The Penny Arcade Interview: Subconscious Lashings in a Dark Dream

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LEV: The strip seems less violent to me than it did in the beginning. Is it getting less violent?

JERRY: I would say that intellectually it is more violent, but there is probably less physical violence, just because we’ve tapped out a lot of those maneuvers. We’ll say, let’s do a strip where something violent happens —

MIKE: And we can’t think of any new physically violent way to hurt someone.

LEV: Yeah, well, that’s better than repeating yourself.

MIKE: I mean, we don’t want to go back to the “punch a man’s head off” well.

LEV: That’s a deep well. But it does have a bottom.

JERRY: Exactly. You can only punch it off so many times. Then eventually it just starts to fall off by itself. You want to get out of it before it gets to that point.

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LEV: How much do your kids understand about what you do for a living?

JERRY: Zero.

MIKE: Well, no, Gabe knows that I draw, that I’m an artist for a living. I’d say that’s the extent of it.

JERRY: Yeah, I was trying to tell my son that a writer is a kind of artist, and he said that that was not true.

MIKE: It’s not. It’s cute though.

JERRY: He’s like, you’re not an artist, and I was like no I express myself with…

MIKE: “I paint pictures with words.”

JERRY: You know how it is. You talk to these young people and they have this automatic way. They know where the fault lines are in a person’s psyche.

LEV: Let’s talk about the TV thing. Tell me about the impetus there? Because I am going to say “impetus” as many times as I can in this interview.

JERRY: If you look at where the web is trending now, it’s all about video.

MIKE: The fact is that we are both beautiful people, and we thought it was a real shame that other people couldn’t see us all the time.

JERRY: Not only could they not see us, they couldn’t gaze upon us, and I think those are two distinct states.

MIKE: I mean, when you look like this, when you walk around looking like this all day, more people need to see it.

LEV: Does it alter the process, having cameras in the room?

PA: Yes. I would say it does. I think it has a negative effect.

LEV: Like you’re less funny when the cameras are around?

JERRY: Yeah. But you got to understand that we’re saying that because they are here right now.

LEV: Oh. Right.

JERRY: We said that for their benefit.

MIKE: I think that for a while we felt like we would sort of have to watch what we say, because the fact is that a lot of stuff doesn’t end up in Penny Arcade, it’s too fucked up to put in a comic, and we thought, now we’re going to be limited in what we can say. But I think we’ve sort of gotten over that hump now.

LEV: You guys didn’t go to college, right?


MIKE: I went to about a week of community college and found out it was too hard for me.

JERRY: I tried to go, but I was earning too much money.

MIKE: My parents certainly wished I had gone to college.

LEV: Did they?

MIKE: Oh yeah.

JERRY: They wanted him desperately to go to college. They even paid for that first semester, didn’t they?

MIKE: Yeah. They paid for it, but I just went there and didn’t like it, and so I didn’t go anymore. They were very upset.

JERRY: It was my intention to go, but I couldn’t afford it at the time. I just couldn’t afford it, and I had to work. There goes that.

LEV: And then after a while there wasn’t any point because you were successful anyway.

JERRY: After a while I just gave up. I was doing tech services and stuff and I think I could have been very happy doing that.

MIKE: It wasn’t that we were successful; it was that, I was a salesman at Circuit City, and I had just resigned myself to that fate. I was like, well, I will sell computers for the rest of my life, and make comics on the weekends that no one will know about. It was just a matter of giving up, on life really.

JERRY: Neutral gear.

LEV: But it’s all worked out so well.

MIKE: It did, it worked out really well.

LEV: So the whole ping-pong thing. It’s really intense, isn’t it? Almost frighteningly so.

MIKE: We took it very seriously.

LEV: I watched the Bungie match on PATV, and I almost felt bad for the Bungie guys. Especially that Bungie guy who Robert beat. Because he looked really sad after he lost.

MIKE: He had been destroyed both mentally and physically.

JERRY: He had been digested.

MIKE: Like the Sarlac pit. He learned a new definition of pain.

JERRY: Over the course of 10,000 years.

LEV: You guys just seem totally fearless. Are you without fear?

JERRY: No, I would say that it is the extent of our fear that creates that environment where we’re willing to try out. It’s like they seem successful in retrospect, but at the time they’re like the subconscious lashings of a person in a dark dream.

MIKE: What? What does that mean?

JERRY: He got it, he’s a writer.

MIKE: I would say that at this point, we are not afraid to fail.

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