The quiet genius of Steve Purcell

If you thought I was done relating uncomfortable anecdotes from San Diego Comic-Con, you would be wrong.

Sometime after my humiliation at the LucasArts booth (to which I subjected myself for the Cause), I found myself strolling down one of the more peaceful aisles on the showroom floor.  At a black-draped booth was a dignified older gentleman whose hat reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s, and whose face reminded me of Lawrence of Arabia: a quiet fervor, a put-upon sort of intelligence.  But at first, I was interested only in his selection of Sam and Max merchandise, and in a Telltale Games employee that had come for a visit.

The employee, upon seeing my nametag, remembered me immediately from Kotaku.  “Oh,” he said, his eyes taking on a reddish tinge, “you were the one who didn’t like our game.”

Hammer that jump button until you find out why the mysterious man in the black booth should be your new god. 


In the afterlife, all critics will be required to justify their judgments to an unsympathetic panel of writers and artists, forever.  Being a games journalist and going to conventions is a little foretaste of this special hell.  I attempted to explain to the man that I was from the Old Guard, that change frightened me, and also that my hideous blinking cow of an Alienware would not play the game with the music and that this gave the whole thing a strange blandness.  I added that the personalized tech support I received for this problem was much appreciated, even though it ultimately was for naught.

After he left, shaking his head in disgust, I began to wonder if I ever actually wrote a review of the game.  The Kotaku archives give me nothing but posts I wrote about the trailers prior to the game’s release.  Did I ever actually review Sam and Max Episode One: Culture Shock?  I still don’t know.  It is a mystery.

After I returned from the Telltale Games booth with my fantastic Max-n-crossbones shirt to examine the black booth’s posters, only then, staring deeply into his nametag, was it that I realized I was speaking face to face with Steve Purcell, the Man Himself.

Purcell is the creator of the Sam and Max franchise, starting with a comic book that came out in the 80’s, proceeding through several LucasArts games (at which Purcell worked as an artist on some of my nostalgic favorites, including Monkey Island 1 & 2), into the ill-fated and ultimately canceled Sam and Max: Freelance Police, and finally into the loving arms of Telltale Games, who hate me.  He’s now working at Pixar.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever been over to the Telltale Games site, but its crowning glory is a little Sam and Max web comic that’s been running since Culture Shock started up. 

The format of the thing is ingenious: each page of the comic starts out with the art only, and the speech balloons and sound effects show up, with precise timing and occasional animation, on mouseover.  The idea is so simple, so practical, so easy to implement and produces such fantastic results, that I’m shocked it hasn’t been emulated on a grand scale.  Sure there are animated web comics here and there, but nothing nearly as successful or elegant.  And the vast majority of web comics are as static as they would be on a printed page. 

Purcell, with the Sam and Max webcomic, has successfully and singlehandedly matured the medium of webcomics.  And like many of his life’s achievements, I suspect he will never receive proper credit for it.

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Eliza Gauger
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