Scott Kurtz is the creative force behind PVP, and Wedlock, his brief stint with an autobiographical comic on Modern Tales. Kurtz, known for being one of the few webcomics creators able to actually live off his comic, recently started a print run of PVP with Image Comics. Often surrounded by controversy, Kurtz tells Cat Garza what he was really thinking when he did his infamous “guest week,” about his real reason for quitting Modern Tales, about his "indie comic" Graphomaximo.
[This is part 1 of a two-part interview with Kurtz. Part two will arrive next week on Comixpedia.]
catgarza: Tell me a little about some of the storylines you’ve come up with that have incited controversy.
catgarza: Were these conscious decisions on your part?
catgarza: …or were you just wanting to riff on something that was pissing you off or interesting you at the time, and people’s reactions made them "controversial"? Take the GRAPHOMAXIMO storyline, for instance.
Kurtz: Okay…now we’re getting deep.
Kurtz: I’ve only created a storyline for the express purpose of pissing someone off ONCE.
Kurtz: And that was the strip where I did the fake guest week.
catgarza: Were you trying to get the "artsy fartsy" crowd’s panties in a bunch?
catgarza: Or was it a reaction to the cliquish nature of artsy comics?
Kurtz: I did a series of strips where I drew PvP in the style of other webcartoonists who in the past have annoyed me or said things about me that I thought were unfair. And I let em have it. I really tried to sock it to them and get them mad. And hey, guess what? They got mad. So, mission accomplished. In retrospect, it was stupid. My readers aren’t looking for that. And I might not have realized at the time just how strong I was when I started that wrestling match. And feelings got really hurt. So all in all, bad idea.
catgarza: The power of art… Still, you wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for a reaction to something… tell me about that…
Kurtz: Well, the bulk of negative comments I get are from people with their own webcomics.
catgarza: Well, then tell me about where you see yourself in this big mess called "webcomix"?
Kurtz: One day, I did a search on Google search on my name and found all these posts on various message boards where people just fucking hammer me and hate me. And I’m like, damn. I didn’t know that guy hated me. Why does he hate me? He doesn’t even KNOW me. And it was a lot of that. And I think that was when I decided to do the fake guest week. I was really hurt and I just lashed out because it was all webcomic people. Not readers or fans. Other creators.
catgarza: What do you think spurs these people on, though, in your opinion? Is it jealousy over your success in webcomix? Is it a creative difference?
Kurtz: That question is a trap. I don’t know I can’t say what other people think. Now, don’t get me wrong. Some people might have a specific and legitimate grievance against me. Maybe we had words or I didn’t respond to an email they sent three times.
catgarza: (and try not to pay ***too*** much attention to the other ears in the room. We all love you here)
Kurtz: I think that people expect more from you, once you reach a certain position. So maybe people just expect more from me and I don’t live up to that.
catgarza: Sure, I can see that… I’ve experienced it myself… Do you think there’s a lot more pressure to live up to expectations once you’ve reached a certain level of visibility? Or, rather, is there a LOT of that pressure you’re having to deal with? Is it affecting your work at all?
Kurtz: Sometimes I don’t feel that I’m allowed to state an opinion anymore because it’s now a public opinion and it magically carries all this weight with it. Which I don’t get. It doesn’t affect my work. I’ve never compromised the strip or said "I can’t write about that, people will get mad."
catgarza: Sure, nature of the beast, I suppose…
Kurtz: I did a strip last month where I said the word penis once in each panel because it was funny that way. It had to be in each panel to be funny. And no one had a problem with it. But I make a news post about disliking chocolate milk, and POW!
catgarza: Did that surprise you?
Kurtz: With the strip, my target audience is me. I write to make myself laugh. period. And sometimes people get it, and sometimes they don’t. But I always laugh.
catgarza: Tell me a little about the gaming community, who I think is probably the BIGGEST [group of] supporters of your strip, and probably the most influential in your success thus far…
Kurtz: Well, it’s huge. It’s this billion-dollar industry and it’s growing every day. But, there are sub-categories of the community and I think PvP falls into a certain category. I have a lot of older gamers, female gamers, reading the strip. I get email a lot from people who say "I don’t play games, but I love PvP." I’ve never tried to make it a gaming comic. But it needed to be that from time to time, to keep going.
catgarza: Do you think you get "ghetto-ized" by the comics community at large for being so huge in the gaming community?
Kurtz: It’s an easy way for other webcartoonists to excuse my success.
Kurtz: One time I read someone saying "Well, Scott Kurtz has ads in his comic book." And the response was "Yeah, but they’re all gaming companies." And I was thinking…"DUH!" That’s like someone saying "Man, Cosmo has ads in it because they cater to those cosmetic companies."
catgarza: So, do you think that there’s a negative aspect to your being involved with the gaming community for fans that aren’t involved in it?
Kurtz: These are the clients who approach me. This is the demographic they want to reach. and it works, so why is that bad?
catgarza: Why do you think that is?
Kurtz: No. Not at all. None of my fans have a problem with my writing about games. Because they identify with that. They, like my characters, grew up with Atari and Colecovision and Sega and they play games. The strip is about 30 year olds who never grew up. This isn’t Shakespeare. And no one in the comics industry has a problem with it, either. They love it. Grayson, who write a bunch of Batman books, is a HUGE Everquest player. Kurt Busiek considers himself an honorary troll. So, don’t let a few web comic artists beefs against me, paint this untrue picture of my public opinion.
catgarza: So it’s not mainstream comics that’s given you the most grief… it’s the artcomix crowd? tell me about GRAPHOMAXIMO a bit….
Kurtz: Graphamaximo…my finest creation.
catgarza: Yes, i’d have to agree… 🙂
Kurtz: Graphamaximo was a satire on an attitude problem I’ve observed firsthand.
catgarza: Sure, I’ve witnessed it as well… talk about that.
Kurtz: I’ve been very lucky with PvP. It took off, despite my not even wanting to do it at first and it’s grown ever since. So I’ve not had many hardships with it. So I can’t complain.
catgarza: But originally, what was the impetus:
Kurtz: But, I understand that not everyone has the same experience. They put in as much if not more work than me. And their stuff never takes off. And that can be so frustrating and disheartening. And I think this attitude bubbled up out of that situation. It’s an attitude that says "Hey, it’s not my fault, it’s the world’s fault." "it’s good, no one else gets it." So it’s a mental disorder where an artist will place himself on a higher level than the rest of the world and it’s a slippery slope, and once you start, you slide all the way down into pure egomania. So Graphamaximo was my satire on that.
catgarza: And it became very controversial as a result. Tell me about that
Kurtz: Well, I posted it. And a bunch of people wrote and asked "Are you talking about me?" and I responded "Well, if you have to ask…" And then everything went black. and I don’t remember much after that.
catgarza: I thought about writing you, too…
Kurtz: we had it out on the message boards, though.
catgarza: Sure. Want to talk about it? I don’t mind… 🙂 It was fun.
Kurtz: What, start the healing. Get healthy?
catgarza: And I came to respect you even more.
Kurtz: You did?
Kurtz: Wow. That’s news to me.
catgarza: At least you don’t back down from your opinion… so many of us do
Kurtz: Let me back up.
Kurtz: Because it’s not as noble as you would think. In the middle of standing by my convictions, I committed a pretty ignoble act. So Graphamaximo hit. And the comicon.com message boards lit up. And then my friend Frank Cho came in and defended me…which was like pouring gasoline on a fire. But at that point, I was fine with everything because I felt I was honest in the strips and these guys were only proving my point. But then, all of a sudden, I started to notice among the angry crowd was practically everyone that I worked beside at ModernTales.
catgarza: That must have really thrown you for a loop…
Kurtz: It broke my heart.
catgarza: Sure, I can see how it would
Kurtz: Because I really felt stressed as it was about Wedlock and MT, and not being able to keep to my promised deadlines. I just should never have promised Wedlock as often as I did. Because it was too hard to be that personal so quickly. Switching gears between it and PvP was tough. I got really sick so I was out for three weeks almost.
catgarza: Which mucked up your production schedule a lot.
Kurtz: Yeah, and I had just gotten three weeks ahead on PvP so it was uninterrupted, but Wedlock suffered. And then Graphamaximo hits and all of Modern Tales just turns on me. And accuses me of trying to take advantage of their traffic. And I used that as an excuse to quit. The truth was I just couldn’t keep up. But I used that as an excuse to quit.
catgarza: Well, I wouldn’t say ALL of Modern Tales, but a good group of the artists…
Kurtz: Sure. Well, of course. But enough to really just knock me on my ass. Again, people I never met, saying things about me as if we had been locked in mortal combat for years.
catgarza: And you think it ignoble to have used that excuse? I think you were in a tight spot…
Kurtz: Well, fuck, man. I should have just sucked it up and fucking got my work done. I get to do this full time right? What’s my excuse? Or at least been honest about why I quit. But, I didn’t want to face that I was having a hard time with Wedlock here was an easy out for me. They didn’t like me or want me, so fuck ’em. See ya later.
catgarza: It was definitely a misunderstanding on all our parts… and now?
Kurtz: Now nothing. I mean, I regret not living up to my promise. I really fucked up with MT, and I learned the best way to help them do their thing is to leave them alone.
catgarza: yeah, I have to admit I was a bit unfair at the time and really let you have it on way too personal a note…
catgarza: God knows I’ve been a flake with Modern Tales off and on. Do you think that being so public a persona had some bearing on it? Does it make it hard to have a "normal" life?
Kurtz: Oh god. Please. No.
Kurtz: I have a wonderful life.
catgarza: Just professionally that it fucks with things?
Kurtz: When I meet people in person, even those I’ve feuded with online, it’s always fun and amicable.
*** catgarza thinks back to walking up to kurtz at sandy eggo comicon
Kurtz: I don’t want to become a Dave Sim, where people just fucking hate me.
catgarza: I know what you mean.
Kurtz: and I’ve always been bad about shooting my mouth off so that might be inevitable. But talking on the web and talking in person are two different things.
catgarza: Well, it’s made you a very visible and talked about cartoonist in the process.
Kurtz: And meeting people in person, you don’t say things to them you would have the courage to say online.
catgarza: Even if it wasn’t intentional. Do you think that’s a big problem with online comics, the fact that we hide behind our work and our sites and our projected personas? Or do you think it’s helping to build careers right now for those that want to go into it…
Kurtz: I’m the Del Griffith of webcomics. I want my work to speak for itself. Like, San Diego 2001. Scott McCloud asked me to speak on a panel about the business of webcomics. And I think it was more because I was known in that circle as controversial than because of the merits of my work. I don’t want that.
catgarza: Sure, no one really does but it HAS become part of the "Kurtz Legacy", so to speak…
Kurtz: Okay live with that.
catgarza: Well, it’s not something you can or can’t live with… just nature of the beast…
Kurtz: My friend told me this great line.
Kurtz: It’s really silly, but… This guy put on a coat with the hanger still in it. And when this was brought to his attention he said "Leave it. Let those who oppose me at least believe I have broad shoulders." I’m not sure how that applies here, but it just popped in my head. So I’m an idiot and I put my coat on with the hanger still inside.
catgarza: Have you had a hard time getting used to the idea of every move being scrutinized?
Kurtz: About my moves being scrutinized. No.
catgarza: Not at all?
Kurtz: The older I get, the further along I go with this, the more I realize who is doing all the scrutinizing. It’s a very small group. They’re just screaming really loud. It’s not like I printed something and lost half my readers or stopped selling comics. I recently posted my opinion that maybe video games aren’t the best thing for kids.
catgarza: I bet that went over well.
Kurtz: And there was this huge "HOW DARE YOU!" and all this "HE’S JUST DOING IT TO STIR UP CONTROVERSY." Meanwhile, my inbox is full of people agreeing with me and thanking me for speaking so frankly.
catgarza: Mixed blessing.
Kurtz: So it was just this small group trying to cause trouble. You can’t listen to the vocal minority.
catgarza: Seems your cursed to forever be the webcomix artist we all love to hate..
Kurtz: That’s fine.
catgarza: Well, I dunno if it’s FINE… I wouldn’t wish it upon myself or anyone…
Kurtz: It’s not that bad.
catgarza: But it’s definitely brought you a fair share of notice.
Kurtz: Most people like me.
catgarza: As long as your readers still like you, no?
Kurtz: Most people who read the strip never see any news posts or message board wars or anything but the strip. They don’t even know it’s going on. So I’m the big bad wolf in this one sub-community. Fine.