Six years ago, I had a very one-sided “feud” with the creators of the web comic Penny Arcade. Amazingly, it still comes up in my life all the time. It’s still high in the google ranks when people search for me. I think it may still be in my Wikipedia entry, though I haven’t looked lately. It’s brought up in maybe a third of online conversations about my work. My approach over the years has been to avoid talking about it, but it came up again yesterday, and a guy who called me a monster on Twitter apologized and seems genuinely interested in knowing what went down. So I’ll just say it here and be done with it, OK?
Years and years ago - I think 2009 or 2010 - I got a publicist’s pitch for a compilation book of the web comic Penny Arcade. I didn’t think it was right for my public radio show, but I remembered my Jordan, Jesse, Go! co-host Jordan had been a fan of it, so I asked the publicist if that might be a good fit. She agreed, and we found a time - Jordan was working weekdays at FOX at the time, so he actually took a half-day off work to make it happen.
The guys showed up at my place in Silverlake (where we recorded at the time) an hour earlier than scheduled. They were confused about when our recording was supposed to start. (I don’t know if they miscommunicated with their team or what, but I later double-checked the scheduled time.) They were kind of peeved that we couldn’t start right away (Jordan was on his way over from west LA), but I offered them a seat and a drink and tried to chat.
They’d come with a video guy, who was shooting when I opened the door. They didn’t introduce him or explain his presence. I said hello to him, and he sort of nodded at me. I never learned his name. I tried to make small talk with them, and they weren’t having it. They were annoyed I had an XBox and not a Playstation. I guessed it was because they wanted to show me their game - one of them mumbled, “No. Demos.”
I found out what their hard out time was and assured them we’d get things wrapped by then, even though Jordan was stuck in mid-day LA traffic. I explained to them (as I do with all guests who don’t know the show) that it was a comedy chat show, not an interview show, and Jordan and I would talk for a couple of minutes, then we’d introduce them and we’d just kind of goof around for an hour or so. They grumbled acknowledgement.
When Jordan showed, we pretty much went right into the studio and got started, trying to be mindful of their out time. In the first segment, we usually talk for a couple minutes, then introduce the guests. Literally from the moment we introduced them, they were stonewalling us. They seemed annoyed to be there, angry at us about the time thing, and generally unpleasant. Or actually I think one of them was pretty much totally silent, while the other was unpleasant. I took a break, and switched to trying to interview them in the next segment. They weren’t having that either. So I pretty much gave up and thought, “well, we’ll get enough show to use, and get them out on time, and decide what to do about all this later.” So we just sort of powered through the last 20 minutes or so. They left, and Jordan and I were basically like: “huh. That was weird.”
Because we’d had a special weekday record, we had a regular recording scheduled for the weekend a few days later with Xeni Jardin from Boing-Boing. While (obviously) not a comedian, she was totally delightful, and it was a fun show. We put that up as the next episode of the podcast, while we decided what to do about the crappy show we had in the can.
Then I started getting emails, like, “Have you seen Penny Arcade?!”
Basically they had made a comic in which I murdered them (which, by the way, included their publicist’s real name). They wrote an explanatory essay which was frankly pretty awful. They were nothing less than completely contemptuous of us (mostly me).
Frankly, I was completely stunned. It would never have occurred to me, even after they were so rude on the show and at my home, to publicly condemn them. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I didn’t really know what to do, and I knew their web power was a thousand times mine and I’d never win a fight. I posted something conciliatory on Twitter and hoped it would all go away. Something like, “It seems like it was all a misunderstanding.” Of course, they responded to my conciliation with more rudeness on their forum and on Twitter. Basically they were like, “Yeah, it was all a misunderstanding. We’d didn’t understand that guy was an asshole.”
Their publicist emailed me a nice note. I replied and said that I’d heard from listeners of ours that they weren’t really social guys, and I guess they just weren’t up to it that day or whatever. She said she’d worked in genre publishing her whole life, worked with plenty of people who weren’t super-social, and she’d never had anyone do or say anything this awful. I think she was also legitimately worried about herself, since she’d been named in the comic too.
I started getting emails, and forum trolls, and tweets - calling me every kind of awful name, talking about how shitty my work was, all kinds of awful stuff. It was literally the most unpleasant period of my online life. It went on for weeks. I was totally shocked that people wouldn’t look at a comic like the one they made and think, “Geez, what kind of unprofessional dick would do this?”
For obvious reasons, we didn’t put out the show. We had a lot of fans who had been big Penny Arcade fans, and they were really curious about it. Their reactions to the news had been a real spectrum, from “wow, these guys I liked sure seemed like dicks” to “that’s those guys being those guys!” to “I guess it was just a misunderstanding.” Our fans being sweethearts, it was mostly the last one.
So finally, I figured it’d been a long time, and I’d post the show to our forum, so those folks who really loved JJGo could satisfy their curiousity. Shortly thereafter, the Penny Arcade guys hotlinked the show from their blog with a shitty note about me being “toxic.”
So a new wave of people emailing me, clogging up our forum, sending me shitty notes on the forum, tweeting at me and so forth started. A big conversation happened on their forum about how awful I was. Etc, etc, etc. So I took down the show and decided not to talk about it any more. I figured if I tried to defend myself, it would just start a new shitstorm.
Many times over the years, our fans have reached out to the Penny Arcade guys about it, on Twitter, on their forum, whatever. They’ve always declined to apologize or ever moderate their shittiness. When I added a show hosted in part by guys from video game world, I got a new round of emails and harassment - people saying “how could you team up with that creepy asshole” or whatever. Honestly, over six years, this has never stopped - it’s slowed, but it still crops up every other month or so.
Anyway, thanks to PAX, their video game con, they’re richer than me, they still have a lot more internet power than me, and I guess this all will probably start a new mini-wave of bullshit. But if you want to know what happened, that’s what happened. Since this all went down, the guys behind the comic have had a couple of big incidents involving stuff even shittier than what they did to me. We don’t really get our fans defending them anymore. Our fans are almost universally kind, thoughtful people, and these guys have show their colors many times. Unlike six years ago, when I was barely scraping by on a combination of donations and my wife’s law school loans, I’ve got a secure career doing what I love, with kids and a home and a car that works and everything I’ve ever wanted.
We’ve been doing JJGo pretty much every week for about ten years now. This is the only time anything like this has happened. I’m really proud of the show, and really proud of that record.
So yeah, that’s what happened.
Years ago they held a comic contest for the WoW beta. You were supposed to make an original comic related to World of Warcraft and the winner would get access to the beta and their winning comic would be published on PA’s website. A wee-baby webcomic artist with stars in my eyes, I thought having my art posted on their huge website would be so big for me and my dream cartoonist career. So, I wrote, drew, and colored an original comic strip and entered the contest. My comic won. I was so excited that so many people would see my comic.
They never posted it.
In hindsight, FOR THE BEST.