You know, I debated a while on if I should report this or even bring it up. I missed the controversy for a couple of days as I was off doing something that weekend. Also, I was a little brained by my Homestuck marathon. But… this being a site that does report on the big going ons in webcomics and this being perhaps the biggest thing to happen in a while… something happened last week at PAX East.
Rachel Edidin discusses things in her Wired piece, “Why I’m Never Going Back to Penny Arcade Expo” (which should clue you in as to what this is going to refer to):
… on Monday at PAX, in front of an audience of thousands, Krahulik told business manager Robert Khoo that he regretted pulling the Dickwolves merchandise from the Penny Arcade store — merchandise he had created as a “screw you” to rape survivors who had had the temerity to complain about a comic strip. While the audience burst into applause, Khoo nodded sagely and said that now they knew better; now they would just leave it and not engage.
This prompted quick response from online types (from who I understand were primarily from Tumblr, but this is second hand knowledge and I have no energy to do a search on this). There was even a response from fellow webcomic creator Rich Stevens from Diesel Sweeties who called them “bullies” and “Rush Limbaugh with tattoos”:
Cartoonist Rich Stevens of Diesel Sweeties reached out to WIRED when he heard we planned to report on the PAX incident. “It’s just so disappointing to see people I’ve known since we were all new and broke turn out to be such tone-deaf, old man bullies. He’s Rush Limbaugh with tattoos. I could get over the original comic if they’d just moved on or apologized, but they had to make merchandise out of rape just to poke back at people and then encourage fans to wear it to a convention that supposedly has pro-woman policies,” said Stevens.
“It’s like he never got the point of growing up having been bullied as a kid. You’re supposed to get older and not repeat it … I wish more people in our field would be open about this, but I think there is a lot of social and economic pressure not to be… I really want to let them know that not everyone in webcomics is scared to stand up to them.”
Again, I was willing to ignore this, but the core of it is a debate that I think will affect webcomics for years to come: free speech vs. responsibility. Penny Arcade, and — let’s face it — a lot of webcomics hit the big time because they were unencumbered by the censorship issues that tamp down the creativity in the more mainstream print fields. The early jokes were how Garfield had been reduced to Monday and lasagna jokes because that’s all he was allowed to do.
But now we’ve reached the point where, while webcomics aren’t exactly mainstream, they’re mainstream enough to garner attention. Most don’t seem to have a problem with the original comic so much as the follow-up responses from the Penny Arcade guys have been really rather cruel.
And, well, compounding that issue are that Krahulik and Holkins aren’t young guys trying to make it in the world anymore. I mentioned during the Strip Search reviews that attempts at being edgy just seemed forced. On the other hand, if Penny Arcade were somehow neutered of that edge? Well… then it’s not Penny Arcade anymore.
Again, there’s no easy solution, as the “free speech vs. responsibility” thing easily boils down to “young and wild forever vs. grow up already.”
On the other hand… I really should’ve gone to CafePress and made a bunch of these shirts for realsies, dontchathink?