible person from then on. It was a real rite of passage for Brent, and I wanted that to be real. So Brent growing up meant his character changes, his role changes and I wanted to mark that. The way to do that was that one of his childhood indulgences, his mythical big brother, ends up reassigned to another little kid.
It's actually something that should have happened when he was fourteen or fifteen and grew out of these things, but it didn't. It took him until he was thirty to let go.
Now this is a new idea, right? That Skull is Brent's childhood, imaginary friend?
Well, sort of. If you go back to the first strip, Skull's official story is that he's a character from a videogame. But back then, the strip was about videogames, and it's evolved since then into a character-driven strip. So a few years ago, I retconned Skull's origins (or at least added to them). If you read the very poorly selling "PvP" #0 (which was the twenty five cent issue - which, really, is not outside the realm of normalcy for "PvP," we can't give this shit away), I did a little origin story of when Brent and Cole started the magazine, and when Skull showed up, we found out he was assigned to Brent.
It's not necessarily a retcon. But it felt right. So maybe that's the deal. Maybe Skull has been in and out of his life for a couple of years.
So you've had this planned since "PvP" #0 then?
I've kind of always known in the back of my head that Skull would eventually go through this process. I just didn't know when I would do it. When Mike Wieringo died, I started thinking about what the last "PvP" story would be and if I should write that now. That way, if anything ever happens, people would know how shit ended.
So I have in my head this little six or eight page bookend to the strip. I told a few people about it and they said I should draw it. That way it's there if I ever died. But then we joked that as my style evolves, I won't be happy with it and I'll think it's crappy. So every year I'd have to redraw it. But part of that story that's in my head illustrates how Skull is just passed along amongst all these people. With that in my head for a while, it all kind of gelled together with this storyline.
When you talk to Jeff Smith and he says "I have the ending of 'Bone' planned," it makes sense because he's writing this huge epic. It's not so much that I'm writing a huge epic as kind of a gag-a-day strip. But I was watching Charles Shultz when he retired do an interview, and he said "Ah damn, I never let him kick the football!" It dawned on him during the interview, and he seemed very upset. You could see him thinking "I thought I had more time!" So I thought I should plan it out, if for no other reason than that, in my head, I know they all turn out okay. So the entire ten year story-arc from the wedding to Skull leaving is all a part of setting that up.
So ideally would you be doing "PvP" until you die, just like Charles Shultz and "Peanuts?"
Yes. Listen, I am going to be drawing "PvP" until I die. The question is just whether other people will be reading it. I've become too attached to these characters, to not visit with them at least once a day, whether I'm doing it and making money or in a nursing home drawing them on napkins for myself. I want to do other things too, of course. I hope that "PvP" is not the last thing I do that people ever care about.
So would you ever take a break with "PvP" to pursue those other projects?
No. I don't think so. It seems to me that... it's a gift that this thing has any life to it at all. There's so many people who never get to do what they like for a living, let alone live their dream. It just seems to me that if I ever let "PvP" stop, or didn't take full advantage of the momentum, I'm crapping on everyone who never got to do this.
Let's talk about Francis and Marcie losing their virginity. How did you arrive at that decision?
The big plan that I had plotted out for the last three years was that Brent and Jade would get married and I was going to age Francis and Marcie a little bit. That way they could catch up with the rest of the cast. Everyone else in the cast has aged with me. When I started writing them they were in their twenties and now they're in their thirties. The nice thing is that we have Brent and Jade acknowledge that they waited too long to get married, so you have an acknowledgement of age.
Then you have Francis and Marcie who were fifteen when the strip started and they're still fifteen years old. So even all the people I knew who were around that age when I started the strip, they're older now too. They're all in college and starting lives of their own. So this was something I really wanted to do. That's the part I had planned. Then all of a sudden, I started getting emails about this strip I had done in 2000 that was a throw-away joke about Brent being psychic. So he's trying to convince people he's psychic and he turns to Francis and says "you will lose your virginity on May 24th, 2008."
I pulled this joke out of my ass and then I started to get emails last year about it and it just put the idea in my head that it would be funny if I did hold to that date. Then it dawned on me: what if Francis and Marcie age, leveling up in a very video-game way, because they had sex? And that was funny to me.
It's more than just a videogame joke though. That moment is a rite of passage so it's interesting to me that the characters can instantly tell there's something different about Francis and Marcie.
Yeah and it's one of those things where I would have broken the fourth wall if I wasn't in the middle of this storyline and address the fact that they aged. Instead, I decided to have the other characters just sense that they're different but not really address it, not put their finger on it so to speak, and I think that came out really well.
It's also very important to me that it wasn't the sex that leveled them. It was the tender moment afterwards that leveled them up.
That ends Part One of our Scott Kurtz interview. Check back with CBR for Part Two, tomorrow!