Half Pixel Times Four: An Interview with Kurtz, Straub, Kellett and Guigar
Let's just start with the big news. The four of you have a number of things to announce -- can you go ahead and tell us in your own words what today's announcement is?
Brad: I'm not sure I would call it "Big News." Dave Kellett, Kris Straub and I are leaving Blank Label Comics to form Halfpixel.com along with Scott Kurtz. The four of us are finding ourselves working on more and more projects together -- including a weekly podcast and a book, and Dave, Kris and I decided it wouldn't be fair to try to split our energies between the two groups.
Halfpixel, as some people already know, was an entity created by Scott and Kris to house some of their collaborative side projects. With the addition of Dave and I, it will remain a hub for collaboration, and it will grow to become an organizational structure through which we will attend conventions, etc.
We told our BLC partners about this a few weeks ago, and, true to BLC form, we're doing this without the requisite Webcomics Drama. Those looking for sour grapes or angry sentiments are going to be disappointed. We're all still very much friends and fans of one another's work.
In its short time on the web, I've seen Halfpixel change from Kris Straub's "other webcomics" site to Straub and Scott Kurtz's joint hub and now it's changing again. What exactly will the new Halfpixel be?
Dave: In the broadest sense, the name "Halfpixel" will be what we'll organize under any time we do a project together. Things like the Webcomics Weekly podcast, the first book, convention appearances, the hub site with its sketches and off-shoot projects, any joint animations or second strips we do together...that sort of thing. We'll very much be driving our own shows with our individual strips...but any time two or more are gathered together for a project, we'll probably do it under the Halfpixel banner.
Brad: The Book of Kellett, Chapter 3, Verse 36: Whenever two or more are gathered, an ironic comic-collective title will be there.
Scott: Halfpixel is four friends helping each other succeed. We're hanging on to each other's bootstraps and all pulling up at the same time. The thing I like about Halfpixel is that we AREN'T making any grandiose claims or ridiculous mission statements. We're not a collective. We're just friends.
What kinds of things will the four of you be doing together through Halfpixel and what kinds of things will you do on your own?
Dave: For the most part, our strips will be entirely individual projects. Thankfully, we're all growing our individual businesses to the point where we can keep 'em separate. But I do notice more and more advice being swapped between us on store details, backend organization, and business stuff that you might never see.
Afor group stuff, the obvious outlets are the podcast, the book, con appearances...that sort of thing. And I think that somewhere, in the back of our minds, we'd all love to have a shared fulfillment system for a combined Halfpixel store... like Kris and Scott are doing now. But until I can convince all the guys to move to LA, that probably won't happen.
Brad: Heh. I was thinking about moving out there. But I LIKE ash.
Kris: I want Halfpixel to be a force to be reckoned with at conventions. I have more fun standing next to Scott, Dave and Brad talking to readers and fans than I do with anything else there. I used to go to room parties and all that, but I'm too old and cranky now. So we're bringing the party to the booth.
Scott: When you find peers that you gel with like this, you get excited about harnessing the creative energies because there are clear and tangible benefits and results that come from it.
Obviously this is a big change for everyone involved. What are the big changes from old Halfpixel to new Halfpixel? What are the key differences between being a part of Blank Label Comics and joining the new Halfpixel?
Brad: The New Halfpixel is going to be involved in things like comic conventions and other group appearances. Aside from that, it's very much the same as the Old Halfpixel -- with two more people contributing.
As to the key differences, Blank Label was a group venture through with my webcomic business was a part of a larger business. My business was impacted by the decisions of eight other cartoonist-businessmen. With this change, Dave, Kris, and I will be completely independent. Halfpixel will simply be a structure to facilitate appearances and activities.
Dave: For me, the big changes have already started. I talk to these guys almost every day. And I iSight it up, most of the time, so I see the more than some of my LA friends! But as time goes on, the changes will really start to kick in with shared convention appearances; the book and the corresponding book talks to go with; the continuing podcast series; and in the inspiration for future strips that we goad each other
Scott: The big change for me is that my productivity, business and outlook on the future are all on the upswing because of what these guys have taught me. Dave and Brad really helped me sit down and re-evaluate for the next 10 years of PvP. There is experience here I've already benefited from.
What do each of you add to the new Halfpixel?
Dave: We all bring a pretty respectable amount of knowledge on the art, application, and theory of the comic strip... so stuff like Webcomics Weekly and the "How to Make Webcomics" book grow pretty naturally out of that. But we definitely have our specialties. Kris definitely sees technical possibilities and experimentations that the rest of us might not, Scott has the most success in tapping into the zeitgeist of web readers, Brad is a genius at PR and the spoken and written word, and I'm... well, I don't know what I am. I'm the lovable sidekick that keeps gettin' the gang into trouble with ol' Mr. Carruthers.
Brad: Dave's being modest. He also solves way more than his share of mysteries.
Kris: I think maybe most importantly, and maybe this is going to sound lame, but we each add our personalities to Halfpixel. We all work really well together and get along like the old friends that we are -- I'm not really thinking about Halfpixel in terms of "okay, Brad's handling the phones, I'm in the kitchen, Scott's working the front of house, Dave's eating all the hors d'oeuvres." Plus, that's just mean to Dave.
Scott: I bring nothing but baggage. Lots and lots of baggage.
I imagine the four of you are friends in real life and don't just play ones on the intertubes? Is that true and how long have you all known each other?
Kris: In 2000, Brad was actually the first of anyone I knew of, after Scott. I started doing Checkerboard Nightmare -- a comic strip about a webcomic, wow! -- and within a month I had come across Greystone Inn, where Brad was already doing most of the jokes I planned on doing. It certainly doesn't hurt our friendships being of a like mind most of the time. We were fated to be pals.
Scott: Kris and I became friends back when he a group of my message forum posters got together for a meet and greet. And it developed fro there. The friendships for me with Dave and Brad are new but strong. It's easy to be friends when you have so much in common. Dave is practically a defacto member of Halfpixel: Tejas thanks to iChat.
Brad: Gosh, I go way back to the Keenspot days with Dave and Kris. So that goes back to at least 2002, if not earlier. I was familiar with Scott's work since the first day I started posting a webcomic, but we never really started a correspondence until 2004, when I found out how approachable this guy really was. We met in Bethesda at SPX shortly thereafter, and have been friends ever since.
We've had a pretty steady e-mail correspondence among the four of us during that time -- which has grown into almost daily iChat drop-ins. And, of course, we never miss an opportunity to get together at a convention.
Dave: These guys are great, great friends. In addition to the respect I hold for them, they crack me the heck up. The laughter you hear between us on the Webcomics Weekly podcasts is pretty accurate to our conversations on the phone and at conventions. As to
how long I've known them all, that I can't remember. I'm like the bad husband that can't remember his wife's birthday.
All four of you have been making comics for a long time now. Has anyone sat down to figure out collectively how much experience there is between the four of you?
Dave: Brad probably has!
Brad: This came up in one of our pre-podcast chats one time. We figured well over thirty.
Kris: Look at Brad being modest with the low estimate. Since I have a number of concurrent webcomics, I think I boost that number by at least forty or fifty years. Conservatively.
Scott: I still understand the concept of adding up all our years and saying 40 years. Wouldn't you just figure out who started first and subtract that year from 2007? Our years overlap.
How much has the collaboration on the Webcomics Weekly podcast and working on the planned How to Make Webcomics book
led to the new Halfpixel?
Scott: Honestly, I think that Webcomics Weekly acted as like this accidental support group for us. We started with the intent of passing what knowledge we had to an audience and it ended up becoming a cartooning therapy session for ourselves. Now that I think about it, it was inevitable that the podcast would lead to this.
Dave: I'd say a great deal. We've all been friends and admirers for one another's art for some time, but working on the podcast together -- and now on the book together -- has really cemented that relationship.
Brad: Exactly. We started running with these projects, and we started to realize that we could really take them in some interesting directions. Once we started brainstorming a kind of "five year plan" -- and once we started seeing some additional possibilities for
the four of us -- we realized that it just wasn't going to be possible to devote the necessary attention to both groups.
Anything more you can share about the How to Make Webcomics book at this time? Kurtz announced earlier that it was going to be coming out in January and published by Image comics. Are you all going to contribute existing or new comics to include in the book to go along with the text-y stuff?
Brad: If you like the podcast, you're going to love the book. It's going to have the same conversational tone, and it will have that familar back-and-forth discussion style that we use every week on the podcast. It's been an absolute blast to work on.
Scott: It's the book I wish I had been able to read when I started in 1998.
Dave: That's the exact way to phrase it. We're not setting out to write this as "the one path to success". There are many roads to this mountain...and given the maleable nature of the web, are themselves likely to change. But this is the book I wish I could've read ten years ago, saying "here are the pitfalls, here are the potentials, and here are four differing voices telling you how to navigate through
both. And among those four voices, you'll find a path that works best for you."
Any other new projects we should expect to emerge next year under the new Halfpixel banner?
Kris: I would love to turn Web You.0 into the entity it deserves to be, and make it completely stand-alone where the new submissions are voted on by the public and either kept or voted into oblivion. A month ago I also brought back my old Halfpixel "draw something new every day" mentality, and I'd love to get Scott, Dave and Brad posting their doodles.
Scott: I want to redefine the term "Webcomics" through example. I want that word to inspire the feeling every artist gets when they just get home from the art store with new supplies and they sit down to that first empty page.
Dave: I've been putting it off and putting it off, but I'd really like to start experimenting with a second strip. And I might do it through the Halfpixel hub, first.
How are things between all of you and the folks in Blank Label Comics? I know Scott's been involved with advising Blank Label Comics and its members pretty much since the beginning and obviously already had been working closely with Kris Straub since the PVP animated series work began.
Brad: BLC was built on three things: Friendship, high-quality comics, and an emphasis on business. Those things haven't changed that *I* know of. And all of them would run counter to the squabble that I think some people might be expecting.
Dave: Blank Label is a group of amazingly talented, fun-loving, intelligent guys, and I don't think anything will change in my friendship with them. I still want to swap tips and tricks with them any chance I get. And I still want to grab a beer and laugh any time we're at conventions. None of that will change.
I would assume Blank Label Comics will continue on without Kris, Brad and Dave? They've still got a lineup of Howard, David, Greg, Steve and the two Pauls. That is a pretty righteously talented group of webcomic creators.
Dave: It's an amazingingly talented group. There's absolutely no reason for Blank Label to do anything other than continue on being awesome. And they will.
Brad: Absolutely, they'll continue on.
What's coming in 2008 for each of you in terms of your own comics published and other projects?
Scott: It's PvP's 10th year in 2008 and we plan to celebrate. I have a 10th anniversary hardcover coming out in late November/early December. We're going to get a new plush out (Scratch Fury) and hopefully either a toy or a statue out to celebrate as well. The animated series will be collected on to DvD and we'll keep plugging PVP content onto the Xbox 360. I am working on a couple other things that I don't want to talk about yet. I want to save the excitement of that for myself a bit longer.
Dave: For me, 2008 should be a good year. I have the fourth Sheldon collection coming out just before the New Year...and 2008 will see the fifth and sixth collection (in early Summer and late Fall, respectively). I'll also be dipping a toe into a second possible strip, if Kris can talk me into it. And I'm hoping to put my two grad degrees to use...and start some university lecturing in the Art and History of the comic strip. Also: yardwork. I'm woefully behind. So definitely look for more yardwork from me in 2008.
Brad: I'll have three books coming out in 2008: The third Evil Inc graphic novel, the second Courting Disaster collection, and the first Phables collection. It should be a great year.
I'm also making a hosting switch that is going to result in some pretty significant changes in the usability of my site. The Evil Inc site has already switched, and the other sites will follow shortly.
Kris: I've got a 12" Jinxlet plush toy cooking right now, probably to be ready for mass cuddling at the end of 2007. I'm also going to try and follow Dave's lead and start producing more books per year, and in 2008 you'll see some collections for other strips I'm doing
at Halfpixel. Starslip Crisis' Alterverse War mega-sci-fi-crossover will take up most of next year's Saturdays, too -- it's a long way from stopping. Definitely more joint products in the store like a mess of new T-shirt designs. And finally, if Dave can convince me, yet another ongoing strip on a Starslip scale.
At conventions really, who's the P.T. Barnum of the group?
Dave: I'd say either Brad or myself. We're both pretty good at chatting up folks and selling like mad. Towards the end of a 'con, when we've worked our pitches up into a lather, we start holding impromptu competitions as folks walk by. Like, "OK, see this angry, leather-clad biker dude with the tats? The dude that clearly likes heavy-ink, goth-slasher comics? Sell him two Sheldon books in under a
minute." And most of the time, we can totally do it. We've gotten pretty good.
Brad's the champ, though: I love watching Brad work his magic. He sold me a half-eaten sandwich once... he's that good.
Brad: It's Dave. I'm the guy who drives the clown Volkswagen.
Kris: Dave sold me the half-eaten sandwich after he ate it, so he's no slouch. Although, maybe, Scott is the greatest pitchman of all, since he got a Democrat to move to Texas.
Scott: I needed one other Democrat here.
Dave: You guys are throwing off their electoral college votes now.
Out of the four of you, whose comic would you most want to do a week of "canonical" strips for and what would you do with their comic?
Brad: Yeesh. A week of *canonical* strips?! As in... what I would write would effect the history of the comic from that point on? I wouldn't do that to my friends! :)
Kris: I would want to introduce a mess of corporate treachery to the world of Sheldonsoft. Have it get bought out by an Eastern European tech concern that starts funneling money into teleportation research. And for PvP, I'd bring back the video game jokes. Like "what if the Eye of Judgment was actually very judgmental?!" You know, tried-and-true stuff.
Dave: Oh, man. I'd love to do all three strips: Starslip, Evil Inc., and PvP. Are you kidding? My love for the work these strips these guys create is half of what draws me to 'em. I'd love do a week of Jinx strips, or Scratch Fury strips, or Lightning Lady... That'd be rad.
Scott: I want to write a series where Scratch Fury applies for a position at Evil Inc.
I guess we already know what the PvP characters sound like but what about the other comics. Who would you get to voice your main characters if you could get anyone?
Dave: I actually got the chance to do some voice-over work when I worked at Mattel, so I'd definitely do a few voices m'self. And I'd totally have Kris do a few as well. That boy has some of the best vocal range I've ever seen...seriously.
Brad: Dave and Kris on an Evil Inc animation would be a necessity. Beyond that, my wife's grandfather for Commander Heroic ('cause that's the voice I hear in *my* head). And, as Miss Match... Denise Richards. If she does (ahem) well enough in the audition.
Kris: I keep playing with the idea that everyone will have different accents, like the entire Starslip Crisis universe is actually a dry British comedy and no one knew it until they were able to hear the characters. Cutter is Quebecois and Vanderbeam actually only speaks Afrikaans.
Let's say the four of you are the Beatles. Who's who? Actually who's Ringo? :)
Dave: I'm definitely Ringo, in the sense that I can't play an instrument to save my life. One of my goals in life is to be able to play "Leyenda on my classical Spanish guitar...and man, I'm no closer than when I bought the dang thing.
Brad: Scott is Paul McCartney. He's a powerhouse, amazingly talented and versatile. And, I don't think I'm telling tales out of school, but he has a thing for one-legged blondes. Kris is the artistic and nuanced John Lennon. Only difference, he's harder to shoot. I know this. Dave is the free-wheeling and energetic Ringo Starr because both can narrate "Thomas the Tank Engine" wonderfully. And me? I started the
Traveling Wilburys with Tom Petty and Roy Orbison, so I guess I'm kinda pigeonholed...
Kris: Oh! Let's be Traveling Wilburys instead. I call Jeff Lynne.
Dave: Oo! Oo! Then I call the always-attractive Tom Petty.
Scott: Crap. I just went from Paul McCartney to Roy Orbison?
Dave: Bam. You've been Orbisoned.