JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:
And now a story for kids of all ages. There are lots of nasty characters lurking in the shadowy corners of the World Wide Web but none quite as bad as Strong Bad.
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: (As Strong Bad) Greetings, party people and the place to be. I am called Strong Bad. Hand over all your money in a paper and/or plastic bag.
LUDDEN: You can see Strong Bad's exploits every week online at HomestarRunner.com. NPR's John Ydstie spoke to the site's creators, brothers Matt and Mike Chapman, and has this report.
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: (As Strong Bad) Like I said, I'm Strong Man. I've been described as cool, awesome, hot, video games, the hottest and real, real hot.
JOHN YDSTIE reporting:
He may be cool, but it becomes obvious right away that Strong Bad is not as tough as he thinks, especially when you get a good look at him. He does have a scary Mexican wrestler's mask and glowing green eyes. He wears boxing gloves all the time. But his round, shirtless torso and his skinny arms and legs are anything but threatening. Strong Bad and a collection of dorky but somehow endearing characters live in the simple, one-dimensional, flash animation landscapes of Freedom Country USA. There's Homestar Runner, the slightly dim high school jock.
"HOME STAR RUNNER": Well, hey, yo, greetings one and everyone. Welcome to me, Homestar Runner!
YDSTIE: And there's Marzipan, Homestar's earnest, vegetarian girlfriend.
(Soundbite of music)
"HOME STAR RUNNER": Hey, stupid, I bought you this dove. Oh, I mean I bought you this veggie burger.
"MARZIPAN": Oh, thanks, Homestar. Oh, he's just adorable.
YDSTIE: This quirky cartoon universe, visited by a million people each month, is created by the brothers Mike and Matt Chapman in the family basement.
Mr. MIKE CHAPMAN: Originally we sort of wanted to create the feel of Saturday mornings in the '70s and '80s when we grew up, waking up early with a bowl cereal sitting in front of the TV watching cartoons, which I don't feel like really exists anymore.
YDSTIE: The Web site is HomestarRunner.com, and it's got a lot of characters, but the one who seems to have taken over is Strong Bad.
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: Strong Bad started out as just the antagonist, and he was kind of two-dimensional in more sense than he's just a drawing. And, you know, everybody likes the bad guy more usually anyway. And so then eventually we decided to give him his own little feature. It's called "Strong Bad Email," where we would ask people to send Strong Bad an e-mail, and he would pick a real e-mail from a fan and then answer it.
(As Strong Bad) (Reading) `Hey, Strong Bad, I think it's high time you composed a rock opera. You simply owe it to society. What's it to be about? That's up to you. Best wishes, anonymous contributor.' Oh, poor guy. Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Contributor, way to name your kid.
A whole, you know, stem from if--how well Strong Bad can make fun of the person's name and/or grammar in the e-mail initially before he even gets to the subject of it.
Mr. MIKE CHAPMAN: And so that was kind of the first time when we really started ramping up the site and just being like, `OK, there's going to be something new every week.' And it was Strong Bad (makes noises)
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: (As Strong Bad) Strong ...(unintelligible), action cool News 5. Tough stories with anchorperson Strong Bad.
YDSTIE: And the brothers do it all themselves: the writing, the animating, the voices. Matt does Strong Bad, and he did most of the talking during our interview. Their creation is among the most popular flash animation sites on the Web. Despite Strong Bad's dominance, the Web site is named for the amiable but clueless Homestar Runner, who Strong Bad has elbowed aside.
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: He kind of overshadowed poor Homestar Runner, who's the namesake, obviously. And he's not very pleased about that, Homestar Runner. It took him a while to realize it, I think, but now that he does, he's not--he's pissed.
YDSTIE: Homestar's going to have a difficult time reclaiming his Web site because he doesn't have any arms.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: That's true. He doesn't seem to have any problem with manipulating objects or having a soda or eating a burger, though. So...
YDSTIE: The cartoons have the look of the popular but off-color TV series "South Park." The brothers say when they started the Web site, lots of Web animation was raunchy or gross-out humor. They decided to take a different tact, and they've managed to produce a largely G-rated site that's so earnest and goofy it's cool. Their brand of humor has attracted a very broad audience from 20- and 30-somethings tired of irony to kids in elementary school.
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: We were very lucky in that way. When we started off, I think the first group that really caught on was sort of other flash animators and graphic designers. Originally it didn't seem like there were very many kids...
Mr. MIKE CHAPMAN: Yeah.
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: ...even high school kids.
Mr. MIKE CHAPMAN: Not at all.
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: When they would e-mail us, they would seem very embarrassed that they liked it because it was this cartoon, and they thought they were too old, you know, to like this cartoon.
Mr. MIKE CHAPMAN: Yeah. Even high school kids would seem like...
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: Yeah, they'd be like...
Mr. MIKE CHAPMAN: ...you know, `I know you're making this for...'
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: ...`I'm 16 years old, and I think this is funny.' And it's...
Mr. MIKE CHAPMAN: Seems--and then college kids just started getting it after that. I don't know if the people--the white-collar crowd started telling their younger brothers that were still in college and younger sisters. But then it seemed like college kids became our big focus. And now, I mean, it seems like more and more we hear from younger and younger kids.
YDSTIE: Younger kids like 13-year-old Brian Carroll(ph) from Silver Spring, Maryland.
BRIAN CARROLL (13-Year-Old): And these characters are just so zany, and it's so funny. And it's just random, a lot of the funniness is--I mean, the hilarity of humor.
YDSTIE: Brian's little brother, Danny(ph), who's nine, and his classmate, Dana Cook(ph), are also fans. In one of Dana's favorite episodes, Strong Bad demonstrates how to draw a dragon.
DANA COOK: Trogdor is like the dragon that Strong Bad makes, and he makes a song about him. And it's just really funny.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: (Singing as Strong Bad) Trogdor. Rock on!
YDSTIE: The growing audience for this wacky humor spawned a demand from fans for T-shirts and other kitsch. The brothers Chaps, as their fans call them, obliged, and now the sale of Strong Bad T-shirts and Homestar DVDs supports the Web site and makes a good living for the brothers. They've refused to take advertising and rebuffed efforts to get them on TV.
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: One of the advantages of doing it the way we do is that, you know, at 7 AM we're about to put this thing up, and we come--we think of some other joke, it's only going to take us 10 or 20 minutes to add something else in and animate it real quick, whereas, like, you know, if we were on TV or in some other thing that had this regimented production schedule, we'd never be able to do that.
YDSTIE: Mike and Matt Chapman aren't interested in TV, but Strong Bad seems to have a talent for radio. Here's how he responded to an e-mail from a fan who wanted advice on becoming a radio host.
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: (As Strong Bad) The first rule of thumb for our radio personalities is to look absolutely nothing like how they sound. So once they got the voice-appearance mismatch working--I don't know. It just depends on what kind of radio station they work for. First up is public radio: smooth and smarmy. You're listening to member supported public radio.
YDSTIE: John Ydstie--and even though it doesn't sound like it, this is NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Woman: Dang ol' public radio. I never got my tote bag.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. MATT CHAPMAN: (As Strong Bad) This just in: Strong Bad is still awesome. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.