With the first two seasons of the cult-favorite 1994 animated series Duckman finally available on DVD, we connected with series creator Everett Peck to discuss the genesis of the series and its sustained popularity. We also asked about future plans for his most recent animated show, Squirrel Boy, as well and the nature of the animation business at large.
Duckman, which stars Jason Alexander (Seinfeld) as the voice of the title quacker, first aired during the USA network’s Up All Night block. The show also featured the voices of Nancy Travis as Duckman’s braying sister-in-law, Beatrice, Dweezil Zappa as Duckman’s dim son, Ajax, E. J. Daily and the late Dana Hill as his conjoined sons, Charles and Mambo, and Gregg Berger as Cornfed Pig, Duckman’s brilliant sidekick.
Squirrel Boy debuted on Cartoon network in the Summer of 2006. The series follows the exploits of ten-year-old Andy (Pamela S. Adlon) and his best friend, Rodney (Richard Horvitz), a know-it-all squirrel with a lot of big ideas. Joining them on some of their neighborhood adventures is Rodney’s best squirrel buddy, Leon (Tom Kenny), who prefers the call of the wild to Rodney’s life as a kept squirrel.
Animation Magazine Online: Please tell us how you came up with the Duckman character and the concept for the show.
Everett Peck: I came up with Duckman the same way I come up with most of my ideas, by observing people and drawing in my sketchbook. I generally carry my sketchbook around with me were ever I go. I like to sketch in public places like coffee shops and bars. I don’t usually draw exactly what I’m seeing. I’m just looking at all the different types of people and they’re public interactions. If I see something interesting it usually ends up in my sketchbook in one form or another. Sometimes that forms the basis for a character. I used to draw caricatures of people sitting in bars in exchange for drinks. But after a few beers my drawings started looking worse than they usually do and people started getting mad. I almost got in a fight a couple of times so I quit doing that.
The basic personality of Duckman and the working relationship with Cornfed is based on a friend of mine and his ex-partner (I emphasize ‘ex’.) In my earliest sketches I played with putting Duckman in a muscle suit. In one sketch a primeval Cornfed says, ‘Aww Duckman, every time you put that thing on someone gets hurt, and it’s usually you.’ I quickly moved away from the superhero angle. I never really got the whole superhero thing anyway. I mean it’s easy to fight evil when you’re ripped and have a bunch of super powers and a cool suit. Where’s the fun in that? I liked the idea of taking a skinny duck with a big mouth and no genitalia and throwing him up against the world. Now that’s entertainment! I digress. After I got Duckman and Cornfed worked out the other characters fell into place fairly quickly. I lifted King Chicken from a painting I was working on and an old girlfriend inspired Bernice. I started working out stories in comic-strip form, then compiled those with some new material to create the first Duckman comic for Darkhorse Publications. At around the same time I showed Duckman to Gabor Csupo (co-owner of Klasky-Csupo Animation studio). He liked it immediately, so we went into partnership to produce Duckman as an animated property.
AMO: Why do you think the show proved to be so original and able to create
a huge cult following?
EP: I just went with something that was interesting to me. You can never really judge how people will receive stuff you do, you can drive yourself crazy thinking that way (but now they have some wonderful drugs for that). Of course, I’m happy people do like it. I think one thing people respond to is that Duckman is pretty much the only animated show out there that’s truly an adult show. One thing that I was concerned about initially was retaining the attitude and sexuality of the comic in the animated series. I think we were pretty successful. I didn’t let my kids watch it. I didn’t even mention I was working on Duckman. I told them Daddy had to spend a little time in jail but he’d be home soon.
AMO: How is the business different today than we you started out in
EP: I think the television animation business has become very conservative today in terms of getting shows made. There are really very few networks looking for primetime animation, and the ones that are aren’t taking many chances. Several networks have ‘shorts’ animation programs that require a creator to produce two or three minutes of animation to prove an idea. It’s a lot of work with limited returns. Pilots have always been part of the process, but with a pilot you essentially have an entire episode of eleven or twenty two minutes to make your case. Of course, it’s a money issue, but in my opinion it’s difficult to sum up a scripted, character driven show in a short that’s a fraction the length of a real pilot.
AMO: Are you working on new episodes of Squirrel Boy?
EP: Unfortunately, Squirrel Boy is finished. I really enjoyed making that show. I was very fortunate to have a great team of really talented people who worked very hard to make that series. I’ve got several other shows currently in various stages of failure/success. I’ve also been painting quite a bit lately, which I haven’t done in a while. I’ve been in several shows around LA recently (check my website for details).
AMO: What is your take on the state of the TV animation industry as a whole?
EP: Primetime television animation has gone through a lot of ups and downs since Duckman. Many shows have come and gone, and most failed to establish themselves. The few that have seem to be of a consistent formula that continues to dominate the genre. It would be nice to see something new bust on the scene that has a totally fresh look and approach.
AMO: What kind of advice would you give folks who want to work in the animation business and not sell their souls to the devil?
EP: There’s an option? NOW YOU TELL ME!
Duckman: Seasons One & Two is a three-disc set that carries a suggested retail price of $49.98. Seasons three and four and a four-season set are scheduled for release on Jan. 6, 2009. The complete set is listed at $89.98.