Strip Search Interview – Alex Hobbs

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Recently Penny Arcade launched their new TV series Strip Search in which a myriad of talented web cartoonists battle it out week on week to beat out the competition and win themselves a spot in the Penny Arcade offices and $15,000 cash to help catapult them into their career as a purveyor of premier web comics. Every week, two contestants must face off against each other in an elimination, each producing a comic strip from a pre determined theme. The comics are then critiqued by the creators of Penny Arcade; Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins who decide which artist will remain in the competition and which will be sent home after having their comic burnt/shredded/eaten.

The first contestant to leave the Strip Search house was Alex Hobbs – a web cartoonist from Temple Arizona (you can watch the elimination episode here). Alex runs the awesome semi-autobiographical web comic Wanderlust Kid and was kind enough to tell The Design Range a little about his time in the competition.

So about how long did it take you to decide to apply for Strip Search? Was there any deliberation as to whether you should or not?

I’ve been all about Strip Search since I heard it was a thing that could actually exist. When it turned up as one of Penny-Arcade’s Kickstarter stretch goals, I just lost it. The application was sent i-fucking-mmediately. It was the opposite of hesitation. Haste? I just checked some antonyms for ‘hesitation’ and haste wasn’t in there. Whatever, I didn’t waste any time waiting to signing up.

Once you heard back that you’d been accepted for the show, what were your first thoughts?

It was around two o’clock in the morning when I received that e-mail. I had just finished the comic for my next update and was tired as shit, with school or work in a handful of hours, I can’t remember which. But instead of just, you know, going to bed I went on the internet and was sincerely rewarded for doing so. The feeling was… I don’t know. I had not been so excited for something in a long time. You get stuck in these everyday patterns to keep up with your life and it takes a thing like this to break you out. It was this incredible sense of validation, and of just being alive. I went surfing once when I was really young, and I remember how terrifying and exhilarating it was all at once. That’s a good way to put it. So yeah, there weren’t as many thoughts as there were primal evocations. Then I promptly passed out to sleep a deep sleep.

Obviously the format of Strip Search shares similarities with shows like The Apprentice where the contestants are all real dicks. How was it finding that all the other artists were really nice?

Dude, this is Penny-Arcade. I knew this wasn’t going to be some mongoose pit. Robert Khoo’s application process is legendary, so I went in expecting the Penny-Arcade caliber of talent and human decency. I was not disappointed. The only thing I did not expect, but rather hoped, was to become friends with all these people.

Do you think Amy made the right decision choosing you? (Your design was my personal favourite, so I was pretty pissed for you!)

Seriously? Mine was your favorite? That means a lot, considering how well everybody else did. I’ve had a few people say the same and I think it’s because you guys, the beautiful bastards that you are, could see what I was trying to do and not so much what I did. I don’t find a lot to admire in my amalgam of teal, purple, and orange, but the idea of a crest is definitely solid. I’ll probably have something like that associated with my work after I painstakingly reassure myself it is of quality.

As far as Amy’s decision, myeh, it did not catch me by surprise. The fact that I was not called out as the worst was relieving, but I expect my design took the position right above Abby’s on the judges’ scale. And it’s weird to say, but when Amy joined us after deliberating I could see the decision on her. Agreeing with it or not is a pointless stance to take. It happened, and it’s more important to deal with what is and not what could have been.

More importantly, do you think Mike and Jerry made the right decision in eliminating you?

Yep, Katie’s comic was much better.

Do you think having a style influenced by Mike Krahulik worked for or against you?

Nah, I think my shirt design and stupid elimination comic worked against me. I figure the only time my style would have caused problems was during the application process. Obviously Khoo found some merits in my work despite the stigma that comes with a Krahulik style.

Watching some of the newer episodes, are there any challenges that you wished you’d had a chance to participate in?

Oh yeah. I would have kicked so much ass at the go-karts. I’m not some secret pro at driving, I would have just gone nuts and went for it. The Wizards of the Coast challenge was pretty cool too, but I would not have done very well with that media or time frame. Oh man, and the ping pong! I can’t narrow it down to a single thing. Every new episode is an opportunity that I sorely missed.

Do you know who the winner is yet, and if not who do you think will be the winner?

I’ll just point this question in the direction of Mike Krahulik’s public statements on the subject and rake a hand through my hair nonchalantly.

How are Mike and Jerry in real life (and the rest of the Penny Arcade team for that matter)? Did you get a chance to meet any of them off camera?

I didn’t see much more of Mike and Jerry than you guys did, but they really are the same people you see in their PATV stuff. They are always on; cracking wise, shifting from shit-giving to doling praise and wisdom with no moment of separation. The elimination round could have been a grueling thing, but those two somehow made the knowledge that one of us would be leaving not seem so bad.

The rest of the crew, PA and Loading-Ready-Run, were also just incredible. I only spent a little time off camera with them, but it doesn’t take very long to know when a person is good. You may have heard that Robert Khoo grants the night’s Defeated a dinner of their choosing. This is true. Some people chose to talk business, something I probably should have done, but we ended up discussing our favorite Final Fantasy and the like. I wholly disapprove of his choice, which I will not mention here, but the man has an incredibly persuasive and thorough dissection of the ending to FFVIII.

Have you found any differences in your life, or with Wanderlust Kid since appearing on the show?

Change number one; people actually read my shit now. Arguably the best change. I also know famous comic people who I’ve always looked up to! That’s really cool. I’ve had one person recognize me I the real world, too! My life now truly centers around my comic; all this time I spend drawing is legitimized somewhat. I also have found a group of friends who understand the demands of this life and keep me from being entirely ostracized from human interaction. When people ask what I do, I can say that I am an aspiring web cartoonist with more confidence than ever. I’m still working on that part, though. Maybe I’ll be more comfortable when I start earning a living off it. All in good time. Oh! And I started a twitter. That’s kind of significant.

What are you plans for the future?

My plan is to go and make something of myself. To prove to myself and to everyone that this was not some fluke, just an idle stroke of luck that fell to me. I have so many story ideas and an endless drive to improve my art… this really is just the beginning.

You can keep up with Alex’s exploits over at Wanderlust Kid and make sure to watch some more of the Strip Search episodes!

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is owner of Hunting Town Design, a small design house based in Manchester UK specialising in Graphic Design and Illustration. Alex is also the founder and editor of The Design Range. Find out more about Alex on his website or follow him on twitter.
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