Big thoughts about the nature of reality were part of our ambitions for the comic from the start. As you all know by now, Guilded Age has two “realms” of reality… arguably three, if you count the layer that Phil and I and you readers occupy. And then there was that business with the Realm of Being… but no, let’s settle on three.

Phil and I and all of you are on the highest level, and to us, both Arkerra and Sepia World appear to be fiction. To those in Sepia World, Arkerra appears to be fiction (more or less).

At one point early in Guilded Age’s development, I considered adding another layer to this cake: a world that would think of Sepia World and Arkerra as fiction, but still itself appear to be fiction to you and Phil and me.

Mongo and Wordsworth would be fictional cartoonists telling a story about their favorite game, Kingdoms of Arkerra, but making up stuff like Carol’s personal life and the basement with the tubes and tagging their posts with “you can’t sue us because it’s satire.” They would also regularly interrupt their narrative to draw one-off jokes about other video games.

Had we followed through on this, I think the borders between their reality and Sepia World would have started breaking down, much like the borders between Sepia World and Arkerra broke down, which probably would mean Hurricane Studios would snuff them out for getting too close to the truth. You can see a few scraps of that idea in Joel Watson’s scenes.

This kind of comics-about-comics is a well-worn genre, but it’s still possible to be original with it, and Phil and I had had a lot of fun with it in our earlier project Sketchies. Still, Phil was never very into this pair, and I’m glad he wasn’t now, for a few reasons. One, it’s a little too cute. Meta gets tiresome quickly when it turns into “oo, look how clever we are” at the expense of entertaining, and this had a lot of potential to be that.

Two, these guys were closely modeled on Tycho and Gabe from Penny Arcade. When I proposed this in 2009, we still thought of that duo as basically nice fellows who’d made it big, but in the 2010s, their tendency to double down on offensive, punching-down humor alienated many people, including us. It’s sort of like what happened to Twitter.

And three… we got enough backlash just from introducing Sepia World; can you IMAGINE what we’d have to deal with if we introduced Deluxe Extra Ultra Sepia World another few months later?