The webcomics blog about webcomics

Reflection And Self-Reflection

So Scott Kurtz has been making his feelings known of late. There was the Webcomics Weekly where he spoke about Chris Onstad’s step back, and while I think I got his point, he pissed some people off in how he made it. There was his announcement about giving up on the NCS, and a related discussion behind the paywall at Webcomics Dot Com, ditto. And just concluded, a live recording of Webcomics Weekly (to be posted in the near future, no doubt) where he recounted the history of his NCS interactions and Brad Guigar and Dave Kellett had what can only be called a come-to-Jesus discussion with him.


So let’s talk about Kurtz. I’ve always liked him, but damn if I could say that I really understood him (although I’m getting ahead of myself), and he could charitably be called polarizing. For a considerable amount of time, I felt he was just important because of the obvious influence he brought as an early and enduring success, but maybe more notable as his own worst enemy.

What I’ve come to realize is that Kurtz isn’t about (and never has been) about picking fights or starting shit; he’s completely passionate for what he does, has such a responsibility to do more/better/more again/even better, and is almost completely blindered by the intensity of that feeling to the extent that things fall into (as the livecast put it) a binary worldview (and on occasion, I’ve been on the receiving end of that worldview). That’s not the real revelation that I had earlier this week, though.

The revelation is that Scott Kurtz is one of the most important people not just in webcomics, but in cartooning in general. For all the unrest and disquiet that seem to coalesce about him, he is someone (or perhaps, like a force of nature, something) that the [web]cartooning community needs. Bear with me.

Almost everybody you will ever meet lives their life from the perspective of If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; it’s neat, it’s logical, it makes sense. The best professor I ever had back in nerd school taught me If it ain’t broke, break that sumbitch and make it better; yeah, he actually did raise his voice when he said it. That impulse to break things that are perfectly cromulent, the creator/destroyer duality? The stresses and challenges it brings against the ecosystem of [web]cartooning are a big part of what forces it to evolve. It’s all but guaranteed to make such a stressor un- (or under-) appreciated and it scares people, but it’s goddamn vital if cartooning is going to adapt. A steadily changing environment can be deadly (just ask the slowly boiling frog), but a sudden shock to the equilibrium causes a reaction that allows a fighting chance to survive.

Here’s something else that you have to give Kurtz credit for, regardless of how else you might perceive him: he’s acutely aware of his flaws and doesn’t try to deny them. That made today’s discussion of his approach to people and challenges a tough listen at times, as the experience flirted with being an intervention playing out in real time, before a live audience (and a larger one once the podcast gets posted to the world). Being willing to stand up to that kind of scrutiny in public from your friends — and Kellett and Guigar surely count as among the very best friends one can have, the ones that can tell you honestly when you’ve fucked up¹ — and reflect on it without flinching has earned Scott Kurtz a considerable amount of my respect.

That example of self-reflection is also forcing me to reconsider my firmly held opinions on the topic of Ted Rall, so it’s definitely a two-edged sword. But being forced to look at the prejudgements that I hold (while unpleasant) can only be a useful thing in the long run. So if you care to do so, join me in that reassessment and reconsider uncharitable opinions that you might hold. Back to non-navelgazing tomorrow, I promise.

¹ Another fairly major change in my thinking over the past year or so comes from realizing the value to be found in fucking up. If you’re in an environment that won’t tolerate mistakes no matter what, you’re careful to the point of stasis. Being allowed to screw up big time because you risked and overreached? That’s the opportunity to grow. Just don’t make it a continual thing.

For the most part I tend to stay out of webcomic back-and-forths. There are only a few exceptions: I read Websnark back when Eric still updated it, I browse by here every day, and when I was on Keenspot there were two people who could pull me into flame wars.

One of those people was Scott. Unlike the other guy (who I won’t name) the flame wars with Scott were usually productive, though unpleasant. Why? Because they made me think. Even when I would decide that I still thought he was wrong and I was right, I actually had to think it through first.

(I doubt Scott remembers any of them, by the way. I really only remember one with any clarity. Most of the others were on Usenet back in the mists of time.)

Scott and I approach webcomics from two different directions. He’s very business-oriented (which, for the record, is absolutely not in any way an attempt to brand him as a “sellout” — I firmly believe you can be both an artist and a businessman, and have no quarrel with anyone who can actually make money doing what they love). I’m not. I’ve always approached my work as something I would have to pay for out of pocket, and as a result have made decisions and fallen into categories that Scott has, in the past, openly attacked, ridiculed, and shouted NEVER DO THIS EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES at the top of his lungs. Which occasionally got my dander up, and sniping would ensue.

However, and this is the important bit: when you’re looking at it from the perspective of “how to make a living doing Webcomics,” Scott will always be more right than I will, in just about any situation I can think of. And while I have accused him of painting with too broad a brush, and occasionally having the tact of a drunken camel riding a PCP high, there is one accusation I made in the past that I have since regretted: that Scott has never been interested in seeing anyone but himself succeed. I made that accusation once in the heat of an argument on the Keenspot forums, and retracted it a little while afterwards, but the damage was done.

(This is another reason I try my damndest to stay out of webcomics society in general. Too much of it drifts into ad hominem sniping and I’m not immune to it.)

So what I guess I’m meandering towards is that I agree with Gary as far as webcomics goes. I don’t have any insight into comics in general to make a judgement call on that, but Scott has done a lot to show a) other webcartoonists and b) everyone else that it’s possible to make a go of it… mostly because he’s willing to talk about it, and tell other people “you can do this too!” and even go so far as to try to show them how. There are other web cartoonists who make a living at it, and some of them talk about how from time to time, but Scott really goes out of his way to communicate a Process By Which It Can Be Done. I won’t go so far as to call it the “Kurtz Method” because he has co-conspirators in his mad scheme, but he is by far the most enthusiastic proponent of it. To a degree that rubs people the wrong way, but you know what? People dislike Richard Stallman for pretty much the same reason.

So anyway, while I am not one of Scott’s fiercest critics, I have been a critic of his in the past, and likely will be again the future, so it’s appropriate now to give him credit where credit is due. And Scott deserves a fair amount of it for what he’s done.

The main problem is that Kurtz takes to criticism like nitroglycerin takes to trampolines. And then he will never apologize for anything ever.

He does talk about comics but half of his advice is really bad and he will never back down from it no matter what. As a public face to webcomics his immature behavior tend to tar the entire field and prevents us all from being taken seriously.

Hard to say if his influence is a net positive or negative over all. He is influential but then again Richard Nixson was Time’s man of the year.

Usually webcomics weekly sounds like a jolly circle jerk between Kris, Scott, Dave and Brad, but I listen anyways because it’s whats representing “webcomics” out there and I enjoy their jabs at me. This episode felt a little more honest and heartfelt and I’d actually recommend it to other aspiring cartoonists to listen to. I kinda felt myself relating to a lot of what Scott was saying (shockingly), and the wisdom Kellet was dropping.

I guarantee no publisher, book agent or potential new reader has ever said “Wow, what’s this? Looks pretty good — wait, isn’t this a webcomic? Doesn’t that make this guy one of Scott Kurtz’s contemporaries? Ughhh.

Drowemos: Richard Nixson really wasn’t that bad of a guy. It was his evil half-stepbrother Nixon who did all the damage.

Kris: I would bet you that there have been times that someone in the halls of power somewhere have said “Oh thats one of those unpleasant web people who always get in those fights”. Scott’s name probably didn’t come up but the general perception that we are a bunch of irrational hot head doesn’t help. And sure something of pure brilliance will always shine but what about the work on the borderline?

You’re totally right, drowemos. If it wasn’t for Scott Kurtz all of the borderline webcomics that aren’t really good, but are kind of good, would have publishing deals. It’s because of those prejudiced dickholes in the halls of power! And Scott Kurtz!

I’m willing to bet that most people in “the halls of power” pay far less attention to internet fights between webcomic artists than you think. Most of US don’t even care anymore.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on. Scott’s done more for the advancement and awareness and raising of the bar in Webcomics than most of us could ever hope to do.

Drowemos, that’s defeatist thinking. Don’t get mired in the microcosm of webcomics. You ask a publisher what a “webcomic” is — as simple as the definition is and clear to us it may be — and they have no clue as to its meaning.

I used to exhibit at a table with someone whose conversation-jumpstarting question was “do you read any webcomics?” The answer was always no. The saddest part: even if they read webcomics, they’d say no.

Why? Because the word “webcomic” had no weight. They read Questionable Content, xkcd, Penny Arcade, CAD, chainsawsuit. They don’t know what a webcomic is, as a genre.

There is no general perception. I think — and forgive this read, it’s not an accusation — the need to believe there is a general perception comes from a place of self-excusal, that somehow there’s some unknowable, unchangeable status or mechanism that buries great talent and exalts garbage. That mechanism is imaginary. Don’t put stock in it.

How is webcomic a genre and not a medium?

If you guys say so. I just don’t see him as a net positive at this point and time with all the fights and whatnot. Perhaps back in the day he was at one point but now it’s just waiting for the weekly “Scott Kurtz kicks over someones sandcastle because he’s in a bad mood” report.
My feeling about Scott are well known so perhaps I am not the most unbiased of evaluators but what are positive thing is he giving us today?

Speaking from a purely personal standpoint – and what other standpoint could I logically speak from? – Scott’s enthusiasm and passion for what he does has been one of the biggest influences on me as a creator. Even before I read PvP (I was a latecomer) I would follow Scott’s comments and dialogues online. He loves what he does and he pushes forward to be the best at what he does. That alone speaks volumes. And – I believe it was mentioned above – he’s willing to share his experiences and advice with people, for which I’m grateful. Sure, I don’t agree with everything he says and what I do is fairly different from what he does, but when someone in his position is willing to speak I’m willing to listen. The fights and shitstorms might be a negative side-effect, but again, does anyone outside of those who are clinging to the sinking ship of webcomics clique-dom even care about the drama anymore? I venture to guess that no, nobody does.


I think you’re over-exaggerating the bad things I’ve done and under-emphasizing the good. We’ve discussed in depth over at the chip you have on your shoulder about me and the halfpixel crew. It’s hard to take you seriously right now.

You are about to join the ranks of a long line of people that started with William G and culminated in the insane genius of Bengo. People who insist that there is some kind of caste system inside of webcomics, with an establishment entrenched at the top who prevents the serfs from rising up and getting any kind of traction with their work. It’s not real. It’s a construct you’re clinging too.

It’s a ridiculous assertion that somehow I have the power to tarnish the reputation of an entire group of artists with their own very strong work and reputations.

Life just doesn’t work that way.

Although I understand you wishing it did. Because then it would be MY fault, and not yours. Right?

Gary, I think your assessment of Scott is fair. I agree that the podcast was tough to listen to (although, because of it, very riveting) and that Scott is definitely a polarizing force in webcomics. Most of all I’d say that, as Dave put it in the podcast, Scott is one of the best cartoonist working right now. His writing and art are amazing (especially considering the daily schedule).

That said, he does say some things on occasion that he maybe should have hit ‘save’ on rather than ‘send.’ Sometimes they lead to productive growth in the webcomics community. Other times they just lead to long flame threads over at the Daily Cartoonist or angry tweets. And as Brad said, maybe he wouldn’t be as good a storyteller if he wasn’t so willing to voice his opinion (I’m sure more than one PVP storyline has been derived from real world strife).

Bottom line: I think following webcomics wouldn’t be quite as much fun without Scott around.

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