Self-taught cartoonist and comedy writer Brian McFadden was born and raised in Brockton, Massachusetts (also the birthplace of legendary boxer Rocky Marciano and…um…me). As a child he fell in love with the Simpsons’ animated shorts on 'The Tracey Ullman Show' and a few years later discovered Matt Groening’s “Life in Hell” comic strips. After high school he studied mechanical engineering at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. While at John Hopkins he started reading alternative weekly comics, enjoying the works of Derf (Cartoonist Survey #25), Ruben Bolling and Tom Tomorrow. By searching the web, he was able to find the work of many more alternative weekly cartoonists including Ted Rall, Keith Knight (Cartoonist Survey #251) and Max Cannon. Bored with his studies, Brian started his own comic strip, Big Fat Whale, on a GeoCities website in October of 2001.
In July of 2002, the cartoon moved to its own website and later that year, began appearing in the Boston monthly, Editorial Humor. The first Big Fat Whale mini comic, "The Lonely Captain's Erotic Scrimshaw", came out in November of 2003. A few months later BFW was picked up by the Cleveland Scene/Free Times and soon after, the Boston Phoenix started featuring the strip. Since that time, BFW has also been featured in the Gayzette Denver, Portland Phoenix, Chico Beat, Buffalo Beast, and many other national and international publications. Brian’s second BFW mini comic, "Sea Anomie", was printed in the fall of 2005.
Big Fat Whale was featured in the third installment of Ted Rall's Attitude series of books; “Attitude 3: The New Subversive Online Cartoonists”. Brian was also involved in the formation of Cartoonists With Attitude, a group which consists of many of the nation's subversive alt-weekly cartoonists. The first BFW book, “Fun Stuff for Dum-Dums” came out in May of 2009 and includes strips from late 2005 through mid 2009.
Since June of 2011 Brian has also written and drawn The Strip for The New York Times' Sunday Review section. As of earlier this year, his comics are also part of the comics lineup at the political blog Daily Kos.
Brian now lives live in Jamaica Plain, MA. In addition to cartooning he enjoys comedy writing and performing sketch comedy. Visit his Big Fat Whale website, which is updated every Friday, to read the weekly BFW strip. Check out his blog and the BFW store where you can purchase books, prints, stickers, t-shirts and original artwork. To read The Strip visit this page at The New York Times. Brian is also available for speaking engagements. These one hour talks feature a slideshow of his recent cartoons with behind-the-scenes commentary.
What is your favorite pen to use?
I'm all digital now, so I use whatever stylus came with the Wacom Intuous3 I use. Before then, I used a Hunt 108 nib and an inkwell.
Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
I do a rough digital sketch to figure out the layout, especially with my text-heavy comics, then flesh out the details in the final pass.
Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
Any vehicle with wheels. Bikes, cars, a human centipede on roller skates. They all take too much time.
Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
Since I went digital, the only supplies I end up buying are shipping materials. I'm definitely a regular at Staples and the local Post Office.
Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
Yeah. I like a wide variety of styles and try to mix it up, but generally I start out listening to NPR for material, then comedy podcasts, and shift to music when I need to concentrate on writing. And when I'm really up against a deadline, especially at the tail-end of all-nighter, and the coffee isn't working, I rely on blasting Eagles of Death Metal, White Stripes, Led Zeppelin, and anything else that can push me across the finish line.
Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
I never read comic books, except for MAD. And it's embarrassing now, but I was a huge "Garfield" fan as a kid in the mid-eighties. Thankfully I quickly graduated up to "The Far Side" then to "Life in Hell" by the time I got to junior high.
What is or was your favorite comic strip?
Groening's "Life in Hell" will probably be at the top of my list forever. It's influenced me in so many ways. I didn't read alt-weeklies until college, so it was the first comic I read that catered to my more irreverent sensibilities. Even "Big Fat Whale's" square, generally nine-panel format is a direct inspiration (or rip-off) from Groening's strip. The list of my current faves is too long to list, but if I follow a cartoonist on Twitter, it's safe to assume I'm eagerly awaiting their next strip.
What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
"There's a Monster at the End of This Book," starring Grover from Sesame Street. It's either in my parents' basement or hopefully found its way through the thrift store supply chain and it's entertaining another kid, thirty years later.
Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
No training, and it shows.
Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
A blessing. I started posting cartoons regularly on the web in 2001, and every opportunity that has come my way in the eleven years since has been directly or indirectly a result of someone seeing my cartoons online.
Did either of your parents draw?
Not unless they picked it up in retirement, which is a possibility!
Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
Definitely my parents. They encouraged me even when I began to think pursuing a cartooning career was a pretty dumb idea.
Do you keep a sketchbook?
Nope. I'm more of a writer who illustrates his ideas. I always have a notebook with me to jot down ideas, and I have a bulletin board in my office to keep track of all the comic scripts in the pipeline. But I only draw when it's absolutely necessary.
Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
When I was in high school, I taught an after-school cartooning class of elementary school students. I had a blast, although I doubt the students felt the same way.
Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
Definitely passion. Talent comes to anyone who sticks with it long enough.
Do you collect anything and if so what?
Not really. I'm pretty frugal, and I like to spend my hard-drawn dollars on having fun rather than accumulating things.
If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
It's not very flattering, but Ren from "Ren & Stimpy" seems to capture my essence the best.
Are you a righty or lefty?
If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
If I stuck with mechanical engineering, I'd probably be AutoCADing the newest bomb for the military industrial complex. But I'd hate that. If/when the cartooning thing dries up, I'd be content as a park ranger somewhere in the mountains of northern New England.
In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
It's ridiculously neat, especially for a guy who looks like an old-timey hobo.
Do you play any musical instruments?
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
If you like drawing, keep doing it, and get your work out there. The same goes if you like writing jokes. And if you like doing both, you just might be a cartoonist.
Who is your favorite artist?
That's a tough one, but without a doubt my biggest influence was and still is Conan O'Brien. Even before "Mr. Show," he was showcasing a style of comedy that really spoke to me. I know he's a comedian, and not a graphic artist, so if you need one of those, I'd say Groening. He can draw in a quick and loose style AND be just as irreverent as Conan, while also providing pointed commentary. And that's what I aspire to do with each cartoon.
Thank you very much for taking the time to participate Brian!