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