webcomic

Penny Arcade (webcomic)

Penny Arcade is a webcomic written by Jerry Holkins and illustrated by Mike Krahulik. It focuses mainly on video games, the video game industry, and gamer culture. The webcomics are accompanied by a blog.

Penny Arcade is among the most popular gaming webcomics currently online, and it hosts both a children's charity (Child's Play) and a gaming convention (PAX) each year. It debuted on November 18, 1998 as a regular feature on the video game web site loonygames. The authors launched their own site in late 1999, and new comic strips are usually posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Overview

The strip features Holkins and Krahulik's cartoon alter egos, Tycho Brahe and John Gabriel ("Gabe") respectively. While often borrowing from the the authors' experiences, Holkins and Krahulik do not treat them as literal avatars or caricatures for themselves. The two characters spend much of their time playing and commenting on computer and video games, forming the basis of the humor in the strip. Most of the time, Gabe serves the purpose of the comic foil, and Tycho is the straight man. The strip can feature in-jokes that are explained in the news posts accompanying each comic, written by the authors.

Both Krahulik and Holkins make a living from Penny Arcade, placing them in a very small group of web comic artists devoted to their creations full-time. Originally, Penny Arcade was supported solely by donations. A graph on the main page indicated how much people had donated that month. After hiring Robert Khoo as their business manager, Holkins and Krahulik switched to a different income stream based on advertising and merchandise revenue alone. According to Holkins, the website handles more than two million pageviews daily (excluding forum traffic). On 2005-11-13, the website was given a face lift in celebration of their seventh year running and to match the designs of the Child's Play Charity and Penny Arcade Expo websites.

Attributes of the comic strip

As a (primarily) topical video gaming news comic, there is little plot or general continuity in Penny Arcade strips. Any story sustained for longer than a single strip is referred to as "dreaded continuity", something of a running gag in the newsposts. A character who dies a horrible, violent death in one strip will come back in the next, perfectly whole, though occasionally these deaths have an effect on later comics. For example, often, when Gabe kills Tycho or vice versa, the killer takes a certain Pac-Man watch off the dead character, but only if he currently has the watch. Profanity and violence are common in Penny Arcade and the strip is known for its surrealism: zombies, a talking alcoholic DIVX player called Div, Santa, a robotic juicer that has forcible sex with fruit (the Fruit Fucker 2000), and Jesus, among others, are known to drop in often and for petty reasons. Other such occurrences are implied, if not shown, such as mentioning Dante from Devil May Cry living in the building next door. However, the comic does occasionally expand into more serious issues; one even had Krahulik, in the guise of the character Gabe, proposing to his girlfriend of two years.

Some of the strips are drawn from the perspective of fictional characters within a game or movie. Occasionally, Gabe and Tycho are featured as they would be as characters or players in the game themselves, often having some sarcastic remark to make about some feature or bug in the game. At times the comic also depicts meetings between game developers or business people, and features or mocks the reporters of a news article that is commented on in Holkins' newspost.

Penny Arcade has a theme song, "Penny Arcade Theme", written and performed by nerdcore artist MC Frontalot. It was written as a thank-you by Frontalot for the creators of the webcomic linking his website to their front page and declaring him their "rapper laureate" in 2002. The song appears in the dance game In the Groove.

Protagonists

Johnathan "Gabe" Gabriel

Mike Krahulik's comic alter ego is energetic and free-spirited, but has a propensity to become extremely angry. He has a Pac-Man tattoo on his right arm, as well as a tattoo in honor of the demise of SNK on his back. He almost always wears a yellow Pac-Man shirt, and in one comic he mentioned having a glass eye, although no other references to it have been made. He has a fascination with unicorns, a secret love of Barbies and is a dedicated fan of Spider-Man and Star Wars. He practices line dancing with the Kansas City Hotsteppers. He is a diabetic, though he continues to consume large quantities of sugar products. He has an odd affinity for a cardboard tube which he had fantasies of wielding as a wandering samurai, often in ancient Japan. He was for a short time addicted to Tribes but soon grew out of it. He also has an obsession with his own genitalia and possible latent homosexual tendencies. This theory can be supported by a recent recurrence of Gabriel's 'personal' interest in actor Patrick Swayze. As a contrast to Tycho's expansive vocabulary, Gabe usually speaks using only simple, common words. Krahulik named his son "Gabriel" in honor of the character.

Tycho Erasmus Brahe

Jerry Holkins' comic alter ego (named after the astronomer Tycho Brahe) is bitter and sarcastic. Almost invariably clad in a blue-striped sweater, Tycho enjoys books, RPGs, large words and deflating Gabe's ego. According to himself, he erodes the very soul of humanity as a hobby. He is a rabid fan of Harry Potter. He also often plays Dungeons & Dragons (the website's banner illustrates him holding a 20-sided die). Though extremely intelligent, he has on several occasions made reference to his scarring childhood in which his mother physically abused him and blamed him for his father's leaving due to his body "swelling with evil (in fact, puberty), as well as his parents taking him on a family road trip to such places as Idaho's largest "shitfarm". It has been mentioned that one of his aunts, believing him to be gay, constantly sends him homo-erotic material. Tycho also has a drinking problem. After a dream, Tycho is seen to be host to an evil spirit, signified by his eyes glowing red when it comes to the fore; this theme is repeated over the course of the strip. Recent strips have also revealed that he may have an unhealthy sexual obsession with long animal necks: at one point, he believes that his wife has found giraffe pornography on his computer, and he calls their necks "slender. A more recent comic, a commentary on alleged spyware in Battlefield 2142, depicts players being shown ads relevant to the content of their computers. Gabe's ad is for a Martha Stewart product (which he explains as the result of his wife using his computer), while Tycho's is for badboysbigbirds.com - "Big Heads in Deep Holes" - and depicts an ostrich with its head buried in a hole. Tycho is also the host of "Too Damn Late with Tycho Brahe," a parody of the Tonight Show. Though originally co-hosted by Gabe, "Too Damn Late" appears to have been reworked because of Gabe's difficulty controlling his body near guests.

Podcast

Krahulik and Holkins began to record and release audio content on March 20, 2006, titled Downloadable Content. The podcasts specifically capture the creative process that goes into the creation of a Penny Arcade comic, usually starting with a perusal of recent gaming news, with conversational tangents and digressions to follow. As well as being a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Penny Arcade, Krahulik and Holkins discuss possible subjects for the comic.

The format of the show is mostly "fly-on-the-wall" style, in that the hosts rarely acknowledge the existence of the microphone. There is no theme music (not even the aforementioned "Penny Arcade Theme"), intro, or outro. The podcasts are of varying lengths, beginning abruptly and ending with the idea for the current comic.

Although the shows were initially published weekly, Holkins stated in a May 2006 blog post that they have found difficulties when trying to produce the podcasts on a regular basis. The duo planned to keep recording podcasts occasionally.

The podcast for the comic of October 20, 2006, featured Scott Kurtz and Kristofer Straub, authors of the comics PvP and Starslip Crisis, who were visiting Seattle.

After a nearly 6-month long hiatus, Penny Arcade Downloadable Content returned briefly in May, and again in September 2007, then took a 3 month break, and has been releasing podcasts semi-regularly in 2008.

Video games

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness is an episodic video game based on the strip. The first episode was released worldwide on May 21 2008. It is developed by Hothead Games, and is built on a version of the Torque Game Engine. The game is self-published via Xbox Live as well as the Greenhouse service created by Penny Arcade to distribute independent games. The game features many elements of the Penny Arcade universe in a nineteenth-century steampunk setting.

Other works

Under the banner of 'Penny Arcade Presents', Krahulik and Holkins are sometimes commissioned to create promotional artwork/comic strips for new video games, with their signature artistic style and humor. They are usually credited simply as 'Penny Arcade' rather than by their actual names. Some of these works have been included with the distribution of the game, and others have appeared on pre-launch official websites, such as:

A somewhat toned-down look at a discussion between paratroopers.

An amusing example of the different technologies in the game.

A look into the various types of Vaults that might have been created.

A brief retelling of the history of Ashan.

A recap of the previous story and teaser for Myst V.

A comic strip based on the background story of the game, placed on the game's site in the downloads section.

An illustration of a mission in the game.

A comic strip depicting a mission in the game's new multiplayer mode, from both spies and mercenaries points of view.

A humorous training manual for new operatives, ostensibly a classified document.

Various humorous illustrations in the official strategy guide, as well as the strategy guide for the Burning Crusade expansion.

Three strips featured in the official strategy guide, including a look at the downsides of turn-based combat.
A partial, official list can be found on the Penny Arcade website

On August 8, 2005, Krahulik announced that Penny Arcade, in partnership with Sabertooth Games, would be producing a collectible card game based on the Penny Arcade franchise The resulting Penny Arcade "battle box" was released in February 2006 as part of the Universal Fighting System.

There are also a few spinoffs from the main comic that have gained independent existences. The most recent example is Epic Legends Of The Hierarchs: The Elemenstor Saga (ELOTH:TES), a parody of the written-by-committee fantasy fiction used as back-story for a wide variety of games: originally a one-off gag in the Penny Arcade comic, in late 2005 this was expanded into a complete fantasy universe, documented on a hoax "fan-wiki". ELOTH:TES first appeared in the webcomic of February 7 2005, and has subsequently been featured in the comics of November 7 2005 and November 30 2005. Several elements of the ELOTH:TES universe are featured on the cover of their second comics collection, Epic Legends of the Magic Sword Kings.

On May 31, 2006 Krahulik announced a new advertising campaign for the Entertainment Software Rating Board. According to Krahulik, the ESRB "wanted a campaign that would communicate to gamers why the ESRB is important even if they don't think it directly affects them." Among the reasons he listed for Penny Arcade's accepting the job was that he and Holkins are both fathers and are concerned about the games their children might play. He also stated his belief that the alternative to the ESRB would be governmental regulation of the video games industry. (The ESRB is a voluntary self-regulatory organization made up of video game publishers and developers.) The ad campaign will feature one character drawn by Krahulik to represent each of the ESRB ratings.

Krahulik and Holkins created a comic strip which compares the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3 and the Wii that appears in the December 2006 issue of Wired magazine.

Penny Arcade events

Every Christmas since 2003, Penny Arcade hosts a charity called Child's Play to buy new toys for children's hospitals. They have also sponsored a three-day gaming festival called the Penny Arcade Expo every August since 2004.

Legal issues

American Greetings

Krahulik and Holkins received a cease-and-desist letter from American Greetings Corporation over the use of American Greetings' Strawberry Shortcake and Plum Puddin' characters in the April 14 2003 Penny Arcade strip entitled "Tart as a Double Entendre". The strip was intended to mock both the works American McGee (especially the computer game Alice) and McFarlane Toys. At the time, McFarlane toys and American McGee made separate toy lines, each portraying a dark, frightening interpretation of the characters and situations from "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz". Krahulik and Holkins' portrayal of Strawberry Shortcake parodied McFarlane Toy's depiction of Dorothy as bound and blindfolded by a pair of Munchkins.

Krahulik and Holkins chose not to enter into a legal fight over whether or not the strip was a protected form of parody, and they complied with the cease-and-desist by replacing it with an image directing their audience to send a letter to a lawyer for American Greetings. Afterwards, a comic portraying American Greetings as Nazis was released without legal repercussion.

Jack Thompson

On October 17, 2005 Krahulik and Holkins donated $10,000 to the ESA foundation in the name of Jack Thompson. Earlier, Thompson himself had promised to donate $10,000 if a video game was created meeting certain criteria (See: A Modest Video Game Proposal), but after a vaguely similar (in spirit) mod to the game Grand Theft Auto was pointed out to already exist, Thompson called his challenge satire and refused to donate the money, because these games were not going to be manufactured, distributed or sold like retail games, as his Modest Proposal stated. His refusal was met with disdain, given that multiple games were created or in the process of being created under Thompson's criteria. Krahulik and Holkins donated the money in his place, with a check containing the memo: "For Jack Thompson, Because Jack Thompson Won't".

Thompson proceeded to phone Krahulik, as related by Holkins in the corresponding news post.

On October 18, 2005 it was reported that Jack Thompson had faxed a letter to Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske claiming that Penny Arcade "employs certain personnel who have decided to commence and orchestrate criminal harassment of me by various means". Holkins defended the site by saying that the harassment Thompson referred to was simply "the natural result of a public figure making statements that people disagree with, and letting him know their thoughts on the matter via his publicly available contact information".

On October 21, 2005 Thompson claimed to have sent a letter to John McKay, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, in an attempt to get the FBI involved. Thompson re-iterated his claims of "extortion" and accused Penny Arcade of using "their Internet site and various other means to encourage and solicit criminal harassment". Penny Arcade denied the charge of "extortion", noting that they paid the $10,000 to charity, and are asking nothing in return.

Thompson claimed the harassment of him is a direct result of Mike Krahulik's posts, which listed links to The Florida Bar Association. Thompson accused Penny Arcade of soliciting complaints to the Bar against him, even though Krahulik actually posted the opposite, asking fans to cease sending letters to the Bar, as the Bar acknowledged that it is aware of Thompson's actions, thanks to previous letters.

The Seattle PD eventually acknowledged receiving a complaint from Thompson, but have commented that they believe the issue to be a civil, rather than criminal, matter. They noted that this was from initial impressions of the letter they received, and their criminal investigations bureau is reviewing the letter to make sure that there were not any criminal matters that they missed.

On the same day, Scott Kurtz, creator of the webcomic PvP and a longtime friend of Krahulik and Holkins, used the image of the letter Thompson sent to the Seattle PD to create a parody letter in which Jack attempts to enlist the aid of the Justice League of America by claiming Gabe and Tycho to be villains of some description.

The Penny Arcade shop had at the time sold an "I hate Jack Thompson" T-shirt, claiming that every living creature, including Thompson's own mother, hates Jack Thompson.

On March 21, 2007 Thompson filed a countersuit to the lawsuit brought against him by Take Two Interactive claiming that they are at the center of a RICO conspiracy. Penny Arcade was named as one of the conspiracy members. At Sakura-Con 2007, Krahulik announced that the charges had been dropped.

John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory

John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory derives from a panel from Penny Arcade written 19 March 2004. Commenting on gamers' unsociable tendencies while playing online games such as Unreal Tournament, it states basically that "Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad". New York University adjunct professor Clay Shirky, who studies social and economic effects of Internet technologies explains "There’s a large crowd and you can act out in front of it without paying any personal price to your reputation,” which "creates conditions most likely to draw out the typical Internet user’s worst impulses". In an Advocate article about online homophobia, this theory was used to account for online forums where one can remain anonymous and do so in front of an audience, for instance, posting comments on popular YouTube videos.

Collected editions

  • Year One: A Penny Arcade Retrospective (Limited Edition) — ISBN 1-931195-07-2
  • Year One: A Penny Arcade Retrospective (Soft Cover) — ISBN 1-931195-11-0
  • Year One: A Penny Arcade Retrospective (Hard Cover) — ISBN 1-931195-12-9
  • Penny Arcade: Volume 1 Attack of the Bacon Robots — ISBN 1-59307-444-1
  • Penny Arcade Limited Edition Signed - Attack Of The Bacon Robots — ISBN 1-59307-650-9
  • Penny Arcade: Volume 2 Epic Legends Of The Magic Sword Kings — ISBN 1-59307-541-3
  • Penny Arcade: Volume 3 The Warsun Prophecies — ISBN 1-59307-635-5
  • Penny Arcade: Volume 4 Birds Are Weird — ISBN 1-59307-773-4
  • Penny Arcade: Volume 5 The Case of the Mummy's Gold - ISBN 1-59307-814-5 (May 2008)

Online forum

The forum is divided into several subforums devoted to a broad range of topics, including but not limited to art and video games.

The forum is also home to a board devoted entirely to the PAX (Penny Arcade eXpo). The game boards often contain information about informal PA groups, such as Power's Allegory or Power's Affliction for City of Heroes and City of Villains, respectively, or the numerous World of Warcraft guilds.

In February 2007, the Penny Arcade forums were changed from phpBB to vBulletin.

Analysis

On December 13, 2006, Next Generation Magazine rated Krahulik and Holkins among their "Top 25 People of the Year". Also appearing on the list were Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime and former Xbox chief Peter Moore. Krahulik made a post about the honor, in which he explained that Penny Arcade was created only because Next-Gen rejected the duo's entry to a comic contest many years before. Entertainment Weekly listed Penny Arcade on their "100 Sites to Bookmark Now," calling it "a hilarious and smart webcomic for gamers." MTV Online named Holkins and Krahulik two of the world's most influential gamers, saying "they have become the closest the medium has to leaders of a gamers' movement. Time.com named Penny Arcade as one of its "50 Best Websites" for 2008 "...for the way it pokes fun at the high-tech industry and the people who love it." 1UP.com described it as "the One True Gaming Webcomic." Penny Arcade was used along with American Elf, Fetus-X and Questionable Content as an example of comics using the web to create "an explosion of diverse genres and styles" in Scott McCloud's 2006 book Making Comics.

References

See also

External links

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