By Marty Mulrooney
As a huge animation fan, I must confess that my favourite animated series of all time is cult-classic Duckman. An animated sitcom that ran from 1994-1997, Duckman was an adult cartoon that told the story of a private detective duck and his sidekick, Cornfed, a Joe Friday-esque pig. Rather than being adult just for the sake of it (I’m looking at you South Park!) Duckman had a lot to say, and was actually quite sophisticated with its humour and plot.
Sadly, the show seemed to falter ratings-wise due to the adult nature which made it so very different from everything else in the first place, and the frankly moronic assumption that cartoons are just for kids. It was cancelled after only 70 episodes, but still retains a cult following even today.
Duckman was (and still is) adult entertainment of the highest order, a show that makes me laugh out loud whenever I’m feeling low. Recently, Alternative Magazine Online was lucky enough to speak to series creator Everett Peck about his hilarious creation. Here is what he had to say!
Hi Mr Peck! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Could you please tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi. Thanks for the interview! I was born and grew up in Southern California. I always like to draw and wanted to be like the artists that worked for Walt Disney or Mad Magazine. I got a degree in Illustration from Long Beach State and began working primarily as an Illustrator. Over the years I’ve dabbled with cartooning, comic books, children’s books, painting, and animation.
Would you describe yourself as an artist or a cartoonist?
Humour is definitely a part of my work but I guess I would describe myself as an artist.
Duckman was first featured in a 1990 Dark Horse comic. How did you come up with the initial premise?
There were several influences that were floating around in my head when I created Duckman. Actually, part of Duckman was based on a friend of mine and Cornfed was based on his long-suffering business partner. But beyond that, Duckman represents the plight of the little guy in an ever more complex and demanding world. Like many of us, he struggles to break even but is ultimately squashed by powers far beyond his control. The visual premise and design of Duckman basically came together in one drawing. (See below!)
What aspects of the comic were transferred over to the television show?
Although we couldn’t do everything in the series that I did in the comic we tried to stick as closely as possible to the feel of the comic. We also had to consider that over the course of many episodes we needed to expand story ideas and character relationships beyond the comic stories.
Klasky Csupo, Inc. provided the animation. Can you tell us more about them?
Klasky Csupo was a really innovative animation studio. I had done a few projects with them before Duckman. While I was still working on the comic I showed the art to Gabor Csupo and pitched the idea for a series. He agreed and we got started. He actually self financed twenty minutes of animation that we used to sell the project to Paramount. He was a huge force in getting things going. We did all the animation pre and post production at Klasky Csupo for the duration of the series.
What was the typical turnaround from the drawing-room to a completely finished episode?
Typical turn around time per episode was about nine months.
Did they adapt to your artwork, or make adjustments to their own distinctive style that was prevalent in the studio’s output during the 1990s?
It’s pretty much all my style. When we started the production I brought in a bunch of my sketchbooks and had them copied off and distributed around. I also did most of the initial characters design on every episode. Of course, I also had some really great artists working with me like Jerry Richardson on character design and Steve Meyers on background design.
I noticed you also share some writing credits on the show. How involved were you in the script writing process?
I wrote the comic and co-wrote the original pilot and was involved in the show’s writing as well. We had a fantastic team of writers on the show headed up by Jeff Reno and Ron Osborne.
Klasky Csupo, Inc. animated the first three series of The Simpsons, as well as The Wild Thornberries and Rugrats, right?
That’s right, it was actually only the first two seasons of the Simpsons though!
I guess that explains the Homer Simpson cameo in the Haunted Society Plumbers episode of Duckman?
Actually we got permission to use Homer from Matt Groening and Fox. But all the KC artists certainly knew how to draw him.
How did you feel about Jason Alexander as Duckman? I always felt his voice matched the character perfectly.
Yeah, I can’t imagine Duckman without Jason’s voice. It’s funny though: at the time he was not the obvious choice. When Gregg Burger came in and did a Jack Webb twist on Cornfed I knew that was the right voice right then and there, search over. But Duckman was much harder.
We listened to about seventy actors and I remember sitting in the studio one day listing to a few final auditions with my friend and animator Marv Newland (who directed the first episode). I was getting pretty burned out on voices when Jason’s audition came up on the tape. Marv said “That’s your guy!” I listened again and it seemed so obvious, sometimes it helps to have a fresh pair of ears!
Gregg Berger of course played it totally straight as Cornfed. Do you think this was important when the main character was so wacky and unpredictable?
Exactly. Gregg’s monotone voice and calm attitude was a counter balance to Duckman’s shrill hysteria.
Did you ever meet any of the voice actors or was it a completely separate process?
Yes, I met all of them and was friendly with our main cast. After working on a show for a few years you become like a family in a way.
The series featured many guest actors. Which of them would you single out as personal favourites?
There were so many great actors over the years; I guess James Brown would be a real stand out for me.
Was there ever any pressure to make the show more family friendly?
Not really, that was one advantage of being on a low profile network. We had low viewership and a lot of freedom. One thing we were aware of and tried to do was give the show some heart. This was also something I attempted with the comic as well. Duckman was a crass asshole, yes, but he was also capable of showing real emotion as well. I felt we touched on that successfully in “About Face”.
How about the distinctive music and sounds, was that by its nature always going to be slightly wacky and out-there due to the nature of the show? Frank Zappa springs to mind!
We were very fortunate that Frank Zappa wanted to be involved in the show. That really came about because of Gabor’s friendship with Frank. Unfortunately Frank was very ill at that point and had to withdraw shortly after the first season. Scott Wilkes, who had worked with Frank, picked up the slack and continued on brilliantly. But Frank Zappa’s genius really set the musical tone of the show.
Is the series based in Los Angeles? There were always little visual clues but nothing concrete!
Yes, I always intended the show to have an “L.A.” feel without being too obvious.
How much of a success was the show?
The show never really had high ratings but always had a loyal following. We went for four years but I felt we had a few more years of stories left in us.
What challenges did the show face over the years?
One of the big challenges we faced was budgetary. We never really had a large budget, especially by Simpson’s standards so we were always trying to get by on less money than we would have liked. In addition to that there were the normal creative differences but we usually worked those out without too much trauma.
Was it cancelled or simply wrapped up on a high?
It was cancelled after 70 episodes.
How about that cliff hanger in the final episode?! Was it done that way knowingly leaving us hanging us forever, or was there a part two planned further down the line that never came to fruition?
We hoped to get another season or two. I thought we were going to get the axe after the second season but we didn’t so I think we were all hopeful that we would continue on a while.
Was Duckman’s wife really alive all that time?! I loved that such a comedic show had its fair share of drama and emotion.
Actually in the original comic Duckman was married. But we all agreed that we could do a lot more with him if his beloved wife was deceased and adding insult to injury, the house was willed to his shrewish sister-in-law Bernice. Making Duckman a stranger in his own home.
That also allowed us to have some great knock-down drag-out fights between them that would be a little uncomfortable if they were husband and wife. In the comic Beatrice, his wife, was not so much angry with Duckman as totally absorbed in her own world. And because Duckman loved her madly, they never, ever, came close to blows.
I’m glad you mentioned the balance between comedy and emotion. That was something that I felt strongly about in the original comic and was carried over into the series. I think we were pretty unique in that approach to prime time animation. I can’t really think of any other shows before or since that deal with characters having realistic emotions and deep feelings. In that sense Duckman was probably the only true animated adult show.
How likely would you say it is that new Duckman content could appear in the future?
I’d say pretty slim.
Were you excited when Duckman was released on region 1 DVD recently? Any plans for other region releases? (Such as my own region 2? Pretty please?)
I’m not sure what you mean by region sorry! There are now two Duckman DVD sets available; Seasons 1&2 and 3&4.
Many episodes were apparently edited to remove copyrighted music. Does that worry you? I sometimes think this can alter the original impact of the scene.
When the decision was made at CBS to release Duckman on DVD there had to be some cuts to the music because of royalty issues (see what I mean by Duckman never having a big enough budget?) I was involved in that and I felt we preserved the most important music. Of course losing ANY music has a negative impact, but I had to choose between that and not having a Duckman release at all. So I can live with it.
Do you have a favourite episode? One of my personal favourites was Noir Gang, I thought it was brilliant!
That’s funny you should mention Noir Gang as one of your favourites. That episode is one of my favourites as well. My friend Raymie Muzquiz who also worked with me on Squirrel Boy directed it. As I mentioned earlier, I really like the way “About Face” came out as well.
Who is your favourite character after Duckman himself?
I’d have to say Cornfed.
Do you ever do that infamous Duckman dance after a few drinks? 😛
I usually do the dance before drinking!
Favourite Duckman quote?
I’d have to go with the ol’ reliable “What the hell you starrin’ at?!!” That sums up Duckman’s frustrated attitude pretty well.
Four Emmy nominations can’t be that bad right? Do you think the series could have continued like The Simpsons or South Park have done? Or was it better that it had a good run and was cemented in animation history forever when it finished in 1997?
I don’t know. Like I mentioned earlier, I felt we had more stories to tell. But I’m not sure it could have gone on like The Simpsons. I’m not even sure The Simpsons should have gone on like The Simpsons.
You also had another television series released in 2006, Squirrel Boy. How did that compare to Duckman content and animation wise?
Squirrel Boy was a whole different thing. It was for kids, but it had some similarities in that it was a smartly written scripted show with complete story lines and sub plots.
It was also similar to Duckman in that we gave the characters complex personalities. We also treated the adults as real people with complex feelings and not just simply stereotypes like the proverbial wise mom and stupid dad. I was pleased with the look as well.
Because of the advancements in digital technology we were able to get textures and gradations I could only dream about when we were doing Duckman. Where as Duckman was dark and weird, I wanted Squirrel Boy to have a look of a bright sunny day. The basic idea was to take 50’s style characters and move them into a slightly warped 21st century world
Over twelve years later and Duckman still has a strong cult following. Why do you think it has lasted so long, and what would you say to long-time fans?
Well I certainly enjoy the fans of the show; it’s nice to know that others appreciate something you worked so hard on and believed in. I don’t know why it’s endured, maybe because almost everyone likes an underdog.
Is the show still shown on television nowadays, or are readers best trying to seek out the DVDs?
It was on VERY late night on Comedy Central for a while but I think now it’s only available on DVD.
What’s next for you Mr Peck? Are you still drawing/ writing?
I’m still involved in animation. I’m working on a graphic novel and I’m also doing quite a bit of painting!
Thank you for your time!
We hope you all enjoyed reading this exclusive interview! You may also want to visit Everett Peck’s official website here. Duckman is currently only available on region 1 DVD, and can be purchased from Amazon.com here.