PAX 2008: Gabe and Tycho speak

[UPDATE] Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins take a break from lording over the Penny Arcade empire to talk about their fifth annual gamer convention; full video interview inside.

SEATTLE--The fifth annual Penny Arcade Expo is taking over the Washington State Convention & Trade Center this weekend, and the building is already crowded with gamers eager for things to get underway. There's an abundance of activities to be eager for, whether the attendees are looking to try out upcoming games, attend panels highlighted by a keynote speech from 2K Boston's Ken Levine, indulge in tabletop gaming and collectible card games, witness the grueling gaming tournament known as the Omegathon, or check out performances by some of the nerdiest acts in music like Freezepop or Jonathan Coulton.

But before things got out of hand, GameSpot caught up with Mike "Gabe" Krahulik and Jerry "Tycho" Holkins, respectively the artist and writer behind the Penny Arcade webcomic, the Child's Play gamer-charity drive, and PAX. With a projected throng of 45,000 attendees set to descend on the convention center, the pair talked about their vision for the show, guiding its growth to maintain an intimate vibe, and starting up an East Coast event.

GameSpot: So what are you up to with this year's PAX?

Mike Krahulik: It's biiiiiiiig.

Jerry Holkins: Plump. Pleasantly plump.

GS: This is the fifth show for you, and it gets bigger every year. Do you have preshow freakouts every year, or is it old hat by now?

JH: I'm freaking out right now. I'm so glad you're doing this interview because the alternative is to wander around the show like a lost kitten, which is typically what we do.

MK: We're like the hosts. And the host having a party always wants to make sure everyone has a good time.

JH: What happens is you go around and adjust the pictures...

GS: It's been evolving from something really small, right, so tell us a bit about your thinking in growing it.

JH: Well, this year in the main theater, we do have a stone ziggurat. I'll be performing a ritual at the apex of the show that will claim 40,000--

MK: We're lucky that the vibe at PAX scales really well. As we expand the show, we try to keep that feeling at PAX that isn't at a lot of trade shows. So that's definitely a concern to maintain that, but so far we've had a lot of luck with it. And it's little things like not allowing two-story, three-story booths with restaurants at the top. It's definitely something we're trying to avoid and walking that fine line.

GS: Are you nervous about expanding it to another coast?

JH: We're professionally nervous about everything.

MK: Yes. We're always nervous. Every day we wake up nervous. I take medication now.

GS: As far as cultivating and growing this, why is it working? It's very organic.

MK: I don't know if you saw but I was poking fun of E for All on our site a few days ago. They had some wallpaper they were releasing of a shark eating their logo. I guess it was supposed to be extreme.

JH: It's supposed to be extreme but that's just stupid...

MK: It's not even that we're so awesome; it's that everyone else is an idiot. They don't get it. It's not hard. If you play games and you love games, it's not hard to do this. But when you look at something like that, you just think, "How can I take any pride in winning?" They're just stupid. They don't know what they're doing.

GS: Do you have any ambition to make this an event where companies come to unveil the next big thing?

MK: If someone wants to do that, we would not turn them away.

JH: For them, I think they would prefer a more press-focused show to do that stuff to make sure the message gets out. It may not be a great match for that kind of announcement.

GS: This is a unique show in the US because it's a primordial soup of gaming with tabletop gaming and such.

MK: This is what we like. We'd been to a lot of conventions where they'd have a couple consoles in a room or some tabletop stuff set up...

JH: A ghetto, essentially.

MK: ...and we thought there should be a convention for all the stuff that we like.

JH: We went to shows, took the 10 percent of their shows that we liked, and made an entire show out of that 10 percent. And it's a show people want to go to, it turns out.

GS: You guys have sort of become spokespeople for our specific generation, the adults who play games. Do you think about what you want to put out there for games? Because we don't have that many spokespeople.

JH: I've heard what you said before, but I don't know if it's true. I'm not ready to believe that it's true, that this is what I'm doing. We don't take it for granted. We don't take the success of PAX for granted, and we try to earn it every time we put something out. And I think that's the only policy we can have, to put something out that's worth your time.

MK: I forget which book it was, but [Jerry] wrote in the intro that every good thing that has happened to us has been because of our readers. That's all we can do. Everything that's here is because of the people that are walking around out there.

GS: This is also a unique PAX because you guys are now bona fide game developers. Got any reflections on being a developer?

JH: Well, we haven't been doing it very long, and I'm sure most of the deep thoughts this process has revealed would be absolutely trite to people who are in the trenches for years and years making a single game.

For us what the process did is to [change our perspective]. I like to say bad words in my news post, but now in general I'm trying to offer something constructive. For a long time I was satisfied purely with the profanity element, but I think there's an opportunity to say something that is useful.

MK: We've essentially made a career out of tearing games apart. Now I think more about providing constructive criticism of a game. The tearing apart is still funny for the three panels...

JH: But it's part of a conversation essentially.

GS: How do you maintain being creative? At a certain point you could do what you did because you weren't part of a machine; you were outsiders. But you're part of the whole tapestry of the industry now. Do you feel like you can still hang on to your voice?

MK: I think the main thing is we don't care if we lose it.

JH: Until you asked the question I didn't know we were on the threshold.

MK: Well are you afraid that people are all of a sudden going to not like Penny Arcade because of something we say or do?

JH: No. I think people know who we are by now. And if we need to take the strip over for two weeks to do a comic about ping pong against, Russia, then we will.

MK: And honestly, if it ends, we had a hell of a run. Ten years, we did our best.

GS: But you do still feel like you have your fingers on the pulse of the people. PAX helps keep you grounded, right?

MK: I don't know what you imagine our lives to be like [laughs]. We don't live in a mansion and have 20 cars. We work in a little office.

JH: We have three perfectly nice cars...

MK: Each. In this city.

JH: There are parts of that thesis that I'm not comfortable with. Maybe that's it, once you start to think you're the spokesman for these people, that's when you lose it. But I'm still trying to earn it. I still feel like a f***ing failure half the time.

MK: Well you are. I try to reinforce it whenever I can. You gotta keep him hungry.

JH: I'm starving.

MK: No, we like to play games and make comics. That's all we wanted to do.

GS: One of the great things about PAX is that kids can come, and I'm wondering what your thoughts are on that as a father.

MK: I'd like to expand the kids' section of the show eventually. As someone who has a 4-year-old now, there are a lot of games we play together. I think it'd be fun to have a room of kids games, learning games and stuff like that. Gaming is a big part of my life with my son, but the games we play are very different from the rest. We play Putt-Putt and Curious George.

JH: We just play with the creature creator in Spore. That's the entire experience for him.

GS: Somewhere out there the next Mike and Jerry are watching--

MK: I hope not. I need a couple more years. I just bought a new house.

GS: What would you say to people who want to do what you do?

MK: Don't, don't. Let us do it.

JH: You see, this is why you can't maintain that man-of-the-people vibe... Just entertain yourself, that's the most important thing. You can keep that up for a long time, and you'll be surprised when you put that up on an international network of computers, how many people like you there are. We were certainly surprised to find out.

MK: If you set out trying to make something that isn't necessarily you, you can't maintain that. At least I can't maintain that.

GS: What's the best feedback you've received since the beginning of PAX?

MK: The best feedback is that people keep coming back and they bring friends. We make a point to walk the floor whenever possible just to be available, but when someone comes up and says, "I'm having a really good time," that's what all of this is for. A year of planning so that they will have a really good time.

For more from the convention, check out GameSpot's complete coverage of Penny Arcade Expo 2008.

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Discussion

26 comments
norabbitnofun
norabbitnofun

Nice chatting, thanks GS for sharing this with us.

sieg6529
sieg6529

Many of you need to grow up; it never was cool to hate anything, and it isn't now.

Jestarius
Jestarius

I can honestly say I couldn't care less what they think of me. Is their content amusing? Does it serve to entertain? If that answer is yes for you, why does it matter what they think of their fans? They provide a service for you, you don't have to deal with them directly, so who cares if they don't like you?

aupipboy
aupipboy

They write funny comics, they comment of video games and other "geeky" stuff. I go to their site and have a laugh. They may or may not have screwed folks to get to where they are. They might not be popular with folks like Dice Tower etc....I don't give a rats'. I like their commentary and their comics. I really like their comics.

thepyrethatburn
thepyrethatburn

Btw this statement is TOTALLY false. As in my previous post its shocking how little the gaming community seems to know about Gabe, Tycho, and thier orgins or how much you're biased against them. They've made their mistakes and they've had their issues (The whole Batjew issue as an example) but name a successful webcomic that hasn't made mistakes and hasn't alienated some people along the way. It's not like we're talking about Ctrl-Alt-Del here.

Magick_Mike
Magick_Mike

"I think they are very humble about it all and that's what will keep them around forever. They are genuine like someone else said and literally built their little empire out of nothing and from nothing into the juggernaut it is today." Btw this statement is TOTALLY false. As in my previous post its shocking how little the gaming community seems to know about Gabe, Tycho, and thier orgins :(

Magick_Mike
Magick_Mike

Glitchgeeman, The "All hail Gabe and Tycho!" and second half you paragraph contradicts the first simply because the mind set of down right RAMPANT PA fanboys leads many to "hate their art, find them overrated, or simply think they don't deserve the popularity" If 99.997% of the PA fanboys met them in real life, understood how they felt about thier fans, or had any idea how they achieved all these things, you would have RADICALLY diffrent views on good ole Gabe and Tycho. I know that sounds very negative but really, get informed. There is a VERY good reason so many people are stuanch opponents of PA (especially in thier home area) To be fair PAX was awsome, except for the fact that they allowed thier TOURNAMNET DIRECTORS TO PLAY IN THIER TOURNAMENTS!!!!! That was a total %$*&ing scam ;(

glitchgeeman
glitchgeeman

All hail Gabe and Tycho! But really, whether you hate their art, find them overrated, or simply think they don't deserve the popularity, you can't deny they are pioneers in so many ways. One of the first truly famous webcomics, one of the first webcomic creators to become millionaires, the first webcomic to get its own game, and the first webcomic creators to host their own national convention attended by over 40 thousand people. It's guys like these that we artists and webcomic creators look up to in awe. I hope they continue to entertain the gaming world with their genius for the years to come.

Mehfuz
Mehfuz

like their comic

OGKNav
OGKNav

"Why am I so bald?"

wiixx3
wiixx3

aw man dude. i miss the old art of the comics. the current art sucks.

GIJames248
GIJames248

It's a pity their cartoons are so foul-mouthed. Otherwise they would be really funny in a wacky sort of way.

Cobra5
Cobra5

"It's not even that we're so awesome; it's that everyone else is an idiot. They don't get it. It's not hard. If you play games and you love games, it's not hard to do this. But when you look at something like that, you just think, "How can I take any pride in winning?" They're just stupid. They don't know what they're doing." I think this is the truth. All of the other conventions really really seem like they're out to make money, and nothing more... which defeats the purpose of a "convention" to me. Then its just a press event.

thepyrethatburn
thepyrethatburn

I finds articles like this humorous because it wasn't too long ago that Gamespot considered PAX "a rinky-dink little show that wasn't worth covering and would be gone in a couple years." I think part of the way that they keep getting it right (most of the time) is because they don't consider themselves "the voice of the industry" and they are willing to be upfront with what they get wrong. When you are able to admit where you go wrong, that makes you capable of getting it right.

c_rakestraw
c_rakestraw moderator moderator

[QUOTE="Ychi"]Boo! I was expecting a video of their interview/meeting from Gamespot! I read their stuff everyday and their are awesome 24/7, would have been nice to see a video of them. : )[/QUOTE] The video for this interview can be found, here.

1005
1005

Mike and Jerry have always been rather humble about pax, they've always been great at interviews aswell. Good on Penny Arcade and those who organise this event!

AnthonyE
AnthonyE

Don't worry the video is coming

astro64th
astro64th

I think they are very humble about it all and that's what will keep them around forever. They are genuine like someone else said and literally built their little empire out of nothing and from nothing into the juggernaut it is today.

Ychi
Ychi

Boo! I was expecting a video of their interview/meeting from Gamespot! I read their stuff everyday and their are awesome 24/7, would have been nice to see a video of them. : )

cb-spike
cb-spike

There are other webcomic's around? Wow

Spektre41
Spektre41

Penny Arcade is the best damn webcomic around!

Bgrngod
Bgrngod

I'm driving up there tonight. It's gonna be rad. I am going to force myself to mentally cut through the confusion enough to decide what to do other then just walk in circles staring at stuff. I hope there is a vendor selling Eye of Judgement cards... (yes I play that game). Also hoping to get my hands on some unreleased games. SOO stoked.

spow
spow

they make nice "comics"

Alastes
Alastes

Gabe and Tycho will be around for years to come I am sure. No worries about that. These guys are the genuine article