Sunday, September 27, 2009

20 Questions with Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson is not only the creator of the syndicated comic strip W.T. DUCK (formerly known as WHAT THE DUCK), but also the inventor of the SHAM-WOW (at least according to Wikipedia).

Check out W.T. DUCK at GoComics, buy the latest collection, beg to be Aaron's Facebook friend, and visit the official website for the complete WTD experience.

1. When you were a kid, did you want to be a cartoonist? Did you draw?

I had wanted to be a cartoonist early on. In my early teens, the desire morphed into animation.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

At age 7-ish, I had an uncle commission me to draw a seductive portrait of my aunt. The profits went straight to a psychologist.

3. W.T. DUCK began as an online comic (WHAT THE DUCK). Describe the process you went through to get it syndicated with Universal Press.

I can only describe the creation (and journey) of the strip as a completely serendipitous experience. I never intended to be a cartoonist, much less syndicated. The strip was created on a whim and was only intended to run five days. Around day three, my inbox was flooded by readers urging me to "keep it going."

Not too long after that, several magazines contacted me about publishing the strip. That led to "Syndication Bingo," a tongue-in-cheek feature on the web site where I tracked the progress (or lack-thereof) of syndicated newspaper submissions. In the end, Universal came to me with an offer.

4. You create the strip under a pseudonym. Any reason?

I didn't really create it under a "pseudonym," but I did intentionally not bring attention to my name. The strip has always been signed "Aaron" and my full name was always in the copyright line. I wanted the strip itself to be the focus, and not the redheaded, pasty-faced, dork behind it.

5. What’s your favorite rejected strip or gag?

I'll let you know. I've been fortunate enough to not have one yet. I take that back... I tried to have the main character hang himself.

6. Where do you stand in the print comics vs. web comics debate?

Yawn... it's like debating who's the biggest kernel of corn in a turd. I guess I could care less because I don't feel a kinship with either "side."

I've never been to a comic con and I've never been to an NCS event. And after this interview... it will probably stay that way.

7. Newspaper comics are considered pretty tame compared to TV and other media. Do you find this limiting or do you welcome the challenge?

I haven't found it limiting. My approach has been to keep doing what I was doing and let the editors determine the best alternative for the word "poo." I find it liberating, knowing that I can always post the "directors cut" on the WTD site.

8. Name five of your favorite comic strips or cartoonists.

BLOOM COUNTY, Ub Iwerks, Winsor McCay, Fred Moore, John Kricfalusi ('89-'92)

9. Who would win in a cage match, your ducks or Alex Hallatt’s penguins?

The ARCTIC CIRCLE penguins would be pacifists, right?

10. How do you develop ideas? Which comes first, words or pictures?

Words first. I always carry a digital voice recorder. Sometimes I use it. I type all the strip's dialogue into a TextEdit window and have the computer read it back to me in a sexy, synthesized voice. If she can make me laugh, it's gold.

11. Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

For the first two years, I thought about that every single day. Now I've learned to trust in my natural ebbs and flows and save my worrying for more important things like -- why am I getting these periodic, crazy long, eyebrow hairs?

12. When you draw humans in the strip, their heads are cropped out of frame or obscured by word balloons -- effectively “cut off.” Is this a photography in-joke, and will we ever see a full human face in W.T. DUCK?

The purpose of the "guillotine approach" is threefold:
1. Economy
2. It keeps the perspective of the strip at the ducks' point of view
3. It lets readers project their own ideas of what each human character looks like.

13. What kind of editor do you prefer, hands-on or laissez-faire?

I prefer the laissez-faire editor that constantly blows sunshine up my bum. If you know of any, let me know.

14. What are your favorite books, TV shows, songs and films? (Yes, that counts as one question.)

I don't like to single out "favorites" because it discriminates against other things I like. That being said, I have requested the Weezer song, "Say It Ain't So" to be played at my funeral.

15. What are your tools of the trade?
MacBook Pro and Adobe Illustrator.

16. What’s the best part about being a cartoonist?

Fans. When people stop reading it, I'll stop making it.

17. Have you met any of your cartoonist idols? Under what circumstances?

I've made it a point to meet Berkeley Breathed. He was a huge influence on me at a pivotal point in my childhood. BLOOM COUNTY's heyday coincided perfectly at a time when I was really getting into cartooning, illustration, etc. He draws a damn good tree. Circumstance: I was #236 in line, at a book signing.

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Do something that you'd love to do, even if no one ever reads it. Because chances are...

19. How important are awards?

As a three-time "World's Greatest Narcissist Champion"... not very.

20. What’s something that nobody knows about you?

I haven't worn jeans since 1994.

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