Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Jeff Corriveau - Cartoonist Survey #142

Television comedy writer turned cartoonist, Jeff Corriveau grew up in a small New England town. Like many kids his age, he spent hours poring over ‘Peanuts’ collections dreaming of creating his own strip. After graduating from college Jeff moved to Los Angeles and spent some time working in a couple of mystery theaters, while at the same time writing comedy. He sent out some of his writing and within a few weeks he heard back from Craig Kilborne, then Saturday Night Live and Jay Leno. Soon he got his big break and was hired as head writer for the Emmy-winning cable comedy show, Talk Soup. Jeff has written for many celebrities including, Sarah Silverman, Kevin Nealon, Jaime Pressley, Colin Quinn, Brooke Burke, Jenny McCarthy and many more.

While still a head writer for Talk Soup and contributing to SNL’s “Weekend Update”, he realized he wanted something more. He began working on his own comic strip and in 2006 DeFlocked made its debut in the La Canada Valley Sun newspaper in California. DeFlocked is set on an old farm and follows the adventures of Mamet, a self-absorbed sheep, Cobb the dog, Rupert his younger brother and Tucker, an 8-year-old boy who was raised by the dogs. The strip is based on Jeff’s love of ‘Peanuts’ and Norman Lear’s, ‘All in the Family’ sit-com. Syndicated by King Features in May of 2008, DeFlocked is still going strong and has gained a large fan base. Being a strong supporter of animal rights, Jeff has created a spin-off strip, ‘10% Wool’ exclusively for PETA and their campaign to end the abuse of sheep in Australia. '10% Wool' appears biweekly and can be seen here on PETA’s blog. Jeff currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. See more of DeFlocked here on the official website and also over at King Features.

What is your favorite pen to use?
I use mostly Microns to do my drawing, and Rotring lettering pens for my dialogue. My favorite pen is this fat ink stick buried in my art box called a Permaball. It’s the first rollerball pen to use permanent ink, and it truly is like writing on water. The ink is very dark and rich. I have the extra-bold 1.3mm version, which is impossible to find, unfortunately. I use it for loud dialogue or visuals that need a lot of extra emphasis.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
I’ve used the same purple plastic mechanical pencil since I started writing my strip. It cost 99 cents, it’s dirty, with a chip missing off the point, but I can’t let go of it. It’s a very abusive relationship. I don’t use a regular pencil, because I couldn’t imagine having to stop every five minutes to sharpen it.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
All Photoshop, man. It’s what allows me get 5 hours of sleep a night instead of four. I hear there are some guys who still hand-color their strips, though. Which astounds me.

What type of paper do you use?
2-ply Bristol Board. Rough finish. It holds the ink well without looking too “perfect.”

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
Humans and cars. My inability to design a decent-looking homosapien is why I originally chose to populate my strip with animals. If you look through my first two years of strips, every human character looks like they were drawn by a different person. I’ve tried so many different styles. And cars are just maddening. If I don’t have a reference picture in front of me, all my cars look like they’re being driven backwards. I hear most people iron out these issues long before being professionally published, but I never like to follow the herd. I can’t draw herds either.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
There’s this big independently-owned art store in my town where I buy most of my stuff. They’re a little more expensive, but they have big twice-yearly sales where I get to stock up on all my kneaded erasers and Hello Kitty notepads.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
I’m not much into rituals. I would hate to be in an art form where you’re conditioned to do the same thing day after day after day.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
Drawing is a mechanical process for me, so I can do just about anything. But the writing and penciling are a different story. It has to be like a crypt in my head before I can write anything I’d sign my name to. I have a ferocious self-editor, and it would be a lot tougher if he had to fight for my attentions with the lyrics of Right Said Fred’s “I’m too Sexy.” Just as an example.

I’ve heard of people who like to work in public places like malls or have the stereo blasting while they create. And, to a person, I can always tell. Their work generally seems more distracted and the writing more obvious.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
I loved newspaper comics as a kid. Like most people, I had a set routine of which comics I read, in which order, and which comics I didn’t even glance at. I honestly can’t remember what one was my favorite, but I do recall having a very strong affinity to Fred Bassett. Which is shocking to my fans, who know my kind of dark pop-culture humor. But, coming from a broken home, I think I was drawn to the comfy hominess that always seemed to pervade that strip. Plus, the dog looked sad. I don’t think more than a handful of American papers even carry that strip anymore.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
Peanuts is why I made the choice to do my own strip. It was an indelible part of my childhood. I devoured those books, checking the same ones out of the library week after week, and buying any new paperbacks I’d see in the stores. I discovered Calvin & Hobbes in college, long after I’d stopped reading comics, and it gave me those same feelings I had as a kid. Before puberty, of course.

But Peanuts is like that favorite old shirt that you can’t ever throw away, no matter how dated and tattered it is. It’s a part of my literary and emotional fabric. And DeFlocked was my tribute to Charles Schulz’s masterwork. I actually received a very nice note from Jeanne Schulz – Charles’ widow – when my strip premiered.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
“Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Two amazing pieces of storytelling. I don’t think I have my childhood versions, but whenever I visit my old hometown in Massachusetts, I visit the local library which still has the dog-eared 1970’s copy of “Charlie,” which I grew to adore. There are some benefits to local municipalities being broke.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
None. And now cue the chorus of comic fans chanting “True Dat!” I actually had a lot of drawing talent when I was a kid, but, like my ability to nail a birch tree at 30 yards with a shuriken, some things didn’t transcend into my adulthood. Like Neil Young said, “You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain.” Someone should put that idea into song.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
Like most paradigm shifts, you can’t fully assess them without a full generation or two of context. It’s obviously hurting newspapers, and, by extension, comics. See me again when we can read emails by wealthy Nigerian princes straight from our corneas.

Did either of your parents draw?
My mom drew a little when she was younger. She was good, too. Her style was very cartoony. I never saw any of that growing up, though.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
I had a Jr. High art teacher named Mr. Devine who used to shake his head whenever he would see me walk by in the hallway. I later learned from others that he was so disappointed that I was throwing away my natural artistic talent by not seriously pursuing art. I guess that’s a kind of support. Sort of like those girls who punch you because they secretly like you. I had a lot of secret admirers.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
I do, but it’s filled with writing instead of art. I have four books filled with material for DeFlocked. But I’m constantly adding to it, so I never get to go back and mine the gold. Or at least the gypsum.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
I would report any parent who let their child learn to draw from me.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
There are a lot of unsuccessful talented people in the world. Less so unsuccessful passionate people. For the most part, you can learn talent.

Do you collect anything and if so what?
I used to collect old books and toys from my youth – 70’s and 80’s. But then I became a Dad. So now I don’t have to live vicariously through myself anymore.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
Jeckle from “Heckle and Jeckle.” My other passion is singing minstrel songs in a Southern black accent. You’d be surprised how few outlets there are for that kind of talent.

Are you a righty or lefty?

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
I traveled a lot of the country in my 20’s, and I happened upon this Amish community in the heart of rural Ohio. I was greatly affected by this visit. I was taken by the strong community these people engendered and the simplicity in which they lived their lives. And the amazing part is that their numbers are growing, not dwindling like you’d expect. I felt very much at peace there. As if it was a reminder of what we all once had and subsequently lost. If I didn’t yearn like a vampire to become a millionaire through my art, I’d probably turn Amish and build houses and plant crops for a living.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
Portable drawing board. Dining room table. Crap everywhere.

Do you play any musical instruments?
I played drums in high school.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
Whenever I take on a goal in life, I always approach it like the Vikings who used to burn their ships behind them when they went into battle, so they couldn’t retreat. I have to be the best at whatever it is I do. And it’s helped me attain most of what I’ve accomplished in my professional journeys. If you truly want to do this, you have to approach it like a serious life choice. You have to be all in. You must tell yourself, “I’m going to be the best comic book illustrator. Or greeting card cartoonist. Or oil painter.” And then do that very thing. And if you need training or other areas of help to achieve that, do it. I mentioned a vampire analogy before, and it’s true. You have to have a bloodthirst for this stuff. And I don’t necessarily mean financial success. You have to be the very best at your vocation. No excuses. Anything less is called fry cook.

Who is your favorite artist?

Grandma Moses. I love her work. The way she approached folk art was incredible. I look at her paintings and they stir me. And her grandson Will later developed a similar style that evoked her sublime talents. He still paints today.

Thank you very much Jeff!

Up next is Sage Stossel, editor and cartoonist for the Atlantic Monthly Online.

1 comment:

P.L. Frederick said...

Wow, this is a great interview too. I'd missed it earlier. So well written and interesting.

Jeff, what an amazing life you have lived, and what a great combination of comedy writer and cartoonist.