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Online Comic 'Penny Arcade' Breaks Digital Ground

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Online Comic 'Penny Arcade' Breaks Digital Ground

Digital Life

Online Comic 'Penny Arcade' Breaks Digital Ground

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

One of the most popular comic strips popping up online is called "Penny Arcade." It's transformed its creators into underdog heroes. David Kushner, our digital culture commentator, is here to tell us more. Hi, David.

Mr. DAVID KUSHNER (Writer, Rolling Stone Magazine, Wired Magazine): Hi.

HANSEN: Tell us about "Penny Arcade." What is it?

Mr. KUSHNER: Well, "Penny Arcade" has become like Doonesbury for geeks. It's free. And you can find it at Penny-Arcade.com. It was started by a couple of guys in Seattle named Mike and Jerry, and it basically satirizes digital culture and industry.

HANSEN: Tell us more about what the strips are about. I mean, Doonesbury for geeks. That could go in any direction.

Mr. KUSHNER: Well, it follows the lives of these two floppy-haired young friends named Tycho and Gabe. And they basically like to talk about nerdy stuff, like Dungeons and Dragons, and Nintendo, and kind of dealing with the frustrations of tech support. In one strip, there was a heated debate about whether the old Rick Springfield song "Jessie's Girl" should be included in the game Guitar Hero. You know, other times, they'll take on political issues that kind of fit this world. There was a strip about video game violence that featured Pac man himself on trial.

HANSEN: So how did the creators of this online comic strip "Penny Arcade" turn it into a cottage industry?

Mr. KUSHNER: Well, because they really were born online and they have this gigantic fan base, they were able to really cultivate it in a way they maybe couldn't if they didn't have that direct line of communication. So now they host a convention every year, called the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, which actually draws about 30,000 fans at a time. They've got a merchandise line. They've got a multi-million dollar charity called Child's Play, where they're providing video games for kids in hospitals. They even have their own online video games. And the latest is called "Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode Two."

HANSEN: There are some obvious differences between online comics and printed ones. But how would you say that online comics are different from the printed ones?

Mr. KUSHNER: I think in a couple of ways. I mean, one is that they have more freedom to experiment. For example, "Penny Arcade" has running jokes about their lack of continuity. So people can die one day in the strip and then they can come back the next day. On another level, they also get to represent a culture which you might not read about in your Sunday paper. And in this case, it's really not the "Family Circus" that you're reading, it's the world of these underdogs of the digital age.

HANSEN: No superheroes.

Mr. KUSHNER: No superheroes, unless they happen to be in the comic books that the characters in the strip are reading at the time.

HANSEN: David Kushner writes for Rolling Stone and Wired. His latest book "Levittown" will be published in February. David, thank you.

Mr. KUSHNER: Thank you.

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