There's plenty going on at the duck factory (a term I'm borrowing from a long forgotten and short lived 80's sitcom starring a young Jim Carrey as an animator. Man I loved that show…) and I'm anxious to show you a little of what I've got.
Having just completed a six-page story about Dead Duck's history of encounters with The Nova Scotia Cosa Nostra (a very fun story with lots of cool Canadian history and tributes), I've been hard pressed to choose what sort of story to tackle next.
I have a small backlog of scripts I've written, some complete, some sketchy outlines, and some short synopsis that I'm waiting to create into fully formed Dead Duck stories. But after the Scosh' story, I felt like I needed to create a story or two that were less about Dead Duck and Zombie Chick's adventures and more about them personally. Having already done two stories that dealt with different chapters of Dead Duck's origins, I felt I was long overdue for a story focusing on Zombie Chick.
It was a harder task than I imagined. Choosing to do a story where, for example, Dead Duck and Zombie Chick have to save the life of a giant primordial cow is considerably easier than conceiving a story about their personalities. In the case of the cow, it was as simple as my saying, "I want to draw a giant cow. Now I just need to write a story around that." Seriously, it was that easy (and in my opinion, one of my best stories). But when it came to me writing about Zombie Chick, I was truly stumped. "Should I tell her origin?" "Should I do something less funny and more dramatic?" A few days passed before I even had a slight idea. So I did what I always do when creatively constipated.
I took a shower.
And as always, it loosened things up for me mentally. I began to form my story. The title came first: "DAY'S END." I wanted my story to show life outside of the 9 to 5 world of minioning for Death. I wanted to explore Dead Duck and Zombie Chick's relationship outside work. And most of all, I wanted to define the relationship between minion and zombie, and show that class division in the land of the dead. I know, it sounds heady for a book that's supposed to be funny, but I dig depth in my characters.
The real interesting thing with Day's End, for me anyway, is that there's no dialogue. About six or seven years ago I'd drawn a one-page comic with no dialogue about very serious subject matter and it was some of my best comic work ever. I wanted to try and recapture that quality of storytelling with Day's End, and now, being three pages into the story, I'm feeling like I'm getting close.
Here's the penciled first page of Day's End (click on the image for a closer look)…
My biggest conflict with telling this particular story is ignoring the obvious comparisons to previous creations. Tim Burton cornered the market on cool representations of the afterlife, and Pixar established the time clock-punching workday world of monsters. Much as I want to create something wholly original, it's inevitable that there will be similarities between my representation of a creature-filled workday and those guys' concepts. So in the end I have to bite my lip, trudge through and do my best to be individual while accepting unavoidable connections, unintentional though they may be.
I do admit to plagiarizing myself in drawing some of the background characters. The minion behind Zombie Chick in the top panel is based on my Pinhead character from as far back as 1988 when I created my own superhero comic (for fans of my Mother's Goofs comic strip, I also used Pinhead as a model for The Krazybread Man about eight years later). The zombie with an axe in his head (3rd panel) is based on my character Chok'o from a comic book concept I created in high school.
I've also got a couple fan tributes in there, such as the minion with his arm around Dead Duck in the last panel. He's very loosely based on 60's TV dragon H.R. Pufnstuf, who despite being a very shitty puppet had a very cool design. And hopefully horror fans will notice the blatant plug for the godfather of zombie movies, George Romero, in the sign on the wall pointing the way to the zombies' homestead.
In the midst of my struggles to create this story, I found myself debating which movies I should play in the background to inspire me. I went through two or three, great as they were, that didn't produce the needed effect. Finally I dug out this little gem, discovered when I was thirteen and solidifying my standing as a full-fledged fan of animator Ralph Bakshi:
Fritz the Cat was Bakshi's first animated movie, and became notorious for it's rating (the first X given to a cartoon) and its subject matter (drugs, violence, race issues, profanity and all kinds of cartoon erotica). No, this is not cartoon porn, any more than the 1969 Oscar winner "Midnight Cowboy" was porn. It's a very dark and trippy movie, which is Bakshi to a fault. I’d be remiss not to mention that it's based on underground cartoonist R. Crumb's characters and stories, but given that Crumb despised the production, it seems pointless to dwell upon.
Fritz really helped me get into the frame of mind to create a seedy bar district on paper, which is a major stage that the story plays upon. Suddenly I could really envision how dark and haunting a tavern called The Grand Guignol would look, and was able to let my mind wander with some of my design elements, much as it felt that Bakshi did in Fritz. My leering moon at the top of this page is a perfect example of letting my imagination lead me around. And the spare sky behind the complicated building is my attempt to break away from the claustrophobia of the first page, with the dark buildings baring down on everybody.
During this process, I also experienced proof that inspiration comes when its wants to, not when you want it to. The struggles I've had (and am having) creating this Zombie Chick story have been palpable. Essentially I'm working with no script whatsoever.
And as I drove home from work the other day, my conflicts with creation ran through my head as I listened to my car stereo. A CD I'd burned awhile back played a couple cool songs that brought to mind, for me at least, massive characters throwing cars around and causing all sorts of destruction. Ironically, I think I was listening to Journey. Anyway, by the time I pulled in my parking lot, I had the seed of a story that was already beginning to write itself in my head as I hurried up the stairs. I managed to type out the synopsis and what little dialogue that came to me.
It's going to be a very cool story concerning Zombie Chick, her status as a zombie, and how protective she feels for Dead Duck. It'll begin production as soon as I finish Day's End.
If you've stuck with me this long, as a special treat, I'll show you some long buried artwork from my personal collection (it's all my personal collection, after all. I'm not Charles Schulz, where people have their own collections of his work. I'm just a dork who draws and throws away nothing).
These two pieces are from my sketchbook from early 1991, which would make me 17 at the time. Dead Duck had been bouncing around my sketchbooks for two years at this point, and these drawings mark my first attempt to put him in a comic.
As you can see, he originally wore a turn-of-the-century man's bathing suit (a tribute to an early design for Donald Duck), with an insignia on his body that was obviously borrowed from Marvel's Daredevil. Part of me misses this costume, and it may pop up in some way in a future story, if only to embarrass Dead Duck about his dorky past.
This was also around the time where I drew everything in pen (low-grade gas station-stock water based black felt tip marker, to be exact). I used to think drawing things out in pencil, the way comic pros do it, then inking after was a waste of time. It only took me a year after this to figure out I was wrong, and saw how much more control you have over your art when you sculpt it out in pencil first, then polish it in ink. If you read the whole story you'd also see how I was tailoring Dead Duck to be an undead superhero, which today seems like a huge mistake but back then seemed "totally awesome." He even zaps some bad guy with an inexplicable hand ray at the story's end. Thank god for twenty years of hindsight and continual refining.
In this page we see for the first time Dead Duck's fellow minions. It's interesting to note that while they all wear spiked armor, Dead Duck wears beach attire. Yet according to what I wrote, he was one of Death's rowdiest minions. Weird. The spiked armor thing stuck with the minions up until this year when I decided they'd all wear black hooded cloaks like Dead Duck, as seen in Day's End. What still sticks is how boozing it up in a bar is still crucial to the fabric of Dead Duck. Ironically, I didn't drink when I was 17, I don't really drink now, but I feel very comfortable and knowledgeable in drawing bar scenes.
So that's it for now. Hope you enjoyed this production blog, and hope to see you when the next one comes around. More cool stuff's a' coming, folks!