Scott Kurtz is more than just the creator of "PvP." Like Scott McCloud or Will Eisner before him, Kurtz has dedicated himself to fostering the potential of his medium and helping a new generation of cartoonists find their voice. In January, Kurtz and his cohorts from his Half-Pixel imprint released the book "Making Webcomics" through Image Comics, dedicated to just this purpose.
In part two of his interview with CBR News, Kurtz talks about his views on making a comic, creators' rights and why it's important not to sign your creation away. Kurtz also gives an update on the "PVP" animated series
NOTE: This interview was conducted before Scott Kurtz's dispute with cartoonist D.J. Coffman, and any remarks regarding Platinum Studios should be considered in this context.
A lot of cartoonists and comics professionals have come out against TOKYOPOP when their new creator contracts were made public. You called the contract completely one-sided in favor of TOKYOPOP. But you also ascribed some culpability in the situation to creators who sign away to publishers the rights to their creations.
TOKYOPOP recently posted their contract and, rightfully so, people in the industry are turning their nose up at it. Mark Waid commented on it, people from Dark Horse and Oni commented on it. I think that's good because it's important for the industry to set its own standards. We acknowledge now that it's the creators who breath the life into these books and it's the publishers who distribute and market it. Partnerships can exist between the two where no one need get screwed over. Image is a shining example of that.
But what's bothering me in regards to the people who were blogging about this TOKYOPOP contract is that you can only blame these companies so much. If I came up to you and said, "That's an awesome car, you should give that to me for this sack of magic beans."
Then you say, "Wow. Magic beans?"
"Well, maybe they're magic, maybe they're not. Plant them and see what'll happen." If you give me that car for a sack of (maybe) magic beans, who is the idiot? Is it me for offering the beans or you for taking them?
How do you solve the problem of creators willing to take that sack of magic beans?
At some point we have to stop blaming companies for offering bad contracts and start blaming ourselves for taking them. As long as there are deer-in-the-headlights creators out there so desperate for any opportunity that they will sign anything, there will always be a company who does this. Even if we convince TOKYOPOP to change their practices, there will always be someone. There will always be another Platinum Studios, another ridiculous [intellectual property] farm disguised as a contest. It's never going to stop. What we really have to do is educate creators.
Isn't that easy for you to say when you're not a desperate creator anymore?
Yeah. It is easy for me to say that now. But people forget that I wasn't always successful. There was a time when "PvP" wasn't doing dick. When "PvP" first started in 1999, the website I was working for -- I was with them for almost two years. They kept promising me a contract where the company would get all this advertising money and, based on the traffic, I'd be able to quit my day job. That was the Holy Grail. I was excited. I was working a full-time job and doing "PvP" at night. It was putting a strain on my marriage because it was essentially two fulltime jobs.
What were you doing as a fulltime job at the time?
Tech support for Compaq and Hewlett-Packard. Worked all day, then worked on the strip all night, got up and did it again. So this promised contract came in and it was an IP farm. They would give me $3,000 a month for twelve months and then that's it. They own it. You get some stock options in a dot-com company that doesn't exist yet. It was an "oh no" moment. That was not what I wanted. It was the opposite of what I wanted. It meant I didn't own my own strip. What they were promising was to make me a millionaire because the company would go public and be profitable and you'd have stock options. So many people signed those contracts. I walked away from it and then I didn't have anything.
It's easy to tell new creators not to sign stuff when it's in front of them. But that's what you've got to do. That's what I did. Things weren't always good for "PvP" or me as a cartoonist, but if I'd signed that, there wouldn't be a "PvP" right now.
Give us an update on the "PvP: Animated Series." Is there going to be a second season?
It all depends on the sales of the DVD. We're trying to determine whether or not we want to approach a different business model. Everyone's readership is different and the animated series they did for "Crtl-Alt-Delete" did really well under the subscription model. "PvP" did not do as well under that model. But that's because all my readers were asking for DVDs. I have a readership that skews somewhat older.
We're putting this DVD together and we're going to see how it sells. What we might find is that "PvP" readers might just want something physical, they don't mind spending the twenty bucks, they just want to own it. If that's the case, we might do the second series direct to DVD as opposed to the subscription model. We had a great time making those and we want to make more. The voice-actors call me all the time and ask when we're going to do more stuff. It was more than just a job for them. But [production company] Blind Ferret spent a lot of money on that series and we just want to make sure nobody's going to lose their shirt.
So the DVD should be out in time for [Comic-Con International in San Diego]. Depending on how that goes, we'll decide how to do more. But there will be some kind of more animated "PvP" in the future.
Did you feel uncomfortable working with Blind Ferret given that your "Blammations" were originally designed to poke fun at "Ctrl+Alt+Del" creator Tim Buckley?
Yeah. I mean, absolutely. The "Blammations" were entirely to make fun of that stuff. You bet. But a caveat to that â€" it was also to have fun. Those were incredibly fun to make. A lot of people enjoy them who probably don't even understand that context that we were making fun of "Ctrl+Alt+Del." [Blammations co-creator] Kris [Straub] and I were actually discussing this idea for more "Blammations" that we might do in the next couple months.
But in regards to the original question â€" how did we go from making fun of Blind Ferret to being involved with them? Ryan over at Blind Ferret kept coming to me and asking to do "PvP." My initial response was just "no" but then as time went on I realized he was offering me an opportunity. There was absolutely no downside. So I'd have been stupid not to do it. Ryan was just a good salesman. Look, he's a funny bastard and he convinced me to do it.
So what was the best thing you took away from the experience?
When "PvP" started as a comic, I created Dork Storm Press because I wanted to start at the bottom, self-publish and see what the market was like. That way I really understood what went into making a comic and getting it out in stores and if a big publisher approached me, I'd know what was bullshit and what wasn't. So this was the same kind of opportunity for animation: learn everything that goes into it.
For that series we did all of our own writing, all of our storyboarding, the model sheets, I even cut together the audio! So I got to try my hand at storyboarding, scriptwriting, voice direction. I said "shit, even if this never makes any money, this is an opportunity too good to pass up." It was great because I got to make fun of Tim Buckley and do my own thing too.
Did you like the animation work Blind Ferret did for you better than their work for "Crtl-Alt-Delete?"
Well, the first "CAD" series was all done out of house. None of the Blind Ferret people actually animated that. They outsourced the animation. On top of that, I'm not sure Tim really did anything for the production part of it. So Ryan told me they'd hire all their own people and I could do the turnarounds and help the thing look the way it should. Was I one hundred percent happy with the animation all the time? The answer is no. But the "Penny Arcade" guys felt the same way about the animation in their game. You spend ten years drawing these characters and you're never going to be satisfied with the way somebody else draws them. Kris and I put a lot of effort into it to make sure it looked the way we wanted it [to], though.
The "Webcomics Weekly" podcasts you do are beloved by new web creators. Tell us about the "Making Web-Comics" book that was just released.
That book was originally something I was going to do on my own but I felt it might be too pretentious. Then when I partnered up with Kris, I figured he and I could do it together. But we both felt a little nervous about it. After a while, we were doing this "Webcomics Weekly" podcast with Brad Guigar and Dave Kellet, where we'd discuss the craft.
That's when I decided that we should really try our hand at this book. Then it dawned on me, "Jeeze, maybe I should ask Dave and Brad to participate as well." Well, I soon found out they had been wanting to participate but we're afraid to ask. Then it just took off from there.