I was in my high-school library, assigned to do some kind of school thing but actually browsing the official forums of NEXT Generation magazine, when I clicked a link that blew my mind: the April 28th, 1999 strip of Penny Arcade.
It's a comic! On the web! A Web-Comic!
A full-color comic like the ones in the Sunday paper, but created by and for video-game weirdoes like me. My hacked-up hand-me-down PC was not a “tiny god,” but I was just as pissed that Mac users—MAC USERS!—would have exclusive dibs on the initial public demo of Quake III.
I became a huge Penny Arcade fan, devouring their regular strips and blog posts. Their ambition was clear from the start: they wanted to make something better, something more than just another Gamers-Make-A-Comic-comics.
Soon, they were: They told ambitious stories set in fantastic original worlds. They ran a fan convention, which became a series of fan conventions. They hosted a competition reality show. They even made their own video game! They were part of the online cultural revolution that turned playing Dungeons & Dragons—something so nerdy that even avid players hesitated to admit it in public—into trendy #content. Penny Arcade became a business, and a brand, under which many other creators flourished. Their fan con somehow became gaming’s premier trade show.
Yesterday, they ran a strip (and blog post) about writer Jerry Holkins being asked in an interview if they still do the comic. He and artist Mike Krahulik—who, to my knowledge, have never missed a scheduled strip since I started reading them 23 years ago—were tickled by the idea they’d somehow become too big to pay attention to:
In the early aughts, the webcomicking scene went through an intense series of life-cycle changes, with accompanying molts growing pains: From wannabes and wild-eyed innovators, to literary criticism and meta commentary, to ad-network collapses and broad corporate ownership in just a few years. Like other content-creation scenes I’ve been in or around, it felt important for the people doing the best, most visible work to be the most visible. Standard-Bearers for our Important Art.
Krahulik and Holkins—two smart, weird guys who just made a thing that resonated with lots of similarly smart, weird people–haven’t always worn that visibility well. And it took them a while to realize that once turning everything they didn’t like about gaming into a punchline got them all the way to the top, their jokes were all suddenly punching down.
I’ve often Tweeted and blogged about the parallels between webcomics and sportswriting; how the newspapery Powers That Be barely had time to look down their noses at us digital whippersnappers before we put them all out of a job.
And now, on the backside, many broke and/or broken indie creators wish we’d had the editorial mentorship, collegial camaraderie, and literal trade unionization that our elders gatekept from us.
Like many creatives right now, I feel trapped in every career stage at once. I’m a mid-career freelancer with a regular Disney gig, great clips—and hey, this newsletter with hundreds of subscribers! I’m a total rando newb on Twitch and TikTok. I’m a washed-up has-been, five years removed from a five-year run as a “National NFL Lead Writer.” I’m an aspiring author with an unpublished novel and stacks of rejection letters—and, also, a traditionally published author with a verified Goodreads page and three actual books out on shelves of school libraries like the ones I so often slacked off in.
This week, I found out that when you Google me one of those thingies pops up:
Yes, I've tried to "claim" the "knowledge panel"
But above all else, I’m a 40-year-old dad with three teenagers—the eldest of whom just registered to vote. I don’t have the time or energy to “pay my dues” anymore; when I try something new it either lands or it doesn’t. But I’m also in no danger of becoming the guy who sits around demanding dues be paid to me.
Part of me longs to have stayed on that Big-Time Media Talent career arc, writing my tail off ‘round the clock in return for clicks and tweets and the chance to wear a suit on TV sometimes. A smaller part of me wishes I’d never left the dayjob, coping with the stresses of the rat race by pouring it all onto the page whenever I get a chance.
But if there’s one lesson I’ve learned from Holkins and Krahulik, its that the kind of creative satisfaction they’re able to feel secure in comes from having never stopped doing what they do best, and never stopped improving at it.
For all the other things they’ve done, all the other things they’ve tried, the thrice-a-week comic is better-drawn and -written than ever. They didn’t mail it in, farm it out, or give it up like many of their peers and forebears. Maybe the strip’s audience is no longer “every gamer on the Internet,” but it doesn’t need to be for them to lead personally and professionally satisfying lives.
No matter what happens from here, I’m never going to stop writing, and I’m never going to stop trying to do it better.
This autobiographical graphic novel explores a time when Farley, then a broke and directionless young adult, disassociated from the gosh-wow technofuture he’d spent his childhood believing would be there to vibe and thrive in when he grew up.
I’m glad this one has survived various domain moves and format changes since its publication in 1998; I’ve returned to it every year or two to reflect on what it means to me, and how my reaction to it has changed over the years. I’m going to read it again once I send this issue out.
Give the pictures time to load, and give the piece some time and thought to process. If you liked the essay above this header, you’ll love this comic.
Issues of civil rights, where our liberty meets the law, rightfully make emotions run high. So when our liberties are under attack, it’s important to know exactly what’s going on with our laws.
Yi did a really nice job of looking at data, interviewing sources, and painting a factual picture of what’s really happening with trans rights and public schools…and why.
Part of Olive & York‘s project to make a soccer jersey for all 50 states, Sykes (a graphic designer and Michigander) absolutely nailed this one. With colors of Pine Green, Union Blue, Lake Blue, and Copper, it’s utterly representative of what makes our state so great.
Best of all, 50 percent of the proceeds will go to Sykes, and 25 percent to Lansing’s Refugee Development Center—a charity close to my heart, and the one I pick whenever I’m asked for a cause to benefit.
I’m copping this one—and if you dig it, you should, too:
A young, vibrant, talented crew of passionate digital-media creators.
A small gang of arrogant money bros.
A beautiful disaster you know every twist and turn of before you even click that link–and yet, a uniquely 2022 retelling of a tale as old as Internet time.
A few weeks ago—no, wait, a couple of months ago? What is time, even, anymore?
Anyway, fellow freelancer and SFF writer Thom Dunn half-jokingly batted around a story idea on Twitter; afterwards, I slid into his DMs to ask if he was cool with me actually writing the thing. Howeverlong it was between then and last Friday elapsed, and I suddenly found myself with a little time to write.
But I didn’t feel like pulling up the two different Scrivener drafts and massive Google Doc that it would have taken to make progress on CODEX 17—so instead, I banged out a few hundred words of Thom’s and my idea. I loved what I came up with.
I’ll be cranking on the novel the rest of this week, but it felt great to start a new short for the first time in a while (and the second time in a reeeeallllly long while).