Q&A with Scott Kurtz (Part Two of Four)
This is the second of a four-part Q&A session with Scott Kurtz.
Q) When you’re writing strips that are part of a storyline, how do you balance keeping the storyline moving forward with keeping the strip accessible to a newcomer? How do you keep the jokes from falling flat unless you know the backstory?
It’s kind of impossible. If you’re telling a story you’re eventually going to get to the middle of it, and if someone comes in the middle, they’re going to get confused. That’s just the reality of it. I try to make sure that every strip has some payoff, but they’re going to be lost and need to back up. It’s not perfect but I hate the alternatives.
Serial comic strips follow a format of three-panel progression. Panel One recaps yesterday’s strip. Panel Two moves the action forward. Panel Three sets up a cliffhanger. That seems incredibly boring to me.
Even if you come in the middle of a story, if what’s happening is interesting, you’ll want to go back and see what leads up and hopefully what comes next.
Q) As a creative, how was your ramp-up into becoming a businessperson? Was it as hard and as intimidating as it looks to some of us other creatives?
For me, personally, it was a lot of common sense, good advice and a couple hard lumps. I took managed risks and have few regrets. But look, it’s not easy. It is intimidating. It should be. But you knuckleheads have a huge leg up I didn’t have. You have this Web site and access to Robert Khoo. So you got a leg up on me when I was “your age.”
Q) I find a poorly designed site is enough for me to be turned off to a webcomic, no matter how good it is. Do you have any tips on how to design a site that compliments one’s webcomic?
For you guys starting out, all you need to do is keep it simple and put the content face forward. Make sure your interface is clean and easy to follow. Pick a URL that’s easy to remember and type. If you’re focusing too much on creating the perfect Web site, you’re probably neglecting your strip.
Q) I would love to hear you expound on the importance of branding. You talked about it in an early Webcomics Weekly and since then have extended your brand to several podcasts, Blamimations, more frequent UStreaming, and even hosting award ceremonies. These are in addition to PVP, convention appearances, and your out-spokenness on forums where Ted Rall happens to be. Are all of your various creative outlets simply interconnected parts of the Scott Kurtz Brand, or are they in support of PVP? What’s ultimately more important to you, your brand or your comic?
I am just now sitting down to start thinking seriously about how to brand PvP. I’m reading two books: “Buyology” by By Martin Lindstrom and “Do you matter? How great design will make people love your company” by Brunner & Emery. Khoo loaned me the latter.
Up until this point, I think my ad hoc brand has been Me. My personality. My opinionated, big mouth. I think right now my biggest brand is my passion for what I do and that’s been carrying me. I think I benefit from being one of the guys that was around in the beginning, and that I have traction in the comic book world thanks to my work with Image. But it’s time to start thinking seriously about PvP as more than just my webcomic. It’s time to start thinking about it as my micro-media company and start branding it appropriately.
Q) You and Ted — who started it?
The instability of print started it. Some cartoonists want to blame the Internet for newspapers dying and their income drying up. What I’ve learned is that I can’t convince those cartoonists of anything. Nor can I assist them in migrating to a new business model or starting over. And any fear I have that these disgruntled pundits might convince anyone that webcomics are to blame is unfounded.
Nobody here at Webcomics.com needs to concern themselves with anyone over at Daily Cartoonist. There are syndicated artists who get it and there are those who don’t. Just enjoy the company of the ones who get it. You’ll be much happier.
Q) I’m really interested in the technical part of your work and I have a few questions. What size do you work at (inches or pixels)? What is the ppi of your original size? What size do you scale the final size to (inches and ppi)? When you set your copy, what type size/leadding are you working at? What sizes are the brushes you’re working with in Photoshop? And did you create any special brushes to work with in Photoshop?
One of my daily comic strips measures around 10×3 inches at 400dpi. The font I use is Comicrazy by Comicraft. My text is normally 8pt high with an 8pt leading. My main cartooning brush is hard, round 12 point. I have created no special brushes at this point.
Q) I know you’ve been tempted at various times throughout your career to “go blue,” but have maintained PvP’s self-imposed PG-13 rating diligently. I think that’s wise, but I do wonder what your opinion is of webcomics that specifically cater to the adult audience beyond dropping occasional F-bombs. I’m thinking of comics that incorporate sex, either depicted or implied with detail, as a major plot point. This covers everything from comics that talk frankly about the subject but don’t usually show it, to something that gets more explicit like “Menage a 3,” and on to all-out porn comics like those collected at Slipshine. Do they work? Is it a cheap pop? Can they ever be taken seriously when compared to more mainstream works? Does the traditional webcomics business model still apply?
I use colorful language in my real life. But context is important. There’s a time and place for certain language. And certainly there is a time and place for your language to be effective. A friend of mine recently told his kid that he should know what the bad words were so they were there when he needed them. When he needed them was so profound I thought.
I grew up finding the cartoons in Playboy to be classy, provocative and erotic. But Playboy was always a classy kind of magazine. Seeing that same cartoon somewhere else would probably have been lewd.
If you want to know what bothers me about sites like Slipshine is how Lesnick is always complaining about how it’s not making any money. If your pornography site isn’t making you a lot of money, you need to start over. You’re not doing pornography correctly.
Q) As much as I’d like to be successful at this webcomics game someday. As an artist, I can’t get over the idea that multitudes of people will look at my drawings. How do you deal with putting up artwork that you aren’t necessarily happy with?
If you don’t put it up there and run that gauntlet you’ll never improve. It’s all in service of growing as an artist. You’ll need to suck it up and get over it.
Q) Since you transitioned from black-and-white to color over the course of a year, I was wondering what you plan to do for the print version of that year. Will it all be on the same color-ready paper, but the older strips will still be b&w (and then grayscale)? What would you recommend to other people who might make the same art upgrade?
I’ll probably pay you to color the other strips, Mary. So I hope you’re available later in the year. No I am not kidding.
Q) How do you work on pacing the storyline across your updates to walk the line between belaboring the point/joke/action and not missing opportunities to express things by covering them up with “two hours later” or talking head exposition.
I’ve found that my readers hit a breaking point of getting tired of a storyline if it goes longer than two weeks. These days I do five strips a week so I fudge it a little and run around 2.5 to 3 weeks. But more than that and they start to get bored, no matter now many awesome laughs you pepper in. So I plan it out run 2.5 weeks.
People also criticize me about not ending storylines, but honestly, I skip a lot of stuff that I figure people don’t want to read anyway. Once the story resolves itself, do I really need the “wrap up back at the hall of justice” strip? Why waste the readers’ time? I only show the most important parts of any story arc.
Q) I am wondering how you typically balance your work week: How many hours a day you spend on the comic, and how is that broken down between the various tasks for it. Do you just write one day, then art the next or what?
I kind of fly by the seat of my pants. I have on my whiteboard any non-PvP tasks that need to get done that week and I fit making strips in between that. I’ve tried several times to move to a system where one day was reserved just for business tasks, but it’s never stuck. My business tasks never fall on me so tidily. Something important is always going to hit on an “art day.”