At its peak, it had over 2700 daily visitors and growing, with a record 15117 users online all at once on August 20, 2007. By its end, it had accumulated more than 27 thousand forum threads and over 7200 registered members, not to mention hundreds of comics created with Garry’s Mod comics on its official archive and thousands more on the forums, with new ones often released by the dozen on a daily basis in its heyday. It even earned a short-lived (and poorly written) Wikipedia page at one point and was responsible for a then truly impactful full-length machinima film, created entirely using the Source engine.
Nowadays, however, its legacy is mostly forgotten, with almost all traces of it having ever existed scrubbed from the Internet. Besides Metrocop and its own archive of comics, not much is left of what was once a thriving and extremely popular community, once big enough to rival Facepunch’s forums in its prime. Only the people who were a part of that community truly remember and reminisce fondly on this forgotten part of the Half-Life and Garry’s Mod side of the Web.
Today, we’re taking a look back at the history of PHWOnline, one of the first and biggest communities spun out of Garry’s Mod’s creative freedom, from its small beginnings in 2005 and through its boom in popularity in the mid-to-late-2000’s to its dramatic upheaval at the end of 2007 and ultimate end as the 2010’s began, as told by some of the people who made the site.
I’m Michael, my old username might’ve been jian at some point but that got dropped not too long after and I originated the PHW website.
Hi! I’m Jeff Eastman, and I was one of the staff members of PHWOnline, responsible for subjecting you to Jeff, Secret Agent Whiskey, Rave Man, and assorted other one-offs. Fun fact, I had made about 3 episodes of a “serious” comic about psychics living in the Half Life 2 world, but scrapped it because it was dumb. I think I had recently played Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy on PC and it blew my teenage mind away and inspired that short stint. Luckily that one didn’t survive in my archives anywhere so I don’t need to embarrass myself by showing you it.
Nevermind, I found it, it was called Cerebral Tranquility. Yeesh. Now I’m obligated to get that uploaded. Apologies in advance.
Hey. I’m Joseph (or Joe), although everyone from wayback when probably just knows me best as user Slique. I was one of our comic makers, moderators, and staff members at PHW, and at one point even the admin too. Which is… honestly kind of mad now that I think about it.
I’m Waxx. I am told I was an admin.
I’m Alex, I was a moderator and admin at PHWOnline and developed the CMS which at least 2 iterations of the PHW website ran on. I made a few (awful) comics on the forums and released a few models including the legendary sossedges. Outside of the early website work I don’t consider myself a particularly important part of the PHW team but I was a fairly prolific forum poster.
My username was Mjolnir82991, usually shortened to just Mjolnir or MJ. I was a Garry’s Mod comic-maker involved with PHW from 2005-2008. I started as one of the forum members and eventually worked my way up to being a member of the team.
My name is Ben Hasic, I was known as “Happydevil” on PHWOnline, Facepunch Studios and my own shitty InvisionFree forums. I was a huge Half-Life fan, the name “Happydevil” actually came from one of the spray tags in the original Half-Life Deathmatch.
I started tinkering with Garry’s Mod in 2005, I was 15 at the time, just playing with dumb custom models, spawning NPCs into different maps. I started my GMod Comics career at 16 on the “Above Average Comic Maker” board of PHW with a series called “Brad & Phil” in January of 2006. By 2008, I had made more than 70 GMod Comics, many featuring members of the PHW community as core characters in absurd self-referential stories with silly nods to stuff I liked at the time.
I moved from “Above Average” to “Approved Comic Maker”, then eventually to “PHW Staff” but soon fell off when school and social engagements became a bit more serious. I had laid plans for a fourth series of “Brad & Phil” as well as a spinoff series that would span across each previous series, connecting significant events to one unfortunate character named “Bad Luck Barry”.
I mostly joined for the fun of reading, it took me a little while to get good enough (it took me aaaaages before I’d say I got proper good) to post my own comics. I’ve always tended towards lurking and I never got quite as into the community as many others. For quite a while at first I just peddled my little comics on the forum and the golden meadows of the PHW Archive comics were far beyond me. But I was quite happy with that – as long as people enjoyed what I made (and a fair few did) I was pretty happy to have the creative outlet.
My name is Dav0r, or now since I’m an adult.. call me Dave.
Firstly, I’m gonna start this interview by stating I have aged a fair bit since PHW’s conception and subsequent death.
Information may be a little harder to extract from my brain than it used to be. But nevertheless I’ll soldier on.
My role on PHW I ‘think’ was respected or trusted member?
I think the ease of modding within Gmod at the time along with the skills I’d taught in terms of 2D + 3D design lent themselves towards making props and the like for comic makers.
Either that or I was a massive troll.
Hello! I’m Chris. A lot of you reading this may remember me as Mozza. I joined PHW at the ripe old age of 13. I was a weird kid with a funny face and an eagerness to fit in with a community of ‘cooler’ people. Eventually I became a Staff member as I contributed videos etc, but this was late on into the lifetime of PHW.
Part 1: The origin of PHWComics
A Garry’s Mod public health warning
The original version of Garry’s Mod released in December of 2004, quickly evolving into a creative tool that allowed players to, among other features, manipulate and pose characters from Half-Life 2, which could then be recorded as screenshots. With the relative ease of use and flexibility of this rudimentary toolset, as well as the popularity and cutting-edge graphics of Half-Life 2, a small but eager community of users soon started to emerge, using Garry’s Mod and image editing tools to create small, humorous webcomics.
One of those early Garry’s Mod comics was a three-panel short comic called “Public Health Warning” by Michael Clements, then going by the handle “jian”.
Think it was just me being immature in Garry’s Mod and posing Alyx in stupid ways. Which ended up me making it looks like G-Man was shagging her and the Public Health Warning was to wear protection cause they had a kid at the end. That started the series of making more health warnings based on ridiculous things that we could do in Garry’s Mod.
I remember they were primarily based around G-Man being a bit of a twat, lots of Michael’s geordie humour as well, not much else though.
The ongoing series of Public Health Warning short comics, initially released on the early Garry’s Mod forums, soon led to the idea of creating a website to host the series. Thus, on , the PHWComics website (www.phwcomics.co.uk[archive link]) was launched, originally as a place to collect the Public Health Warning (PHW) comic series / personal blog for Michael.
The site came about because I had a history of trying to make websites and wanted to some place to put my own comics onto. Worked out in the long run since I’m a lead software engineer now.
I knew Michael from the Quake 3 mod scene, we worked together on a couple of anime mods. At the time I was a web developer and had created my own CMS system which I was using for the websites I built. I used this CMS to make websites for the mods, so when Michael started his own mod called “Seasons Forever” I let him use my CMS for managing his website. When he decided to start PHWComics he asked if he could also use it for that. I ended up customising it a bit with features needed for PHW Comics.
In my opinion at the time these early versions did very clever things and I was super proud of my work at the time, but now I look back and cringe at how awful my work was by modern standards! The comic management bits felt rather clever, especially the RSS feed.
[The first few comics] were – honestly, they were super great. I was amazed by them at the time. I remember seeing the first few comics go up on the Facepunch forums before PHW even existed, and all the attention to detail and posing just blew me away. They were just so cool. I think it was probably only a few days or weeks after that that Michael posted about launching his own spin-off site/forums, and I signed up the same day.
A team in the making
As the nascent comics community continued to grow, other series started to grab attention on the Garry’s Mod forums. One of those early successes, predating even the launch of the PHWComics website, was Jeff, a humor series by Jeff Eastman, a.k.a. Clover, first released on .
Jeff started entirely because of Garry’s Mod. Well, to dial that back a step, it started entirely because I bought Half Life 2 because it looked absolutely amazing. I’m actually looking into the physical box of HL2 now, 5 installation CD’s and a quote on the front box cover foldout from Game Informer saying “Nothing will ever be the same.” Yes, it definitely had a major impact on the video game world, and did it have the same monumental effect on me? Probably not, but it was fun to be a part of the whole niche culture that evolved around comics made in a sandbox mod for a popular video game. I don’t remember exactly when or how I came across Garry’s Mod, but looking at the EXIF data for the first picture of the first Jeff comic, beautifully titled “gm_construct0023.jpg,” it was taken Friday, January 28, 2005, at 12:58:12 PM. That would place me at a ripe 16 years of age, which I fully blame for a lot of the hamfisted and awkward humour you may have seen through the years of my comics. I believe I had stumbled across the Garry’s Mod forums (Facepunch) at some point shortly before and seen someone else make a quick comic or funny scenario and I thought that seemed really groovy. Armed with Photoshop Elements 3.0, Garry’s Mod v6b, and a whole lot of free time, I started creating.
Soon, other popular series such as Ravenholm Armory and Geremy Tibbles started to catch Michael’s eye, motivating him to expand PHWComics from a single author’s series to a full team of people producing comics on a regular basis.
The first PHWComics team, officially joining the site between February and March of 2005, was composed of lajsiiwan, Steinmann, Clover, Sammo and Waxx, some of the early successes of the Garry’s Mod comic making scene.
I remember thinking it would be nice if it wasn’t just myself posting to the site, we’d be able to have a proper community with a better comic reading experience than just embedding images to a forum. Being a young’n who took it a bit too seriously, I wanted people who pushed for a bit of quality in their comics, so I checked out the Facepunch forums for people posting well liked comics and content and reached out to see if they wanted to put their comics on my site. Rob’s (Steinmann) was the one I remember mostly as it was more inline to my sense of humour and managed to convince him to join. Still mates to this day so it’s nice to remember how it started.
Michael asked me to join and I thought that sounded pretty cool, so I accepted.
I ended up on the PHWComics team because I saw that Michael (Jian, as I knew him by his username at the time) started a website, PHW Comics, short for Public Health Warning (Michael’s initial series and foray into comic making). Then I begged him to join multiple times because I wanted all up in that business. I think I wore him down enough that he made it a condition for me to have my comics in a more proper format/layout, instead of a dozen or more individual, poorly optimized .jpg’s, to be hosted on the site. Episode 18 is when I got my shit together for something of a format (the fan-favourite “Depressinol” episode) and Michael acquiesced my presence.
lajsiiwan i’m not too familiar with (sorry), however Steinmann was a real good guy, I think he went onto video production after a stint in the Police(?)
Clover made Jeff… and his name is Jeff. Doxxed.
Sammo, my memory is kinda ropey, you’d have to show me one of his comics for it to spark back into life.
Waxx is a real sound guy, owns his own business that I gently nod at when it appears on my Facebook feed… still a really short individual though. Guy just needs to grow.
I do remember looking up to the original PHW team. It’s cute to think about it now, I was only 13 years old at the time, but seeing these guys have their comics posted on a real, honest-to-god website and be popular on a forum, was huge to me. There was a definite feeling of prestige associated with being on the team. As we’ll see later, I think that prestige played a significant role in the forum’s culture, and may have had a part in its downfall.
I really, really looked up to them. Genuinely. They were all older than me and all had these brilliant ideas and concepts and characters already fleshed out, like they’d already been at it for years. They just seemed so put together and cool. Everything us smaller members did was trying to emulate them in some way. They really showed us what was possible. They were basically our Hogwarts founders.
Obviously Clover, Steinmann and Waxx have a special place in my heart, but I just have to talk about Lode. Lode, wherever you are, you’re a genius. Your sense of humour was incredible, I always looked forward to something you’d post. Even my dad would ask if you had posted anything new. You’ll always have a fan in me.
The comics team would quickly see even more staff changes, as soon, popular authors such as John-Matrix, Lode, Major.Dump and MonkeyMan were added to the mix, plus one particular author that would take PHW’s popularity to new extremes. But we’ll get to that.
First steps of a community
Alongside the creation of the PHW website came the creation of the PHW forums, which would grow exponentially over the years. By mid-March 2005 alone, the forums already counted over 100 members and more than 3000 posts, which would continue to increase at a rapid pace. Many of these early members, such as Mjolnir82991 and Chris “Mozza” Morris, would not only become staples of the community, but eventually take on bigger roles in its very management as staff members.
Oh man, I’m not even sure if I can really remember [the early days] now. It was probably like the wild west. [Laughs] We were just this super new, super tight knit community in those days – maybe like 30 or 40 of us max who made the jump from Facepunch? – and we all just kind of did our own thing. It all just felt like such a creative outlet and nerdy safe space for us. Everyone was just trying whatever and helping each other improve. There was a real camaraderie to it, and a sense we were doing something totally unique. I mean we sucked, undoubtedly. [Laughs] But at least we all sucked together.
I posted my first comic, Kenny the Cop, in February 2005 on the GMod forums, which would later be re-branded as the Facepunch forums. After reading and posting comics on the GMod forums for a few weeks, I learned that the comic-makers of the GMod forums had a rivalry with a website called PHW and its comic-making community. Curious, I looked into it and found that the website and its forum was almost entirely dedicated to making GMod comics as opposed to the GMod forum’s one comic-making section. I defected almost immediately, joining in March 2005, though I maintained a cordial presence on the GMod forums.
How I found and joined PHW is a bit of a rusty one. We may have met in Gmod’s irc channels.
Like many folks, I stumbled into PHW through the Facepunch forums and Garry’s Mod. The amount of creativity I saw coming out of this forum blew me away as a young impressionable kid. This was the early days of machinima becoming a popular term around the web – I just had to get involved. I tried my hands at everything from comic making, directing and editing short videos…all the early ones were absolute pants obviously but I like to think I got half decent as time went on.
PHW was a bit of a life raft for me growing into my teens – I had plenty of friends etc growing up and was never bullied, but I always struggled with self identity and understanding who I was, what I liked, what I was meant to like. I still sometimes struggle with these thoughts to this day, always feeling conflicted if a certain set of friends don’t like someone/something that I love, etc. PHW helped me be more self sure on what it was I enjoyed, as there was a whole community of kids like me.
There were a number of notable members of the community who instilled an interest in cinematography to me, so video became my ‘thing’. Though I never reached the heights of some of those folks, I like to credit PHW with my eventual career choice, heading into creative photography which I still do now as I fast approach 30 years old. I always loved anything visual, and that community paired with Gmod just made it so easy to get stuck in. A lot of what I learned back then, I have carried with me into projects I dabble with outside of work.
Oh man I do not remember at all [how I came across PHW]. 😛 But I can guess: I was hugely involved in the HL2 community from I’d say about a year before HL2 got released, mostly at HL2.net (now called ValveTime) where I was a moderator for a while. And I do remember reading Concerned – my first exposure to Gmod comics (if not Gmod, period). I’m sure via HL2.net and Concerned someone will have pointed me towards Facepunch and PHWcomics from there. I want to say I started muddling about in gmod myself around the same time as I joined PHW – but I more or less cross-posted my comics on HL2.net and PHW, and sometimes Facepunch.
I’d definitely seen the original PHW comics from jian and Michael, and it was a site I’d check in on, but I think BrashFink’s Apostasy was the biggest draw for me, I can’t remember how I first came across it but it led to me realising that GMod comics were a growing community. I was consuming anything Half-Life related, and there was quality content coming out of the community, but it had range as well, there was great serious stuff and some really fun comedy. I’d say I came for BrashFink, but I probably stayed for Lode.
I found the Facepunch community a bit abrasive, whereas PHW was fostering some really fun voices and people, feedback was always civil and constructive, and I really loved the ideas of the tiers.
It fit my vibe, I was writing dumb self-referential comedy ideas that included my friends from the board, everyone started having their own custom in-game skins, so it became really easy to make my friends the characters in my stupid adventures.
As the forums expanded in size, managing the increasing amount of people and threads soon grew beyond Michael’s availability, creating the need for moderators. Many would take that role over the years, such as Zeemlapje, Tomiro and the eventual successor as head of PHW, Slick.
It was probably sometime around 2005 or 2006. I think Michael might’ve asked me, but honestly it’s just as likely that I begged him over and over again until he finally relented. I’d sort of taken on a more senior role in the community by that time anyway, so I think it was maybe something he thought I’d be useful for and rewarded me with.
Dawn of the Half-Life 2 graphic novel and mainstream attention
On the first week April 2005, a particular Garry’s Mod comic would come out that would rock the fledging community and showcase just what was possible to create using the Half-Life 2 modification.
James “BrashFink” Brandt’s Apostasy was unlike anything seen up until that point, a professional-grade graphic novel set in the Half-Life 2 universe. To say that it was revolutionary is an understatement; Apostasy was the first GMod comic to get mainstream attention, with G4TV’s Attack of the Block show featuring it on television, and legitimized the medium.
Apostasy would not escape the attention of Michael Clements, who soon reached out to Brandt regarding him joining the crew at PHWComics. BrashFink officially joined the PHW comics crew on April 14, 2005, bringing Apostasy to the site along with him.
I can’t really recall where I saw Apostasy first, though I vaguely remember it being very well received. I think I managed to convince BrashFink that the site was the best place for everyone to read his comics. I had his comic printed out cause it was just another level up from what we were doing in terms of story telling and graphics. He disappeared from the scene as far as I can remember and we carried on.
So, early on in the life of Gmod comics, BrashFink explodes in out of nowhere with his series Apostasy and made everyone look like a bunch of amateurs (we were) with a legitimate comic book layout, great story, high quality, just amazing everything. He single handedly raised a bar for the Gmod scene that we didn’t realize existed. I think it was a huge influence for a lot of people from there on, myself included. It probably influenced my terrible aforementioned Cerebral Tranquility project. I can’t say for sure but Shazbot hit the scene for a while with some highly stylized comics thay may have been inspired. To top it off, BrashFink was an extremely cool dude (and I’m sure still is to this day) and it was always a pleasure to speak with him or have him around the scene.
Man, it felt like such a huge deal. And it was! BrashFink was like – okay, this is ridiculous, I know it is, but he was like a genuine rockstar to us. He was this cigarette-smoking, leather jacket-wearing, mature comic auteur. He was the first G-Mod comic maker to break out into the mainstream (well, “main”stream, but you know), and then all of a sudden he’s posting on our forums and joining our staff! I was honestly just completely blown away. The man was like a celebrity who came to town and then decided to buy a house. It was the coolest thing ever.
He was also just super nice and chill too, which seriously made it even better. Everyone wanted to be him. And we all wanted to make something as seminal as Apostasy.
BrashFink came to me needing some props made I think, it wasn’t much but little parts like that boost production value (even in a Gmod comic)
I don’t recall much of the original release other than the quality and thought that went into it was through the roof. Brash is an incredibly talented man!
The rise of popularity and quality was due, in part, to Brashfink’s Apostasy. His comic was definitely influential and a turning point for the community since it was the first GMod comic to be professionally published. It raised the bar and brought a certain legitimacy to this extremely niche art form.
Everyone wanted to make professional-looking comics like Apostasy, including myself. So this period is when my own comics began to rise in quality. Looking through Kenny the Cop, you can see how I experimented with different formats and styles until I finally settled into a clean-looking, standardized kind of format.
I remember not understanding what that comic was about and I still don’t really know what it was, but a lot of people seemed to think it was the bees knees.
I was very into Apostasy, it had such a solid balance of serious and little comedic moments. It was definitely the comic I was loading up PHW to see more of. BrashFink was definitely one of the key creators that inspired me to jump into the community and keep making stuff. Of course, my stuff from the start wasn’t up to the quality of Brash, but I was just trying dumb stuff and seeing what I enjoyed. Brash, in my mind, was making the “real” stuff.
Well… I can recall seeing Apostasy and more or less deciding that if that was where the upper limit of the bar was in terms of editing and after-effects, that was never gonna be a game I tried to go into. I knew that if I was gonna make my own comics stand out, it would have be through solid posing, environments and writing – my layouting and editing would *never* be what made people like my staff. Those early Apostasy comics were *gorgeous*.
Apostasy was an instant hit with the PHW community, immediately becoming one of the website’s more popular series and drawing many more members into its forums. It would ultimately be featured on the now-defunct gaming website 1Up.com[archive link] and inspired Chris Livingston to create Concerned: The Half-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman[archive link].
Moving forward to new domains
As the first year of PHWComics dawned to a close, the site and its community kept growing and evolving, with the former going through two revisions before the end of the year, with Michael handing development duties over to fellow administrator Alex.
If I recall, we had the dirty yellow coloured website first so I wanted it to become a bit more vibrant and comic like. I think I made that design but I wasn’t very good.
Things kept rolling along and interest in the comic scene kept growing, it was great to add new staff members and have talent appearing on the forums of both PHW and Facepunch. I can’t say I had a lot of contribution to any site redesigning or hosting or maintenance, but people were working hard behind the scenes to keep PHW alive. Major props and respect to anyone and everyone that put money into keeping the website and forums and whatnot alive, a lot of people got enjoyment out of it for free, including myself.
The biggest change was yet to come, however. On Christmas 2005, the site underwent its second major redesign and moved to a new domain for the second time, this one promising a lot more to come.
PHWComics was dead. Long live PHWOnline.
Part 2: The rise of PHWOnline
Renewed focus and making (radio) waves
The change of name and domains from PHWComics (www.phwcomics.com) to PHWOnline (www.phwonline.com[archive link]), more than a rebranding, was a statement: that PHW was no longer simply about comics created with Garry’s Mod. Instead, it would become a true entertainment website, with other sides of the site for people to enjoy.
The first of that promising expansion was a venture into podcasting. In January 16, 2006, PHWRadio was born, with Robert “Steinmann” Stoneman taking the helm.
PHWRadio was probably Rob’s idea initially but we all wanted to join in just to piss about and create some dumb content. I remember we had some show that made the audio pitch higher than normal and we thought it was great.
I remember I was desperate to be on it. [Laughs] Honestly, it’s strange to think about now but looking back on it we were really ahead of our time. It feels like we were on the cusp of podcasting without even realising it. Imagine if we’d have stuck with it! We could’ve been millionaires!
I remember PHW Radio being really fun and each broadcast was kind of an event for the community. Everyone would hop on to the PHW IRC channel and chat with each other and comment on the broadcast live. Steinmann was the DJ and would play requests and read shout-outs from the listeners. Occasionally they would feature an interview with one of the team members. In a way, it was kind of like a Twitch livestream before livestreaming was popular.
PHW Radio was one of the highlights of the community – so funny and in a world before podcasting took hold, it really was quite ahead of it’s time – I remember everyone chatting in the IRC channel as the show went on, really funny times. I recall that once I submitted a song I’d put together in eJay or some similar software – Steinmann played it for around 30 seconds before drowning it out with some hardcore rave track. At the time I was like ‘WTF’ but now I think back and it’s hilarious.
I remember listening to PHWRadio while stuck at work on a Saturday with the only other person there, an older lady who enjoyed the broadcast.
Another element of PHWOnline that debuted in this period was the PHW Arcade with Web browser games and a high score system for members, further expanding PHW from a simple comics website into a more broad entertainment platform.
On the PHW Arcade, there was a game of Simon. I can truthfully tell you now, that I cheated to get to the top of the leaderboard by coding an application in Visual Basic that tracked the colour shift and noted them down. I’m proud of the dumb piece of software I made when I was 16 to win at a dumb memory game on a comics forum.
A game of (forum) thrones
A semi-recurring community event was also inaugurated around this time: on February 3, 2006, Michael announced the Mayor of PHW elections, a vote where members could apply for candidacy and be elected for a special forum role, where the elected member could suggest changes for the site. Notably, the vote also had a “pay-to-win” microtransaction mechanic, where members could pay $2 to “rig” 5 votes for whichever candidate they chose.
The Mayor of PHW came about because the site needed money. I was either unemployed or had a minimum wage job at the time, this was before I was able to use what I learned for a good career, so I didn’t have my own money to keep paying for the shared server for the site. I think I put it up for a bidding war, though I might be corrected, and the winner was crowned Mayor which granted them more forum permissions. I’ve just realised I pioneered micro transactions back then.
I remember I designed the [PHW Mayor] badge. In hindsight now it’s probably a weird thing to add, but I think we were just looking for ways to highlight our top community folks without over-bloating the staff. Like, a mini celebration for the people who probably should be staff, but couldn’t be officially added just yet. It was a manic time, though. We were always looking for ways to reward the community and keep people engaged. I think it was around that time we added the arcade as well, but I could be wrong. Man, we really did a lot. Maybe we all should’ve gone into politics.
I don’t remember too much about the Mayor elections – however I do remember voting for Dav0r.
I think Dav0r won.
I don’t remember exactly why the Mayor of PHW was created. I do remember it becoming a sort of popularity contest. Some people took the elections seriously, others did not. I don’t remember who the first mayor was. It may have been Dav0r.
Apparently people are dumb enough vote me for an authoritarian role… who knew.
I remember however that Shazbot was also voted Mayor. Me and him didn’t really see eye to eye.
He was a lot more confident and outgoing, and apologies to my younger self I kinda hated the guy.
Forum (re)redesign and Hollywood ambition
Time moves fast when you’re young, and so PHWOnline stayed in a state of flux, excitement and growth throughout 2006. Midway through April, the forums got another facelift, courtesy of long-time Staff member Filipe “StinkyJoe” Dobreira. The new look, originally intended for the website’s main page as well, was meant to prepare for new sections of the site beyond comics and radio. The structure of the forums also saw some major overhauls, notably the addition of specific roles within the community, most infamously the Approved Comic Maker title, attributed to only a select few creators.
We had Filipe Dobreira in the community designing some cool stuff and designed us a new site. I know we had new sections for radio and video so we were expanding in variety of content we did.
I can’t really remember much about Filipe’s 2006 redesign of the forums from a technical perspective, but it was far more professional than my original web designs. I was a half decent coder back then but couldn’t (and still can’t) design a quality looking site to save my life! I do remember there being lots of drama with Shazbot getting into flamewars on that forum though.
Oh, PH-Double-Blue, the site definitely went through some looks. Blue may have been my favourite, but I think the most active design in my memory was the red/orange look.
I suppose you could say mid-2006 was PHW’s hey-day. GMod was rising in popularity and GMod comics were rising in quality. People were learning how to use editing software and getting better at posing ragdolls. New-comers at this time could benefit from all the community-made tutorials and feedback, making the community that much more accessible.
Mid-2006 was also around the time the Approved Comic Maker title was introduced. It provided a way for Michael to curate quality comics from the community without having to on-board new members to the Team. Applicants for Approved Comic Maker had to make a new comic specifically for the application, then post them in the submission thread. If you were approved, you got a shiny blue title. It was a new tier in the PHW hierarchy. There were Team Members, Admins, Moderators, Respected Members, the Mayor, and now Approved Comic Makers. It gave forum members something to aspire to…but it also enabled the development of elitist attitudes among many members. Myself included.
I just remember it just being really fun. Every day I’d get home from college and be super excited to check in on all the new posts, see the new comics, chat with my friends. Just everything, you know? And I really did regard everyone on there as my friends. Throughout my last years of [secondary] school and the beginning of college, the site was such a rock for me. I was studying Games Design full time at that point with a focus on character art, so it was just a perfect meshing and coming together of everything I loved. I was ridiculously proud to be part of that community.
PHW’s biggest push for new types of content was movies—more specifically, machinima, with long-time Staff and original comics team member Steinmann having found success with his two Slapdash short films. As such, the road was paved for an eventual PHWMovies expansion, with plans to release a feature-length machinima film created entirely in Garry’s Mod (which we’ll get to in more depth later).
Rob was the film maker between us doing PHW stuff and he wanted to use the community we built to help make some videos. I wanted to put them on PHW also so we made a Movies section for it and we put on a bigger emphasis for it on the main site with the redesign. The first few films were called Slapdash 1 & 2, they were absolutely ridiculous as we had no animations and only had the tools in Garry’s Mod, so we had to drag the characters about using the Physics gun, sometimes dragging their feet on the floor or accidentally let go so they just flopped to the floor. After that Rob decided to spend more time on the War of the Servers movie.
Ultimately, PHWMovies would only be officialized months later, as a completely new design for all areas of the website was launched… PHWOnline’s eventual final design.
Part 3: Growing pains and growing older
The new (and last) PHWOnline
On October 22, 2006, a new, and eventually final, design for PHWOnline debuted[archive link]. The new design, coded by JPhantom, was consistent between website and forums, bringing along a completely revamped comic archive system and individual news sections for each component of PHW Entertainment (Comics, Radio—which would fizzle out afterwards, never to return— and Movies).
One of the biggest and longer-lasting changes was to do with the PHW comics team. Namely, one of the more popular authors from the forums, Mjolnir82991, was the first addition to the team in a long time. This would be the first step to opening the official team to the second generation of comic makers, a couple of months later.
My joining the PHWComics Team came about pretty quickly. Michael needed new Team Members since Waxx left and the others weren’t producing as much as they used to. I had been an Approved Comic Maker for a while and the quality of my content was consistent. Michael sent me a PM asking if you wanted to join and if I could fill a weekly Wednesday slot. I agreed ecstatically. Joining the Team was a dream come true. It was a little disappointing that I didn’t get to work with Waxx and some of the other original Team members. Nevertheless, I had “made it” in the PHW community.
Honestly, it was well deserved. The kid was super nice and worked his arse off on a lot of really fun projects. He had a real joie de vivre to his comics that was just super fun to read. I always really respected his hustle. He was prolific. I was glad that we could add him to the fold.
All I remember is Kenny the Cop had some of my favourite dumb comedy moments. I was happy to see them succeed and get a wider audience.
You’re the mine now, dog
Mjolnir’s joining the team wouldn’t be the only change of staff on the day of the relaunch, however; Waxx, one of the original team members, left the team, being subsequently banned by Michael and soon forming his own competing website, Mine-Dog (www.mine-dog.net[archive link]). While hardly the first member to leave—a few others, most remarkably Lode and Sammo, had already quit or been removed—, Waxx’s exit arguably made the biggest splash due to its circumstances.
Other admins were banning people without good cause and it was effectively a clique, so I decided to leave and make my own clique.
I’ve got a shocking memory but I got a feeling we fell out because I was an arsehole. I can’t even remember why but I didn’t mind there was a site for him.
Michael’s ban message was a screenshot of nude Alyx impaled with the harpoon model like a hog on a spit roast.
I think there was some stuff going on behind the scenes that I wasn’t privy to and it just kinda felt a bit like your parents getting divorced. I was always closer to Michael and Steinmann than I was to Waxx though so I stayed the course with them, but the Mine-Dog community seemed cool from what I experienced. Never held any animosity towards them or Waxx. PHW was just taking up so much of my time around then though that I just physically didn’t have the capacity to zero in on another forum. I remember we would play [Grand Theft Auto] San Andreas multiplayer all together sometimes though as two big groups, and that was always a blast.
I certainly remember Waxx leaving. I knew nothing of the nature of Michael and Waxx’s disagreement so I never took sides. But I think that really marked the turning point when the community started to turn on Michael. I stayed on good terms with both of them, though. Michael asked me to join the Team shortly after and I personally respected Waxx, so I joined the Mine-Dog forums and posted there while I was a member of the PHW Team.
I thought it was good for people to branch out into their own projects. PHW was a launching point for some people’s creativity, writing, and even their careers, and I think that’s amazing.
I don’t remember when it happened, But Waxx was always very well spoken and opinionated (in a good way)
I do remember Mine-dog being created but the ins and outs as to why, I can’t. I’m assuming it had something to do with PHW having a height restriction.
I never had a terribly strong relationship with almost anyone at PHW, so it didn’t really leave an impression on me. I do remember hanging around mine-dog a little bit, but not much more than that.
I was sad when Waxx left – I always enjoyed the content he posted, and loved his WW2 reenacting photos etc (something which I eventually got into myself). I don’t think I ever joined the Mine-Dog community, I was loyal to the PHW crew.
The end of Clover
As 2007 rolled around, the already less enthusiastic and slower PHW comics team was hit by another bombshell: Jeff “Clover” Eastman, by then the Head of Comics at PHW and one of the longest-lasting and most popular creators, announced his retirement on January 14. Citing a lack of time and a worry about releasing mediocre comics, Clover announced he would be recruiting new team members to make up for the loss and suggested handing over his popular series, Jeff and Rave Man, to another author. Clover would still stick around as an active administrator of the comics section of the site, even releasing a few one-offs on occasion to cover schedule gaps.
Haha, the big announcement about my retirement. That would’ve been my last year of highschool, I think I was getting too worked up about having to suddenly plan for a future and do lame adult things and preemptively took a step back from comic making. To be honest, I think I was just also in a drought for ideas and took an exit. It was a bit sad on my end to do such, and it was nice to see the community give me a warm sendoff. I ended up doing a few one-off gag comics in the year(s) after, and I think they’re my best work, being outside the constraints of “Jeff” and approached with an ever, ever so slightly more adult sense of humour.
He had a long run, as did we all to be fair and you just fall out of love with doing it for that long.
I don’t think anyone was surprised by Clover retiring. I think it was an honest acknowledgement of what everyone already knew: that most of the original staff no longer had the time or motivation to make comics.
I mostly remember Lode’s funeral comic for him, which was just immediately iconic. But yeah, it was definitely a blow. Clover was a great guy and always friendly to me, so it was a bummer to see him step down. We’re still friends on Steam though! I should really say hi more.As for his overall legacy, I remember he was just a great creator. Funny, witty, intelligent. He had a knack for elevating goofy jokes and downplaying wicked smart ones. He was just a natural writer, honestly. He had a knack for balancing tone.
Clover was another big name – and I always appreciated the simple, stylish design of his comics – of course I made a tribute to him (everyone did) which in hindsight was… let’s call it uninspired. 😛
I don’t really recall Clover retiring from Comic making – I never really interacted with him much. I was really sad when Michael took a step back though, it felt like the beginning of the end.
Clover retiring was a big hit to the community, he was a [main] part of the site and an inspiration to so many budding gmod comic creators over the years so it was a big loss. Between his retirement and the LitFuse split there was a bit of uneasiness about the community’s future which I guess contributed to Michael stepping back and then nuking the site.
Part 4: Lighting the fuse
A change in leadership and a new comics team
January 30, 2007 marked the second birthday of PHWOnline and big changes, not necessarily for the best, were on the way for its third year.
To start off, on the birthday itself, Michael announced he would be essentially taking a step back from PHW, citing his move to Switzerland and his 6-day work schedule taking away his time to work on the site. Consequentially, Michael handed the reins to PHW over to the remaining Staff members, such as Clover and Steinmann, to run the site how they saw fit.
Aye I had a bit of a mad king thing going on at the time, though I can’t for the life of me remember who I banned, I just remember doing some. I remember being annoyed at one guy actually, he kept capitalising the first letter on every word he wrote. I couldn’t understand how someone would want to write that way. That one burned itself into my head. I can only imagine it was a lot of petty shit that triggered me as a late blooming 20 year old.
It feel like it’d been coming for a while in the backend, and it was something the rest of the staff members and us mods were all expecting. I think we understood, ultimately, even if we weren’t super jazzed to see him go. Especially coming off the back of Clover leaving too. It was just another blow. It was like we were losing all our founders, and our inspirations.
My memory of when Michael stepped back from PHW is vague. Michael never consulted with the staff regarding any of his decisions. We could only react to whatever he did, so him stepping back didn’t change things too drastically for us. I remember there were many discussions in the Staff forums about content schedules and how to moderate the forums. But that’s really about it.
I mostly remember the chatter surrounding Michael stepping back. Obviously, it was a big deal in the community, and a lot of people didn’t know what it would mean going forward.
One of the changes proposed by Clover that Michael approved before his announcement was bringing new talent into the official PHWComics team. At this point in time, the existing team (mostly Michael, Clover and Mjolnir82991) had been struggling to keep up with the intended weekly schedule, often resorting to “Comic of the Week” selections from the forums, and many of the original authors had long moved on, whereas the forums were still bustling with creativity, seeing multiple new releases a day and a variety of well-regarded authors.
As such, on the very same day, Clover announced that Near Elite, Spaztique, Shalroq, Happydevil and AJ Rimmer would be joining the PHWComics team, as well as bringing back the divisive Approved Comic Maker forum title.
If I couldn’t contribute to the website with my own comics, I sure as hell could put some other people’s comics on the website! By this time I think the main players and contributors of PHW had moved onto other personal projects so it was mostly community contributions. I have a lot of fond memories of the PHW forums and community as a whole, it was fun to admin the forums. Don’t get me wrong, give a teenager any small amount of power and they’ll probably abuse it, so I’m sure I was a weiner in some regards, but I like to think I helped things flow along.
It felt like the right time. Spaztique was a creative wildcard – he reminded me a lot of Lode in his style and approach – and Shalroq, AJ, and the rest all brought great aspects and new styles to the site. It felt like we were diversifying again. Like we were accommodating everyone and staying inclusive, while also replenishing some of those big marquee names and talent we’d lost. They all had that spark that we prided ourselves on, and they all produced really great stuff. The main community loved them too, and they all had their own individual fans and readers, so it just made sense.
By January 2007, I’d been creating comics fairly consistently. Being added to the PHW Comics Team was definitely a great moment for me at the time. I can’t remember it all, but I think there was either a submission process or I’d been talking to someone in the team about it already. I remember making “Get Off My Steps” which was playing on Clover’s Jeff series, and that got selected as Comic of the Week, I think it sprung from there. I enjoyed the Team section where we’d coordinate who would post comics when so we wouldn’t step on anyone’s releases. Everyone involved was very positive about lifting up each other’s work.
I do not remember how it happened, I don’t remember who or why I was invited – but I do remember being quite proud. Creativity has always been the quality I admire most in people – be they writers, painters, poets, podders, comics or gmod-creators. Getting recognition for my own creative output consequently was quite a big deal for me.
I only remember Spaztique from this list. He was goofy and entertaining in a very early 2000’s kinda way. Low production value but high comedy value!
In early 2007, there was a definite sense that PHW was in decline. When members like Near Elite, AJ Rimmer, Shalroq and the others joined the team, I was hopeful it would breathe new life into the site and usher in a second golden age like we had in 2006. But it only kept PHW alive for a little bit longer.
The addition of those new team members did bring a jolt of excitement back to PHW as well as a slew of new and existing content, such as AJ Rimmer’s constantly updating Worse than Life series, Near Elite resurrecting his About series for a new generation and Spaztique releasing the massive 70-page comic The GMod Experience 2 on March 28. For a brief period, momentum seemed to be mostly back.
In the meantime, one of PHW’s longest-gestating projects was about to see the light of day, but with an unforeseen twist that would eventually spell doom for the site.
War of the Servers and the birth of Litfuse Films
War of the Servers was Robert Stoneman’s long-awaited machinima feature film for PHWMovies, in production since 2006. An adaptation of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds in the context of Garry’s Mod, it had grown into a massive undertaking involving over 80 people, many of whom acting out their roles in-game.
I genuinely thought Rob was insane for it, and I was bitterly jealous of everyone who got to help. [laughs] Like, it just sounded so ridiculously complex and cool. I’m pretty sure it was the first feature-length piece of machinima ever produced too, which is so wild to think about now. It was pretty much just us and RoosterTeeth back then and they weren’t touching anything even close to that scale or intricacy, so it just sounded mad. I loved it though. It was a blast to be a part of.
War of the Servers was probably THE highlight of my time in the PHW community. The project itself was just awesome to help out with, I loved the sense of a ‘professional’ production with a real team, custom built sets (I made a few for Steinmann myself in Hammer!), casting calls etc, it was just fantastic and such good fun to jump on the servers and fire LUA bricks at the mingebags. Proper good.
Oh man! WOTS.. *rewatches trailer to reminisce*
At the time, making something that epic and lenghy had never really been attempted.
I remember making some models for use on the set. At the time we’d all seen War of the Worlds and the tripods were insane looking. I think afterwards I tried my hand at modelling one.
It probably sits in one of my old hard drives I have in storage.
For some reason, someone made me an imdb page for my little role in that. I made the airplanes and the cannons.
There’s actually one scene right near the end that I’ve always been super proud of too. It was just Rob and me shooting together one-on-one, and looking back it was probably one of the most technically-complex scenes in the entire film, just in terms of how much timing was involved and how many takes it would need to get right. So lucky me getting that one. [Laughs]
It’s the scene where Steinmann [the character, not Rob – yes he named the character after himself, like a true visionary madman] finally gets cornered by a mingebag tower on an abandoned server, and he just decides to say fuck it and let it take him. He’s all alone by this point, and exhausted and unarmed. He knows he isn’t going to make these, and there’s another two of these enormous, rolling death towers closing in. So he just decides to run straight at it and give it his all and make this fleeting, valiant, utterly hopeless and insane last stand. But right as he gets to it, he hears one of the towers in the distance start to come apart, and then the other. And then the tower he’s (aka, I’m) under starts coming apart as well. And down on top of him. We had to get the timings exactly right for it – they were all built to fall apart in a certain way, but the physics would change every time, just due to the unpredictable nature of the phys-engine – and we must have done full a run-through about four or five times, I think. When it finally came time for action, I ran past the tower and ducked into a small wooden house – which was set up to all break apart behind me from the all debris while Rob filmed – as Rob simultaneously hit the release for one of the giant wheels to detach and roll after us. Only the wheel ended up rolling directly through the house better than we ever thought and demolished EVERYTHING, and only ended up finally stopping just in front of me after getting caught up on a single fence post and rocking to a gentle stop. It was perfect, and completely unexpected. I’m pretty sure you can even see me nervously running backwards when we realise the wheel isn’t stopping where it should.
So, yeah, that was pretty special. Pretty sure I’ve still got my old DVD of it too!
On June 23, 2007, War of the Servers was finally released… but not on PHWOnline.
Behind the scenes, Robert Stoneman had not only been working on his own epic, but also been helping Zachariah Scott and Ben Hundley’s Mighty Crane Films (at the time, best known for Ballad of Black Mesa) with their upcoming project. Having already moved away from the PHW name, Michael Clements suggested that PHWMovies and Mighty Crane Films merge into one new team dedicated to machinima.
Litfuse Films was thus born, comprised of a team including both former PHW staff members and Mighty Crane Films’ team: Michael K. Clements, Robert “Steinmann” Stoneman, Filipe “StinkyJoe” Dobreira, Zachariah Scott, Lars Erik Fjøsne, Brian Hardisty and Ben Hundley. The project is publicly unveiled alongside the release of War of the Servers, which is hosted exclusively on Litfuse’s brand new website. The link to PHWMovies on the PHW website’s menu is also changed to Litfuse Films’ domain, further cementing it as the official successor to PHWMovies and, arguably, PHWOnline itself.
War of the Servers would end up being a huge success and a turning point for Garry’s Mod own niche culture, with Destructoid’s Jim Sterling (yes, that Jim Sterling) calling it “the most original online film you’ll see today”[archive link]. Litfuse Films would be immediately launched at the forefront of machinima and the GMod community, but PHW saw little direct impact of that, where the focus mainly remained on comics and its own community.
Lit Fuse sort of started similar to PHW, with the idea that a group of like minded people could create content on one platform. Obviously Rob and myself had worked on a few things together, but we also seen Zach and Ben doing some other good work so we decided to group together. War of the Servers still had the PHW logo at the start, but it was the start of the transition for most my focus to Lit Fuse.
When PHW Movies got announced it was very intriguing but I didn’t particularly pay much attention to it, I was much more interested in the comics. War of the Servers was a big deal amongst the community when that was released but beyond that I can’t really remember much about it, I blame smoking too much back then. Don’t do drugs kids. Outside of the actual film itself, there was a big split between Michael and some key members of the community on the PHW Movies side of things which led them splitting off to make LitFuse Films. The rivalry between them seemed strong but I had somehow missed the drama happening and happily frequented both sites’ forums.
Oh man. [Laughs] I’d really love to say something juicy or dramatic here, but honestly, there was no news to take. I’d worked with Rob pretty closely on War of the Servers like I said – seriously, it’s still my first credit on IMDb! – so I was fully in the loop with everything behind the scenes. It just seemed like the smart move for them at the time. Michael and Rob were getting more and more into machinima and really wanted to keep on developing their skills, and PHW as a brand just felt too tied to comics and our own history. And it came with a pressure too, to keep making the same stuff as we always had. Lit Fuse allowed them a new identity though, and a new free place to grow. They didn’t have to worry about any pre-existing expectations there, or an existing community. It got to become this new avenue for them to experiment in. A safer, quieter testing ground, much in the same way early-PHW had been for us all for comics.
Also – and I don’t know how many people on PHW knew this – but I was actually part of the Litfuse Staff too. (I know, I know – apparently I just couldn’t resist collecting titles.) I worked as a script editor for them and occasionally helped with punching up dialogue whenever they needed a hand. It’s actually how I ended up teaching myself how to write/format scripts, so I could help them out. They were all using Word to write in at the time and nothing was ever formatted the same, so I went and grabbed a bunch of scripts online, learned the basics, and started manually reformatting everyone’s so they matched. It was just my way of helping until I got confident enough to write for them. I even did some work on Ignis Solus with the guys, although only in a super small capacity there – I think just proof-reading and brainstorming. It was just a super exciting time for all of us though, and happened to coincide with my own educational/career aspirations switching from gaming to film. It just kind of worked out.
It was cool to see what Michael and others were doing with Litfuse Films, it felt like a natural progression from still image comics to machinima. Machinima was a popular format so it made sense to focus on that side of things.
Finally seeing War of the Servers released was monumental. There had been a lot of build up to it, since Steinmann and his team had been giving updates and releasing promotional material during the whole length of production. It was fun seeing a community-made project like that come to fruition.
As far as Litfuse Films goes, I was deeply impressed by the quality of their content. I never had any negative feelings about them releasing War of the Servers instead of PHW. I wasn’t interested in making GMod movies myself, and I always considered GMod comics to be PHW’s focus. So if Steinmann wanted to start his own website for GMod movies, that made sense to me.
LitFuse was a natural progression from PHW Movies into something broader, with a real talented team behind it. Combine Nation was like nothing I had seen before, this was when machining was really becoming an art form with real cinematic merit. I was briefly involved with Lit Fuse but had a lot of PC issues at the time – as a young kid with no income I couldn’t afford to completely replace my system, so the opportunity to get more involved sadly passed me by. Absolutely gutting, who knows where I may have ended up if things had gone a little differently.
I absolutely adored Litfuse Films, it was like the next step creatively for the team. I never personally dabbled in Source Filmmaker but I was always impressed with the content people were putting out, and Litfuse were definitely leading with the quality of their shorts.
To me, it was like an evolution of what we could do with the Source Engine, and how much of a playground it really was for dumb creatives like us.
Man, I completely forgot about litfuse – I just assumed I watched it on youtube. 😛
I don’t have too many Memories, other than Ignis Solus. By far the second best TF2 video ever created. Next to nope.avi
Litfuse would continue to find success over the years, with hits such as Ignis Solus, a Team Fortress 2 machinima, and Combine Nation, a Half-Life 2 Civil Protection parody in the vein of classic “dumb metrocop” comics, before ultimately disbanding in early 2010 as Zachariah Scott, Robert Stoneman and later member and also former PHWMovies staff James “Monkey-Junkie” McVinnie were hired by BioWare to work on Mass Effect 2. McVinnie, under the new handle “McVee”, would later on create the popular Team Fortress 2 short film End of the Line.
As for PHWOnline, Summer 2007 was otherwise business as usual for the community, not as exciting and ever-growing as 2006 but still a stable, if less active, community. A new Mayor of PHW election ended up with prominent member Andres taking the spot, which would later spin off into an idea of implementing a “PHW Council” system of well-regarded members of each section getting some moderation duties.
It wouldn’t be until October that another major event would shake up the site, this time permanently.
Part 5: the final years of PHWOnline
Starting on October 18 of 2007, visitors to the PHWOnline website would be greeted by an image of its former homepage strewn across the desert, a clear message from Michael Clements. He had just blown PHW up.
The forums, while still active, had seen a similar radical defacing, with whole sections being gone entirely out of nowhere and the whole reorganized. All prior staff members, even long-standing ones such as Jeff “Clover” Eastman, had been removed from their posts. The reactions from the community ranged from shock and confusion to sarcasm and acceptance of a truth they had known for a while, that PHW had been declining steadily over the past year.
I think the good content was running out and I was tired of holding onto it. I can’t say for certain cause I can’t remember much of why, I just remember what it looked like. A sand dune with chunks of the site design all over. It might’ve been a ploy for me to say “fuck you I’m the owner” one last time. Who knows.
I remember there being some personal stuff going on in the background which was probably part of him leaving and trying to destroy everything he built. It was such a shame not everything could be saved, it made me rather cross to be fair. So many people had put so much work into building up that community and the content within it over the years and he just wiped it off the internet without a second thought. Not cool.
Man, it was weird. I remember waking up just super, super confused. [Laughs] Back then one of the first things I’d do in the mornings was check in on the site, and I’m pretty sure it was a weekend, so I just remember clicking on and seeing that big desert dune on the homepage and the blown-up PHW sign in the sand and I just – I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I thought it was a joke. Or that I’d forgotten something we’d planned.
It wasn’t much to my surprise to hop on the website one day and see the “blow up,” which I still laugh about to this day because of the destroyed-logo-in-a-desert image. I can’t speak about how organically that all happened, but it seemed like the main fire of PHW had gone out a while ago and this was the natural end.
When Michael nuked PHWOnline, it was devastating. But in retrospect it was probably just an acknowledgement of the reality that the website wasn’t producing the same kind of consistent content it used to. The strength of PHW was always really in the community in the forums, so at least we still had that.
Being knocked down from Staff to Moderator was a little bruising to my ego. As silly as it is to think about now, I’ll admit I had let the status of being a Team member go to my head and I had a bit of a toxic attitude about it. As a moderator, I tried to cling to whatever little bit of prestige I could, which led me to be a little too combative with some of the forum members. I was 16 at the time…so take that for what you will.
Aaaaah yes. Now this I do remember, and I remember being really quite pissed off. I’d been there before – for years I was very active on the Swedish PC Gamer forums, and when they decided to revamp their website they decided to also wipe the forums completely. I even remember they reset all the users’ postcounts (now I do think in hindsight it was really very childish of people to be proud of having a high postcount – but all the same, why reset it?). That hurt, and PHW blowing up also hurt. The forums were alive but the website was gone and I was no longer a comic maker featured on the website. That was rough. I think to an extent I’m still a bit pissed off. It’s just not a cool way to go about things.
It was really sad honestly, since for a lot of people they didn’t have archives of their comics. So many people using free image share services that have since died, so unfortunately some of the content has been lost forever.
There were so many great threads and comics that I’ll never get to see again. I’ll miss being able to look at the conversations and comments on my comics, I always read feedback and tried to do better.
Since a lot of my stories were ingrained in what was happening in the community at the time, there are ideas I can’t recall the context of. I was writing dumb jokes in response to the movements of an online community, and sadly it all went away.
I honestly don’t remember too much about the end of PHW when the forums got nuked. I do remember being sad that it had to come to that, in retrospect I wish Michael would have just left the forums alone and let the community carry on into its next format – the nuke just fractured the community and many never returned.
I have tried many times in the years since to find a community like PHW and nothing has ever felt the same. Many times I really long for those days again, there was just nothing else like it – I used to get in from school and the first thing I’d do is jump on PHW and check all the regular threads (and Dear Diary of course)
I don’t believe I was [around] sadly. I’m glad all people involved are safe though.
Use of nuclear weapons to remove a website is not only drastically unnessesary but highly irresponsible.
Scrambling to survive
In the immediate aftermath of “the nuke”, while the community struggled to comprehend what had just happened, a few members acted behind-the-scenes to salvage what they could of PHWOnline. In particular, former Moderator Slick reached out to Michael and managed to dissuade him from completely erasing the website from existence. Instead, Slick was made the sole administrator of PHWOnline to do as he saw fit, under the condition that no member that had previously been permabanned (i.e. banned indefinitely) from PHW by Michael could be unbanned.
I think I texted Michael something along the lines of, “Uh… hey?”. But he was just super nonchalant about it. Just “yeah, I got sick of it so I blew it up”, that kind of thing. I couldn’t understand it. I think it took me a good few hours of talking to him before he decided to let me take over as admin. He was ready to just completely let it die. I never understood it.
[Laughs] [Becoming the Admin was] fucking bizarre. Just really bizarre. It was like I’d just been chucked the keys to the car after it had just been ploughed through a wall and driven off a cliff. But it was kind of exciting too, in a weird way. I probably even went a bit mad with power. Who knows. I was pumped, though. It was all very schadenfreude’y.
Slick did a great job when he took over being the main guy at PHW. He was such a respected member of the community, I can’t imagine anyone had any bad things to say about him. The fact he stepped up and bought a new domain when the original lapsed and Michael didn’t renew says a lot about how much he wanted it all to continue.
In the forums, moods varied from disappointment and concern over the fate of PHW to the usual trolling over other users taking things too seriously. A few tried to figure out solutions together (a thread in Dear Diary entitled “A better Tomorrow HQ” reached up to 18 pages), while others left for Facepunch or to smaller websites, such as Happydevil Forums, Tribal Rose, SSP Forums or Phenomena on Break, further fragmenting the community. Others, inevitably, were already growing out of PHWOnline, with this serving as their final push out.
Following the nuke and the community fracturing, this was around the time in my life where I was finishing up at school and preparing to go off to college etc and start real life. I remember it felt like it just all dissolved away within a few weeks and never really recovered.
I do remember suddenly feeling… not like a veteran but conscious of being a second wave comic-maker, rather than the first wave (many of them left by then). But I remember the mood being fine, maybe some of that original spark was gone. I didn’t care all that much – although I think at some point I stopped doing cross-posting to the other communities I was active in and at some point I started doing that again, which was probably because I could feel PHW was… bleeding a little.
I remember the Time Machine challenge from June of 2008, that was definitely something [that] reinvigorated the passion to make comics. I remade a Jeff issue, and a tribute to one of Lode’s comics, which were a fun time to get back into it.
Real life took me away from the website and community for the most part by summer 2007. I was headed off to college and coming out of my nerdy, sheltered shell as a whole and just had other stuff to focus on.
I have very little memory of PHW in 2008-2009. At that point, I had moved on to other hobbies and projects in my real life. I posted what would be my last comic, The Trouble With the Can, in March 2008. I wouldn’t make another GMod comic until May 2015 after I joined Metrocop.
It was probably cold, wet and a little bit festive.
I don’t really remember Slick being in charge. By this point though Michael must have been in his late 40s looking to retire.
The main PHWOnline website, including its archive of hundreds of comics, would ultimately never return, despite the attempts of Slick and a few others. The forums, however, would survive for a few more years, as Slick and a new team tried to revive the website.
An unofficial comics team
By late February 2008, a full four months since PHWOnline had been taken down by Michael, the state of affairs remained relatively the same, prompting the new heads of the site to try and stimulate the community.
As a result, a thread was open on the forums for members to apply to be part of the “Unofficial PHW Comics Team” – unofficial because Slick still lacked the administrative privileges to create new titles on the PHWOnline boards.
I just really wanted to reward the guys I saw still putting in crazy work and outputting amazing things despite everything happening, but I wasn’t sure if it was the right time to add new members to the “full” team with everything still up in the air. There were a few of us at that time and we were still trying to figure out what to do next and what direction to take the site in, so the unofficial comics team was our little loophole around that. It felt like a positive step, and a way to say to the community (who, honestly, had been amazing in sticking by us), “hey, we see you, and you’re awesome.”
The team eventually chosen was GrowingDelirium, The Joker (a.k.a. T3h_Pwnag3), Mythos, Nexus_Elite and FZE, a mixture of relatively new names and old favorites of the community.
I certainly remember the Unofficial Comics Team and I also remember being a jerk about it. Maybe I felt like my status was being threatened, which is why I treated the new team with such elitist condescension. I remember Mythos making the team and being ecstatic and anxious about it and all I offered him was a back-handed compliment. Not exactly a fond memory.
I do remember Mythos – but if it’s from when he joined the unofficial comics team or just from him hanging around I do not know.
I absolutely remember all of these great creators who were keeping it alive. One thing I’ll always appreciate about this collection of talented creators is the variety in tone, content and style.
I always loved how different some of the ideas coming out were.
It was great to see the spirit of PHW carried on by the “unofficial” comics team after Michael, Clover and many of the old guard had slowly disappeared.
Ultimately, the new and unofficial PHWOnline comics team would prove mostly unproductive, with the exception of GrowingDelirium (who would eventually leave the site altogether in favor of his own website, Phenomena on Break) and FZE. However, this would not deter the struggling staff of PHW from trying new things, although there was one last nasty surprise in store for them.
Planning a revival, a lost domain and an unceremonious end
By 2009, after over a year of PHWOnline subsisting as just the boards, Slick had plans to revitalize the community with a new website, enlisting the help of Alex, Filipe Dobreira, Chris “Nemi” Byhre and Brian.
Some point later, around 2009, Slick tried to put together a brand new PHW site and brought together various respected members of the community. I’m not sure exactly where it all came from, from what I remember Slick contacted and wanted me to build the new website which Filipe had put together a design for.
It was an exciting time! We had a bunch of ideas we were kicking around and things we wanted to improve. I was in my first year of uni though, so my focus there forced me to take things slower than I would’ve wanted. The mood on the boards felt good though. We’d definitely lost some members, and we weren’t as popular as we used to be, but people could see we were trying to make it work and everyone was keen for the site to flourish again.
Before the budding new team could make any headway, however, a shock rippled through the community once again: the phwonline.com domain expired after Michael let the renewal lapse. PHWOnline was thus forced to rush to a new temporary domain, phwonline.info, which would itself later expire in 2010, with the team dumping the old forums onto phwboards.info.
Yeah, that was a kicker. Michael had basically decided he couldn’t be bothered to pay for the domain anymore but hadn’t told anyone, at least not any of us, so it just got let slip. We were all pretty bummed. I think a few people at the time wondered if it was intentional, but I dunno. That idea always felt a bit industrial-sabotage’y to me. I think he genuinely just forgot to mention it before the expiry date came round.
And to be honest, you know, I can’t blame him for not wanting to keep paying for something he didn’t even want to own anymore. It was fair enough, really. I probably should’ve anticipated it anyway and moved quicker to take it over myself when I was officially given the reins. So uh. My bad. I think.
Undeterred, the team stuck by its efforts, replacing phwonline.com with phwonline.net at the end of 2009 as it prepared to launch a brand new website in 2010, accompanied by a Twitter account sharing the team’s updates.
The new design, spearheaded by Filipe, would come together rapidly, with new branding focused on a yellow logo contrasting with a blue website and plans to diversify PHWOnline’s content even further, moving away from Garry’s Mod towards broader gaming and entertainment topics.
We had some great stuff planned. We wanted to take the site in a bunch of new directions and Filipe’s mock-ups were gorgeous. We even had a temporary little prototype up at one point while we were ironing out the kinks. It was brilliant, all bouncy and fresh. And blue! Beautiful blue. Not sure we ever revealed that to anyone. It was gonna be a surprise. [Laughs]
It was genuinely a total creative overhaul though. We were bringing back PHWRadio and expanding it out, adding in even more creators, tying in more community bits, Twitter feeds, a full comics archive, the whole works. We really saw it as an opportunity to move off just the forums and give the community a shiny new home again. Though of course we were totally adding new forums, too.
I had some grand plans for its functionality being fully Web 2.0, interactive with user generated content and all that fun social media style stuff we take for granted in the modern web, but back then it was quite a forward thinking concept. There would be curated comics lists for the main team, but each user would be able to maintain their own area for comics and other content, have their own discussion or comments sections within it and be discoverable and manageable much better than just being threads in a forum. Sadly I didn’t manage to put the time into the project that it needed so it never got off the ground.
As promising as the relaunch looked, though, it was not to be.
The PHWOnline’s Twitter account’s last ever update on the new site would come in April 10, 2010, ironically promising that work was progressing. The PHW message boards that had lasted since 2005 in one way or another would vanish for good later that year, albeit not without coincidentally outliving PHW’s machinima successor Litfuse, which officially announced its end in January 2010 as members of the team moved to BioWare to work on Mass Effect 2.
After five years, PHWOnline was officially over.
How do any passion projects die, really? As with most things like that, it was just a lack of time. We were all so busy. I was well into my second year of uni by then, and Filipe was at uni too. Chris (Nemi) was studying film in the US, and Brian and Alex both had full time jobs. We desperately wanted to make it work, I can’t even explain how much, but personal deadlines and work commitments and just… like, general life, all ended up taking precedence. We were all still in our early 20s too, so that probably didn’t help. As much as we wanted to get the site running, we just couldn’t figure out how to juggle it all. I kind of blame myself for it most though, honestly. I feel like I should’ve pushed harder to make it work. I probably got complacent with it. Maybe I crumbled under the pressure? Who knows.
It really was a beautiful blue, though. Wish you could’ve seen it.
Sadly, PHW eventually came to an end. It was a really special corner of the internet to most of the people who frequented it and I’d like to think it left a mark on their creative lives. I think, like so many other communities on the internet, the key members drifted off and lost interest, for whatever reason, and could never be replaced. GMod’s decline from being the cultural phenomenon to a relatively (compared to how it was in the mid 2000’s) niche game probably contributed a lot to. I think a lot of the talent which would have made comics in GMod turned to Source Film Maker to move into machinima and get a lot more exposure on YouTube than our small website ever gave.
Part 6: The legacy of PHW
Over ten years removed from the end of PHWOnline, even more so from its heyday between 2005 and 2007, little evidence remains of the website. A short-lived Wikipedia article was just that — short-lived — and while Metrocop has managed to retrieve a few hundred comics over the years, thousands more were lost with the loss of the PHW archive and message boards. You can still find War of the Servers on YouTube, but it, like many of the great works that came from this community, is now a footnote of a forgotten era.
However, PHWOnline’s legacy can be felt elsewhere, in the lives and careers of the people who made the site what it is. Quite a few went into game development, like the aforementioned Litfuse members; most notably, Robert “Steinmann” Stoneman, creator of War of the Servers and the voice behind PHWRadio, went on to amass Hollywood credits as camera operator in movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 before moving back into videogames as cinematic artist and eventually cinematic director. Others, like Michael K. Clements, Filipe Dobreira and Alex Darby, went into Web development, carrying on the lessons from building PHW in the first place. Some, like Joseph Shea a.k.a. Slick/Slique and Mjolnir82991, focused on creating stories in other mediums, such as screenwriting, after getting their start developing Garry’s Mod comics for the hungry crowds of the PHWComics boards. Of course, not all have moved into careers directly adjacent to their work on PHW, but look hard enough and you’ll find some evidence of their old hobbies in a new shape or form — the first Mayor of PHW, Dav0r, for instance, can be found streaming on Twitch, as surely many others do now.
One common thread whilst talking to people involved with PHWOnline are the fond memories of the site, its community and the friends made then, some of which remain to this day. While PHW itself may be nothing now but a few archived web pages and some surviving Garry’s Mod comics (some yet to be found in dusty old backup drives), its impact lingers on.
Looking back I’m part proud and part gutted of that time. Gutted because seeing how the community was back then sort of squandered away. I think about it even to this day, wouldn’t it be cool to make a new community. I say sort of squandered because I think a lot followed into Lit Fuse where we had a lot of success also. I was mostly proud that we managed to create our own community, that seemed to care so much for the site. We had a become quite close to some community members. I had one who I had played a lot of 360 with, invited me to visit him in Switzerland, which I took him up on. I can’t imagine doing that now. Most of the memories for me are usually around how my late father cheered on the achievements we were getting from the sites and even came on a trip to New York with us to accept a Lit Fuse award. I’ll always look back on it with a fondness for sure and glad it’s helped get me to where I am now. Who’s in for a Sandbox community?
So much I could say about PHW. The awesome people involved, the friends I made over those years, being in a cool internet community, improving my design skills, having a creative comedy outlet, it was all amazing. I’ll always remember my time with it fondly. And thanks to you, people can still view a lot of that old content today.
It really, really was a blast, honestly. And genuinely an honour. Just all those hours, and days, and years spent just hanging out with you guys, making art, collaborating. It all taught me so much. I genuinely don’t think I’d be the person I am today if PHW hadn’t existed, or where I am now. And as corny as it probably is to say – and it really, really is corny – our silly little website really did have a profound impact on my life. It changed my path for sure. My experiences there lead me from games to writing to film, and god knows how many other interests in between. It’s a hell of a thing to look back and now – just thinking of how many branches and ripples it created. And you guys were all a part of that, you know? You always had my back and helped lift me up, and encouraged and cheered me on. It was an amazing community. You were all amazing, all together. So, yeah. Cheers, to all of you, to everyone who ever stopped by, or left a post or read a comic or laughed at a panel of me being hurled through a window. We made a hell of a world together. And we made history. PHW forever. Cheers!
PHW was the first time I ever got to have any real agency or authority over a community on the internet and it was quite formative for me at the time. These stupid little comic forums, Mine-Dog included, were the places that I learned and developed some guiding principles, some of which I hold to this day. For a 17 year old nerd on the computer in the heyday of the internet, it was a pretty tumultuous time that I think of every so often. The details are hazy and mostly gone by now but the feeling of what it was will stay with me probably forever.
PHW will always hold a special place in my heart. The experience was extremely formative. It gave me an arena in which to play around and experiment with my creativity. It helped me learn that I had talent and that I could make something that other people would enjoy. Looking back through my old comics, I can see the tremendous growth I went through. Thanks to this community, I was able to find my style and discover my voice. Today, as I work on my various writing projects, I long for the days of my youth where I created with wild abandon. No perfectionism, no over-thinking, no anxiety, no real-life problems to get in the way. Just pure creativity.
For me, PHW was where I found an audience. It showed me that somewhere, there were people who cared about my dumb ideas and that my voice mattered to someone. It’s a place where I made friends I still talk to today. A place where I shared my ideas, and where I spent a lot of time laughing.
I also just want to share appreciation for my fellow creators Anders! Pyren and RaptillaMajor. These legends were a huge part of my experience through PHW, and I adore the work they created.
Honestly, I wouldn’t be who I was without PHW.
PHW is intrinsically tied in my mind to my time as a gmod comic-maker, so the two go hand-in-hand to me. And I am very fond of my time as a comic-maker. A lot of my comics, especially the early ones are a little embarrassing – not just because they look like hot garbage (though they do) but the writing, the ideas are so often weak. Even later on, there’s a lot of the early (or to be brutally honest about half) of the WTL archive that today I look back on with a bit of guilt – there are jokes and themes in them that I today wouldn’t go near and would find horribly insensitive and un-funny. But they became the first creative outlet of mine to reach any kind of ‘real’ audience thanks to PHW – and that was very, very important to me. Becoming an official PHW comic-maker was as I said a proud moment, and I’m still proud of that. I’m still proud of those WTL comics, I just see them for what they are: Written by someone who was young and trying hard, but wasn’t thinking enough about what he was saying. It was always cool to get responses from my friends and from people on other forums – but getting praise from people who were making comics themselves – that exchange of ideas and of helping each other out was really cool.
PHW will always have a really special place in my heart – that community had such a huge influence on my life that still resonates to this day. I could reminisce for hours on particular threads, photos, videos, moments in Garry’s Mod servers etc. I took a lot of flak in the early days for being a young kid who posted a lot of nonsense, but it was all character building and I stuck it out and I’m glad I did. I still talk to a handful of folks from the PHW days, some have fallen off the radar as they get older and got married, had kids etc. It’s cool to see these strangers lives progressing alongside my own, the only connection we had was a Garry’s Mod forum haha.
Really good times that I’ll cherish being a part of.
Despite my memory being shot to hell. I remember PHW being a community that I could happy involve myself with. Nearly all the members will be adults these days, with jobs, lives, families and huge amounts of debt.
But back then things were a lot simpler. It was easier to create something new and have people enjoy it. Today, standards of content creation are so impossibly high.
I wouldn’t call it a legacy, more of a stepping stone in a series of stepping stones.
I started modding with Battlefield 1942, working on the BattleGroup 42 mod.
Then once Garrysmod became a thing I got on board there, then PHW happened.
And the skills learnt from all 3 provided me with the opportunity to do so much.
Instead I got a 9-5 job and went bald.
It would be brilliant to rebuild a modern PHW, breaking out of restrictions of being a “GMod Comic” website and just take the essence and spirit which made PHW great and apply that to all disciplines of videogame based comics and video and mods. Who knows, maybe Metrocop’s revival will usher in a new age of PHW goodness for the next generation to enjoy.
Acknowledgements and Bonus
For those who have made it this far, here’s a special bonus for you: thanks to a member of the old PHW Steam group, James/Afro Zombie, we now once again have some of the original PHWOnline crew’s long-lost “personal skin” models, as well as some early PHWOnline maps! I have put them into two separate Steam Workshop add-ons so you can use them in Garry’s Mod like it’s 2005 all over again. Enjoy:
I want to give a very big thank you to everyone who agreed to do an interview for this article, without whom this wouldn’t have been possible: Michael, Jeff, Joe, Waxx, Alex, Mjolnir, AJ, Chris, Dave and Ben. Also, a special shout-out to my friends from those PHWOnline days who are still friends to this day, fifteen years later — Erik-Silver “ErikKiller” (now “ESToomere”) Toomere, Gundam_MKII and Jacob “Arctic Avenger” Andrews — and to the other friends I’ve since made along the day who, like me, enjoy reminiscing about the old days. I also have to credit Mark “Orpheus” Charest for the “Never Forget PHW” image that served as the inspiration for the cover image of this article.
To all the people I didn’t get to interview, I apologize, there are literally hundreds of you and a finite time on Earth to get this done! That being said, please leave a comment below sharing your own experience with PHWOnline and what the site means to you, and consider joining our Discord to talk about the good old days and meet up with some familiar faces. Who knows, maybe you’ll find long-lost friends in there.
7 thoughts on “An oral history of PHWOnline”
Leaving a comment. Great memories, thanks for your efforts.
Incredible work, Mythos! A very comprehensive look into the history of PHW. The research and work you put into these is amazing.
I was an avid reader of so many PHW comics, but never a creator. I’d just like to say thanks for all the memories brought up in this really interesting trip down memory lane.
I was a huge fan of PHW comics since they were considered to be higher class than those on Facepunch. It was a great community which helped me improve with writing scripts for comics & finding new artists to get sucked into!
A huge thanks for this! 🙂
What an article. Hard to say anything new that hasn’t already been said. Thanks for bringing us all together again.
Wow. This was both a trip down memory lane and an insight into what actually happened behind the scenes all those years ago.
Great article, glad there’s something like this to preserve the history of this weird thing. PHW gave me a creative outlet as a teen who wanted to make comics and gave me the confidence to make things and share them that I hold onto to this day.