The creators of “The Trenches” extended a simple invitation: If you “have your own horror story” about being a game tester, you can hit this page to vent, kvetch and unburden your beleaguered soul.
The message: You’re among friends here — let us tell your tale.
The result: Scores of stories have poured in during the debut week of ”The Trenches.”
“So far the response has been awesome,” co-creator Mike Krahulik (aka Gabe from “Penny Arcade”) tells Comic Riffs. “On the first day, we got over 50 ‘horror stories,’ so we expect to have no problem updating that feature every week.”
That outpouring is a sign, too, of the webcomic’s potential popularity.
“The comic itself got significantly more traffic Day One than we hoped,” Krahulik tells us of the comic, which officially launched Tuesday. “Obviously, we’re hoping those people who came to see what all the fuss was will stick around and keep coming back.”
The twice-weekly “Trenches” is the creative brainchild of three of the biggest names (and brands) in webcomics: “Penny Arcade’s” Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (aka Tycho) and their Seattle neighbor, “PvP’s” Scott Kurtz — veteran cartoonists who note that “they have been making webcomics before the term ‘webcomic’ had been coined.”
“Yeah, we have been thinking about ‘Trenches’ for over a year now,” Krahulik tells ‘Riffs. “We did a lot of talking over lunch and that sort of thing, but the first time the three of us sat down in a room to write was the real ‘Eureka!’ moment.
“Working with another person on something creative can be very difficult. When all of us got together, though, things just clicked,” he recounts. “We all love the same kinds of humor but more important, we like to write jokes the same way. Before we knew it, we had kicked out almost a dozen comics.”
Krahulik and Kurtz designed all the characters, and the trio share the writing duties. “We wanted to do something different that would be sort of a combination of our two styles,” Krahulik says of the artwork. The Eisner- and Harvey Award-winning Kurtz “is drawing the comics himself for the most part. I am helping with backgrounds.” The “Penny Arcade” artist continues: “There is a thrill in being a writer but not a [primary] artist on a project. That’s very new for me, and there is something magical about writing a script and then seeing the artwork later.”
As the horror stories attest, “The Trenches” centers on Isaac and his fellow game-testers. The first two strips feature the irked Isaac (he of the punning surname) looking for work.
“Isaac is a really fun character for us to write,” Krahulik says. “You’ll be learning a lot more about him as the strip goes on, but already we’ve hinted at the fact that he was very successful prior to needing a job. What he did before, and why he’s testing now, is something we will be exploring as the comic goes on.”
For realism's sake, the “Trenches” creators have already relied on the experience of those in their social circle — and are even creating their own fictional game to inform the comic.
“We have a really good group of friends who all work in testing and they have been a huge help,” Krahulik says. “We want the comic to be as authentic as possible so — with the help of our friends — we are creating an imaginary game and then building out test cases and assigning jobs to our characters. We’re all big fans of the office humor, and the stories we get from our friends about testing are just hilarious. It’s a perfect combination.”
The creators have their massive fan-bases to draw upon, too. “Penny Arcade” and “PvP” both launched in the late-’90s, spawning fan forums and conventions as each comic became its own cottage industry.
“I’d love for ‘The Trenches’ to end up being as popular as ‘PA’ or ‘PvP,’ ” Krahulik tells ’Riffs, “but those strips have been around for more than a decade.
“Honestly, right now, I’m having fun creating the strip with my friends — and if people like it, that’s enough for me.”
THE ‘RIFFS INTERVIEW: ‘PENNY ARCADE’s’ Mike Krahulik talks success, charity & PAX
THE TWITTER INTERVIEW: ‘PvP’ Creator Scott Kurtz
SCOTT KURTZ: Does he want to kill my newspaper?