Steve Purcell

Posted by Erik-André Vik Mamen, Philip Jong.
First posted on 01 January 2008. Last updated on 25 August 2010.
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Steve Purcell
Steve Purcell is an acclaimed animator and the creator of Sam & Max.
Steve Purcell

All images are courtesy of Steve Purcell © 2007.

To fans of comics and adventure games, Steve Purcell is a celebrity artist who needs no introduction. He is best known as the creator of the comic book characters Sam & Max. First emerged from the pages of comics in 1987, the dynamic duo of "anthropomorphic shamus canine" and "hyperkinetic rabbity thing" leapt onto the computer screen in 1993 as an adventure game called Sam & Max Hit the Road (from LucasArts) and later appeared on television in 1997 as an animated television cartoon series called The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police (on FOX). After the abrupt cancellation of Sam & Max Freelance Police in 2004 by LucasArts that disappointed many of his fans, Purcell collaborated with Telltale Games (a company which, incidentally, was founded by ex-employees of LucasArts) in 2005 to begin development of a new Sam & Max adventure game that was to be delivered in episodic format. The first season of the new Sam & Max series finally arrived in 2006. The games received critical acclaims from both fans and critics, and a new future was secured for Sam & Max.

We are extremely privileged to have this rare opportunity to interview Purcell, who has kindly agreed to discuss briefly with us about his work on Sam & Max. In this exclusive interview, Purcell speaks of the origin of Sam & Max, his collaborations with LucasArts and Telltale Games, the cult icon status of the "freelance police", and what holds in the future for his beloved characters.

Check out our rare photo of Purcell working in his studio and a caricature of him penned by Purcell himself!

How did the cartoon Sam & Max first come to life? Where did you draw your inspirations to use a dog and a rabbit (or rather, a "hyperkinetic rabbity thing") as your characters?

My little brother Dave and I used to make our own comics when we were kids. Sam & Max started as a parody of the comics that he would leave lying around unfinished. I would complete his comics in a mean spoof of his style. The way Sam & Max over-articulate everything they say grew out of spoofing the comics of a little kid.

Sam and Max have appeared in various media, from comic books to cartoon-television to computer games (with LucasArts then and Telltale Games now). How difficult is it for you to make the transition between these media? Which do you most prefer? Why?

Comic books are the simplest because there's no one else to answer to. Do whatever story you want, how you want to do it. TV has the most people looking over your shoulder. There are a lot of people being paid to have a lot to say about what you are trying to do. Games are somewhere in the middle. You're still spending someone's money but the times I've worked in games it's been a bit more autonomous than TV. Though comics are satisfying to create, in the other mediums there's the potential for a much bigger audience.

At what point did you realize that Sam & Max had reached cult status and had become a cultural icon in the media?

I don't know that I would use those terms to describe Sam & Max, but you sort of notice when it seems that people have gotten personally invested in the characters. I'm still taken aback when I receive a photo of anyone with a Sam & Max tattoo. That demonstrates a level of commitment that I don't know that I would ever be able to reach about anything. It puts pressure on me to protect Sam & Max so that that devoted fan won't have a tattoo of a character that's selling adult diapers or something.

In 2004, LucasArts made a lot of fans angry when the company unexpectedly announced the cancellation of Sam & Max Freelance Police, citing "current market place realities and underlying economic considerations". How far along was the project already in development when it was canceled? Years later, what were your thoughts on LucasArts' decision to move away from the adventure genre on which the company originally was founded?

That game was probably between two thirds and three quarters done. I never had a chance to get upset because the fan backlash was so immediate and intense. As far as LucasArts current path, it seems that adventure games are just not part of their plan. It's a new company with a different direction from their roots but I guess it's working for them.

What differences do you find in working with LucasArts and working with Telltale Games on Sam & Max?

Telltale's culture sort of reminds me of the heyday of LucasArts. Telltale is a very lean company with a lot of enthusiasm and sense of ownership in what they create. I think that passion shows through in the final products.

How satisfied are you with the episodic format delivery of the new Sam & Max series? What other directions will you like to explore for Sam & Max in the future?

I was always a believer in the episodic delivery. Years ago when I worked on adventure games that had thirty or forty hours of game play, we would joke, "Why even design the last third of the game? No one will play all the way through anyway." I like that the Telltale Sam & Max games arrive in small doses. That you want to finish one before you move on to the next one and that the audience is receiving new games steadily, month after month.

The Sam & Max franchise is now 20 years old. What do you contribute most to its enduring success? Why? Where will Sam & Max be in another 20 years (other than retirement)?

Where will they be in twenty years? My preserved brain will be stored in a talking, Steve-shaped sarcophagus in the lobby of Sam&MaxCo, which will be run from a foreboding glass skyscraper by my two sons. As far as Sam & Max enduring for the past 20 years, the fans have definitely been a factor in keeping Sam & Max alive. There have been long stretches when there was nothing new coming from me but fans who came aboard with the comics, game or show were great about spreading the word amongst their friends or even building Sam & Max fan sites. I don't know how many times someone told me they lent out their Surfin' the Highway paperback to someone they really wanted to read it and then never got it back or they bought multiple copies so they could indoctrinate their friends. Yay for the fans, I say!

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