In CBR's continuing look at webcomics to watch in 2009, two of the featured five creators atop the list are arguably the medium's most visible ambassadors at large. "Penny Arcade" creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik are slated to appear at February's New York Comic Con as Guests of Honor, one of brightest flags for the year that the worlds of webcomics and traditional stapled paper comics are merging like a scene straight out of a DC crossover event.
Better known to readers as his alter ego "Tycho Brahe," Holkins has been teaming with Krahulik since 1998 to render their thrice-weekly riffs on gaming and nerd culture. Video game webcomics have long since become one of the most populated genres of the Internet, but "Penny Arcade" remains one of the loan comics in any medium to sprout its own convention -- "Penny Arcade Expo" -- and a million-dollar charity called Child's Play.
You'd never know what a big deal "Penny Arcade" was talking to Holkins, who at the center of the PA mini-industry stays mostly concerned with the comic strip that started everything. With NYCC only a couple of weeks away, Holkins talked to CBR News about what 2009 has in store and what he and Krahulik will be getting up to during their post-convention trip up to Boston.
CBR: "Penny Arcade" has a relationship now with Reed Exhibitions, who is playing a big role in the East Coast Penny Arcade Expo in 2010. Even so, what kind of significance does the Guest of Honor status have for you guys at New York Comic Con?
Jerry Holkins:Â Are we guests of honor?Â That's great!Â I am retroactively pleased!
Are you a regular monthly comics reader?
The only comics I've ever actually read month-to-month are "Ex Machina," "Ruse," and "B.P.R.D." -- most of the time, friends with good taste direct me to trades that I pick up ten or so of at a time and finish in a couple hours.Â I enjoy reading comics, and conventions are typically spent devouring them, but I never really caught the bug.
What do your plans include while you're in New York this February?
Last time I was in New York, which seems like a thousand years ago but was really only six or so, I ate at a place called Joe's Shanghai in Chinatown. They serve this weird potsticker with soup inside it, and my body still resonates with it.Â I gotta get me some more of them.
Has the expansion of what "Penny Arcade" now encompasses affected how you and Mike Krahulik work together on the strip?
That's the only thing that hasn't changed, actually, for the last ten years.Â Virtually everything else in my life has been reconfigured as a result of "Penny Arcade," the expo, or parenthood.Â Making these silly comics is the stable part of my life that everything else revolves around.
What upcoming events in gaming are on your radar that you think will be ripe for "Penny Arcade" strips in 2009?
We have no radar, I'm afraid, and even when important games or news does arrive, we're as likely to make comics about an imaginary fantasy cartoon or an international incident involving ping pong as anything else.
What was the last good game you played for the first time?
I stumbled into a game very late called "The Witcher," something that came out last year but was re-released in an improved form based on consumer and critical feedback.Â It still had a rough edge or two technically, but the world had a kind of "moral physics" that I found very compelling.
What was the last bad gaming experience you had?
That's an easy one.Â Until very recently, the online play for "Gears of War 2" was a rat's nest of misery and despair. Real people (specifically, assholes) play games very differently than testers or developers do -- they discover strange angles in there, because they play for an entirely different reason. This is why open betas are so crucial.
How are plans for the Boston Penny Arcade Expo coming together, and how do you think that show is going to compare to the West Coast PAX?
That's one of the other things we're doing while we're out east, though not during the convention itself -- we're going to stop by the venue, and live in the town for a little bit to get a sense of it.
Your charity, Child's Play, had another banner year in 2008, to the tune of $1.43 million -- despite the slumping economy. What do you credit that to, and were you surprised?
I was, actually, because we'd read so many articles to that effect. The "slump" only served to highlight the intensity of our challenge, and gamers the world over rose to the occasion.
Who's going to benefit most from those Child's Play proceeds?
Well, Child's Play represents a network of 60 or so hospitals worldwide - donations are mostly evenly spread, and where there the numbers are off we use cash donations to even it out.Â Ten to fifteen percent of the money goes to one-off grants for non-hospitals that need it, things like foster care facilities or kid's clinics. When M-Rated titles get donated, which often happens, we ship those to the Armed Services for distribution.