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Frank Cho and Scott Kurtz : RevolutionSF Interview
© Jayme Lynn Blaschke
November 04, 2002

A self-taught artist best-known for his Liberty Meadows newspaper strip, Frank Cho recently signed a semi-exclusive deal with Marvel Comics to write and draw a Shanna the She-Devil mini-series. Frustrated by censorship issues, he also withdrew Liberty Meadows from syndication at the end of 2001, opting for comic book distribution via Image Comics instead.

Scott Kurtz launched his daily online comic, PvP, in 1998 for a PC Gaming website. Since then, his readership has increased from 700 to 65,000 monthly, and in March of 2000 it launched as a bi-monthly comic book from Dork Storm Press. The first six issues of PvP were recently collected in a trade paperback volume.

RevolutionSF caught up with the pair for a joint interview recently, and quickly learned that neither can resist the opportunity to crack wise. Despite persistent rumors to the contrary, both continue to insist they are heterosexual.

Liberty Meadows
Frank Cho
Scott Kurtz

Frank, the thing that first strikes me about Liberty Meadows is the variety of artistic styles you use in the strip. You mix and match realistic styles much more cartoonish animal characters. What prompted such diversity in the strip?

CHO: It's all just by accident. I just wanted to tell a funny story. And I just couldn't draw a cartoon woman to save my life. All my women were pretty realistic, so I said, "Ah, screw it. We'll just run with that and make everything else cartoony."

Is there a style that can be considered "Frank Cho Standard?"

CHO: Yeah. Big giant breasts, and monkeys.

Those are Frank Cho standard subjects. What about artistic style?

CHO: I don't know. I'm too close to it, I can't see. Do I have a distinctness?

KURTZ: Yes. You know, Frank is an illustrator with a very clean line, and a very deliberate line. So at times he will be fingered or sketchy when the subject matter will call for it. But the standard Frank Cho style, in my opinion, is a very deliberate line. It may start off as a sketch, but when he commits it to ink, there's not a lot left to the imagination.

Where some artists might give you the impression of a hand by doing it sketchy -- there are a lot of movement lines -- Frank's going to have a very clean and deliberate representation of a hand or an object. So it's very clean, and very deliberate in my opinion.

CHO: Well, speaking of clean lines, I mean, Scott's artwork is very similar. That's why I really enjoy his artwork. It's basically cartooning I would have liked to have done, that Scott has already mastered. It's well-balanced. He really thinks out his character design. It's well-balanced and very approachable. It also has a beautiful, nice, clean, crisp line, which I like.

Scott, how would you characterize your strip, PvP? What is your artistic approach?

KURTZ: I kind of learned backwards, because I had a very bad attitude growing up, unlike Frank. Frank fell in love with the great illustrators and studied them and practiced. And I wanted to cut corners. I felt I always wanted to be a cartoonist, there was no need to learn anatomy or rendering. I was going to draw a cartoon apple, so I didn't need to learn how to draw a real apple. I suffered for it later on, because cartooning is the art of simplification, and you can't simplify an object if you don't know what you're simplifying. When I was having trouble drawing cartoon hands, my father suggested I learn how to draw real hands first. And when I did, drawing a cartoon hand was simple, because it was a process of taking the object, like a hand, and reducing it to its essence, its simple lines, and redesigning it to be a little bit cleaner and simpler for the cartoon. So I'm having to go back and kind of relearn that now. I'm taking the craft a little bit more seriously.

CHO: And he's drinking more.

KURTZ: I am drinking more.

There's a great story that I think all cartoonists should hear. My father taught it to me: There was a man who had a horse, it was his favorite horse. He was a rich man and he wanted to commission an artist to paint the horse. So he found out who the best artist was and said, "I want you to paint my horse." And the artist said, "Very well. I need to have the horse for two years." So he gives him the horse, and two years later the guy comes to get his painting. The artist brings out a painting that's a white canvas with three lines. And those three lines perfectly captured the essence of the horse. The man with the horse was in tears, because it was so beautiful. And he said, "I'm not complaining, but this is three brush strokes and you've had my horse for two years. What took so long?" So the artist said, "Let me show you." They go out to the studio, and he opens the door, and the studio was full of paintings of the horse in every medium. Paintings. Pencil drawings. Sculptures. And he said, "I had to do all of this to learn your horse, perfectly, so I could then capture him in these simple lines."

That's what cartooning's about. You have to learn it first so you can then simplify it. That was so boring and long, I'm sorry. But it's a good story.

Frank, is there any difference in your creative process with Liberty Meadows now that you're with Image as opposed to syndication?

CHO: Well, syndication sucked. They were cramping my style! Syndication was the worst five years of my life, yet at the same time, was one of the most fun, most exciting times in my life. I mean, syndication always constantly censored my craft. So by leaving syndication, it actually freed me. I'm not second-guessing myself when I'm doing my script now. Because back then, I was self-censoring myself toward the end.

Are you tempted to break out of the four-panel system now with Liberty Meadows and take advantage of the more flexible comic book medium?

CHO: No. I actually enjoy the four-panel system. Even though it's in comic book form, the actual strips are still in newspaper format. If it was a straight comic book, I would break down panels and rearrange them to pace stories and stuff like that, but for Liberty Meadows, the comic strip, my mind is so accustomed to thinking in four-panel grids --

KURTZ: That's why you and I became such good friends so quick. Despite the fact that the newspaper and the format of a comic strip was developed out of the limitations of the size of the newspaper, we grew up with it, and we fell in love with it. We just love that medium. We love the four panels and the construction of a punch line. You know, there's a hundred years worth of that art form. I mean, there's a hundred years worth of cartoonists designing those gags and those four panels. There's a very strong love for that. We can't do it in the newspaper because we don't want to be limited by the censoring, but we still love that art form.

How about PvP? We've talked about Liberty Meadows moving from newpaper to comic, but what's it like for a web-based comic?

KURTZ: I've actually broken out of the four panels with the comic book, and done more long-form stories. Now, there's not much difference. It's just instead of four panels horizontally, it's six to nine panels in a normal comic book page. If you read the story -- in any of the issues, it's that new stuff in that longer format -- you still have the same kind of construction, and each page is one of the gags. So instead of doing it in four panels, you get to do it like almost each page is a Sunday strip with the gags kind of connecting.

CHO: Scott went the hybrid route. It's not truly a comic book page. It's actually a Sunday page if you really think about it. The Sunday page is using the best of two forms -- the comic book page and the comic stip format.

KURTZ: I don't think I've ever done one where there wasn't at least one or two gags on a page. I can't just do one page that furthers the story along without getting one or two jokes in there.

How did you two first meet?

CHO: I met him in the men's urinal. I was urinating, and I accidentally --

KURTZ: You were actually in a pool of your own urine!

CHO: No, no, no. That was later. You were changing the urinal cakes and I accidentally pissed in you hand.

We met at San Diego two years ago. Scott came by and dropped off his comic. I read it and liked it, and, you know, I went over there and told him I really liked his stuff. The rest is history.

KURTZ: I brought him my comics and he really liked it, and asked me why I wasn't syndicated. I said to him, "I thought you said it sucked." He said, "Yeah, it does. I'll talk to you about it later." We've been friends ever since.

CHO: We're not gay.

KURTZ: No, we're both very hetero. And married. Not that there's anything wrong with gay.

CHO: At all. Let's go on record and say that.

KURTZ: Any gay science fiction readers out there: It's okay. You enjoy your Moorcock --

CHO: Moorcock?

KURTZ: Michael Moorcock. He's a science fiction writer. Come on now, it's a great joke! I didn't do anything wrong. I can say it as loud as I want. I love Moorcock! Michael Moorcock!

Continued . . .

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