Most adventure fans have heard of Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, the latest episodic series from Telltale Games, but not everyone is aware of the origins of its oddball cast and distinctively retro styling. For the better part of a decade, HomestarRunner.com has been home to one of the most popular web cartoons of all time and shows no signs of slowing down. The site is the creation of Mike and Matt Chapman (or the Brothers Chaps as they’re affectionately known), offering many hundreds of animated shorts over the years, including the particularly popular Strong Bad Emails. As old-school gamers themselves, the Chapmans have also branched into game development under the company name Videlectrix, perhaps most notably in these parts for the early-Sierra-styled Peasant’s Quest.
With the season finale of SBCG4AP just ahead, we wanted to go a bit farther behind the scenes than usual... Well, actually we planned to interview Telltale, but following a badly-spelled threatening email that just happened to come from Strong Bad’s address, suggesting in no uncertain terms that we should interview someone far more cool and attractive, we decided to track down the series creators themselves. We’re pretty sure that’s not what Strong Bad had in mind, but soon he’ll be too busy fighting Trogdor to care. In any case, we were pleased to catch up with Mike and Matt, and are sure you’ll be equally glad we did.
Adventure Gamers: First of all, hello Mike and Matt, and thanks for taking the time to answer some of our questions. Your creation has been front and center on Adventure Gamers for the last several months with SBCG4AP, but we wanted to dig past the games and explore the web series itself. Can you give us the lowdown on how HomestarRunner.com came to be?
Brothers Chaps: Summer 1996 - Mike and filmmaker Craig Zobel were bored and decided to make a weird children's book, The Homestar Runner Enters the World's Strongest Man Contest. They did the whole thing in a day and had some copies made at a Kinko's to give to friends.
Christmas 1996 - Mike and Matt and Craig make a short Homestar Runner animation using Mario Paint for the Super Nintendo. They gave it to their brother Donnie for Christmas. Nice gift, guys.
January 2000 - Flash animation starts to go crazy on the web, Mike and Matt have dreams of quitting their day jobs. They dust off the Homestar characters, make a few cartoons, and put them online at HomestarRunner.com.
AG: Mike, I hate to do it to you, but I'm going to ask the unanswerable question: how did you come up with your original ideas?
Mike: Craig and I wanted the original kids' book to feel like it was from another country or poorly translated from Japanese maybe. Our friend Jamey from the band Of Montreal had coined the phrase "Homestar Runner" when trying to think of a baseball term so we decided that should definitely be the hero. Naturally the bad guy had to be a masked wrestler. With boxing gloves. The rest wrote itself.
AG: Were there any major influences that inspired you, either artistically or otherwise?
Mike: We definitely wanted it to NOT seem like the children's books we'd see at the bookstore. Beyond that, it wasn't thought through enough to be inspired or influenced by anything.
AG: What prompted you to go the web cartoon route?
BC: That's what everybody was doing at the time. We just wanted to learn how to use Flash and we needed something to animate. So we used these characters we'd already made up.
L-R: Matt, Strong Bad (easily distracted), Mike
AG: When you began, did you ever imagine the kind of success the series has achieved? Did you have any long-term goals at the time, or were you basically just putting the work out there and seeing what happened?
BC: There were hopes of getting something on TV very early on but after getting a "thanks but no thanks" from Cartoon Network we decided to just keep doing what we were doing since we were having fun. At that point we stopped trying to do anything but make funny and cool stuff.
AG: At what point did you realize "Whoa, we have a hit on our hands!"?
BC: As far as we were concerned, the first time we got an email from someone we didn't know that said they liked our cartoons. We also got the then-status-symbol: Shockwave Site of the Day a few times. We thought our brains were gonna explode.
AG: Was there anything(s) in particular that really established the series in the limelight, or did it just take a while for word of mouth to spread far enough to make it popular?
BC: Once we decided to start updating every week with Strong Bad Emails, it seemed like more and more people started to check it out.
AG: Have there been any surprises or disappointments over the years as to what elements or characters have caught on and what haven't?
BC: No disappointments. We kinda like it when people REALLY don't like something we do. Marshie (terrifying spokes-mallow for Fluffy Puff Marshmallows) has some serious critics. It's cool that you can polarize people like that. To us it's all the same, the thought process is no different for Teen Girl Squad or an Old Timey cartoon so it seems crazy that someone could love one and hate the other. We still don't understand why people love Trogdor so much.
AG: Do you have any personal favourite characters or storylines?
BC: Matt loves the 'Gregs' from Teen Girl Squad (Science Fiction Greg and D&D Greg). They're sorta based on some role-players he knew in high school. Mike digs the old timey stuff. The 1936 version of Homestar Runner is probably his favorite.
AG: I know most of the characters are pretty "out there", but do you relate to any of them or see yourselves in them at all?
Matt: The dynamic between Strong Bad and Strong Sad is sorta like Mike and I growing up. Only I wasn't as depressed as Strong Sad and Mike wasn't as cool as Strong Bad. But the beatings are pretty accurate.
AG: Matt, I've got to applaud you for your fantastic voicework in doing practically all of the characters yourself. Normally I cringe at how blatantly obvious it is when the same actor does multiple roles, but with your characters I'd never guess. Have you had any formal training or are you just naturally gifted at voices?
Matt: Thanks! No formal training. I was the youngest of five kids so I had to do something for attention. Before my voice changed, my 7th grade Algebra teacher Mr. Turnipseed (for real!) would have me do my Marge Simpson for the class. Puberty killed that one real quick. Though it did make my Axl Rose much more convincing.
AG: I get a kick out of Strong Bad's voice in particular, though obviously his personality and dialogue make him extra funny. And given the popularity of the Strong Bad Email cartoons, obviously I'm not the only one. Was it always the plan to have Strong Bad be such a central character, or did that evolve over time?
BC: It was never planned. Strong Bad emails were meant to be a really short thing to occupy the space between our longer cartoons. But they ended up turning Strong Bad into one of the most interesting characters.
AG: What's some of the more ridiculous fan mail you've received? Anything too over-the-top even for Strong Bad to mock?
BC: Most of the emails Strong Bad gets ask him to do something he's already done before (i.e. draw a dragon), ask what his parents are like (boriiiing), or for him to parody some current movie or pop-culture phenomenon. Those definitely get DELETED.Continued on the next page...