Doug Savage interview

Savage Chickens had been running on GoComics for a few months before the concept really started to grow on me – “chickens” + “Post-It notes”. In general SC is a single-panel gag series that occasionally grows to fill all available space. While the artwork is fairly minimalistic, the pop culture references and parodies, with chickens, and the ever-present Timmy Tofu, are dead-on.

(from Savage Chickens)

BC: Who are you?
DS: I’m Doug Savage, and I’m the creator of the comic Savage Chickens.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
DS: I’m Canadian. I was born outside of Ottawa and lived in small-town eastern Ontario before moving out here to Vancouver for a change of pace. I don’t have any formal artistic training. I just love drawing, so I keep doing it, and keep trying to get better at it. I’m also trying to get better at playing the ukulele, with less success.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
DS: I think of myself as a cartoonist more than anything else.

(from Savage Chickens)

BC: How did you get your start as a cartoonist?
DS: I drew all the time as a kid, and I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up. As I got older, I did less art and gradually got more into creative writing and did an English Lit degree. And by the time I was working in an office as a technical writer, I had all but forgotten how to draw (except for chickens, which I drew on everybody’s whiteboards when they weren’t looking). I started drawing comics again in 2004. I didn’t get any formal training or anything – I just started drawing comics and sharing them with the world. And after a few years of that, it occurred to me that I had become a cartoonist. Success!

BC: How long have you been at that, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
DS: Hmm, yeah, it’s been 12 years since I started Savage Chickens. Along the way, I’ve had a bunch of good things happen that I’d consider to be big breaks. Early on, my website got featured on a few popular blogs, including My Yahoo and Blogger. Later, I got my first book deal, my work started running on GoComics, and I got invited to San Diego Comic Con as a special guest. These days, I’ve branched out into graphic novels for kids, and I’m really excited about this new direction for my work. I feel like there’s never really a moment where you think “I’ve made it!” – it’s more of a series of gradual (and often unpredictable) milestones that, when you look back on them, seem to suggest that you’ve made it.

BC: What led up to your starting Savage Chickens, and do you have anything other pokers in the fire right now?
DS: I started Savage Chickens out of desperation. At the time, I was pretty unhappy about my boring day job, which was mind-numbingly uncreative. But it went beyond the usual office boredom when I started getting migraines and being genuinely concerned about my health. Savage Chickens came out of that stress and frustrated creativity. These days, my new comic projects are coming from a very different place of enthusiasm and excitement and exploring new things. I’m working on book 2 of Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy right now and I’m having a blast. So much fun!

BC: Savage Chickens is up to 2013 on GoComics. Any plans to run the more recent comics there, or are readers just going to have to wait a few weeks for that?
DS: For GoComics, I’ve always posted the comics from four years before the current date. I’ll probably keep it that way, just because it’s a nice way to introduce my archive to people and to showcase comics that might not have gotten noticed the first time around.

BC: What would you say have been the most popular of the Chickens strips?
DS: According to my site statistics, it’s “I Love You More“, but it’s really hard to tell these days with people viewing the comics in so many different places. The one that has been passed around the most on social media is probably “Spot the Differences“, which I still get a chuckle out of. Some people find that comic infuriating, but that was kind of the point.

BC: Do chickens have fingers?
DS: Mine do! I make the feathers look a bit like a hand whenever I need to, like, if the chicken’s holding a wine glass or something.

BC: Since Chickens are drawn on Post-It notes, do you stick them on the fridge when you’re done with them?
DS: Hey that’s a good idea, and more exciting than the real answer: I stow them away in portfolio books to keep them safe. I have a shelf full of post-it note portfolios.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
DS: Artists always seem to prefer their most recent work, and I’m no exception. I think Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy is the best thing I’ve ever made. I love the characters, and I loved the challenge of writing longer stories and doing full color.

BC: Do you have any paper or e-book collections on the market?
DS: I think there are still a few copies of my first book kicking around out there if you can find them: Savage Chickens: A Survival Kit for Life in the Coop. But more recently, GoComics and Universal Uclick created six little e-book collections of my work. You can find them here at Amazon. And there’s my new graphic novel, of course: Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy, which is in bookstores everywhere right now.

BC: Do you get much reader feedback on either Chickens or Laser Moose? Is it mostly positive?
DS: I’ve been lucky to receive overwhelming positive feedback for both. For Savage Chickens, I get emails every day from my readers and I love hearing that my work makes people laugh – especially when people let me know that the chickens helped them smile and get through a tough time. Laser Moose has only been out a few months, but the feedback has been great so far. It was especially fun to see the reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of yellow paper when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
DS: I usually start with writing rather than drawing. I scribble down a couple of topics, or I’ll use a random word generator from the internet. And then I’ll just think about that word or topic and think about how I feel about it, and what my associations are with it. If nothing comes to mind, I’ll try to combine it with a different topic or word, to see if the combination triggers any ideas. A lot of humor comes from putting two things together that don’t belong together, so that can be a fun way to generate ideas. I don’t really have time to ruminate over the blank page for long. No time for writer’s block! Deadlines can be a wonderful way to exercise your creative brain.

(Laser Moose, the book. Vol. 1.)

BC: Why a laser moose? Why not a death ray squirrel or a blaster frog? That is, what led up to the creation of Laser Moose?
DS: It started as a single joke on Savage Chickens. I liked the idea of a superhero who destroyed the thing that he was trying to protect, and that thought led to Laser Moose somehow. I’ve always been fascinated by moose – they’re so majestic, and I associate them with strength and bravery – you know, heroic-type stuff.

BC: Could you talk about LM a little, as an introduction for new readers?
DS: Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy is a 144-page full-color graphic novel, aimed at ages 7-12, but written for pretty much anybody, really. It’s about a moose who, you guessed it, shoots lasers out of his eyes, and his little rabbit sidekick. The rabbit doesn’t have any superpowers, except for a sort of stubborn optimism. They get in all sorts of adventures, and defend their forest from a bunch of villains, including a mutant fish-bear and a cyborg porcupine.

(Laser Moose, the not-a-book version.)

BC: Are there any significant differences between your approach to drawing on sticky notes, and on a regular sheet for children’s books? Any challenges or issues when you were first starting out with LM?
DS: It was hard to get used to the larger format, at first. Drawing on post-it notes for so many years, I’ve become pretty accustomed to tiny drawings. For Laser Moose, I got to draw on a larger space. But the book was a huge leap forward for me in all sorts of ways: it was my first time telling longer narrative stories, my first time writing for a younger audience, my first time doing full color. I learned so much from the experience, and it was really fun trying new things.

BC: Would you say the LM stories have a moral or hidden message for kids? Or, are they just cute stories about two animal friends from vastly different species?
DS: I tend to avoid overt moral messages, because I think readers can smell that sort of thing a mile away. I think you can get a lot of ideas across just by showing characters in conflict – with each other and within themselves. By showing how your characters resolve those conflicts, you end up showing something true and interesting about human nature. Or moose nature, in this case.

(from Savage Chickens)

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be like?
DS: I’d ask Andrew Huang to compose a funky soundtrack performed on office supplies.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
DS: Here are a few of my favorite creative folks of all time: Jim Henson, Gary Larson, Steve Martin, Matt Groening, Lawren Harris, Andy Goldsworthy, Nick Park, Douglas Adams, Weird Al Yankovic. And I have been lucky to meet a few of my cartooning heroes. I met Dan Piraro in San Diego – he was a big help to me in the early days of the chickens, so it was great to hang out with him. Last spring, I interviewed Lynn Johnston at the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival – it was great to meet her and we had a great chat about her cartooning adventures. Very inspiring! I find that cartoonists are a really friendly bunch and we all tend to look out for each other. It’s a nice bunch of people.

BC: Got any dirt on them?
DS: Hahaha! No. And if I did, I wouldn’t tell. Us cartoonists have gotta stick together.

(from Savage Chickens)

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
DS: Lately, I’m really enjoying Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmund, Dorris McComics by Alex Norris, Sketchshark Comics by Megan Dong, Up and Out by Julia Kaye, Jim Benton’s comics, and anything by Tom Gauld, and I could go on and on. There’s so much great stuff out there. It’s really inspiring.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips? What do you think makes for a good comic?
DS: I don’t really consciously look for anything, but I tend to be drawn to comics that are cleverly written, regardless of artistic style. I tire quickly of comics that use shock humor. And I’m not big on insult jokes. I’d rather laugh together about silly old human nature than laugh at somebody else’s expense.

(When your moose friend is a Laser Moose.)

BC: Are there any lessons you’ve learned over the last 12 years that you’d be willing to pass on to cartoonists just starting out?
DS: Oh geez, there are so many things. If anybody has any questions, submit them to me via my contact form and I’ll answer your question in detail there. (I’ve answered a few already.) But there’s one thing that I tell everybody who wants to be a cartoonist: be persistent. Extremely stubbornly persistent. It can be difficult to get your work noticed and find opportunities. For every project I’ve done that worked out, there are a dozen projects that didn’t work out. You just have to keep doing the work. Keep putting yourself out there and pushing yourself artistically and creating work that you’re proud of.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? How do you think they are changing the face of webcartooning?
DS: I haven’t used them yet. I keep meaning to, but haven’t had time. I do think they’re changing the face of cartooning in all forms. It’s so much fun to see somebody’s pet project become a reality because fans got behind it. It feels very democratic. The main things I’ve heard from friends who’ve had success with crowd-funding: be organized, put time into a good intro video, and don’t overextend yourself with the rewards.

(from Savage Chickens)

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
DS: Like I said, I’m working on the sequel to Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy, due out later in 2017. No appearances scheduled right now, but I’ll definitely be doing some book promotion stuff in the fall.

BC: Anything else you want to rant about?
DS: Ha no… oh wait maybe there is… I just want to say that becoming an artist has completely changed my life for the better. Like I mentioned earlier, I was toiling away in an office job and being super-miserable to the point that I started to become physically harmed by it. If you’re a creative person and you are not doing something creative, then you are going against your fundamental nature. Go out there and make something. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t need to get lots of Likes. Just do it for yourself, first and foremost. Make art because it’s fun and energizing and challenging. Make art because you have to.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Doug Savage (c) 2017.)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2017. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)

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