Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins met in high school in Spokane, Wash., in 1993. Mike was obsessed with drawing. Jerry was obsessed with words. Both were obsessed with video games. They probably would have gone pretty far in whatever field they went into, but the field they went into was drawing an online comic strip about video games called Penny Arcade, which they started in 1998. It’s about two guys named Gabe and Tycho who play games and hang out with a talking video player with a drinking problem, a terrifying robotic fruit juicer and Jesus. By 2000 it was popular enough that Krahulik and Holkins could quit their day jobs. It currently runs three times a week and has about 3.5 million readers.
For a lot of people, that would have been enough. But in 2003, Krahulik and Holkins, with their business manager, Robert Khoo, started a charity called Child’s Play that sends video games to sick kids in more than 60 hospitals around the world. In 2004 they started the Penny Arcade Expo, a convention in Seattle that celebrates gaming culture. Last year more than 60,000 people turned out for it.
Krahulik and Holkins have become the tastemakers, and conscience, of an industry the size of Hollywood. But for all their success, they are almost compulsively self-deprecating, and they give all the credit to their fans. You can’t put a label on them. Labels smack of hype, and Penny Arcade doesn’t do hype. “We don’t think about it,” Holkins says. “We specifically don’t try to figure out what we are.” Krahulik adds, deadpan: “Except rad.”