Penny Arcade works its magic onstage

PAX East 2011: Show creators Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins craft an installment in popular webcomic live for convention attendees.

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Who was there: Penny Arcade artist Mike Krahulik and writer Jerry Holkins, better known as Gabe and Tycho, respectively.

What they said: Just like the previous Q&A session, the creators of Penny Arcade entertained a packed house in the massive main hall of the Boston Convention and Exposition Center. In roughly an hour, the duo created an entire comic. Holkins started things off by loading up a Word document and writing out the script. A silence filled the room as the hundreds of attendees followed along word for word.

Krahulik and Holkin's alter egos: Gabe and Tycho.

The quiet was broken only when Holkins stopped to consider his next word choice. Then, the audience would spring to life with an onslaught of suggestions, and subsequent laughter, until the writer penned his next phrase. Once he had finished the script, which addressed Gabe's inability to see 3D, he turned the station over to Krahulik to produce the artwork.

Savvy audience members took this as the cue to start lining up at the microphones for another Q&A session. The opening question was about the duo's comedic influences. Holkins chose comedian Louis C.K., stating that his work felt genuine and his humor "feels like my own thoughts." Mike chose Canadian sketch comedy group The Kids in the Hall, but he was too busy to go into specifics.

The next question was about why the convention didn't have more panels about writing and art. Holkins reinforced that PAX succeeds because the panels are attendee submitted. If the fans want to see more panels on those topics, then they should make them happen.

The topic of video games as an art form came up during the panel. Holkins couldn't understand how a group of artists, animators, musicians, and other creative types could work on something for years and years yet not have the finished product be considered art. "[Video games] are art on top of art on top of art, all the arts in a pile."

When addressing the success of the comic and Penny Arcade in general, both creators agreed that they are never going to be done with the learning process. "We're always in the middle," said Holkins, adding that while the Penny Arcade business has been a success, the duo's objective is "far greater." Krahulik brought it home by saying they try to focus solely on creating the comic and forgetting about the fame.

By this point, Krahulik had flown through his rough draft and was laying down the hard, black outlines of each character. When he arrived at the strip's climax, a messy eye-gouging scene, the audience lapsed into laughter. Looking for some artistic direction, he polled the audience on how Gabe should be looking through Tycho's severed eyes. After a feverish round of shouting, the audience members overwhelmingly called for "squinting," and so squinting they received.

One attendee asked about the difficulties the two face in creating the comic, epically because they make it look so easy on stage. However, as the two pointed out, what you don't see are the days where they sit for three hours and don't do anything. "[There's] value in showing a complete failure to create," Holkins decided, suggesting we may start seeing some more of those more challenging sessions.

On the topic of censorship, specifically Australia's ban on the upcoming Mortal Kombat reboot, the two were sympathetic. "I think it's unfortunate," said Krahulik, "I know I want to play [Mortal Kombat]." "We don't have that [in America]; it's hard for me to wrap my head around that idea," added Holkins. "Generally speaking, we don't feel like the solution to bad art…is no art. We feel like the solution to almost any problem is more art." He elaborated on this by saying that if a piece of art doesn't communicate your values, it's up to you to go out and make one that does. Getting rid of a piece of art won't create a situation where people don't want it.

The idea that game publishing companies may one day die out came up soon afterward. "I think it depends on the scale of the product," said Holkins. Independent developers have access to the world, with more options than ever for reaching their audience. But with the larger games, such as Call of Duty: Black Ops, there is so much money poured into development that somebody has to help pay for the costs.

At the request of a fan, Krahulik looked up a picture of a pony from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and worked it into the strip. However, when he began to insert the text from the script into the comic, there was an issue: a certain word wouldn't italicize. Seeing the artist's plight, the audience members responded with shouted suggestions until Holkins calmed them and invited one woman up onto the stage to assist with the problem. With a few clicks, she had the project up and running once more.

As the panel came to a close, Holkins shared his experiences working on Tycho's character for Poker Night at the Inventory. For him, it was all about what felt right. There was no script or style guide; he just knew when something didn't fit and wrote new material where needed. When asked how they managed to put up with each other day after day, Holkins and Krahulik agreed that their relationship was very much like a marriage. Respecting each other, and their personal space, is of prime importance.

The talk concluded with an impassioned "thank you" from a fan for the creation of the Child's Play charity. As he pointed out, some children are confined to a hospital bed until either they or their parents figure out how to administer the proper treatment for their illness. Video games can provide a much needed distraction from this problem. He then went on to challenge those in the audience to come up with a game that teaches parents and children to self-administer these treatments to help expedite the recovery process. After that, Krahulik put the finishing touches on the comic, and Holkins thanked everyone for coming out.

Quote: "If a person comes up and likes what we do, I am there for that person."-- Holkins on interacting with the fans.

"Without Mike, I wouldn't have the impetus to do what I do."-- Holkins on his relationship with Krahulik.

Takeaway: The Penny Arcade creators love interacting with their fans because without them, none of this would be possible. Despite their success, the two still ebb on the side of modesty and choose to live from one comic to the next.

Discussion

4 comments
Hydrolix
Hydrolix

Their comic is hilarious and I imagine the people discussing them are probably over at their penny-arcade.com making forum posts.

ogara0c9
ogara0c9

@24k_Solid_Gold @SolidTy I'm sure there are a lot more fans, but we don't feel the need to make pointless comments on websites. There, I broke my own taboo.

24k_Solid_Gold
24k_Solid_Gold

I guess there's not too many Gabe n' Tycho fans on Gamespot? :(