Published Jul 01, 2004Draw what you know. That's what artists are told, right? Well, cartoonist Scott Kurtz took that to heart after a day of hearty online gaming - he drew a few panels depicting the game in progress and some of the characters involved. He sent them in to the host sites and was pleasantly surprised by the response. "I became addicted to the readers' response to each new panel I posted," Kurtz said. "I decided to start PVP as an online comic [www.pvponline.com] that would show people involved in the gaming community living their lives and just being normal."
Normal for Kurtz is life at a gaming magazine called PVP, inhabited by employees Francis, Brent and Jade, their boss Cole and an intern troll named Skull. Office life is dominated by plethora of slacking off, and Kurtz's comic is a sparsely drawn balance of daily minutia and elaborate, game-based fantasy. Imagine a fantasy comic-obsessed Dilbert meets Britcom The Office.
Kurtz isn't exactly lost in this world of his own creation - subtle elements of social commentary find their way into his strip, such as relationships with Jade, the only female office employee. "I've worked in places where the ratio is one woman to five guys, and I've seen the daily assault they go through dealing with the boys' club." Jade is no token act of inked symbolism though - she reminds readers that women can be as much a part of the gaming-geek community as men. Just not necessarily the same way. "Jade is surrounded by men all day with no female input, so when readers tell me they think Jade is a bit of a bitch, I ask them 'How would you feel being in that environment all day every day?'"
Player Vs. Player - in its daily online form or in a new collection (The Dork Ages) on Image Comics - is in no way a typically political strip though. Kurtz keeps his jabs to what he knows - gaming and the alt-comics scene, such as when intern troll Skull embarks upon his own mediocre comic. Encouraged by co-worker Brent - who tells Skull his comic is crappy enough to qualify as "alternative" - the troll becomes famous in the alt-comic scene.
"That was more my take on the elitism within the alt-comic scene," Kurtz explains. "Anyone who receives any kind of mainstream success is looked down upon, which I don't agree with. If you're good, then why should it matter who's buying your stuff? Many of the people in the alternative comic scene are more concerned with feeding off each other's insecurities and keeping everyone at the same level than making art."
Kurtz is facing his own success now that Player Vs. Player has been picked up by Image Comics; his first anthology, The Dork Ages, originally published with two friends under the indie Dork Storm Press imprint, has now gone on to sell close to 10,000 copies a month.
"Just because you sign on with Image doesn't mean you take your self-publishing hat off. You are still responsible for promoting your book; they don't want to interfere with your vision as an artist. And I still have to draw my online comic. I can't neglect the people who have supported me over the years by going to the site faithfully each day for a few minutes of laughter before starting work."
It's this balance that Kurtz wants to maintain - and he's convinced that he can hold on to both click-savvy and print-obsessed comic fans. Realistically, though, he recognises which one will be more popular. "Probably the web comic," he laughs, "because it's free. As much as I want to think that people who read the online comic want to support me and go buy the comic, it's unrealistic to think that will happen.
And yet, "There's just something about owning the comics that's just different. There's nothing like going into your local comic store on new release day and picking up new comics. It's very tactile, and I don't think it will ever go away."
Your Daily Fix
A comic strip based on three guys sounds like it would be full of the same old boring stuff: dating, drinking, sex and sports. Butternutsquash delivers all that, but in a way that makes it seem fresh. Reading the strip gives the reader a glimpse into the minds of three guys who have a very different perspective on life. Coffee, bacon and the love of a good dog are what these guys want in life. "We wanted to show people what we do on a weekly basis," says Ramon Perez, illustrator and co-writer. "We think we experience some pretty funny stuff, and we want other people to see that."
Interestingly, this web comic is actually a "real" comic. The author has drawn each page as if it were going to print, then scanned in the pages to colour for the web. Detailing the lives of Often and his friend Colette, the series starts with Often moving into a new apartment that the previous tenant had died in. In the middle of unpacking, they discover a mail slot that isn't attached to the front door. It's a bit hard to read, as you have to keep going back to the main page to access the rest of the comic, but it's entertaining nonetheless.
White Ninja Comics is one of the silliest web comics out there, but its silliness is ultimately what makes people return week after week. Full of simple humour such as "White Ninja Stares at A Light" in which the title character stares at a light, this is what you want to read after a really bad day at work. Or before you even start your workday. The childish art suits the simple humour in a way that makes the whole thing work.