WHEN THE CREATORS of “Penny Arcade” launched a Kickstarter campaign last summer, they faced a degree of critical backlash. Some skeptics demanded to know why such a successful webcomic franchise wanted our crowdfunded dollars.

Now, the larger vision of Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins continues to become clear.

The “Penny Arcade”duo have just unfurled the full details of one of their Kickstarter-backed projects: a reality show for aspiring webcartoonists.

Years in the planning, the comic-competition show became a reality (so to speak) when a “stretch” funding goal was triggered. Now, a dozen cartoonists are in the running — and within weeks, the Penny Arcade braintrust says, you can follow along (now up: artist bios and a readers’ poll).

The show is titled “Strip Search,” and will follow 12 cartoonists as they compete against — and live amongst -- each other. The winner will receive $15,000 and a year working in “Penny Arcade’s” Seattle-based offices.

Comic Riffs recently caught up with Krahulik, Holkins and operations/business president Robert Khoo to learn more about the show:

MICHAEL CAVNA: So just how big a fan of competition reality shows are you guys? Does it get to the point of addictive — and what shows or experiences have helped inspire "Strip Search"?

MIKE KRAHULIK: I am a huge fan of reality TV. In fact, it's pretty much the only TV I watch these days. I love “Hell's Kitchen,” “Master Chef” and “Ink Master.” I like watching talented people compete. 

JERRY HOLKINS:  The ones I've got on rotation currently are “Biggest Loser,” RuPaul's “Drag Race” and “Project Runway.” They're very “game-y,” which puts them right in our wheelhouse. 

PENNY ARCADE JUST GOT REAL: The competition show’s 12 webcartoonists have been announced. (courtesy of PENNY ARCADE 2013 /.)


CAVNA: Your “help us do away with ads” Kickstarter campaign initially drew a spark for criticism — the thinking being that somehow, you don’t need the money when you are so successful. With projects like “Strip Search,” do you think those once-skeptical [people] now appreciate your larger vision?

ROBERT KHOO: I think those that are skeptical of our intentions will generally always be, so we try not to worry about that too much. Our focus is to create and deliver original, compelling content, and I think “Strip Search” is one of those instances where we show how good that content can really be. I think everyone will be really surprised at what we have in store for them with the show.

HOLKINS: There are some very weird ideas out there about “success,” and one of them is that once you have succeeded at something, then you’re done forever. You’re just a success now, and hooray. The reality is that success is a process, and with the Kickstarter, we wanted to make that process more collaborative.

[HOW TO KICKSTARTER: Keith Knight’s 14 Tips for a Successful Campaign]

CAVNA: Was it tough or easy to whittle the pool of candidates down to just 12? And what qualities and skills were you looking for?

KHOO: Since we needed to get from nearly 1,000 applicants to a dozen fairly quickly, we actually applied our now-infamous “new hire” process to the pool. The rounds were brutal, cutting hundreds at a time, but at the end of the day, we needed to choose 12. Clearly, raw talent was a consideration, but since part of the prize is a year embedded in the Penny Arcade office, we also had to evaluate whether or not we could live with that person for a year. Everything from their portfolio to their online social history was scrutinized. ... I know them all a bit too intimately now.

HOLKINS: And once people get to the house, they change there, too. There’s a lot you can’t explicitly plan for when it comes to putting humans in close proximity.

CAVNA: Reality shows often cast for diversity of gender, race, sometimes age or region or socioeconomically. Did any of that weigh into your casting? And was a diversity of cartooning styles a consideration? [Note: The competitors range in age from 20 to 31.]

KRAHULIK: We honestly didn’t think of stuff like that when picking the contestants. In fact, when we got down to the final 12 and saw we had six guys and six girls, we were shocked!

HOLKINS: I think that most reality shows are made by much bigger fish than we are — there’s probably a system of some kind when it comes to doing something like this. We ended up half and half on gender, without even meaning to — the pool of talent that made itself available for the show was just very balanced.

CAVNA: You mentioned [bringing in] judges from different fields within cartooning. Can you tell us anything about the judges — perhaps even [sneak-peek] a name or three?

HOLKINS: This is the part of the interrogation where I would just start repeating my military ID number over and over at the top of my lungs.

CAVNA: How will the competition will be structured? What will be a sample challenge? And is the process interactive for fans — [perhaps by] text, digital voting, etc. — or notsomuch?

KRAHULIK: There is no “interactive” portion, at least not in Season 1. Jerry and I are the final say as far as who stays and who goes.

HOLKINS: We’re hoping that “Strip Search” will be “a thing,” so we’d love to explore some of those ideas in the future. But “Strip Search ”is very much a reality show in the reality-show vein — it is modeled after our favorites. As viewers ourselves, though, I think it’s probably a little more “aware” of itself than others. By and large, our challenges are geared around the skills needed for making a living doing art.

CAVNA: In what ways will the content be distributed? Webisodes? Embed videos? Will you guys blog it as it goes? Plus: Fan message boards?) Just trying to gauge how varied.

KHOO: Currently, PATV can only be found on Penny-Arcade.com, but going forward, we’ll be opening the channel up and letting people embed wherever they please. We know that “Strip Search” is going to have far broader appeal than just “Penny Arcade,” so making this switch made a lot of sense. But there [is] also be a dedicated “Strip Search” site ... which honestly, I think is one of the most beautiful sites we’ve done.

CAVNA: What will have to happen for you to consider the show a success?

KHOO: For us, it’s already a success. What happened during filming was something we didn’t anticipate, but I know for a fact [that] everyone involved walked away a better person for it. It’s hard to explain, but lives were definitely changed in there.

If you’re asking for what it’ll take to do a second season — that’s up to the viewers. If it resonates with viewers as much as it does with us, then yeah, I’m sure there will be a follow-up to this.

[THE ‘RIFFS INTERVIEW: Mike Krahulik talks success, charity and PAX]

[‘PENNY ARCADE’ KICKSTARTER: Creators aim for an ad-free site]