Saturday, December 19, 2009

Derf - Cartoonist Survey #25

John Backderf, better known as Derf, is one of the most widely published alternative cartoonists. His comic strip, "The City", which debuted in 1990, is published in over 50 weekly newspapers across the country. He attended high school with Jeffrey Dahmer and turned that experience into the comic book, "My Friend Dahmer." Working as the guy riding the back of a garbage truck for a year gave him the material for his graphic novel, "Trashed." Both "My Friend Dahmer" and "Trashed' were nominated for Eisner awards. His illustrations have been on CD's and t-shirts and have appeared in many publications including, Playboy, The Wall Street Journal and Guitar Player magazine. Derf has won numerous awards including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for cartooning. He has a really fun website http://www.derfcity.com/ that you need to visit.

What is your favorite pen to use?
Microns and Sharpies. Given my druthers, I'd still use Rotring Rapid-o-liners. They were rapidograph pens with disposable point and ink cartridge inserts. Never clogged, like the old rapidographs were prone to do. But the company stopped making them. The cheaper Microns pushed them off the market. Microns are OK. The archival ink is nice, but the points are crap and wear down way too fast.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
I use mechanical pencils.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
I've done both, but the past few years its all PhotoShop color.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
Gouache paint.

What type of paper do you use?
Strathmore bristol, vellum finish.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
I don't "hate" to draw anything! Some things are more difficult than others, but I view this as a challenge. Crowd scenes are tough, but I enjoy them. So are store interiors, with shelves lined with goods. I've never mastered that. Water is hard to render.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
I usually buy from Dick Blick online. If it's an emergency I'll go to Utrecht, but I'm not a fan of that store.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
Coffee.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
I often listen to college radio, whatever show sounds interesting. The genres are all over the map. I also run movies on my Mac while I work. If I'm writing, though, I opt for silence.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
I was a total comix nut starting at age 8. I was a voracious reader of comic books until I was 22 or so. Then I stopped reading comics and started making them. I'd have to say Jack Kirby was my favorite, especially that amazing first year of his Fourth World titles in 1971. So strange and goofy and creative. I was also huge into Mad magazine, particularly Don Martin... and also the early EC stuff, which was endlessly reprinted, especially Kurtzman-Elder. I somehow got my sweaty hands on some Robert Crumb books around age 11 or 12 and those blew me away. And the National Lampoon comics were also very inspiring, particularly Vaughn Bode.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
Hmmm. The first strip I remember really liking was, of all things, Dennis the Menace. I was maybe 5. After that it was Peanuts until I was a teenager. Then Doonesbury for a few years. Then I stopped reading comic strips.

My favorite strip of all time was Up Front by Bill Mauldin. (OK. It was a panel, not a strip). Well before my time, of course, but Mauldin was such an amazing character, a guy who wasn't a genius, as far as sheer talent goes, but through brains, hard work and a knack for seizing opportunity became the cartoon voice of his generation, maybe the first cartoonist to achieve that status. And his work itself, the combination of comedy, pathos, relevancy and satire, was unlike anything that had come before. And then he returned home from war, scrapped everything and started over as a political cartoonist.... and AGAIN became the top cartoonist in his field. Amazing.... and inspiring.

Many of the creators I admire most-- Kirby, Crumb, Schultz-- are gods, people whose sheer talent is far beyond us mere mortals. But Mauldin was a regular guy. He worked his craft constantly to improve, It never came easy to him. And when he got his break, he made the absolute most of it. He's a guy I can relate to.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
Peanuts Treasury, a big Charlie Brown coffee table tome, acquired from the Book-of-the-month Club when I was 7. I do indeed have a copy. I have also re-collected all the comic books I had as a kid, especially from 1970 when I was 10, when I went from being a casual reader to an hopelessly obsessive reader of comics. So I have them all: from superhero titles I plucked off the spinner rack at the corner drugstore, to back-issues I found at garage sales to the free give-a-way minis that came in cereal boxes . All NM and many are pedigree copies.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for a semester. Then I went to Ohio State, but never took an art class. I was a journalism major. I was, however, the cartoonist for the school newspaper, The Lantern, for nearly 3 years. That was far better training than any art class.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
It's both.

Did either of your parents draw?
No.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
My wife, mainly because her 9-5 job and steady paycheck has allowed me to have a career in art.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
Not really. I've tried at various times, but I can't keep it up. When I'm working on a graphic novel, however, I write and do preliminaries in a sketchbook.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
Yes I have and yes I do.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
You need both, but I think the most important thing is the desire to work your craft, to constantly tinker to improve. There are lots of talented people out there who are total hacks.

Do you collect anything and if so what?
I've always blown way too much money on my various goofy collections.
1.Comic books. At one time I had over 20,000. Now I have just a few thousand. Only my favorite titles, all NM. Have a lot of EC Mads and a nice collection of 1st-print undergrounds, Crumb, Bode, etc. Lots of Kirby, Adams, Ditko.
2. I have a sweet collection of Hot Wheels and Johnny Lightnings from 1968-71.
3. I have a lot of punk rock memorabilia: original posters, picture-sleeve 45s, and promo stuff. I collected 1st-edition books by favorite authors for years, from the time I was a teenager, but I haven't bought anything in 10 years or so.
4 Fab Fifties furniture, particularly Heywood-Wakefield pieces and Majestic Boomerang lamps.
5. A small collection of original art. A two-page Kirby spread from Mighty Thor is the prize there.
6. My favorite collection is a dozen original Ed Big Daddy Roth hot rod monster models (Rat Fink, Mr. Gasser, etc), all built up and painted by me, and in the original boxes.


If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
He-Man, Master of the Universe.

Are you a righty or lefty?
Righty.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
The only other job I ever had was garbageman.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
Cluttered and cozy.

Do you play any musical instruments?
I was a tuba player in high school. Still have a sousaphone.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
The future, whatever it is, and that is still very much up in the air, of cartooning is online. And it will move. Learn web-building and animation programs.

Who is your favorite artist?
Can't name just one.




Thanks Derf for taking the time to respond. Sending you positive thoughts of good health for the New Year!

Next up will be Ed Choy Moorman.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great interview for us fan boys D.T.