Is “why don’t you go suck a dick?” inappropriate for a family newspaper? It’s a question I had to ask myself while writing the lead of a story for The Gazette about Abby Howard, a (temporary) Montrealer who gained thousands of fans online and raised more than $100,000 for a project she’s working on after she was a contestant on a reality series produced by Penny Arcade.
It was a story I really enjoyed writing, and enjoyed researching. And like many such stories, it’s very long (by newspaper standards) and there’s tons of information I couldn’t cram into it. Thankfully the Internet has no limit on story size, and my blog imposes on itself no limit to how much detail I can get into.
I’ll start off here by introducing you to the series, and inviting you to watch it. Because suspense is a big part of the fun, I won’t spoil it for you until later in this post.
A dream realized for Penny Arcade
If you were on the Internet in the early days, you probably remember Penny Arcade. It’s a webcomic about the gaming industry that’s been updating continuously since 1998. But over the past decade, it’s expanded beyond that, into a small media empire, producing news, other comics, conferences, and even a charitable organization. And there’s PATV, a network of various video series posted online.
Penny Arcade isn’t a large organization. It only has 14 employees at last report. But it has a big impact.
A year ago, they decided to do something interesting: They would set up a campaign through KickStarter to raise money directly from their fans, and if it was successful, they would pull advertising from their website.
They reached their goal of $250,000 to remove the leaderboard ad from their homepage. By the time it was over, they had gotten more than $500,000.
In addition to rewards for individual donations of various levels, KickStarter has “stretch goals”, which are bonuses that take effect after a campaign has reached levels beyond its stated goal. The first one was another comic strip, the second an agreement to cosplay. The third was this a promise to take the fourth season of the behind-the-scenes reality series Penny Arcade: The Series and turn it into a reality competition show to find the next great comic artist. They described it as “our version of America’s Next Top Webcomic.”
After meeting that goal, they called out for entries. They wanted 10 people. But they eventually settled on 12, six men and six women (that breakdown apparently was just a coincidence). They got almost 1,000 applicants.
The series is called Strip Search. (Get it?) And over 31 episodes posted to YouTube from March 1 to June 18, the Internet got to see these 12 artists go through challenges — some on point, some absurdly unrelated to drawing comics — and be eliminated one by one based on their ability to draw under pressure.
I discovered it not because I knew the contestants or follow Penny Arcade, but because I’m subscribed to a feed of videos produced by LoadingReadyRun. Based out of Victoria, this troupe produces a bunch of weekly humorous video series, some of which relate specifically to the video gaming industry, but others like their flagship weekly comedy videos and their weekly Feed Dump show that comments on offbeat news stories, are just plain funny.
But this isn’t a five-minute weekly comedy series with actors reading scripts.
“This is by far the biggest project we’ve ever undertaken,” Graham Stark, the show’s host and one of LoadingReadyRun’s producers, said during a panel discussion about the series. They collected 62 days (1500 hours) worth of footage from all the cameras, and uncounted sleepless nights putting it all together so it could be published on schedule.
Because LRR is somewhere between professional (because they produce video for a living) and unprofessional (because they haven’t created a television show before), the series on a technical level has its ups and downs. In some places people are out of focus or the audio is so bad as to require subtitles. But there are some great technical shots as well, including the intro theme, in which the artists slide into frame (an effect created by moving the camera on a small track, rather than having the people on skateboards or something).
At 20, Abby Howard was the youngest of the 12 contestants on Strip Search. She’s from Charlotte, N.C., but moved to Montreal three years ago to go to McGill and study biology. She learned about dinosaurs (including animals that people think are dinosaurs but aren’t dinosaurs at all). Her hair is longer on one side than the other. “I was in art class one day, in senior year, and I wondered what I would look like with shorter hair,” she tells me. “I don’t even have a good story for it.”
And she has a cat, named Spoons. Her webcomic, which just celebrated its first anniversary, is called Junior Scientist Power Hour. (It’s worth noting that in the comic, the character’s hair is longer on the opposite side. That’s because Howard sees herself only in the mirror, she said when asked about it.)
“Five days before (the deadline to apply for Strip Search), people were like ‘sign up for this thing’,” Howard told me. So just before the deadline, she gave it a shot. And she made it. Out of those thousand applicants, she was selected. “It could have not been me so easily,” she said. “Going into it, I was like ‘was I the last pick?'”
This sounds suspiciously like the insecure Howard I would get to know through the series.
“During the application process, it was immediately clear that Abby was a natural at humor,” Penny Arcade president Robert Khoo told me in an email. “Even at 20, she stood out as someone with her own unique style no matter what medium we asked for. Her comics, writing samples, and video submissions were all great.”
As you can see from the meet-the-artist video she did, Howard seems insecure about her abilities, and compensates for that with an overconfidence that seems half sarcastic, half genuine. In early episodes, she’s convinced, probably more than anyone else, that she’s destined for elimination because of the poor quality of her work.
Speaking of poor, Howard is that. Not living-on-the-street poor, but not rich. It came up a few times in the show, leading one online commenter to complain that she was talking about it too much. “That just pissed me off so much,” Howard told me. “It’s not like I’m complaining.” She shops for her clothes at thrift shops. She lives in a tiny room in an old apartment. She came to McGill because it was the cheapest place to study. But she’s not playing the woe-is-me card.
That’s Howard’s story. But all of the contestants on the show are real people with real stories behind them. Some are eliminated early and have little time to leave an impression. Some stay on right to the finale and gain thousands of fans across the world online, going through moments of ecstatic triumph and heartbreaking defeat.
Strip Search’s structure is pretty simple. Each day is presented in three parts: A social challenge, which usually is more about having fun than advancing in the competition. The winner gets a prize that, with one exception, won’t really make a difference as far as the competition is concerned. The second part is a competitive challenge, which is more on point to what they’d be doing as a comic artist at Penny Arcade (although not necessarily just about the drawing part). The winner of that challenge chooses the two artists who go up for elimination. The third part is the elimination challenge, in which the two selected artists are given 90 minutes to create a comic strip from scratch that have to relate to two randomly selected themes, and then wait as Penny Arcade creators Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins decide who gets to stay based on the quality of those comics.
It sounds like a pretty simple adaptation of reality television. Or I guess it is, since I don’t watch reality television.
But what really sets this show apart is that it’s real. The contestants are real, normal people. The judges are real, normal people. Even the producers. Some of the most compelling moments of this series comes not from people confronting each other, but from people having to deal with the reality that a show built like this requires that some people leave and not come back. Even for those who win, it’s as if they do so reluctantly because it means they’re losing a friend they’ve just made.
Stark described it this way: “What would happen if we took a normal dramatic terrible reality show and filled it with nice people?”
Choosing nice people to play themselves on reality TV wasn’t a fluke.
“We knew these people had to work with us for a year, so the reality was that we tried to weed out any jerks early on in the process,” said Khoo, the man generally credited with turning Penny Arcade into a tiny media empire when he joined the organization 10 years ago.
That aspect of the show appealed to many fans, including Andrew Chang, the CBC Montreal TV anchor.
“I’ve been a fan of Penny Arcade for a pretty long time,” he told me. He discovered the show through PA, having never heard of LoadingReadyRun. “I started watching and I got hooked,” he said.
“I found the difference between Strip Search and other reality series is that Strip Search didn’t seem as orchestrated or meticulously planned out as other series I’ve seen online or on TV. Mike and Jerry were a little disappointed that all these relationships didn’t build up in the house. It was a little more organic, a little more real. You get the sense that they weren’t scripted ahead of time. The characters weren’t flamboyant made-for-tv personalities. That was just refreshing to watch.”
Like me, Chang doesn’t watch a lot of reality TV. After watching early seasons of Survivor, he learned how scripted everything really was on reality shows, and “that kind of started the process of turning me off.”
The niceness went beyond the 12 artists on the show.
“What was a huge surprise was how attached we as producers became to all the artists,” Khoo told me. “Moral obligation aside, we WANT for all of these people to succeed — they became our baby birds!”
The artists and producers became friends during the show, and they remain so. Howard told me they remain in regular contact, chatting online on an almost daily basis. Even though all they did was spend two weeks together at a house in Seattle. It was the fact that they were all artists, that they all wanted to do the same thing for a living, that brought them together most.
Though Penny Arcade met its commitment to the winner, and only the winner, they still offer advice to the other artists who are trying to start their careers. “All the artists have an open line into Penny Arcade, and many of them use it frequently,” Khoo said, explaining that he talks to the non-winning artists “three or four times a week at this point, which I’m perfectly happy to do. They put their reputations on the line for us, not knowing anything about Strip Search, so in many ways I feel we owe it to them.”
Khoo also noted how the audience reacted a bit differently to this series compared to previous Penny Arcade TV series:
“Given the competitive nature of the format, the fans naturally get a bit more … incensed over what happens in the show,” he said. “With our other projects, we generally don’t like putting people up against each other, so this was an interesting experience for both us and PATV viewers.”
This is about as much as I can explain about Strip Search without spoiling it, so I’m going to suggest you start watching it now, and come back to this when it’s done.
(It might take a while. The 31 episodes back to back will take a bit less than 12 hours to watch.)
Done yet? No? Well have you at least made it to the finale? I’ll keep the spoilers for that later, so you can keep reading if you’ve watched the first 28 or so episodes.
If you’ve done things correctly, you should have cried a few times by now. You should also understand what I’m referring to below and why I enjoy this show.
You can also go ahead and read the Gazette story I wrote about Howard and Strip Search, which was published in Friday’s paper.
The first few episodes were interesting, not so much because of the personalities but because of what they created. Not knowing the artists, the only real interest is in seeing the results of each challenge. Katie Rice, who was sent to the elimination round in both the first two days, and won each time, gained a lot of credibility from that and a lot of early fans, myself included. She was the first artist to really prove herself on the show, and as the series went on, she kept doing so, particularly near the end. She proved not only that she’s a great artist, and funny, but that she’s a whole package.
I liked comparing the various designs in the two early design challenges. I enjoyed seeing how the artists responded to various fictional but realistic Twitter interactions. And I liked seeing the fun silly stuff like trying to remember what they saw and heard on a tour of the city.
The agony of choice
But the episode that first made me realize that this was something else was Episode 10, the third elimination challenge. After a run-of-the-mill elimination, the two submitted comics look so good to the judges that they struggle to come up with a winner (or, more accurately, declare a loser). They outright refuse to do so, even to the point where Krahulik looks around the room at the artists’ self-drawn standups, points to one and says “I want to send this person home. This is a piece of shit! Bring her down here! Wake her up and drive her down here and tell her she’s going home.”
Above the drawing he was pointing to in disgust was the name of the artist: Abigail Howard.
Shortly after that, at the 17-minute mark, the video cuts out. The producer, Khoo, takes Krahulik outside to chat off-camera (but because Krahulik has a microphone on him, the audio is still being recorded), and tells him that a bunch of the remaining artists are just as good as these two and he will have to make some tough decisions.
Just seeing the agony that Krahulik and Holkins go through here is what makes this show different. It’s not the kind of thing we’d see from a Donald Trump or a Simon Cowell. And it’s more honest and real than what we see from the we-love-everyone judges on TV reality shows.
After watching that, I wasn’t the only one who was curious what Howard thought about being spoken of in this way by two people she had not yet even met. (Since she wasn’t there at the time, she first saw this scene at the same time as the rest of us.)
“I loved that episode because I knew what came after,” Howard told the podcast That Thing You Like. “You don’t understand guys, this gets so good for me,” she recalls telling herself after reading comments from people in reaction to Krahulik’s comment.
And, indeed, it did.
After reluctantly declaring Tavis Maiden the winner, and sending home the very talented illustrator Lexxy Douglass, whose lack of experience in comic strip humour was her biggest weakness, the next elimination resulted in two comics that weren’t up to par. Holkins and Krahulik decided to send them both home and bring Lexxy back. (I’m not ashamed to admit I yelled at my laptop when that plot twist happened. She apologized, as if it’s her fault or something.)
It was breaking the rules, but they wrote the rules, and the goal to find the best comic artist was better served by keeping the two better artists over the two days, the creators decided. (Logistically, they had to keep a certain number of contestants, which meant for one to come back, an extra one had to leave, and vice-versa.) It was an indication that this is a show about humans, who are involved in imperfect situations and must sometimes break the rules for the greater good.
“You are us”
Another thing that made this show human was also entirely unscripted. After Alex Hobbs became the first artist eliminated at the end of the first day, he had an exit interview in a van parked outside (dubbed the “shame hole” by the creators). It’s the usual reality show confessional where the contestant performs a soliloquy about their experience to the camera. After it was over, though, Krahulik and Holkins jumped into the back seat to reassure Hobbs. “You are literally us 14 years ago,” Holkins told Hobbs. “The fact that you’re already here after a year is incredible,” said Krahulik.
The conversation wasn’t planned at all, Stark would say later. And that shows in the episode. The camera had been turned off when they opened the doors to the van, and catches them in mid-entry.
Holkins and Krahulik would repeat this with every other eliminated artist, reassuring them of their value despite their elimination, and offering advice. Behind the scenes, Khoo later took them out to dinner, and each has what Khoo describes as “an open line into Penny Arcade.”
By this point, I had gotten a good idea of the remaining eight artists’ personalities:
- Amy Falcone, the one with the angry-looking drawing of herself, who seemed to treat this as a cutthroat competition and was concerned with playing the game to her advantage. Self-described half-jokingly as “that bitch from Strip Search”, she was seen by some fans as an early villain
- Erika Moen, the pink-haired established artist who was almost overqualified to be here but was incredibly excited to be part of the competition, and created an early meme-able moment with the term “butt virginity” (she’s kind of an expert on sex and her latest webcomic is about sex toys)
- Katie Rice, the early champion as the winner of the first two eliminations, whose bangs and soft-spokenness concealed her hard work and excellence
- Alexandra (Lexxy) Douglass, the illustrator and comeback queen who had tried out for a job at Penny Arcade before and lost, and had risen from the dead once already in this series, and whose bubbly, always-happy body language and pretty face were a turnoff for some
- Maki Naro, the science nerd and pineapple aficionado whose beard allowed him to conceal his emotions from others
- Monica Ray, the small, hyperactive friend to everyone who even goes so far as to draw a fake beard onto herself to appear like one of the other contestants
- Tavis Maiden, the dad of the group, in that he is both literally a father and he was personally supportive of the other artists, whether the cameras were on or off
And, of course, Abigail (Abby) Howard, the quirky young kid whose issues with her confidence were so central to her character that someone created a video of all the times it was discussed over the first 23 episodes:
(By this point there were six women and only two men left, notably.)
And in getting to know personalities, it was fun seeing them change. Like in Episode 14, when Amy Falcone gets depressed and decides she’s done playing games, and in a tearful explanation to the camera, says she’s just going to be herself from now on, stop worrying about the game.
And at the end of that day she’s promptly eliminated.
The next day, there was Howard, with her famous “why don’t you go suck a dick?” as she went up against Moen. The girl who had no confidence in herself suddenly had all the confidence in the world. “My friends were like ‘that’s her’,” Howard told me of the Abby that appeared during that episode. “After that, I was like ‘I’ll be okay’.”
And in winning that challenge, Howard proved herself to the people who were certain she wasn’t worth being there two nights earlier. “How could we have known?” Holkins asks, Howard’s comic in his hands, moments after he had laughed so hard at it he bent over.
But that episode, one of the highest-rated after the premiere, was far more memorable for the incredibly emotional exit interview that Moen did at the end. It took me completely off-guard. Stark said that moment, with him sitting in the front seat behind the camera as Moen poured her heart out, was the most difficult moment of the show to witness.
But it made for great television.
(Moen said later that the interview was actually much longer than what was shown in the episode. A DVD extra, I hope.)
I’ve never been one of those fans. You know, the ones who used to write to TV Guide asking where to send letters to their favourite stars. But I wanted to write an email to Moen after watching this episode, to reassure her that she did have friends out there, and that we’d all come to her birthday party. The only reason I didn’t was that she was already hearing from hundreds of people, and I didn’t want to make the overwhelming mountain of email-based love even more unmanageable. (Erika, if you’re reading this, a belated happy birthday, and I’d like you to know I’m a fan.)
I asked Khoo, notorious for keeping things close to the vest, whether he cried watching this. “No,” he wrote back. “But I cry every time I see Alex’s hair in the intro sequence.”
Abby the robot
After Monica Ray went out on a nice comic about a dinosaur whose only real fault was that it didn’t have a joke in it, Howard was up for elimination again, against Maiden. The comic she drew for the themes of “cars” and “cats” had Krahulik laughing so hard he lost his balance. “Oh my god, she’s amazing!” he said, his voice several octaves higher than normal.
“I was really surprised by Mike doubling over in laughter,” Howard told me about finally seeing the episode when it aired. “That made me so happy.”
Holkins also laughed hard at the comic, and they said it was the funniest one they’d seen in the competition.
The next day, Douglass became the ninth and final candidate eliminated from competition before the finale. Douglass, who was among the most active competitors on social media, even commenting regularly on the various forums attached to the show, rubbed a lot of people the wrong way for some reason. But the only negative emotion I could detect in myself while watching her was jealousy. Her illustrations, as evidenced by her new graphic novel The Cloud Factory, are beautiful.
And the proof of her success is in the fact that she raised $83,632 on KickStarter for that project.
By this point in the series, we’re at Episode 28, and we enter the finale. So it’s time for another spoiler warning. If you haven’t watched the final three episodes yet, this is your last chance to do so before I reveal the result.
There was no question that the top three — Katie Rice, Maki Naro and Abby Howard — deserved to be there. They had both won two eliminations. They were funny, smart and resourceful. But it was impossible to really judge based on time-limited challenges how well they’d do in the real world.
So the judges sent all three home to create their own comics, and come back with a finished product that reflected their abilities. Apparently this is similar to Project Runway, a show I’ve never watched for obvious reasons. And it was a great idea, despite the logistical implications of it.
The show says it was two months, but Howard said it was actually more like five, between when the first 28 episodes were shot over nine days in December, and when the finale was shot in early May.
This, Howard told me, was excruciating. During five months as she worked on the project that would become The Last Halloween, she had to keep it all to herself because the non-disclosure agreement and its $100,000 penalty still applied.
“There were nights where I was just so miserable, because I couldn’t tell anyone anything,” she said. She couldn’t even talk to her fellow finalists, because they were competing against each other.
The loneliness she felt was reflected in the comics she published on Junior Scientist Power Hour during that time. Like this one, and this one, and this one, published in March and April. Though sadness has been a recurring theme of the comic since Sadness Brownies, published in November. Howard told me she plays it up for comedic effect, but it’s clear that the months she spent unable to tell anyone about the exciting project she was working on took an emotional toll on her.
When the finale was shot, the series had been running for about two months, so the cast chatted about the public’s reaction to the show.
“The first episodes that came out, it was really strange, because I was there, and now other people are seeing how it turned out,” Howard told me. “Oh God I’m watching my memories,” she told That Thing You Like.
Abby Howard came in second place on Strip Search, losing to Katie Rice. (Hey, Spoons warned you about the spoiler.)
“I’m feeling pretty good about losing at this point,” Howard told me at the beginning of our interview a couple of weeks ago. The judges went with Rice as a more complete package, and it’s hard to argue with their decision. Rice’s Camp Weedonwantcha is just a great concept and she has a mix of a great, expressive drawing style and a keen sense of humour.
“I do think Katie was one of the best if not the best,” Chang told me. “She seemed to have the complete package. Her comics were funny and her art style was super super cute and well-polished.” But he said that while he wasn’t a fan of Howard’s at first, she showed the power of her humour and was the funniest of the bunch.
Still, Howard took the finale harder than you’d expect. She spent some time crying after the finale was shot. There was an exit interview with her and Naro with Krahulik and Holkins, but the results weren’t very interesting so they weren’t included in the episode, whose ending was criticized for being a bit too brief. “I just stood there like a zombie while Mike and Jerry talked at me,” Howard wrote in a comment on the Strip Search website. “But after the cameras stopped rolling, I had trouble keeping it all together, so Kathleen (De Vere, from LRR) took me off to Mike and Jerry’s studio and I sat on the ground and cried, and Mike and Jerry came in and we had a heart-to-heart that I really wouldn’t want in front of cameras.”
“So there WAS a pretty ending, but you don’t get to see it. You already saw me cry, you don’t need to see it again!”
Howard pointed out that she’d been up for 24 hours straight, and was in a weakened physical and emotional state at the time.
“It was just a really harrowing experience,” she said.
Howard, along with Rice, Naro and other contestants, attended a live screening of the finale on June 18. There were more tears. Afterward the cast and crew went to a bar, she said, and “like 200 people flooded the place,” she said. “As soon as we walked in, people erupted in applause.”
When she next checked her email, she has 150 unread messages. That number crept up to 200, and as she would reply to each email, another new one would pop up. “It stayed at 200 (unread) emails for several days,” she said.
It’s enough to lift anyone’s spirits. “My confidence has definitely gone up,” she said. “There’s a lot of different kinds of emails. I’ve never gotten hate mail.”
Reading through all these emails from fans…. oh my god this makes me feel so sparkly, I love you all
— Abby Howard (@AbbyHoward) June 21, 2013
If you can’t beat ’em, KickStart ’em
With the series over, Howard doesn’t have to keep things bottled up anymore. “I can tell all secrets, except secrets about my story,” she said.
The biggest thing for her is being able to share the project for The Last Halloween with everyone, like a mother presenting her new child to the world. Three days after the finale, she launched a KickStarter campaign to fund the project. When it finished on July 16, it reached $126,507. That exceeds the penalty in the non-disclosure agreement and the Strip Search cash prize combined.
The page is worth a visit for the video alone.
Within 17 minutes of it going up, she was funded. (Though she admits the $9,000 goal was just a random number she came up with.)
I just made more than the #stripsearch prize WHAT IS MY LIFE I LOVE IT SO MUCH
— Abby Howard (@AbbyHoward) June 21, 2013
A bit more than half an hour into it, she exceeded the $15,000 Strip Search cash prize. Within two hours, she had $28,000.
I've never seen this much money in reltion to me outside of tuition bills in my LIFE
— Abby Howard (@AbbyHoward) June 21, 2013
By now she’s replying to people in all-caps because of her excitement. But the money just kept coming. In 12 hours, she had $46,500 from more than 1,000 people. In 10 days, she hit $90,000, six times the Strip Search cash prize and 10 times her starting goal.
I am officially over 90k. I can't even comprehend this amount of money. I LOVE YOU ALL
— Abby Howard (@AbbyHoward) July 2, 2013
The KickStarter offers several rewards, including merchandise related to the comic, and for the big-money contributors, ways to be in the comic itself. Among those big-money backers is NFL player Chris Kluwe, who got the personal death scene option. “Football people know who I am,” Howard told me. “That’s so cute.”
One thing that’s not available is a book of the comic. Howard said she couldn’t promise that because of timing. “For one thing, it’s not even done, so it would take me well over a year to get it to a printer in book form,” she said. But don’t worry, it’ll get done. She’s not going to pass up a golden opportunity to make money selling merch.
She’s not just excited about her project from a money standpoint, but an artistic one too. She’s beyond thrilled that people are drawing fan art of something she’s created.
“What I really like is in the past week people have been drawing my characters from The Last Halloween,” she said. “That is the best feeling.”
She enjoys fan art of Junior Scientist Power Hour, too. One fan, Devin Harrigan of Featherweight Creations, went so far as to create a plushie doll of Howard’s JSPH character, and later a mini version.
“I Like Abby and enjoy her work a great deal and making things is just what I do,” Harrigan told me in an email. “Its a peanut plus chocolate situation.”
“Now that the Plushie is finished I plan to do arcane and horrifying things with it.”
The Last Halloween is slated to begin on the second Wednesday of October. Three weeks before that, everyone who backed her project will get exclusive access to the first comics. Then they will update every Wednesday (and everyone will see them at the same time).
“I can’t wait for people to know what I’ve been thinking about for so long,” she told me excitedly. “I just want to see people react to it.”
For someone who has been so successful, Howard must have some advice for other artists. But she doesn’t, really.
“The series of events leading up to this was so ridiculous and can never be repeated, and yet all these people keep emailing me and are just like ‘Oh you’re so successful at KickStarter, give me some tips!'” Howard told That Thing You Like. “I’m just like oh God, the tip is start a webcomic that’s super funny right in time to be on a reality show with a really popular webcomic. Then come in second place with the same project you’re about to kickstart. Then profit.”
“Sure worked for me.”
Howard said she’s been trying to get published by indie comic book publishers since she was about 13 years old. But publishers don’t like new artists, she said.
“That was my learning process, getting rejected,” she told me. “My art style didn’t reach the style it is now until now. I’m pretty glad I didn’t get published before now. I’m very glad I waited.”
One piece of advice she does have, though, is to get yourself out there on social media. “Get a Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, just post constantly,” she said.
Howard plans to move to Seattle. She made it a stretch goal in the KickStarter, but was planning to move either way. “Montreal is kicking me out, because Quebec does not want people who don’t speak French,” she said. (The fact that she doesn’t have a job and she left her program at McGill also has something to do with it.)
Like other artists who have moved to Seattle or are planning on it (Falcone, Hobbs, Ray, and of course Rice), Howard’s planned move is to be closer to where the action is. Not only will she be reunited with some of her Strip Search friends from in front of and behind the camera, but she’ll be closer to businesses that web comic artists deal with in doing things like handling merchandise (for many a primary source of revenue). It also cuts down on expenses to not have to ship stuff from Canada.
She said she was planning maybe moving in late November, “but it would be so much better to get there to launch The Last Halloween.”
It’s hard to blame her for wanting to do this. But it’s still sad to see such talent slip through this city’s fingers.
What about after that? “I can’t comment on that at this time,” she told me, giving me a great ending to my Gazette story, but also throwing me for a loop because I couldn’t imagine what it was she was planning. Had she signed another non-disclosure agreement after having so much trouble complying with the first? Was she undergoing a project that she decided to keep quiet about on her own accord? Or was she just saying this to screw with my head and seem more interesting? I have no idea.
Further down the road, she hopes to stay as a web comic artist. (She said she’ll keep doing Junior Scientist Power Hour until she dies.) Failing that, she might enjoy being a horror movie filmmaker (she’ll be making a short film about a creepy painting in her room for practice), or work in a funeral home. Because she likes working with dead bodies.
“Originally my intention was to go to medical school and be a medical examiner,” she said. But the amount of schooling required for that turns her off.
And for Strip Search?
The reaction to Strip Search has been very positive. The episodes have an average of 75,000 views each by my count, a bit less than that if you exclude the first episode. But whether there will be a Season 2 depends on how DVD sales go, Khoo has said repeatedly. A DVD, with extras, is currently being produced and will be on sale soon.
If they can recapture the magic of the first season, I will certainly be watching. And if there’s a Montrealer there too, that’s just a bonus.
Really? These 6,000 words weren’t enough for you? Okay. In addition to my Gazette story, there’s:
- Strip Search panel at the PAX East conference in Boston in March
- Krahulik’s blog post looking back at Strip Search
- Interviews with Abby Howard: CBC Montreal, Charlotte Observer, That Thing You Like (they’ve done a few episodes on Strip Search), Webcast Beacon Network, KickStarter Conversations, The Geek Show
- Howard’s super-secret older comic blog she doesn’t want you to know about
- LoadingReadyRun podcast after the Strip Search finale, in which the crew answers fans’ questions about the show, including a discussion of the abrupt finale
- Discussion forums: Penny Arcade Forums, LoadingReadyRun Forum, #StripSearch on Twitter, plus comments below each episode on the Strip Search website. (There are also comments on YouTube, but reading them is not recommended.)
Abby Howard posts comics twice a week at Junior Scientist Power Hour. The Last Halloween debuts in October. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or by waiting outside her house and hoping nobody calls the cops on you.
UPDATE (June 12, 2014): Penny Arcade TV has two episodes looking back at Strip Search, on the contestants (including Abby Howard) who moved to Seattle as a result, and on the winner, Katie Rice. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2.