Every once in a while, we start to get lonely here at GameCola. We can only find so many ways to pick on each other and strengthen our fictional rivalries before we get so sick of each other that the lines between fiction and reality start to blur. I knew we needed a change. Not fresh blood to join the staff, perhaps, but an open form of communication that would connect us to the outside world. An outside world that happens to get more visitors than us and isn’t comprised of just ourselves and immediate family members (or Meteo’s foster parents).
Looking at the archives here at der ‘Cola, I happened across an old column that died only a few hours out of the womb. It was “The GameCola Interview,” in which Paul would heckle people who would go on to become famous in order to fulfill some crazy assignment he had to complete as a college student. It was high time, thought I, to bring back The Interview. But I needed an interviewee. Someone stupid nice enough to sit down for a random amount of time and spill the stuff only the tabloids would care about. This month, I found just the man to help me bring back The Interview.
Matthew Taranto, known to friends as “Bubba,” is the beauty and the brains behind Brawl in the Family, a twice-weekly Web comic celebrating everything connected to a love-it-or-hate-it title amongst the GameCola staff, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but especially focusing on the Kirby series. The comic, now running for almost a year, has developed a rather large following, managing to win Joystiq’s Weekly Web Comic Poll for several weeks. It’s a very smart and humorous romp through some of Nintendo’s greats, and I was lucky enough to get a chance to sit down with the comic’s creator to rap about his comic, this year’s E3, and just who is that mysterious masked man?
GameCola (Zach Rich): All right, so, let’s start this off with a simple, easy-to-answer question.
Matthew Taranto: Alrighty.
GameCola: Banjo-Tooie. Great game, or the greatest game?
Matt: Great game! Might have had a shot at greatest if Grunty kept her rhyming going, though.
GameCola: It sounds like you have, indeed, played the game. You pass. Now, onto the actual stuff.
GameCola: Who the hell are you, and what in God’s name do you do that makes you feel so important?
Matt: Well, my good man, I’ll field the second one first—I draw sketchy images of Kirby, and put them online for all to see. I think that pretty much speaks for itself. As for who I am…at the moment, just a part-time teacher fresh out of college, hoping to one day be the one making the games.
GameCola: A teacher who wants to go into game development? I can’t help but think you chose your career path using a Mad Libs book.
Matt: Well, it’s sort of a long story, but a far more complex decision than Mad Libs. Think more along the lines of a dart board.
GameCola: Fair enough. Tell me how Brawl in the Family came about.
Matt: Like so many artistic undertakings, Brawl in the Family started because of boredom. I was taking one of my many art history classes and began to space out a little, so to pass the time, I started drawing Kirby in a variety of odd scenarios. His eating and power-stealing capabilities always seemed unusual to me, which sort of led to a variety of “what if?” situations. What if Kirby ate a vacuum cleaner? Or King Dedede? Or himself? The little guy was just unusual to me, and that was sort of how it all began.
A year or two later, on yet another lonely Saturday night, I decided to redraw a couple of these comics in Photoshop, and upload them onto a gaming message board on IGN. The response was positive, so I kept ’em coming.
GameCola: What I notice in the early strips is that BitF doesn’t expand beyond Brawl‘s cast of Kirby characters until several comics in. Was BitF originally going to be a Kirby-centric series, or was it always going to feature the whole Brawl roster?
Matt: The fact of the matter is that there’s really only so much you can do with the Kirby “universe.” Most players are familiar with Meta Knight and Whispy Woods, but what about the more obscure bosses like Acro and Paint Roller? Eventually, I’d run out of gaming-related options for Kirby alone, and since some other Nintendo characters had already shown up in the strip at that point, I felt that was the natural evolution of the comic, with the Kirby cast still sort of at the “center” of it all.
Since then, the scope of BitF has expanded greatly, and I’ve had a lot more freedom to do what I want. Having the various characters and worlds collide is a pretty rich source of material to mine, and it’s allowed me to put my esoteric Nintendo knowledge to use in fun ways, too!
GameCola: One of the things that makes your strip very enjoyable to the hardcore gamer.
Matt: Thanks—yeah, I try to reward readers for knowing as many geeky details as possible. It’s time somebody did! Good people, Nintendo fans.
GameCola: The other major group I see attracted to your comic is actual comic fans. Every 50 comics, you seem to have a little tradition going on.
Matt: Well, I do like paying tribute to some of my other favorite things. Calvin & Hobbes is a huge influence for me, and I thought The Very Hungry Caterpillar was a story that fit right in with the Kirby games’ style. Comic #150 was just a lot of fun to do—it’s always interesting attempting to emulate the style of another artist, and it’s something I hope to do more in the future as well. But outside of that, there’re lots of little nods and hidden things I like to throw into the regular strips as well. I’ve included references to EarthBound, Final Fantasy VI, The Office, Futurama, The Simpsons, and a few other things in BitF, some more obvious than others.
But even so, I don’t think BitF would ever work for a syndicated newspaper audience! Only like 1% of the readers would understand it. That, and I’d probably get sued by Nintendo, heh.
GameCola: Coming from a kindergarten class that read The Very Hungry Caterpillar almost daily for a year, I enjoyed seeing that reminder 12 years later, a month before my high school graduation. So, I have to thank you for that.
Matt: Ahh, glad the timing was so good!
GameCola: We also have to discuss last Christmas. I started reading your comic after your Grinch parody swept Joystiq’s Web Comic Poll.
Matt: That was a massive undertaking, but a ton of fun to do. I wanted to expand the scope of the comic a little more and show that it could be more than one-off gags, and it was also another way to pay homage to something I enjoyed.
[Ed.: Play this song, and read the following strip along with it.]
GameCola: It seemed to do the job.
Matt: I actually rewatched the animated Grinch movie and borrowed some of the poses and themes to give the story an authentic feel. As for the song—well, I’ve always loved music, and this was a great opportunity for me to blend music with the comic in a way that I didn’t really think was possible. I’d like to do another song/comic in the near future…perhaps a fully original one, though.
Thanks to those Joystiq readers that voted for Dedede, by the way!
GameCola: (laughs) Your adoring public.
Matt: Heheh, well, it’s not for everyone—I’ve read plenty of positive and negative criticism about the strip, and it’s helped me to get an idea of what works and what could use improvement. But either way, I’m thrilled a strip like this has managed to entertain so many people—it’s quite a pleasant surprise to me.
GameCola: Now if only GameCola could get that kind of audience.
Matt: Heh, well, keep it up. I’ve noticed that frequent updating is one of the biggest draws.
GameCola: I’ll make sure to let our editor read that statement over several thousand times.
Matt: (laughs) It’s not easy to update twice a week on top of the other things going on, but I’m very happy with the community that the site has formed. The forums are a cordial place, and the mods do a great job.
GameCola: Let’s chat a bit about E3. Any wild speculation?
Matt: Oooh, E3. Well, we’re long overdue for that console Kirby adventure, aren’t we? But I guess that’s getting a little too hopeful.
I have my hopes high for a Wii Zelda unveiling, although Spirit Tracks being shown probably cuts into that probability. Pikmin 3 is almost a given. Hmm…what else…. Maybe another Galaxy? No doubt there’ll be a couple surprises. I don’t want to get my hopes too high; Nintendo is anything but predictable. But as long as they give me some solid comic material, I’ll be happy!
GameCola: So, in terms of solid comic material, Wii Music 2 would be….
Matt: Haha, I’ve tried with the original Wii Music, and I’ve had trouble thinking up an idea. So, no Wii Music 2 please, Nintendo! …Er, for comic-related reasons, of course.
I wish I could attend E3 this year—I’d love to actually meet a BitF fan. Going in 2005 and 2006 were thrilling experiences, but my niece will be busy being born near the end of May, so I’ll need to stay in town.
GameCola: Let’s say that Kirby eats Reggie. What is Kirby’s new ability?
Matt: Well, in the past, I would’ve said takin’ names and whatnot, but if it’s the current Reggie, Kirby would gain the marvelous power of keeping Mother 3 from coming to America. In case you can’t tell, I’m still bitter about that!
GameCola: We all are, Matt. We all are.
Matt: But Reggie’s a cool guy—he’s just doing his job.
GameCola: There’s a lot less name taking these days, though.
Matt: A bit, yes. But I’ve been enjoying some second- and third-party Nintendo stuff lately—ExciteBots and Rune Factory Frontier have served me well.
GameCola: You seem to be one of the hopeful that the Wii will maintain its momentum.
Matt: Yeah—call it the result of being a lifelong Nintendo fan, but I’m typically pretty optimistic about the company, through good times and bad. They had a weak E3 last year, but I have like 20 Wii games that have given me many good times, so my hopes are still pretty high for the next few years. I’m hoping Wii MotionPlus does all that it’s setting out to do, though. The Wii needs something like this!
GameCola: I’m not sure I want to shell out more money to buy what the Wii was already supposed to do in the first place.
Matt: Well, technology takes time to get right—it sort of comes with the territory. I’m still waiting for something TRULY revolutionary (Wii Sports probably comes the closest). I think with WM+ being packed in with the next Wii Sports (and from what I’m hearing about test runs with WM+), we could have some huge games on the horizon. The whole “it should’ve been there in the first place” idea can be a problem, though. Sometimes I just don’t feel like getting upgrades—the DSi, for instance.
GameCola: I feel betrayed by the DSi, especially just after buying my DSlite.
Matt: WHOA. Nintendo just updated their 2009 list! Guess what’s on it!
GameCola: Mario Party 9?
Matt: EVEN BETTER. KIR-FREAKING-BY.
GameCola: I was hoping for Mario Party 3-2.
Matt: (laughs) Mario Party 3-2? Like Final Fantasy X-2?
GameCola: No one can deny the grandeur of the N64’s swan song.
Matt: Oh yes.
GameCola: But let’s wrap this up.
Matt: OK then. Any last questions?
GameCola: Actually, yes. Matt, do you have anything else to say to your adoring fans?
Matt: I appreciate the support and the occasional donations! Keep spreading the word to people you think would enjoy the comic.
GameCola: One last thing: Will we ever see a Snowboard Kids reference in Brawl in the Family?
Matt: Haha, I missed out on the Snowboard Kids games, sooo…Magic 8-Ball says “Unlikely at this moment.”
GameCola: You haven’t lived.
Matt: So I hear. Was the DS one any good?
GameCola: Only game I ever burned out of pure hate.
Matt: I shall keep that in mind, haha. Well, let’s see the N64 versions on the Virtual Console. Nintendo and…who published Snowboard Kids! Hudson? Konami?
GameCola: Altus, actually.
Matt: Atlus! I like those guys. Trauma Center: New Blood is good fun.
GameCola: Matt, you’re doing a wonderful job with Brawl in the Family. Best of luck.
Matt: Thank you very much! Keep reading—I’m going to continue to try to do new things with the comic, and there might be a surprise coming near the end of summer…. Not the redesign. The redesign should be much sooner. Sorry it’s late!
GameCola: Keep us posted.
Matt: Thanks for the interview!
GameCola: Thanks for agreeing to do it.
Brawl in the Family updates every Tuesday and Friday. Go tell your friends!