Comic Timing

Pavel Barter shoots the breeze with videogame satirists and webcomic peddlers, Penny Arcade

This is like talking to a couple of cartoon characters. Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik are waxing about Second Life and they're bouncing off each other.

Krahulik: "I tried it for an hour but couldn't understand the attraction."

Holkins: "I understand you can have a penis attachment. Is that true?"

Krahulik: "Yes, you can buy them."

Holkins: "That's pretty unique."

Krahulik: "To be honest, the penises don't look realistic. They look like crap."

Welcome to the world of Penny Arcade, a website - nay, an empire - that's not afraid to smartly slag off developers, publishers, even gamers. Penny Arcade have a knack of cutting to the core of the issue, be it over-hyped games, delayed releases or the sheer adrenalin-fuelled joy of being a gamer. Well, all that, and they throw in top-shelf talk about penises for good measure.

Holkins and Krahulik have fingers, toes, and possibly winkles, in every pie imaginable. These talented demigods of geekdom run an annual three-day expo, lecture at colleges, create comic-strip compilations and collectable card games, run a charity for needy nippers, and now are set to release an episodic PC game, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. "In the near future, we're planning on launching a scent," deadpans Holkins.

Like all great love affairs - even though the pair are married to ladies - it began at High School. Holkins and Krahulik met in journalism class and worked their way through a procession of rubbish jobs before becoming a web phenomenon.

So how did Penny Arcade start? Holkins says: "A million years ago, when the world had just coalesced, we entered an online comic contest. We sent a number of submissions that the site did not like, possibly because they were extremely profane. Having our efforts rebuked there, we started running the comics on our own website (www.penny-arcade.com) in late 1999."

Joining the pantheon of great cartoon pairings - Wallace and Gromit, Calvin and Hobbes, Blair and Bush - they created alter egos: Krahulik (the artist) is Gabe; Holkins (the writer) is Tycho. "Gabe is whimsical," reckons Krahulik. "I don't think he's dumb, but he's lazy and he's prone to violent outbursts. They're us, but they're exaggerations about the worst things in each of us."

Gabe is fascinated with unicorns, he line-dances with the Kansas City Hotsteppers and harbours homoerotic fantasies about Patrick Swayze. "I identify so strongly with him but he represents all of my worst qualities," says Holkins of Tycho, a Dungeons & Dragons-obsessive with a drink problem and a collection of giraffe pornography.

Throughout Penny Arcade's history, the pair have ripped on everything from Ion Storm's Daikatana palaver to the alleged spyware in Battlefield 2142 and have been served enough cease-and-desist letters to supply the entire toilet paper industry on America's western seaboard. Unsurprisingly, they have an opinion about everything games-related.

"We detested movie tie-ins altogether until the likes of Spider-Man 2 and Riddick," rants Holkins. Krahulik agrees: "If it's a big movie, publishers are going to sell the game regardless of how good it is. Why waste the time and money making it good? As for Spider-Man 3..."

Holkins moves on to the subject of videogame-based movie director Uwe Boll. "The boxing stuff was pretty fun (last year, Boll challenged his critics to a fight). You have to be pretty stupid to get into the ring with that guy. He was actually known as the Tiger - he used to be an amateur boxer. People believed him when he said that it was just for fun, just a bit of harmless PR. You're a fucking idiot if you get into a ring with a guy named the Tiger, then bitch about him beating you up."

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