First and foremost, I'm a visual creator. I get a story idea in my head, and rather than hitting the keyboard, my first instinct is to start making sketches. I had an idea to do a story where Dead Duck and Zombie Chick had to pick up the recently assassinated Abraham Lincoln. From the beginning, the idea was that the assassination got botched, history got screwed up, and Dead Duck had to call in a History Cleaner to put it all right again. Of course, nothing ever goes that smoothly in comedy, and as Dead Duck is a dark comedy, blood and gore were inevitable.
The sketch in the bottom left was the impetus for this whole story. Granted, Lincoln's assassination was a tragedy, but if seen through a cartoon perspective, him getting his brains blown out is a great comic visual. As seen in the upper left corner, I'd briefly toyed with the idea of drawing Lincoln in a "Muppety" style, but that concept was short lived. To the right of that sketch are my original notes for the plot, which would have seen John Wilkes Booth killed instead of Lincoln. Though I wound up sticking to the idea of Lincoln getting killed, I found (and still find) that scribbling out notes in my sketchbook alongside rough drawings like this are the best way to bang out a good plot. This was only the second Dead Duck story I'd written, and I was still getting the hang of drawing my characters. The remaining drawings of Dead Duck and Zombie Chick are character studies that helped me quickly get a handle on their looks--plus a similar scene of Zombie Chick consoling a bereaved Dead Duck was used in this story, and evolved from this original sketch. Lastly, I scribbled a plot idea for a Dead Duck story where he'd meet a werewolf. That story never came together, but I do have future plans for a Dead Duck werewolf adventure.
I'd always liked the mobster concept of a Cleaner, as seen in films like "Le Femme Nikita" and "The Professional". So I thought it would be cool to invent a cleaner who had to fix up historical mistakes made by Minions such as Dead Duck. My original concept (top) was based off an old vigilante character of mine called The Lotto, who I created back in 1989, the same year I created Dead Duck. Though I didn't end up using his design for the Cleaner, The Lotto did end up getting his own story within the pages of the "Dead Duck" graphic novel. The second concept for the Cleaner (middle) was a loose caricature of myself, and was quickly discarded because I felt it looked too much like Boris Badenov from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. The third design (bottom) was a more literal caricature of myself, and meant to pay homage to Harvey Keitel's Cleaner from the movie "Point of No Return" (the American version of "Le Femme Nikita"). I finally decided against using me as a visual for the character because it felt too self indulgent and "hacky".
I finally decided to break free of previous movie Cleaner associations, and to make my Cleaner an undead character like Dead Duck. I've always been a fan of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", and Tim Burton's movie version of "Sleepy Hollow" is my favorite horror film ever, so it was a natural choice to make my History Cleaner headless. I liked the idea of him being a leather-clad biker, in part because it would force me to draw a motorcycle, which has always been a challenge for me. I named my Cleaner Dean after James Dean, which is probably obvious considering the other name choice I scribbled in was Jimmy. I began to sketch in a head for Dean, thinking it might be cool to have him carrying it around and using it to communicate. But in the end, I found he was a much funnier character being a headless mute who communicated through gestures, kind of like Harpo Marx.
At this point I sit myself behind the keyboard and bang out the story. When I drew comic strips in college, I used to write all my scripts in notebooks. But when I began doing comic books, the plots and dialogue were much more involved, so I found typing them on the computer was the best way to write (I still jot down story ideas on napkins, receipts and scraps of paper when the ideas hit, though).
Once the script is done, most artists will sketch out a bunch of thumbnail drawings to map out the action of their story. Not me. I tried that only once in the course of creating "Dead Duck", and inevitably found myself deviating from the thumbnails to draw something better than I'd originally tried to plan out. So now I just tape a sheet of paper to my drawing board and start penciling from the start. I admit that occasionally I have to scrap a page and start over, but it's a rare occurrence, and drawing directly onto the boards from the script is still a proven method for me. I typically draw Dead Duck using a mechanical pencil (which saves time not having to sharpen) with a white plastic eraser for clean up (the cleanest eraser of all time). I use a t-square for panels and to rule out my dialogue, which I draw entirely by hand. My hand lettering is something I take pride in, since using digital fonts for comic lettering is so common these days.
This is what my final inks typically look like. Because I have a smaller scanner, I either scan the page in sections then reassemble it in Photoshop, or more often than not, run down to a print shop and make a smaller copy, then bring it back home to scan in. As you'll notice, I don't tend to fill in the black areas in the inking process. I usually wait until it's scanned in, then use Photoshop to fill those in during the color process. I do this partly because it prolongs the life of my markers to fill in large black areas digitally, but also because I can be a lot more intricate with subtle areas, like the folds of Dead Duck's cloak or Dean's jacket (and Zombie Chick's nipples, to be completely honest). I drew the first couple Dead Duck stories with a combination of Sharpie markers (the extra fine point for thicker lines, and the fine point for really thick lines and drawing panels) and Micron Pigma markers for finer details (the .02, .05 and .08). I stopped using Microns because I found them to bleed on the paper. I soon switched to Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens (the SX, S, F, M and Brush pen) and never looked back. I'd like to point out that my use of gore is frequent in Dead Duck, but always cartoony. My aim to is make people laugh as they're being repulsed, to create a sort of hybrid reaction. And I think the look on Lincoln's face as it transcends the panel is a hoot.
And here are my final colors. I have a preference for flat colors with my work. I just think that over rendering detracts from the line art, at least with cartoon work such as mine. I use gradation from time to time, but mostly it's used for the backgrounds. In my more recent work, I've begun experimenting with fading out the background action to make the foreground action pop out more, but for the most part, everything I color these days still adheres pretty closely to the principles I've established here.
So that about does it for my creative process. If I did have a formula for a successful story, it would be to always give Zombie Chick the last line. And that's my advice to any aspiring comic creator: find your "hook" character, the one who just pulls in the audience and always captures their attention, even if it's not your lead character. Think Kramer from "Seinfeld" or Gonzo from "The Muppet Show". Zombie Chick is definitely in that vein, and has been a key component to the success "Dead Duck" has afforded me thus far. Be sure to catch "Dead Duck" when it comes out in November 2009 from Ape Entertainment. You can pre-order the book through Previews now (order number: sept090577). Thanks for reading!
Jay P. Fosgitt
My website: http://www.jayfosgitt.com/
Dead Duck web comic: http://apecmx.com/deadduck/
Read my DEAD DUCK graphic novel coming from Ape Entertainment in November 2009!
Find out more about Dead Duck at JAYFOSGITT.COM
And you can read Dead Duck online now at APECMX.COM
Comment on the making of Dead Duck.