Music Monday: Internet Famous, Vol. 1–An Interview with Scott Kurtz
Welcome to a special edition of our weekly Music Monday feature called Internet Famous! We’ve collected some cool interviews from Internet and geek culture celebrities–Nukezilla exclusives, I might add–that we’ll be posting over the next few weeks for this special series! We plan to keep the awesomeness coming until we run out of nerd celebrities who will talk to us, so stay tuned! First up is the one and only:
Scott Kurtz! Kurtz is a web comic writer and artist, most famous for his long-running series, Player vs. Player, which is in it’s fourteenth year and still going strong. He also currently works with Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade on their new joint comic, The Trenches, and with Kris Straub of Starslip on their joint projects Kris and Scott’s Scott and Kris Show and Blamimations, which are in their first and second seasons, respectively. Scott Kurtz is a really busy guy.
Saturday morning, I got up super early (and by “super early” I mean “8 a.m.”) to meet with Kurtz in Bandland, the area of the show floor where all the musical guests and other celebrities call home during PAX. Unfortunately, the event security wouldn’t let me up until 10 a.m.–flashing my media badge had no effect on them–so I grabbed some coffee and breakfast at one of the sixteen Starbucks in the block surrounding the Convention Center (which is only a little bit of an exaggeration). After energizing and collecting my thoughts–and shining up my media badge–I headed back up to try again.
I was eventually able to meet up with Kurtz at his merch table. Keeping my fangirl-ness to a minimum, we chatted between customers and a really obnoxious booth right next to us with a megaphone. (Really, who brings a megaphone to their booth at a convention? Oh, right. Obnoxious people.) Luckily I had a decent recorder that managed to get almost everything. The following is the transcription of my audio interview with Mr. Kurtz, who informed me before the interview that his last name is “ironically the German word for ‘short,’” which I have to agree is not a word I would have thought of to describe Mr. German-word-for-‘short’.
Nukezilla: Okay, so, if you were going to describe yourself to someone who had never heard of you before, how would you describe yourself?
Scott Kurtz: Oh my God…you mean career-wise or just me?
NZ: Uh, either/or.
SK: I would just say German-Italian and leave it at that. I think that sums up a lot of my…problems.
NZ: Now, how did you get into comic writing? How did your career kind of get started?
SK: I’ve been wanting to be a cartoonist since the fourth grade and I’ve been making my own comic strips ever since then. I did comics for the school newspapers and stuff like that, and then I always had aspirations to be syndicated because that was the only way to be a professional cartoonist. Then around the mid- to late-90s, I saw that cartoonists were posting their comics on the web, not to make a profit or anything but as a way to get noticed, almost like a portfolio piece. So I started posting my comic strips that way, and then I saw someone else that was doing it as ‘I don’t try to get syndicated, I just put my comics here,’ and so web comics just kind of happened on its own around us. And that’s really how it got started. There’s always very traditional goals.
NZ: So where do you see yourself going, let’s say, ten years from now? Where do you see yourself in your career?
SK: Well, you know, it’s really weird. Next year is PVP’s 15th, which I did not think anyone would care about it for fifteen years. I think that I will always be a content-provider. I will always love cartooning specifically, that art. I think it’s a very unique American artform. And so in one way or the other, whether it’s professionally or personally, I’ll always be making cartoons or comic strips. But in one way or the other I will always be producing content. Humor content. I love to write, I love to draw, and I just will always try to find a way to let that be what I spend most of my time doing. But these days it’s so impossible to say ‘where do you wanna go?’ because you have to remain fluid. We don’t know what the hell, uh…
NZ: You don’t know what’s going to be popular?
SK: No! I mean like, even two years ago if you had said ‘where do you wanna be in two years,’ no one would have predicted apps. Everything’s a fucking app. Oh, I am supposed to…?
NZ: Nah, that’s cool.
SK: Oh, okay. No one knew what an app was. Now everyone has to worry about apps. I mean, look at tumblr, right? My God, tumblr… Everyone is just taking anything they see and reposting it. It just changes everything. So there’s no way to… You’ve just gotta by fluid.
NZ: So now to kind of get into the video game, um, stuff, what’s your favorite video game that you’ve ever played? Or video games?
SK: Well, I’m going to judge that based on associative memories, because you have to understand that I’m 41. So I was around, I saw the first Pong game, you know, and I think that for me the best video game time in my life was West Des Moine, Iowa, when the home computer first started to emerge, my buddy got an IBM PC, we were playing games like Spelunker and Miner 2049er and the Ultima games. You could go down to a Waldenbooks or a book store and you would buy a new video game. It was code for BASIC in a baggie. Then you’d come home and you’d put your BASIC cartridge in, you’d put in a floppy disk, and then you’d put the book here [motions on the table] and type all the lines. Then you’d save it to the disk and if you didn’t mess up, you had a game. And I just feel like….I think games are much better now. I love MMOs, they’re my favorite modern game now. But I feel so fortunate that I was able to experience all that other stuff, too. And so it’s just too associated with good memories to not say that was my favorite point in time.
NZ: So, I know that a lot of the original…back when video games were getting started, not a lot of them had good tracks of music or anything.
SK: Well, I don’t know.
NZ: Is there a game you would say you have a very fond memory of the musical tracks in it? A game that you think has a very good track?
SK: I’ll give you three different periods. From the arcade, I would say TRON. Just disks of TRON. Because it was the TRON soundtrack coming out of that thing. That was exciting. In the consoles, I still listen to the Jet Set Radio soundtrack. I love that Jet Set. And Crazy Taxi! Two Sega Dreamcast games–Jet Set Radio and Crazy Taxi, which I think is mostly, you know, modern music that was on a CD. But all the 8-bit Mario music and Mega Man music are my favorite from video games directly. And also…so, yeah, it’s hard to pick one. But right now literally when I draw I’m usually listening to Katamari or Jet Set. Which I got [holds his hand up to his mouth]–I think I got those illegally from a younger friend of mine.
NZ: I won’t tell anybody.
SK: But Jet Set Radio is coming out! I get to buy it soon, so I will buy it legit.
NZ: Is there any musical influence–I mean you just talked about some game soundtracks that you listen to while you work. Are there any non-game musical influences you like to listen to?
SK: Yeah, it’s weird because I usually listen to music while I’m working, and if I’m writing especially I can’t listen to anything with lyrics. So I listen to a lot of movie soundtracks. And so, yeah, I spend a lot of time listening to classical music and movie soundtracks. But yeah, I’m an older guy. I like Billy Joel, I like Kenny Rogers. All the modern music I listen to are my younger friends showing it to me. [Kris] Straub gives me. The Killers, which I don’t think is even modern. The Killers and Muse.
NZ: I love The Killers myself, so…
SK: I love The Killers. And then real stupid pop stuff like Brittany Spears. That stuff still gets me. I’m sorry, it’s catchy!
NZ: Do you have any particular favorite songs that you feel like either really bring inspiration, or…?
SK: If I really want to get fired up, it’s the theme from Conan, the 80s movie. Or–it’s a really good one–Willow. The theme from Willow.
NZ: The cartoon, right?
SK: No, the George Lucas movie with Warwick Davis. With Val Kilmer?
NZ: Oh, okay!
SK: Yeah, that one gets me going, too. Again I think it’s associative memories, though. But yeah, if I play the soundtrack, it’s got a big base and I’m like ‘Yeah, I can do it! I can draw!’
NZ: If there was somebody who really wanted to get into something like what you’re doing—web comic writing and drawing—do you have any musical influences that you would recommend for them to listen to?
SK: Oh, no. No, that’s like telling someone what material to use when they make their comics. It’s all what inspires you. It’s all what gets the right memories going and the right creative juices going. I have friends that when they draw they can’t listen to music. They listen to talk radio. So it’s different. It’s different for everyone.
NZ: Do you have any closing comments or words of wisdom that you would like to add?
SK: Yeah. I mean, content is king. Don’t worry about anything else. Draw every day, write every day, tell your story, connect with people. That’s all that really matters. Absolutely.
Editorial, Column, Music Monday Tags: Billy Joel, Brittany Spears, Conan, Crazy Taxi, Interview, Jet Set Radio, Kenny Rogers, mario, Megaman, Miner 2049er, Muse, PAX, Player vs. Player, PVP, Scott Kurtz, Spelunker, The Killers, TRON, Ultima, Willow
Previous: PAX Prime 2012 Photo Gallery