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PvP: For Sale
July 22, 2011 7:17 AM   Subscribe

Scott Kurtz draws and writes one of the Internet's oldest webcomics, PvP. He launched it in 1998 and, since then, has won two Eisner Awards and a Harvey Award for his work. Scott has been a trendsetter for webcomics before, infamously (and frequently controversially) brash in defense of its business model, especially in the face of criticism from old media. Today, he announced that he will be selling product placement in his strips, starting with an arc focused on Magic: The Gathering. This is a webcomics first. Will it prove a boon to the financial success of artists, or a burden on the freedoms they've won? Or will it catch on at all beyond PvP?
posted by gilrain (75 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Scott has also co-written How to Make Webcomics, is co-founder of industry site Webcomics.com, and runs the industry podcast Webcomics Weekly.

(Thought I should add some context for why Scott is important in the industry, even if he is controversial.)
posted by gilrain at 7:22 AM on July 22, 2011


Somewhere in New England, Tim Buckley from Ctrl-Alt-Del is having an aneurysm.
posted by Spatch at 7:22 AM on July 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


Kurtz has done paid advertainment strips before, but they've always been separate from the main storyline. I guess he's just folding them in.

I used to be a big fan of PvP, but I quit reading a few years back when it seemed to become all about WoW, which I don't play.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:26 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Spatch, I was about to say the same thing. Although, frankly, I wonder if Kurtz is just the first one to own up to it. I don't read gaming comics regularly anymore, but it often seemed like some of the comics about particular games or front-page-updates-that-are-game-reviews basically read like ad copy (as opposed to being unreadable for different reasons).
posted by dismas at 7:27 AM on July 22, 2011


I think this will backfire. It's fine to do advertising work separate to the main comic, but this is just going to piss everyone off.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:28 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


this is just going to piss everyone off.

Really? I don't think people will care much at all. Magic, I think, crosses over into Kurtz's readership; I don't know that there will be a kerfuffle over the fact that a particular storyline is sponsored. Particularly given that my impression of Kurtz is that he's all about the business of the webcomic, i.e., making that dollar--which is fine, though I always got the sense that he wanted mainstream acceptance/money. Cf. Penny Arcade, which I think walks to the beat of their own drummer (for better or for worse, e.g., Dickwolves). This just seems like more of the same from him.

That said, I also always thought that Kurtz should get his recognition; I think his work is (or was, I haven't read in years) pretty solid.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:36 AM on July 22, 2011


I guess the heart of the matter depends on whether he can manage to be entertaining while writing about subjects he's been paid to write about. I imagine that if one is going to take paid product placements, being up front about it is probably the way to go.
posted by Kikujiro's Summer at 7:37 AM on July 22, 2011


Somewhere in New England, Tim Buckley from Ctrl-Alt-Del is having an aneurysm.

And showing his genitals to young girls.
posted by Talez at 7:39 AM on July 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


And showing his genitals to young girls.

I'm at work so I'd rather not Google the answer to "what the hell are you talking about?" so what the hell are you talking about?
posted by griphus at 7:41 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I stopped reading PvP last year (I don't recall exactly why - I think it just didn't seem funny enough any more).

I doubt this will seriously affect his readership, but I also don't believe that you can get paid to produce creative content while also maintaining creative objectivity, which is what Kurtz seems to be trying to do.
posted by muddgirl at 7:42 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm at work so I'd rather not Google the answer to "what the hell are you talking about?" so what the hell are you talking about?

The "Jackie" incident.

It's just one in a long list of Tim Buckley's ass-hattery. Racist comics, miscarriage storyline, character theft, wikipedia astroturfing.
posted by Talez at 7:53 AM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Honestly, I read the first product placement strip and it didn't feel or sound much different from a normal PVP strip. That's about the best you can hope for. If nothing else, Kurtz is a guy who's always tried to figure out how best to capitalize on the unique aspects of the medium from a business standpoint - sometimes that's a bit grating but other times he stumbles across some really interesting ideas.
posted by HostBryan at 7:56 AM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think his work is (or was, I haven't read in years) pretty solid.

"Was." Definitely "was."
posted by mightygodking at 8:11 AM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am astonished that Kurtz hasn't already signed up for an account so he can some in here and rant and rave. I stopped reading PvP about a year ago when his vitrolic ranting and constant shit-stirring apparently became more important to him than putting out his comic on-time. I'd see him cackling on twitter about being booted off some comics forums yet again for trolling the print guys while he still hadn't updated.

Which, you know, his business and his right to prioritize how he likes; I just don't care to participate or enable someone who seems so willfully determined to be nasty to other people. Same reason I stopped following PA.
posted by phearlez at 8:41 AM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Talez: The "Jackie" incident.

Muck on Tim Buckley of Ctrl-Alt-Del, including information on the "Jackie" incident (including mostly SFW images at the bottom of the page, made work-friendly by the placement of fish and jellybeans over the NSFW bits)
posted by filthy light thief at 8:46 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The weird thing about this is some web comics like Penny-Arcade (with whom PvP shares an office) already mentions products on a regular basis. Is Microsoft paying PA for this? Oh wait, they're a shill for UFC now!!! One might consider Nerf Now Comics a advertising campaign for Steam and more specifically TF2. So ya, this is business as regular as far as I'm concerned. I guess it could depend on how Kurtz take on the product placement- do they continue with irreverent humor, or does it truly become a "OMG, this game is sooooo awesome" shilling. Considering how largely PvP & PA's audience overlaps, if it's the former, I reckon most readers won't even notice if they don't read the blog.
posted by jmd82 at 8:46 AM on July 22, 2011


Oh and is this really a web comic first? PA has done a number of collaborations with companies, and they haven't been shy about mentioning it in their web comics. I mean, the WoW comics they were commissioned for were linked in the dailies IIRC, or at least strongly referenced.
posted by jmd82 at 8:50 AM on July 22, 2011


Penny Arcade does not accept any advertising for the strip itself. In fact, it's well known that Robert Khoo has quite the time of putting out fires they create by sometimes writing comics that heavily criticize companies who'd advertised on the website. He's stated many times that the strip itself is sacrosanct from any influence.

They also have a policy of never accepting advertising for games they haven't had a chance to play and ensure are of decent quality.

I guess you could doubt that, but there's no evidence to.
posted by gilrain at 8:51 AM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


That should be "in the strip itself", not "for".
posted by gilrain at 8:51 AM on July 22, 2011


Penny Arcade does not accept any advertising for the strip itself.

*whew*! I've enjoyed PA from Day One even though I'm not at all a gamer (my wife too and she's not even a nerd).

PvP I can take or leave. Mostly leave and now completely leave.
posted by DU at 8:53 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Man. Huh. I come from the webcomics-as-art wing, don't really plan to ever make any money from my strip, etc. I can't say I'm surprised that someone's doing this, and I can't say I'm surprised that it's Kurtz. So, it's no surprise, but still, fuck him in the ear for this.

I don't know exactly where the boundary line for "hack" is, but I know that product placements are somewhere over on the other side of it.
posted by COBRA! at 8:54 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Penny Arcade is run by a pair of dickwolves. (Oh, wait sorry, they just made a strip about "dickwolves" that rape, then a t-shirt, then a not-apology apology, and and and...)

I read PvP, and I play Magic. The paid placement is made clear. Seems good to me.

(I am probably a bit biased; I used to work at Wizards of the Coast.)
posted by andreaazure at 8:54 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


jmd82 - I was just thinking about that. From Scott's post on including product placement in strips:
Then I got hooked on the AMC original television show “Mad Men” and I thought….whoa. They actually managed to make product placement serve the story. That’s pretty cool. And innovative. In fact, I watched three seasons of Mad Men before it dawned on me that AMC was doing product placement.
Comics about entertainment products (games, etc) don't replace the products with stand-in products, because that would seem phony. They're gamers, they make comics about games. In essence, they are mini-reviews of games and products, though they aren't always positive. In that essence, they're maintaining integrity by not taking payments for their reviews.

The other difference in the Penny Arcade examples and the PvP comic is that the first frame feels stilted. I could imagine Scott getting an email saying "here's the text we want in the comic" and he said "OK," pasting it verbatim into the first frame. To me, it sounds like the damned car ads in TV shows (Change camera angle to focus on car features: "Wow, is this the [new model]? It's so roomy! And the self-parking feature is so great!" -- back to the rest of the show). The PvP placement fits better, because Magic is not a foreign element, like car talk is in a crime drama show.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:58 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


We should all get together and pool our money to buy an ad for MetaFilter.
Or, better, we should all pool our money to buy and ad for Tampax.
posted by charred husk at 9:02 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


In essence, they are mini-reviews of games and products, though they aren't always positive. In that essence, they're maintaining integrity by not taking payments for their reviews.

I think this encapsulates why I feel that Kurtz hasn't really thought this through. His plan is, in essence, to go to companies and say, "I will give a good review of your product (which I already allegedly like) if you pay me money." I see this in some blogging communities (mommyblogging, fashion blogging) but they're a lot less... ashamed about product placement, I guess?
posted by muddgirl at 9:03 AM on July 22, 2011


Penny Arcade does not accept any advertising for the strip itself. ... I guess you could doubt that, but there's no evidence to.

It depends on how you define it, I guess. Recently, Mike got a new Windows phone for free and then they made a strip where it's featured. I don't think it was malicious or technically paid product placement, but it's definitely a product that's in their strip as a direct result of receiving material benefit.

On the flip side, if he had hated the phone I could see things going the other way too.

Penny Arcade is run by a pair of dickwolves.

Maybe I'm suffering from outrage exhaustion, but after reading about that whole debacle and becoming more sensitive to this kind of thing (misogyny, homophobia, racism, etc) I'm finding examples of this shit everywhere in media I like and wouldn't otherwise expect it from (30 Rock to Hark a Vagrant, etc)and it's definitely hampering my enjoyment. :(
posted by ODiV at 9:08 AM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


ODiV: "It depends on how you define it, I guess. Recently, Mike got a new Windows phone for free and then they made a strip where it's featured. I don't think it was malicious or technically paid product placement, but it's definitely a product that's in their strip as a direct result of receiving material benefit.

On the flip side, if he had hated the phone I could see things going the other way too.
"

Well, that's just it. It could easily and frequently has in the past gone the other way. The strip usually talks about what they've been doing or thinking about recently. I guess the bottom line, from the product placement angle, is that nobody has any say in what goes into the strip besides themselves. If they were actually selling product placement, that wouldn't be true.
posted by gilrain at 9:13 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This pretty much sums up the PvP Way.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:26 AM on July 22, 2011


If he was Bill Watterson and there was going to be product placement in Calvin and Hobbes, I would be upset. But he's not Bill Watterson, and PvP isn't Calvin and Hobbes. Integrity isn't the only thing he's missing.
posted by notion at 9:40 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I stopped reading PvP about a year ago when his vitrolic ranting and constant shit-stirring apparently became more important to him than putting out his comic on-time.

It took you till a year ago to figure this out? I mean, no offense, but Kurtz has been an enormous jerk online for over a decade. I gather from your comment that nowadays, he likes to troll print comics people. Well, back in the day, he would actively troll and psychologically abuse his fans (many of whom were very young, like early teens or younger).

He had a habit of showing up on fan forums and acting like a complete asshole over the fact that anyone was discussing anything other than how great he was. When that went over predictably badly, he'd backpedal into then playing it off like he was just joking around, and how he's the guy who writes the comic, so he's obviously such a cool and awesome guy and should be able to say anything he wants to anyone! And then he'd invite one of his too-cool-for-school friends to troll the forum with him, and admit as much after the fact.

Yeah. I don't think I've read any of his stuff except in passing since about 2001.

If all you ever saw of him was his comic, it could be enjoyable. To see the man interacting with the public, though, was to witness douchebaggery on nearly unprecedented levels, and I saw it so many times that I cannot, to this day, separate his comic in my mind from his shitty personality.
posted by tocts at 9:43 AM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


o my god you guys i think rich burlew might be in wotc's pocket too

HOW DEEP DOES THIS RABBIT HOLE GO???!!!?!?!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:07 AM on July 22, 2011


If he was Bill Watterson and there was going to be product placement in Calvin and Hobbes, I would be upset.

Bill Watterson is practically owned by Big Snowman.
posted by griphus at 10:11 AM on July 22, 2011 [15 favorites]


I hope this works out for him and others, the amount of work that goes into some of these webcomics is pretty astounding for the lack of stable cash flow that comes back in.

I mean, hundreds of people enjoy it each day. They'll (most likely) not pay or not pay regularly so getting a few cents per view is fairly fantastic.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:18 AM on July 22, 2011


I'm finding examples of this shit everywhere in media I like and wouldn't otherwise expect it from (30 Rock to Hark a Vagrant, etc)

I'm curious- what have you seen in Hark that you found troubling?
posted by COBRA! at 10:19 AM on July 22, 2011


I was wondering that, too, COBRA!...perhaps the recent April O'Neil comic? I guess I'd tend to give it a pass as being character driven, but it does seem a little coarse for Beaton.
posted by redsparkler at 10:22 AM on July 22, 2011


PvP is doing a paid product placement strip? How you tell it apart from your usual PvP comic?
posted by happyroach at 10:28 AM on July 22, 2011


Yeah, that was the one. I was just surprised at the homophobic insults leveled there. Insult annoying youth all you want, but there's no need to go disparaging gay people while you're at it.
posted by ODiV at 10:31 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I see where you're coming from, but I took that strip as fighting teen-boy fire with teen-boy fire. But I'm inclined to give Beaton the benefits of a lot of doubts, maybe more than I should.
posted by COBRA! at 10:35 AM on July 22, 2011


I didn't mind the Windows Phone 7 mention in Penny-Arcade. In both the comic and the news post, Gabe is pretty moderate in his views. He got a new phone and he likes it, that doesn't make him a slave to product placement. It's just sorta funny because of his hidden past Apple devotion, and the strip ping-pongs back and forth from Apple-hatred to Apple-love.
posted by meowzilla at 10:55 AM on July 22, 2011


I've read PvP from it's early stages to now, and I'll probably continue reading it. I still extract some value of entertainment from it, but I really have to detach myself from Kurtz.

I used to be a big supporter and bought merch, books, etc because I liked it. But from my experiences with Kurtz at San Diego Comic Con and his childish behavior online, I do not anymore.

I know comic cons can be a tiring nightmare, but it really always seemed like he was on some badass throne with an ego. It was difficult to get his attention, so I passed off initial encounters as tiredness or something, and he would consistently act like some egotistic jerk at subsequent cons I would go to. However, his wife was always consistently nice and once the one that eventually took my order of merch as Scott's lazyass rather loaf around elsewhere.

He's had this love/hate relationship with comments. He'd open commenting on his comics, couldn't take the heat, and shut them down. I've watched over and over how he'd get so insanely butthurt if things don't go his way, and blame his Germanic ancestry from his dad. Just because you are part German and stubborn, doesn't give you free reign to act like a jerk that cries every time he doesn't get his way. He can't take the heat in the kitchen as noted he loves to dole out his fanboyism rage and hatred to others (like the print), yet at the same time when he gets schooled and criticized he just runs home crying speaking of foul play. Grow up.

Either way, the product placement feels a bit canned to me and he's really making a big deal about it, but oh well. Truthfully the comic is still in my RSS feed and I'll continue to read it, but whenever Kurtz makes a fool of himself again online, I'm not one to be surprised at all.
posted by xtine at 11:35 AM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


/puts on official gaming fez and sits in corner, slowly rocking back and forth
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:46 AM on July 22, 2011


I haven't been to PVPonline.com in a long time, as I too got tired of late strips and endless ranting, and the enjoyment of reading the comics was largely gone (in fairness, I don't know if this was the actual writing or just getting more and more fed up with the obvious ego contrasted with not caring enough about his fans to even deliver the bread and butter on time).

I checked the comic here, and it's mildly clever although I still don't think it's funny, but then when I started reading his post about the placement I couldn't even get halfway through it. It's like one long justification about why the product placement is really OK, and in fact it's a good thing because WoTC aren't suits but gamers, and they 'get' the strip and yada, yada, yada. Not sure if he's trying to convince himself or us more, but the bottom line is it feels incredibly disingenuous.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:49 AM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


One of the many, many entertaining moments in the Penny Arcade D&D Podcasts co-starring Scott Kurtz and Wil Wheaton, is the moment (I think it's in Series 3 Episode 8) that ...

[SPOILER!]

... Wil Wheaton's character dies. Wil has some emotional investment in his character and is more upset than you might expect. Meanwhile, Scott Kurtz is saying, "Wait? It's possible for characters to permanently die? Uh, guys? You don't understand. I've got valuable merchandise for sale featuring my character! I cannot afford to have Binwin Bronzebottom die!"

The entertaining part is the RAGE with which Wil responds to Kurtz.
posted by straight at 12:17 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


And speaking of Penny Arcade, it's pretty funny that Kurtz can be sharing an office with those guys while rolling out a business plan that I'm pretty sure Gabe (at least, and maybe Tycho too) would quit their strip entirely before adopting. (Of course, it's a lot easier for them to take the high road when they're so much more successful...)
posted by straight at 12:21 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


It took you till a year ago to figure this out? I mean, no offense, but Kurtz has been an enormous jerk online for over a decade.

I shorthanded because I didn't think anyone really cared about my mental process :) But really it was more that it was about a year ago where I had the perfect storm of I'd seen him on his print comic hobbyhorse before and for the most part shrugged it off as an area of passion. Of course he feels strongly about this - he's in the new medium and it's often kicked around as being a place where crap flourishes. But seeing him glory not just in the discussion but making statements about how much fun he was having really driving people to frothing anger was just finally too much.

You're right, none of it is new. And although I loathe this attitude in the computer industry - where I make my living - that excuses crap behavior when it comes from a place of talent and/or passion, I guess I'd internalized it to some extent. So I could write a pass for someone who was just passionate and involved who perhaps lacked some social niceties (since I rarely was exposed to them).

But I have no patience for deliberate meanness, and Kurtz convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's mean and enjoys it. It's the same reason the PA dickwolves thing convinced me not to expose myself to those guys anymore either; having a somewhat questionable sense of humor or stepping in it once in a while is one thing but deliberately seeking out conflict for the purpose of hurting isn't something I want to even indirectly support via providing page views.
posted by phearlez at 12:21 PM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


straight: "And speaking of Penny Arcade, it's pretty funny that Kurtz can be sharing an office with those guys while rolling out a business plan that I'm pretty sure Gabe (at least, and maybe Tycho too) would quit their strip entirely before adopting. (Of course, it's a lot easier for them to take the high road when they're so much more successful...)"

I completely agree and was wondering myself what the tone in the office was like. I imagine, though, that he just does his thing and they do their thing. There actually had been talk of him and Gabe doing a side comic together, but nothing has come of it so far.

And while Penny Arcade is far more successful than PvP, don't mistake Kurtz for a starving artist. He makes in the low six figures on PvP. In the webcomics world, he's in the top tier of those who've "made it". So, this is a business move, not a "I'll sleep with the devil to maintain my dream" move.

In my opinion, anyway.
posted by gilrain at 12:30 PM on July 22, 2011


The entertaining part is the RAGE with which Wil responds to Kurtz.

It could very well be that my sarcasm detector is broken, but you realize Wheaton has been known to do a little acting, right?

As far as product placement in webcomics go, I say go for it. Some of my favourite films and TV shows have product placement in them and are none the worse for it. I do think there's a line to watch out for when you're ostensibly a critic and you're receiving money from the industry you're criticizing. As long as you're aware of that line and keep an eye on it, then I think you're doing alright. I think that due to relatively recent events in video game journalism everyone is hyper-aware of it right now, anyway. If you're having trouble finding the line, your public will probably let you know (very loudly) when you're coming too close to it.
posted by ODiV at 12:32 PM on July 22, 2011


I just don't trust Kurtz (or a lot of people, really) to be self-aware enough to even know that a line exists. In his blog posts, he writes as it there is a clear division between "I get paid to write good reviews for thinks that I like" and "I get paid to write good reviews."

To him, this might be true. But readers can't read his mind and divine whether or not he is being honest in his assessments of products which he's being paid to talk about.
posted by muddgirl at 12:44 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


My problem with product placement as he describes it is that it wrecks the creative integrity of the strip. Here's why. It can go in one of two ways:

He's already planned story arcs with certain products in them, as he might usually do. He approaches the companies involved and asks them to sponsor the arc. A few might agree, but I think most are going to say, "You want us to pay you to run strips you were already going to run? Uh, no. Thanks for the free press."

The only way to avoid the above is to approach them and say, "Hey, I have a story arc that involves your company in blah way. I could run with this, if..." or "I have a story arc that your product could fit into..." Then, if they refuse, he has to come up with some other arc. Or shoehorn the product into the story arc he intended. Either way, the readers aren't seeing the original creative intent.

Or maybe he does only run with the first scenario, and thus only cool, geeky companies who want their customers to see them basically charitably contributing to the strip take him up.

The problem is, his readers just don't know. I don't know that anyone will be up in arms, or anything, but now, every time he mentions a product, everyone will wonder if it was for pay or not. And, in that doubt, a lot of people will just assume that any product placement was paid. And that's going to grate on him as a creator.

It's not a bad decision because it's unethical. It's a bad decision because he wants to be seen as an artist, and this is going to hurt that goal.
posted by gilrain at 12:45 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's a bad decision because he wants to be seen as an artist, and this is going to hurt that goal.

Let me play devil's advocate here for a second: isn't it true that many famous works of art were and are commissioned works which exist exclusively because a patron paid for them? Is the commissioning of a work by itself grounds to doubt the artistic integrity of that work, or is it that we generally are suspicious of the kinds of patrons Kurtz is courting here and so we want to view their involvement as inherently delegitimizing? In other words, is there a difference between a de Medici commissioning a portrait and Sony commissioning a comic strip? Aren't those both self-aggrandizing and self-advertising actions to some degree?
posted by Errant at 1:05 PM on July 22, 2011


I actually dislike many of the "masterpieces" for that very reason, Errant. Rich Europeans buying portraits of their family depicted as figures from the Bible or Greek myths? We would find that to be trite crap if it weren't painted so long ago.
posted by muddgirl at 1:08 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


But I think we've already mentioned one critical difference between commissioning a Mary-Sue-portrait (or really the kind of product placement used on Mad Men) and comissioning a webcomic - PvP is, for good or for ill, often a commentary on the very industry that he seeks patronage from. Any praise of the industry now has to be suspect.
posted by muddgirl at 1:58 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why now, but not before?
posted by ODiV at 2:06 PM on July 22, 2011


ODiV: "Why now, but not before?"

Apparently because he started watching Mad Men.
posted by gilrain at 2:14 PM on July 22, 2011


I actually dislike many of the "masterpieces" for that very reason, Errant.

That's certainly fair enough, but, broadly speaking, it doesn't seem to affect the wider art world's assignment of artistic integrity to a piece, unless I'm very mistaken. That's not to say that that integrity can't be questioned, as you do, but it doesn't seem to be, again generally speaking.

PvP is, for good or for ill, often a commentary on the very industry that he seeks patronage from.

I'm very quickly reaching the limits of my art history knowledge, so please forgive me for ignorance going forward, but aren't patronized works still interpretable as commentary on the patron class? That is to say, doesn't the composition and artistic lens in portraiture, for example, lend itself to a discussion of how the artist viewed the subject specifically and maybe the relationship between composer and patron in general? I'm certainly not suggesting that all portraiture does this, or does it well when it does, but it doesn't seem at all unlikely for artists to take money for a work and then still apply their own vision to that work, despite its commissioned status.

I agree that his critiques of products in the industry are probably now suspect, and not always in the immediate way (for instance, if he claims not to like a thing, might that be because he approached them for endorsement and was turned down?), but I'm not sure that he can't still have something valid to say about the industry in general. I'm not sure he can, mind you, or that he ever has. I just think the relationship between art and commerce is maybe trickier and murkier than is first apparent. Surely I am the very first person to think this. (spoiler alert: nope.)
posted by Errant at 2:19 PM on July 22, 2011


As always, my biggest "wish I could stop being so annoyed about this" annoyance with him is that this is yet another instance of something that he and/or the Penny Arcade guys have or would have made fun of until they personally gave it a try and succeded with it. This is a guy who, two years after selling t-shirts reading "Han Shot First" and "Joss Whedon is My Master Now" went on a week-long podcast tantrum about how he hates how webcartoonists make all their money referencing other peoples' work. A few months ago he decided that The Oatmeal "wasn't a webcomic" because it... umm... made money or something. His personal hatred of Ted Rall has him openly mocking his selling custom strips on eBay, and now he's selling out to Wizards of the Coast. Oh, and let's not forget that he openly mocked people who used KickStarter for their projects... until he and Ryan "Sluts Are Stupid Cunts: The Comic" Sohmer discovered that they could make a hundred thousand dollars for themselves off of it.

Scott Kurtz seems to have a profound animosity toward anyone in his field who finds success that he can't claim to be an inspiration for. I don't understand why, but it's repeatedly noticeable and frequently off-putting. I've noted with friends before that I've never seen a cartoonist who seems so unsatisfied with being successful in my life.

So ultimately, after the years of dickery both on and outside of his own website, I guess what I'm saying is there's a list of things I can find fault with in Scott Kurtz that take a higher precedence than "professional cartoonist uses cartoon in a way that makes him more money."
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:26 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Taking comissions from the nerd-interest community doesn't raise questions about Kurtz's artistic integrity - we can still admire him as a fine comic artist if we chose.

I generally dislike parallels, but it would be like a Renaissance artist who made a name for herself as a chronicler of the history of the Medici clan, warts and all, deciding that it's not so shameful to take money from the Medici's for painting positive portrayals of their good aspects (while claiming to maintain objectivity about their negative ones).

AKA, a classic sell-out.
posted by muddgirl at 2:32 PM on July 22, 2011


XQUZYPHYR: "Oh, and let's not forget that he openly mocked people who used KickStarter for their projects... until he and Ryan "Sluts Are Stupid Cunts: The Comic" Sohmer discovered that they could make a hundred thousand dollars for themselves off of it."

No arguments with the rest of your post, but on the Kickstarter thing... aren't you thinking of Kris Straub? Kris is a much more moderate guy (really charming and soft-spoken) and, although they're good friends, I notice Kris is frequently trying to reign in Scott's crazy a bit.
posted by gilrain at 2:35 PM on July 22, 2011


You know, I'm pretty sure the only reason Tristan Farnon doesn't have his own "Jackie" type incident is because no one cares enough to dig it up.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:37 PM on July 22, 2011


I generally dislike parallels, but it would be like a Renaissance artist who made a name for herself as a chronicler of the history of the Medici clan, warts and all, deciding that it's not so shameful to take money from the Medici's for painting positive portrayals of their good aspects (while claiming to maintain objectivity about their negative ones).

Aha, I understand your point more clearly now, thank you for expounding.

It's interesting, though, I guess I never really thought of PvP as being a commentary on the gaming industry, certainly not in the way that PA is. It has gaming influences of course, and it's fairly well situated in, as you say, the nerd-interest community, but I never really thought of Kurtz as being an industry pundit or commentator. Maybe that's why it doesn't seem as weird to me that he'd go this way, whereas it'd be totally weird and destructive if PA did, as they're far more explicitly editorial.
posted by Errant at 2:39 PM on July 22, 2011


In my recollection, he used to be much more so. He started to gradually move away from (as you say) punditry towards more human-interest storylines. I think at one point he even wrote a blog post about fans who criticized him for talking more about people and less about WoW (which is probably another thing that some fans might find problematic about this whole "But I'd talk about these things anyway!" attitude of this sponsored story).
posted by muddgirl at 2:49 PM on July 22, 2011


so basically we're talking about the web comic equivalent of those radio commercials that pretend to be morning talk shows that are all "haha, you and your scarfs Jen, but seriously have you seen NBC's Tuesday line up?"

sweet I'll take two.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 3:31 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


No arguments with the rest of your post, but on the Kickstarter thing... aren't you thinking of Kris Straub?

No, Scott and Kris work together on Blamimations; along with Ryan Sohmer the three of them collectively raised over $100,000 on KickStarter. Again, a few months after Kurtz referred to KickStarter as "a bunch of hobos with their hats on the ground."
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:49 PM on July 22, 2011


ODiV: "Maybe I'm suffering from outrage exhaustion, but after reading about that whole debacle and becoming more sensitive to this kind of thing (misogyny, homophobia, racism, etc) I'm finding examples of this shit everywhere in media I like and wouldn't otherwise expect it from (30 Rock to Hark a Vagrant, etc)and it's definitely hampering my enjoyment. :("

I'm with you there. That Hark A Vagrant, while I appreciate her intent, was kinda like stubbing a toe. However, I got a much larger happy from the most recent Punchline is Machismo; it was a nice surprise temporarily to live in a world where I don't need my defenses up all the time.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:19 PM on July 22, 2011


Farley Katz picked up on this for the recent issue of The New Yorker.
posted by bryon at 8:10 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why are there so many webcomics about video games through the one-step-removed medium of some snarky shlubs cracking wise about video games?
I propose that we make a webcomic about wisecracking shlubby roommates who read a webcomic about videogames. This gives us three framing devices:
1. The 'real' roommates wisecracking about the webcomic
2. the 'comic' roommates saying something sarcastic about World of Warcraft or whatever videogame.
3. The video game which is being commented on by the webcomic guys in the webcomic inside the webcomic.
This gives us three different levels for product placement. The 'real roommates' drink the extreme gamer fuel that they see the 'webcomic' roommates chugging when they pull all-nighters making sarcastic comments about the dragons they kill in the video game (The dragon has 'geico' written on it.)
Then we make a webcomic about the above webcomic, but it involves people on a message board reading the webcomic about the webcomic about the video game. So when the webcomic inside the webcomic inside the webcomic makes a video game related joke which either may or may not be perpetuating rape culture or condemning homosexuals as a contemptible other (in the context of Transformers), think of all of the levels for righteous indignation and freaking out.
The future of media is boring people reacting to remakes of old media/media for children as media. Let's take this plunge internet friends.
posted by Enigmark at 11:12 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Once every couple of years I click through to PVP to see what's different. I am always greeted with a comic in which a sad, insecure troll hooks up with a hot nerd girl. I figure there can't be much more to it than that.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:52 PM on July 22, 2011


Magic: the Gathering sponsored South Park early on. At the beginning of the episodes it used to say: "This episode brought to you by Magic: the Gathering." And then Kenny would mumble, "That sounds fucking gay!". They haven't had good luck with product placement.
posted by empath at 1:52 PM on July 23, 2011


The entertaining part is the RAGE with which Wil responds to Kurtz.

It could very well be that my sarcasm detector is broken, but you realize Wheaton has been known to do a little acting, right?


"The funniest part of Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey is when Hal Landon get's possessed by the disembodied spirit of Ted."

"Uh...you do know he was acting, right?"
posted by straight at 5:10 PM on July 23, 2011


(I'm also pretty sure Gabe knows that dice rolling isn't really a skill, but it sure is funny when he pretends he does and berates Tycho accordingly.)
posted by straight at 5:14 PM on July 23, 2011


But readers can't read his mind and divine whether or not he is being honest in his assessments of products which he's being paid to talk about.

People read PvP because they care about Kurtz's assessment of products mentioned in the strip?

PvP is not really a Penny-Arcade-style satire of what's right and wrong in the games industry. It's more sitcom-type humor. I can't see it getting any more or less amusing with product placement. It's not much different from Scott telling someone, "I've got writer's block."

"Okay, make a strip about...Red Bull. Go!"

isn't it true that many famous works of art were and are commissioned works which exist exclusively because a patron paid for them?


Penny Arcade does exactly that all the time.
posted by straight at 6:08 PM on July 23, 2011


I propose that we make a webcomic about wisecracking shlubby roommates who read a webcomic about videogames.

Well, OK, but only if you include a chick who's the straight man, and the only one of the gang with any common sense.
posted by happyroach at 9:52 PM on July 23, 2011


I've read PvP since very near the first strip, and while I agree that Kurtz can be a dick, I fall squarely into the "I really don't care" category. His explanations for how and why he wants to try out the product placement thing seem genuine enough to me (why? Because he wants to make money. How? By offering product placement to companies that he genuinely likes and would want to promote any way). If he hadn't mentioned that he was doing product placement, I totally wouldn't have known that the Magic strip with Francis was product placement. It fit into the storyline that they were currently going with. PvP isn't a PA-style comic at all, that considers itself some kind of pundit for the gaming industry. It's a character driven sitcom-y style comic. The characters are gamers, and occasionally play games (that Scott admits to playing IRL). If Scott starts running comics about games/products that I couldn't see him playing or liking, then I'll start to doubt his motives, but as far as I can tell it seems genuine.

No, Scott and Kris work together on Blamimations; along with Ryan Sohmer the three of them collectively raised over $100,000 on KickStarter.

They did? Scott and Kris raised just under $70k with their "Kris and Scott's Scott and Kris Show (featuring Kris and Scott)" - but I don't think Ryan Sohmer is involved in that project. Ryan himself did manage to raise over $100k for his own Kickstarter project though, which as far as I can tell Scott wasn't involved in. I'm not aware of any Kickstarter project that they worked on together though. That aside - yes, Scott has a long history of saying that something other people are doing to make money is dumb, and then coming around when somebody smarter explains to him that hey, he could make money with it too.
posted by antifuse at 9:34 AM on July 27, 2011


Oh - and to those of you complaining about Scott's updating schedule - that's what RSS is for. I don't even get through all my RSS feeds daily, so if Scott is late posting his comic, I really couldn't care less. The comic shows up when it shows up. Sometimes I go to my feeds and there's no comics, sometimes I go and there's 3. Hooray! PvP isn't really a "make me laugh every day" comic, but I enjoy it enough to keep it in my RSS feeds for a 30 second diversion every once in a while.
posted by antifuse at 9:38 AM on July 27, 2011


Ok, and one last thing... Scott's response to why he decided to give Kickstarter a try after badmouthing it so loudly before:
My concern was that webcomic creators were going to flood Kickstarter and abuse a system designed for helping independent creatives without any kind of reach at all. A comic author with an audience large enough to support book sales could take pre-orders via paypal. My concern was that a flood of webcomic creators asking for handouts was going to ruin some goodwill.

But since then I’ve learned that you can’t take pre-orders through paypal that don’t ship within 30 days. Which makes using pre-order money to print a book pretty much impossible. Given that, websites like Kickstarter really are the only place to raise money to fund any project more than 30 days out. So yes, my opinion on using Kickstarter to fund comics projects has changed.

Also, I’m a known hypocrite.
He may be a dick, but he still occasionally gets me to laugh
posted by antifuse at 9:42 AM on July 27, 2011


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