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Interview with the Cat-pire

Take a seat

This is going to be a bit of an interesting one. Usually the site is all about me - my own stupid comics, my mad ravings, in one fashion or another it's mostly just me screaming into the void. But I don't exist in a vacuum - there are a lot of people who've had a direct and indirect impact on where I've opted to steer my art, and this is the first of what I hope will be several interviews with such people.

Today's guest speaker is Codiekitty, a writer, aspirant gamedev, artist, and luminary of the Sprite Comic world. Codiekitty, or "CK," was at one point a guest artist and writer for the first Sprite Comic in history. Her site, which I highly recommend you visit, is the culmination of over a decade of media analysis spanning every medium, from books to films to video games. As you may have gleaned from some of the boilerplate legalese on the front page, I follow her site perhaps a little too closely.

To set the stage, I offer the original email exchange in which I attempted to justify the wholesale theft of her site's layout...

In the intervening time, of course, the site has been rebuilt with the help of a friend. The general layout is effectively the same, but the backend "code" is entirely different. Since then, I've thought about this exchange, and with another interview lined up, I figured I'd ping Codiekitty again. Her messages are in Italics, my questions and responses are in bold.

High Theater

Sorry it took so long to answer, I had to stop and think about some of the questions. I've also had my hands full with a new kitten who keeps stomping across my keyboard and overall embodying the phrase "If it not for sits, why it made of warm?"

No apologies necessary, I have a desk kitty of my own that makes work a problem.

- This is your chance to introduce yourself to the people who read my website. How would you describe yourself?

Crazy cat lady, gamer, writer, mediocre artist. I have a degree in Computer Informations, but can't get a job above retail.

- Writer to writer, it's worth asking - what was it like to work with Cracked? My loose understanding is that you didn't have final cut.

For clarity I was never employed with Cracked, it was all freelance work. Here's how the pitching process went with Cracked:

Anybody could sign up to do freelance writing for them, and after you applied you got access to a Writer's Workshop message board. You'd create a topic for your pitch, like "X Insane Video Game Easter Eggs" or "X Dumbest Plot Twists in Movies" and include at least six entries. This is because published articles had to contain at least five entries, and that sixth was in case one got cut during editing. One of these entries had to be fully written with the rest left as three- or four-sentence summaries, and the whole thing had to be under so many words regardless of how many entries you included. I want to say the word limit was 2,000 but that feels more like the length of the finished article, but that word count might have also included citations?

Every so often the mods would go through pitches and see if they fulfilled these requirements. It was not their call to say your article would or wouldn't work, only that you fulfilled the pitch requirements. If you didn't the mod would tell you what you did wrong (too many words, etc) and if you did the mod would move your pitch to a subforum where twice a week an editor would come in and look through everything. If it was doubtful they'd move it back to the main forum and tell you why it didn't work - maybe the topic was too vague and needed to be more focused, none of your examples were good, whatever. If the pitch had potential they'd move it to a "Pitches We're Considering" subforum where they'd go over your examples, tell you which ones were good and which ones weren't, etc. And yes, reception to your pitch and feedback for it could vary wildly depending on the editor who happened to come through. If you were pitching an article about video games and got an editor who played video games like Robert Brockway you had a better chance, but good luck if you got one who didn't.

When you finally got six entries an editor liked they'd take it to a meeting where the editors would collectively discuss the pitch. They'd approve entries, reject them, possibly even reject the whole pitch. When you finally got a topic and six or more entries that passed this group meeting they'd give you two weeks to write the whole thing. After that, it took about a month to publish to the site, during which the editors would make final adjustments to it.

The longest pitch it took to get approved was the Creepy Moments in Children's Games article. I went through so many entries for that, but either the moment wasn't creepy enough (Mega Man threatening to shoot Wily at the end of Mega Man 7) or the game wasn't kid-friendly enough (the Meat Circus in Psychonauts, Max turning into a monster in Sam and Max Season Three). The fastest was the Insane Easter Egg one, which damn near went through on my first try. The biggest headache was the Hardest Puzzles article - one of the co-writers didn't do their part, and when the deadline came up I gave him a nudge to which he said "Oh, sorry, I'll get on that!" but still didn't do it. I finally wrote it myself, only for that entry to get cut in editing anyway (it was that side quest in FF9 where you had to run out of the final dungeon twelve times for an accessory). And after all that, the whole thing wound up almost completely rewritten by an editor. Yeah, not my best experience but I still got paid.

After a while I couldn't figure out what the editors wanted, especially when the editorial team got taken over more and more by people who didn't give a crap about video games, and I quietly checked out. And Cracked doesn't publish freelance articles anymore.

- Webmaster to webmaster... How do you keep the lights on? I've been running in circles trying to get ad services and donation boxes to work, but self-funding seems to be what most people do.

Yeah, I do self-funding. I've tried ads and donations and neither work, and I don't update nearly often enough to start up a Patreon, so I just pay out of pocket. It's not bad, though, Dreamhost is just under $200 for two years.

- As a followup to the above, what are your general thoughts on the modern web aesthetic trend towards minimalism and the aetherial?

I understand web developers want to keep things readable for older users, but I do miss the personality of old pages. I want to say there's got to be some middle ground between Geocities hodgepodges of colors and fonts and the sterile look we have today but then I remember the modern Internet belongs to corporations instead of adoptable dragon .gifs, so it's fitting all the sites look like hospital rooms now.

- If you could go back and do any part of your online career differently, what would it be?

I would have never gotten into World of Warcraft. I wasted so much time in that game and while it was sort of fun to sate my curiosity about it and explore it for a while, I could have accomplished so much more with that time. I could have actually finished that cat game I made a prototype for in my game design class. And when a bunch of places were offering free learning resources during covid lockdown, what did I do? Farmed that stupid brachiosaurus mount. Although with the direction Unity went in recently, well, maybe I dodged a bullet, but I could have transferred my knowledge over to Godot (you know, until they do something equally stupid)

The only thing I can say is it served as a warning to myself about addictions, and at least I only pissed away my time farming colorful dragon mounts and not money on lottery tickets or my money AND health on drugs.

- What are some of your personal favorite comics stroke works of literature?

Although there are no doubt moments of major cringe in it and not just the Rogue Prime arc, Ultraverse Prime still holds a special place in my heart. It was the first comic I ever really got into and collected the individual floppies for, and were it not for it I might have never made a certain discovery about Deltarune.

My favorite book would have to be The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. I feel its themes of thinking both for yourself and as a group versus being blindly hiveminded is something more people would benefit from considering.

- What inspired you to write for the internet? (Professionally and otherwise)

For essay writing, my biggest inspirations were I-Mockery, Cracked, and a site that I don't think I'm allowed to talk about anymore. For webcomics it would be Neglected Mario Characters. I admit to reading VG Cats and Ctrl+AltDel when I was younger, but I've been actively trying to purge any influence those comics had on me. And if you're wondering, I stopped reading Ctrl+Alt+Del well before *that* comic.

- Yahtzee watcher to Yahtzee watcher, what are your general thoughts on the unceremonious shuttering of his video column by The Escapist?

Yeah, that came out of nowhere. I don't have a lot to say about Yahtzee himself since he's more or less unchanged besides the art assets. But everybody quitting in solidarity of Nick being fired is starting to get weird because Nick has been making a total jackass of himself lately. I don't know if you heard about him publishing an article about sketchy things Mark Kern had done and was so desperate for a breakout piece he didn't bother verifying anything his source said, and then it turned out the source was a troll? Or him asking for people on Discord to dig up his personal information i.e. dox him? Whatever you think of Mark Kern, when you pull that crap you only weaken your own side.

- Critic to critic, do you think art (regardless of the intentions or personal virtues of the artist) has the potential to do harm? I can clarify this if necessary.

I mean, yeah, the guy who shot Lennon was inspired to do so by Catcher in the Rye. Obviously I don't blame the book for that, the shooter was a nut. Maybe the better question is where the line is between blaming the art and the arsonist and what could be done about it, but even that's hazy at best. Artists shouldn't have to self-censor because some whackjob could take their piece as a call to commit murder. You can't even set rules like "don't do anything that could offend somebody" because some people are so thin-skinned they'd take offense to you writing a book about cats instead of dogs. Heck, somebody was famously bullied into attempted suicide over a piece of Stephen Universe fan art, and don't get me started on the Undertale needle cookies.

Re: art doing harm, I do agree, though I guess to clarify myself a bit - by "harm," I'm generally thinking "cultural harm," I.E. the spread of bad ideas - the enshittification of future works of art. My philosophical opponent in this matter holds that art is completely harmless and above critical analysis until the artist is proven guilty of some sort of cultural crime, so... In a sense, yes, for me it's about drawing the line of blame between the art and the arsonist - the arsonist in this equation being artists inspired by the previous art, the thinking being that poorly constructed works act as a kind of "memetic poison" or *antiknowledge.* At any rate... Just a digression.

On cultural harm:

If we compare art to food, I consider things like memes equivalent to candy and other junk food - it's fine to indulge in them once in a while, but you have to balance your intake with something substantial. If you grow up only consuming candy, potato chips, and Dr. Pepper, you don't get important nutrients for development and you're going to end up with all kinds of health problems like diabetes and gout, and your teeth are going to rot out of your head. Likewise, not every book you read has to be The Man in the Iron Mask and if you want to unwind after a rough day of work or school by laughing at "What is Love?" edits (or whatever the kids are into these days, get off my lawn) for an hour knock yourself out. But if that's all you take in, your brain's going to turn to sludge.

You also have to take in a variety of genres, from classic mythology to space opera so you have a large pool of ideas to draw on and aren't forming your understanding of the world on a single point of reference. We all know the "Read another book" memes.

Also, I believe it's beneficial to deliberately read bad books, watch bad movies, play bad games, and so on. If you're only a consumer, understanding the bad helps you appreciate the good, and if you want to get into those mediums yourself, they give insight on what *not* to do.

As for "art is completely harmless and above critical analysis until the artist is proven guilty of some sort of cultural crime" you should absolutely be allowed to analyze and criticize any work regardless of its impact on culture as a whole. To think otherwise is how we get "Don't ask questions, just consume product, then get excited for next products." Yeah, there's not much point in analyzing the artistic merit of KefkaRocks666's Edgar/Sabin incest Rule 34, but if a major publisher looked over a work, decided it was worth the time and resources to print it by the thousands, and charged money for it you should absolutely get to put it through the wringer if it's bad. I'm also not sure what the other person means by "cultural crime." Like, it's not Toby Fox' fault there's this swath of people who won't read anything but Undyne/Vryska slash, that doesn't mean those individuals aren't harming themselves by not expanding their horizons.

- As a followup to the above: what do you think the prime directive of a critic should be? What *drives* a critic?

I could say it's to help artists improve, but what game developer is going to read my work? At its basest level, a critic's job is to let a reader know if something is worth their time, but I also want my work to inspire readers to approach things from different angles. Even if they don't agree with me, maybe something I say could at least make them think "Huh, I never thought about that" or apply what I say to their own analysis of the media they consume. For me personally, writing little reviews is mostly a way to practice both writing and critical thinking.

Enquiring minds want to know

- This is something I've personally always been curious about - How would you describe the process of making an anthology-style comix such as Mario Busters? Was there any sort of outline or coordination? Was there a dedicated email or site backend? What sort of brainstorming (if any) went into such a thing?

In art there's this thing called an exquisite corpse. Don't let the name freak you out, it's just when an artist begins a piece, passes it on to another artist who adds whatever they want to it, passes it to another artist who adds whatever they want to it, and it keeps going until the piece is somehow considered finished. This is pretty much how Mario Busters came to be - Jay and I passing it back and forth, adding whatever we felt like at the time. But there was no planning other than the basic plot of "MARIO BAD", and the only reason Dark Falz was the "final boss" was because I was playing Phantasy Star at the time. The only exception was the final chapter which we collaborated on but even then, we both added stuff to surprise each other. When we did communicate, we did it through AIM.

You reminded me of a story I don't believe I've ever told anyone. One night I had a dream that Jay ended the comic with something that looked like the bad ending from Castlevania II. You know, the grayscale shot of a tombstone? I don't remember the details because it was a dream I had almost two decades ago, but I got so freaked out by it that I asked Jay to please not end the comic like that. Probably weirded him out a bit.

- Who the hell was Sven of "Sven's Kommentary" (Other than a stand-in for critics)? Was this just random BS somebody pulled out of a hat or was this a VGF forum in-joke that is lost to time?

Okay, it took me a while to remember what "Sven's Kommentary" was. Are you talking about those cutaways to Doc Brown spouting a wall of nitpicks? Jay came up with that, and if I ever incorporated that into Mario Busters I was just imitating him. Jay doesn't seem to maintain any online presence, so the true meaning behind those is unfortunately lost to Internet history. If I had to guess, I'd say it was a goofy, non-sequitorial running gag, possibly named after a guy Jay knew in real life.

- You've given a couple examples of annoying or strange mail you've received over the years - present company excepted, what are some of the strangest letters you've received?

I haven't gotten emails like that in a long time, I guess since the kids have moved on to Twitter and Reddit. When I was getting them, the strangest would have to be somebody repeatedly sending me something to the effect of "Bitch females don't play games."

- What is your favorite word?

I swear there was a word I liked just because it was fun to say, but it's evading me at the moment so I guess it can't have been all that great. I guess I could be boring and go with "kitten"

- What is your least favorite word?

People pronouncing "manga" like "mayn-gah" instead of "mahn-gah" has always made my skin crawl. I don't get uppity when people pronounce other Japanese words wrong (heck, even I pronounce "anime" like "ah-nih-may" instead of "ah-nee-meh"), so it's more to do with how awful that particular pronunciation sounds. To be honest, it sounds like "mange."

- What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

I get a rush of creative inspiration when I watch videos of art, whether it's tutorials or somebody like Jazza just having fun. If I need a general pick-me-up, going outside and being around greenery always works (another reason being surrounded by artificial lights and cheaply made garbage for two years nearly broke me).

- What turns you off?

Felinicide. I can usually knuckle down and deal with it if it's taken seriously - obviously if a person mourning their cat is part of the story it's fine. But making a joke out of it is when I nope out. I've repeatedly cited the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa's cats kept getting killed as the point I stopped watching the show, and I stopped reading Christopher Moore's Coyote Blue when the cat-eating coyote showed up.

- What is your favorite swear?

Brought to you by Magic Spoon!

- What sound or noise do you love?

"Cat purrs" would be too obvious, so let's go with rain.

- What sound or noise do you hate?

Snapping gum, with people sniffing being a close second.

- If you were an ice cream cone, what flavor would you describe yourself as?

Moose tracks. No particular reason why, that's just the first flavor that came to mind.

- Take us through a day in the life of Codiekitty

It's not exciting. If you asked me that a year ago it'd be "Get up, clean up after other people and take shit from customers all day, come home, eat, sleep, repeat" I'm still trying to put my attention span back together after years of World of Warcraft and my last job.

My morning routine is the same - feed the animals, clean up the cat boxes, walk the dog. In my planner I write down three chores I want to do that day: sweep, vacuum, clean the sinks, turn in the cans, anything like that. If there's a day where I get more than three chores down I'll write it down under another day and check it off so hey, more free time on that day. Then I have a list of seven recreational things - play a game, read a book, do some art, etc. - and try to check off two of those things a day.

- What's a piece of advice you live by?

Although I've never watched Adventure Time, I'm partial to Jake the Dog's "Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something."

Well... That's all. Join us next article in which we ramble ceaselessly for about a hundred pages regarding a subject few people know or care about. Many thanks to Codiekitty for taking the time to answer these questions and for putting up with my nonsense in general - I simultaneously feel like I haven't asked enough and like I've asked too much. Cheers.