Giant Magazine Interview
From Homestar Runner WikiStinkoman 20X6, The Brothers Chaps were interviewed by Ben Goldstein for Giant Magazine. Matt and Mike were asked similar questions but were interviewed separately.
|Warning: Language that may be considered offensive by some readers follows.|
To view a censored version of this page, see Giant Magazine Interview (censored).
 Interview with Mike Chapman
BEN GOLDSTEIN: How many unique visitors does Homestarrunner.com get per month?
MIKE CHAPMAN: It used to be around a million. A couple years ago we were averaging between 300,000 and 500,000 unique visitors on Monday alone. But we've avoided looking or caring about site stats for about two years. It's been probably two years since I've seen a current number.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Why don't you care about that stuff anymore?
MIKE CHAPMAN: We've never really cared. This has all been by accident, you know? We just did it out of fun, and we sort of got to a point where we found ourselves caring too much about the numbers. We didn't want to have our work affected by the number of people coming. You hope that the audience is there, but if it goes a little bit, we don't want to be like, "Oh, we need to put something with Trogdor in there to get the fans to come back." And since we don't have advertising, those numbers really don't mean anything to us. Our main concern is providing a free entertaining site.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Do you still keep track of how many e-mails Strong Bad gets per day?
MIKE CHAPMAN: He still gets 2,000, 3,000 a day, something like that. Our mail server deletes everything every three days. It was getting to a point where it was just bogging things down and we were like, "We don't need to see all of these."
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Would you mind giving me a ballpark estimate of the dollar value of you sell every week, or every month?
MIKE CHAPMAN: That's something else that I don't know.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: What's been the most popular item?
MIKE CHAPMAN: The Trogdor shirt. We had a DVD come out in November and that was our best seller over Christmas, but the Trogdor shirt is still the top selling T-shirt. Which is pretty ridiculous. It's been over two years and Trogdor has only appeared in one or two small things since his initial appearance. How about the figurines? Yeah, the figurines are still doing good and the Cheat plush did well. We're actually looking into doing some Cheat Commando figurines, which will hopefully be out later this year. The CD sells well too, but as far as the main apparel goes, the Trogdor hoodie and the Trogdor T-shirt are the top sellers.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: So, the Home Star universe has its origins in the children's book you and your friend Craig Zobel made in 1996. How did you come up with the name "Home Star Runner"? What does that mean?
MIKE CHAPMAN: A friend of ours was mimicking a local sports figure doing a radio or TV commercial–you know, one of those cheesy car dealership or local grocery store commercials. And since our friend didn't know very much about sports, instead of saying a phrase like "all star second baseman," he said "home star runner for the Braves." We all thought it was hilarious. Then a year or two later we decided to make this children's book. And we were like, "we should call it Home Star Runner." It was just a phrase that we were holding on to.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: In the book, did Home Star Runner win the strongest man in the world contest?
MIKE CHAPMAN: Actually, Pom Pom won. The Cheat was helping Strong Bad cheat–it was a grape-holding contest–and Home Star realizes that in order to uncover Strong Bad's cheating he has to drop his grapes. So Pom Pom wins, and Pom Pom shares the trophy with Home Star. It was a completely different universe in the book from what it is on the site. These days, Home Star would never have the wits about him to understand what was going on in that situation.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Describe the website's typical fan to me.
MIKE CHAPMAN: I think our typical fans are still college kids. Between 18 and 24 is sort of our target audience–that's the first demographic that we caught on. Homestar Runner was a Flash site in 2000, and there were sites that linked to cool Flash sites like ours, and there were a lot of people checking us out through those channels. And also just through word of mouth at colleges. It seemed like our sales and viewership are sort of dictated by the college calendar, in terms of things starting to pick up a little bit in August and September, and slowing down in the summer.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Why do you think college students have taken to you so much?
MIKE CHAPMAN: I don't know. Hopefully the main reason people like it is because it's entertaining. But they also enjoy the fact that there are no ads on it. People tell us all the time that they appreciate that it's a free site and they don't need to sign up for anything or worry about pop-ups or junk e-mail or getting a subscription or anything like that. And although we do sell stuff, we try not to bombard you with it.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: The characters' appearances seem to fit perfectly with their personalities. How did you decide which characters would have no arms, or arms with no hands, or arms with hands?
MIKE CHAPMAN: It's just the style we draw in, where the characters aren't really animal or human. I guess the easiest way to describe it is updated versions of the drawings you would do when you were 4 or 5 years old, of your mommy and daddy with legs coming straight out of the head. It's ended up making animating them a lot easier. Home Star has got no arms or fingers or elbows or anything like that, so he's really easy to animate.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: But there are a few characters that are apparently hand-worthy, or arm-worthy.
MIKE CHAPMAN: That's just pure accident. It's not that Strong Mad is the most articulated character–he's got actual fingers and knees and elbows and separate moving eyebrows–but that doesn't mean he's the most advanced character by any stretch.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: When you were creating Strong Sad, why did you decide to give him elephant feet? Or "soolnds," as he calls them.
MIKE CHAPMAN: There's a part of the site that's buried deep with lots of our preliminary sketches, that shows the development of Strong Sad. He was sort of a French mime for a while, with like a beret and a striped shirt. Craig and I were doing a bunch of drawings of this character and refining it, and for whatever reasons, elephant feet seemed to have the dumpiness–you know, it's like he's a sad enough character as it is and then you look down and it's like "Oh man, you've got elephant legs."
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Another great thing about the site is all the hidden pages and Easter eggs scattered around. You just mentioned that there are pages buried on the site with the preliminary sketches. Does it ever bother you that so many of these things are never seen by casual fans?
MIKE CHAPMAN: No. I think the thing that outweighs the fact that casual fans are missing it is that the big fans get such a kick out of finding the secret stuff. It all goes back to video games–there was a negative world in Super Mario Brothers, and we used to sit there for hours trying to get past it, or getting the invisible dot in Adventure.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Speaking of video games, I know you're against the idea of a Home Star Runner TV series, one reason being that it removes that interactive element. But have you ever considered making an official video game? Like to sell in stores?
MIKE CHAPMAN: I don't think we'd rule it out. We're able to do most of the game ideas that we have on the site, like Peasant's Quest, which is like a King's Quest-type game–these graphical adventures that we played growing up in the late '80s and early '90s. To make one of those games ourselves was one of the coolest things we've ever done.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: But I'd imagine there'd be a huge interest in people playing a game with the Home Star characters.
MIKE CHAPMAN: Right, but we'd have to come up with an idea that we felt wasn't just squishing these characters into a video game, and that we couldn't do on the site for free on our own. We do pretty much everything ourselves and it's obvious we wouldn't be able to do that ourselves. Either we'd have to give up a lot and say "you guys do a bunch of the stuff" or we'd have to be sitting next to them the whole time and not be working on the site. We wouldn't want it to take away from the rest of the site. So, it's a possibility, but right now we're working on a side-scrolling Nintendo-style game with the Stinkoman character. So yes, we love video games and the characters would work in video games, but if we can do it on the site for free first, then we're going to do that.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Are there any other voices you do regularly besides the "Powered by the Cheat" stuff?
MIKE CHAPMAN: As far as recurring things go, the Cheat toons are the only thing. But I was the narrator for "Decemberween in July." I was the reader of the children's book.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: There was this Atlanta Journal Constitution article that listed "Parsnips Aplenty" as your favorite toon on the site. Is that still the case?
MIKE CHAPMAN: Probably not, but I still like that one. I would say that one of the Cheat Commandos things is probably my current favorite. Either the cereal commercial or "Shopping for Danger." Anytime we get to do anything that's not just the regular characters it's a nice change of pace, whether it's Cheat Commandos or Powered by the Cheat or whatever. I still get a kick out of the fact that it's different and new.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Who's your favorite character in the Home Star universe?
MIKE CHAPMAN: Old-timey Home Star is usually who I cite as my favorite character. But when we do the old-timey stuff, it's so hot and cold in terms of fan reaction. A lot of people really hate the old-timey characters, but I love them. I also like the anime version of Home Star, whose name will be revealed at some point.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Aw come on, can't you tell me now?
MIKE CHAPMAN: It's either Extra Man or One Up. I don't know which it is, but it will probably be revealed in the Stinkoman game. But I like that character. Even though I like regular Home Star and Strong Bad, they're just such a part of my daily life that–
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Maybe a little bit of the magic's worn off by now?
MIKE CHAPMAN: Yeah, perhaps. Sadly.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: So you guys have been at this for about five years now. Is it still exciting to you? Is the plan to do this until the fans stop caring?
MIKE CHAPMAN: Hopefully we will dictate whether or not we keep going. I would hate for us to stop just because fans don't like it. Hopefully, when we stop it'll be because we want to do something else or we feel like we've exhausted this set of characters. But we're still having a blast doing this–just the wide variety of things we get to do, whether it's making an album and making bad Limozeen songs or creating T-shirts and posters and patches and whatever. If we were just doing the regular Home Star cartoons, that might get a little old, but there'll be weeks at a time where we don't do that stuff, where we do a Teen Girl Squad toon and then a music video and then some puppet stuff. I feel like we still do some fresh stuff that isn't just the same old thing over and over again.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Speaking of Limozeen, who does the music for the site?
MIKE CHAPMAN: Matt and I do most of it. For the CD we made, we collaborated with this band here in Atlanta called Y-O-U, who are friends of ours, and much better musicians than us. They have a home studio, and we fleshed out all these songs together. "Ballad of the Sneak" was done by a band in Baltimore called Da Vinci's Notebook. And then our guy who programs all the games, Jonathan Howe, does some of the music for the games. He did the Duck Guardian music, and 50K Racewalker.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: What happens when you win 50K Racewalker? I'm not going to spend that many hours playing it.
MIKE CHAPMAN: There's a cheat apparently. You can download it and you can just fast-forward essentially. You get third place if you make it the entire way. It shows you on a podium and says you got third place.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Amazing.
MIKE CHAPMAN: If you go 1K you get to a point where you sort of walk into blackness and a little note comes up that says, "Whoa, we didn't even finish the game cause we didn't think anyone would get this far." And then it continues and says, "Good job, only 49K to go." We had the idea for that game as a joke, like, "Let's make a game that would take you two days to win it."
BEN GOLDSTEIN: What makes you laugh?
MIKE CHAPMAN: I'm currently watching a lot of Leave It to Beaver. For a while we were watching Saved By the Bell and The Match Game. We just find old stuff to TiVo and watch. That's the stuff I get inspiration from. I also like that show Strangers With Candy. I like Home Movies a lot. Old Three Stooges, the old Batman TV show.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Anything campy and retro.
MIKE CHAPMAN: Yeah, I mean that's sort of where we pull from. But I just started watching Leave It to Beaver a couple weeks ago and there's genuine humor in it. It's not just funny because it's 50 years old. I thought I was just going to watch it for nostalgia because I watched it growing up, but I've been surprised.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Now you understand more of the jokes?
MIKE CHAPMAN: Yeah, maybe. It's kind of a subtle humor too. It's not all slapstick, like I Love Lucy.
 Interview with Matt Chapman
BEN GOLDSTEIN: How much time do you and your brother put into the site? Is there a schedule you try to stick to?
MATT CHAPMAN: There's a rough schedule. We have an office space now which has helped. We're both married and have our own homes with our wives now, but the majority of the site early on was done in the apartment we lived in together. We'd be at the apartment all day, so we'd work a little and then stop and play the new Zelda game for a while, but if we got an idea for something at 9 or 10 or midnight we would work on it then, whereas now we go home in the evenings. And we occasionally will work at home. But for the most part we kind of work an 11 to 8 schedule, then we go home at night and we kind of stop doing it. So that's a change that's happened over the years.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Do you guys still stay up all night on Sunday to make the Strong Bad e-mails?
MATT CHAPMAN: We've been trying lately to get them written and recorded before the weekend, but we always end up deviating, sometimes even completely rewriting them when we actually start making them. So we can't escape the all-nighter thing. We always feel like that's where most of the gold–if there is gold on our website–has come from. Those five minutes before we decide to upload a cartoon and we think of some other thing.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: How do you choose which e-mails to use?
MATT CHAPMAN: We spend hours going through them to try and find good ones, or the one that jumps out at you. That's essentially the way we've always done it. I'll just read an e-mail in my head, in the voice of Strong Bad, and then if he keeps talking after he's read it we just try and go with that. I'll be like, "OK, what if he does this, Mike?" And then we start bouncing ideas off each other. But a lot of the e-mails are either something that's very similar to something we've already done or just a stupid idea, like "hey, you should do a parody of Lord of the Rings!" We make references to popular culture but we try and stay away from that kind of stuff.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: The Strong Bad e-mails are obvious fan favorites. They're what bring a lot of people back to the site every week. Is there a character or feature that you're surprised isn't popular?
MATT CHAPMAN: Mike mentioned to you already that there are polar reactions to some of the things we do, and that really surprises me. It's hard for me to see that you could like our site for one thing and not all of it. Like, if you appreciated that Strong Bad e-mail then you should also like this Senor Cardgage commercial for a mortgage company, you know? But then of course if you're a 12-year-old, you might not get it. Not that it's so highbrow, but it's just that it won't be amusing to you. I remember around the time we introduced the character Marshie in his own little commercial, we got an e-mail from a kid who was saying how he didn't think it belonged on the site, and it was so out of character with the rest of everything. I thought that was incredible. And in a way it's kind of cool. I guess that's how you know if there is any sort of mass appeal to what we do, because we have some things that are for one person but not for another. I guess Strong Bad is sort of the great equalizer. Everybody loves an asshole.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Well on the other side of that coin, is there something that's gotten a ton of positive response from fans that you thought would just be a throwaway gag?
MATT CHAPMAN: The Poopsmith. The only reason the Poopsmith is in anything more than the first cartoon we ever put him in was because we had a huge response–which was like two e-mails back then–from people saying he was funny. It's actually a shirt we held out on, but people have asked for Poopsmith merchandise. And he was never supposed to come back after that one appearance. It's just a gag, it's his name, and what he does, and that was it. Trogdor was the same way. Trogdor is probably the best example of something that we assumed wouldn't go over very well that ended up getting a good response.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: I wasn't aware that you were married. Was she a fan of the site?
MATT CHAPMAN: No! Mike and I just married the girls we'd been dating for a while. We did not meet them through the website. Though, you know, Mike's married to Melissa who does the voice of Marzipan. My wife and I got married in December of last year and Mike got married last February.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: I asked your brother this as well but I wanted to get your take. Describe the website's typical fan for me as you see it.
MATT CHAPMAN: It's hard to define because we get e-mails from 40-year-old women and then find out that 6-year-old kids like the colors and the shapes and the funny voices. A lot of our fans can be pretty harsh. They know what they like and they know what they look for, and if there weren't as many Easter eggs in one of the cartoons, then they're kind of, you know–
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Pissed about it?
MATT CHAPMAN: Yeah, which is kind of funny, but that's the state of the Internet. We don't e-mail or write letters to our favorite bands to tell them how much we like them, we just go to their shows and buy their albums, and maybe buy a T-shirt at the show. But with the Internet, the direct contact or at least communication with fans is much more obvious. So they can be kind of fickle. But in the end they always seem like very nice people.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: How many other siblings do you guys have?
MATT CHAPMAN: We have an oldest brother and two sisters. The sister that's just older than Mike actually works with us and helps around the store with our dad. Our brother is the reason we're as into video games as we are. Basically until we started doing this for a living, he sort of supported our video game habit. He would buy way more games than he could ever play, knowing that we probably wanted them. So we definitely have him to thank for that.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Do they try to give you ideas for the site all the time?
MATT CHAPMAN: No, not in a bad way. More than anything, they know that something they did or said or that we all experienced together is going to wind up on the site sooner or later. There was an Easter egg I think where you see Strong Mad's room and he's got this statue on his desk and it's this football player. And what it was is this cologne bottle that was in our basement forever but no one knew where it came from. The guy's legs were the glass bottle and then the top is him throwing the football, and the top of his torso was this weird squishy plastic thing. Anyway, I put that in there and my oldest sister called and was like "My God, you put the football thing in there, that's awesome!" So they don't even have to give us ideas–we already experienced them when we were four.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Which voice is the hardest for you to do?
MATT CHAPMAN: Bubs. I'm constantly convinced that he never sounds the same in any two cartoons. And I'll always record a line and say, "Mike, does that sound like Bubs?" And Mike is like, "Shut up, it always sounds like Bubs." But if you listen to one of our old cartoons and a new one, just like if you watch The Simpsons, there's always an evolution that happens with the voices. But Bubs is definitely the hardest to nail. Though Strong Sad is the most sensitive in that if we go to a bar or a show and it's smoky there, I probably won't be able to do Strong Sad the next day unless he's going to be sick in the cartoon. For a while it seemed like Strong Bad was the only voice I could do if I had a sore throat, but I've been able to figure out how to eke out the other voices. Except for poor Strong Sad. There have been a couple times where we had an e-mail written and ready to go that had Strong Sad, and then we'd have to scrap him or do a different e-mail, because we were in a loud bar where I had to talk loud or we went and did karaoke or something stupid like that.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: How is the sound of Pom Pom's voice made?
MATT CHAPMAN: We've been using the same sound clip for five years now, of Mike blowing bubbles into milk. And everybody's always like, "We know what the sound of Pom Pom's voice is, man! All right!" I'm like yeah, well, if you want to think it's a bong that's fine.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Coach Z seems to have a Chicago accent. Did you base his voice on any specific Chicagoan or coach or am I totally wrong?
MATT CHAPMAN: No, you're definitely right. He's definitely Midwestern, a little Bostonian–it's like all of those weird American accents that aren't Southern. We were born in Indiana and our grandma used to say "worsh the deeshes" instead of "wash the dishes." Most of the other words she said were normal, and then she would say, "Well, we gotta worsh the deeshes." It's just based on hearing those voices. And there's a voice I did in college, just a dumb character I did around my friends, who was this really depressing guy that kind of had that Coach Z voice, and so it sort of ended up becoming that.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: What's the "Z" in Coach Z stand for?
MATT CHAPMAN: Our friend Bill Kramer used to call Craig Zobel "Coach Z." Bill always comes up with nicknames for people.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Was Craig into sports or something?
MATT CHAPMAN: No, not at all. Bill is into sports. Craig is not. I think that's kind of why Bill called Craig Coach Z.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: But he didn't talk like that.
MATT CHAPMAN: No. Mike just needed a coach character for this online story he did, before it was animated, called "Where My Hat Is At?" Home Star was going to the big game and a coach character needed to be in there, and that was at the time when our friend Bill was calling Craig Coach Z, so Mike just made him Coach Z.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: How often are you asked to do a voice from the site by an enthusiastic fan when you're just trying to go out and have a good time?
MATT CHAPMAN: It's never like that, where it like squashes a good time. We keep to ourselves a lot, so unless we're going to a college to talk or doing something where it's made obvious that these are the Home Star guys, it doesn't come up a lot. We just went and shot some video at a horse farm where Melissa takes lessons. And she found out that the kids there were fans–there's like a 6-year-old, a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old. Which, again, is kind of weird. Anyway, the 6-year-old Alex was asking me to do all the voices. And in that case it's fun, I'll just sit there and talk to him like the character for a half-hour, and that's great. But it doesn't happen very often. The few times we've gone to colleges or whatever, it's funny because after we've talked and answered questions, Mike just goes and sits somewhere and people will come up to me and I'll do cell phone messages and crap like that. It's a little overwhelming, obviously, but it's cool. If people recognized my face or something and I was getting stopped on the street, then maybe. But I don't see that ever happening, so I'm not going to worry about it.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: There was this Atlanta Journal Constitution article that listed "Where's the Cheat" as your favorite toon on the site. Is that still the case?
MATT CHAPMAN: I think it's either the Peasant's Quest trailer or one of the Cheat Commandos things now. And I think it's almost because those have the least to do with the rest of the Web site. We kind of like that release. As far as Strong Bad e-mails go, I think my favorite would probably be "Different Town," where They Might Be Giants did the music.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, there was a great Homsar appearance in that one.
MATT CHAPMAN: Yeah, exactly, Homsar showing up as a woman. Pretty frightening. I didn't want to draw like a creepy female body so I looked up "one-piece bathing suits" on the web and found a picture from a Miss California pageant or something. It's her body, traced fairly closely. I don't know what year it was from, but it was some kind of Miss California.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: Who's your favorite character in the Home Star Universe?
MATT CHAPMAN: I think it's still plain old Home Star. At this point he's like the underdog, so it's more fun when he gets his jabs in here and there. He's one of the funnest voices to do and getting to do him as the puppet adds a whole other dimension, because the puppet is kind of a whole different personality.
BEN GOLDSTEIN: What makes you laugh?
MATT CHAPMAN: Arrested Development. Stuff like that shocks me that it's on TV, and it makes me even happier that it's popular and it has stayed on, because for the longest time if you asked me and Mike what our favorite TV shows were it was a list of canceled shows. It was like Freaks and Geeks, Upright Citizens Brigade—I'm just waiting for Reno 911 to get canceled. We found out the Reno 911 people are fans, which was amazing because we watched them on The State years and years ago and then on Viva Variety. What makes me laugh is other people doing cool, original stuff where you can tell they're not taking orders.
 Fun Facts
- A screenshot taken from The Cheat's version of crazy cartoon is shown with the caption "Strong Bad kicks Homestar in the face nine times. Actually 10."
- There is a link to a personality test entitled "What Homestarrunner.com character are you?"
- The editors repeatedly use the compound words "Home Star" when referring to Homestar.