(I’ve taken a little break between my interviews for my Best Of Webcomics section for a bit, but am happy to be back with my latest installment featuring Savage Chickens.)
I came across Savage Chickens one day on Twitter and was immediately drawn in by the glowing yellow backgrounds of the comics’ 3×3 sticky-notes.
Doug Savage started drawing chickens on sticky-notes when he desperately needed a creative outlet and was sick of working overtime (we all know that feeling!). Since that fateful time, Doug has created thousands of poultry-infused Savage Chicken comics touching on the weird world of work, relationships, Star Wars and more in his strip called Savage Chickens.
What makes Savage Chickens stand out to me is the fact that Doug has the creativity and ingenuity to make a chicken on a 3×3 sticky-note so funny, comic after comic. His comics shave off all the extraneous elements and therefore become concise and directly on point. I further love his idea of taking something so utilitarian, like a sticky-note, and making it not only a piece of art, but make it a venue that pokes fun of its very means of creation (i.e. a sticky-note was invented to help you work so what better to do with it than make fun of work?).
(WARNING: His comics are really addicting so be sure you have a lot of free time before checking out his website. I think I was on there for about an hour, intrigued by them all).
Doug was kind enough to take some time between his busy work days and comic endeavors for this interview:
Interview with Doug Savage, Creator of Savage Chickens
Q. You knew you wanted to be a cartoonist ever since you were a child. How did you nurture your creative side at that time and what did your parents do to support that desire?
A. When I was a kid, I drew all the time. Every chance I could get. We didn’t have a ton of art supplies at home, so I did things like draw comics on the backs of old dot-matrix computer printouts and in the boxes of outdated calendars. My family is actually mostly musicians, so I was an artist among musicians. But because they’re musicians, they understand the importance of creativity and personal expression, so that sort of thing was always encouraged at home. And Mom would always take us to the local library, where I checked out all of the comics I could find! And we were given the freedom to explore our interests – we didn’t have a lot of formal structure, so we had lots of time to just play and use our imaginations.
Q. What was the belief you had that made you pursue an “uncreative office job,” versus pursuing cartooning as a career?
A. Getting an office job was definitely not a conscious choice on my part. It’s something I fell into when I was jobless and needing to pay off student loans. But, in a way, I think society tries to put all of us into uncreative office jobs. There’s a strong social bias against pursuing artistic careers. People say stuff like “you’ll starve” and there’s this sense that if you’re doing something creative, then you’re being frivolous and not doing a “real” job. Even though it’s actually a lot of hard work!
Even when people are generally supportive of you being an artist, they can subconsciously discourage you – sometimes because they used to have similar dreams and have given up on them. So if you become an artist, it’s like telling them that they gave up too easily.
I think we’re all exposed to these discouraging messages and they teach us that jobs are for keeping yourself fed and clothed and they’re not supposed to be fun and interesting. But they CAN be fun and interesting!
Q. Like many of your comic colleagues, your story of Savage Chickens began in 2005 as a way to blow off steam from your day job. How long did it take you to realize that Savage Chickens was your next step in life and what were those signs?
A. I first started to take it seriously about six months in, when my comic was featured on My Yahoo as a Link of the Day, and my audience increased quite a bit. Then, a few months after that, a comics syndicate got in touch with me to see if I’d be interested in syndication. We had a conversation about it, and then they weirdly vanished as quickly as they had appeared, but the experience got me thinking that I was doing something that people were interested in. So I started taking the work more seriously and putting more time into it.
I’ve never really had a moment where I thought, “Aha! I’ve made it!” It’s more of a continuous process of slowly becoming a cartoonist, with lots of little milestones along the way that convince me that I’m a real cartoonist, like getting paid for my work, getting a book deal, getting invited as a guest at conventions, stuff like that.
Q. Why did you select chickens as your main protagonist?
A. Simple. After years of not drawing comics, the only thing I remembered how to draw was chickens. So they had to be my protagonists, by default! I honestly couldn’t draw anything else.
Q. Sticky notes have become your staple for media as well as your brand. What have been the benefits of this media, as well as the limitations?
A. I love using post-it notes, because I’m using the tools of the office world for creativity, so it’s a bit of a jab at my office job. But they’re a fun medium to work in because of the limited space. These days I do longer comics using a bunch of post-it notes pasted together, but in the beginning, I had to cram everything into a 3” x 3” square. So it made me focus on the essentials. I had to whittle every joke down to the smallest number of words and visual elements. It’s a good exercise in editing. On the down side, post-it notes are easily destroyed, so if I make a mistake, I have to start over again. And they aren’t great for longer narrative pieces.
Q. You have been very prolific, creating new Savage Chickens every week for over 9 years. Seeing that you go through so many a year, should we all buy stock in sticky notes?
A. Ha! Yes definitely buy 3M stock. Hear that, 3M? I’m endorsing you. Please send me free post-it notes!
Q. What are some of the comics that sum up what Savage Chickens is about?
A. That’s a tough one. They’re so random. The comic is really about whatever pops into my head at 10 o’clock at night. But I have noticed some common themes, such as the bleakness of office work and the importance of creativity. On that note, this one might sum up the strip nicely: http://www.savagechickens.com/2013/10/be-an-artist.html
Q. Besides a cartoonist, I am also a web designer (by day) and am thoroughly impressed by the wonderful layout and professional appearance of your website. How do you feel your site’s presence helped Savage Chickens since moving from simply having a blog?
A. I’m glad you like the look of the website! It has changed a lot over the years. I started on Blogger, then migrated to WordPress, and then re-designed it once or twice. One of the best things about moving to WordPress was being able to create a better tagging system, so that readers could more easily navigate through their favourite topics. And I like having a Getting Started section for new readers too. A professional-looking design is important – it’s a portfolio, in a way, that shows publishers that you’re taking your work seriously.
Q. Perigee Books app roached you and published Savage Chickens: A Survival Kit for Life in the Coop. What were some of the things you learned from working with a publishing house? How have those lessons helped/changed how you produce your comics now?
A. It was a really interesting process. Perigee is great, because they’re a small shop but they’re owned by Penguin, so I had the experience of working with a small group of great people, but with the resources of a bigger company. Having worked on the chickens by myself for so long, it was fun to suddenly be working with others: editors, cover designers, publicists, and so on. There are so many people involved in creating a book. One thing that surprised me was how much work I had to do on promoting the book, I guess because I thought they’d just take care of all that for me. But I had to do a lot of legwork myself. Which was also one of the unexpected pleasures of doing that book, because it was the part that pushed me outside of my comfort zone into doing radio interviews and public-speaking engagements and I had a great time doing that stuff. Instead of avoiding public speaking events, I now volunteer to do them. A big change for an introvert like me!
The most significant impact on the comic itself was that, because of the book’s dimensions, I started drawing comics on 3” x 5” post-it notes. So the book broke me out of the 3” x 3” space that I had confined myself to, and now I draw comics of varying lengths.
Q. By day, you edit software manuals for a large corporation and by night you turn into a hilarious, prolific cartoonist. How has your cartooning affected your work life? What are some of the biggest obstacles in juggling them both?
A. I used to have a more adversarial relationship with my day job, but being a cartoonist has given me the creative outlet that the day job wasn’t giving me, so I’m happier and more productive in the day job too. And I don’t take it so seriously now, because I’ve got this other thing going on that is so much more important to me. It’s a nice balance, and I’m very happy to not be getting migraines any more.
The big challenge is managing my time, because I basically have two full-time jobs now. Eventually, I’ll need to quit my day job, just because I won’t have time for it and I’m certainly not going to give up my cartooning career!
Q. Besides posting your comics on social media, you also share many of your doodles and inspiring photos. What is your favorite social media platform for actually interacting with your fan base?
A. I find it easier to interact with readers on Twitter, Instagram, and Google+. I was late joining Facebook and haven’t really got the hang of it, but I’m trying to spend more time on it. Tumblr is great for re-blogging but I don’t find it so great for interaction. But I do have an Ask Me Anything link on my tumblr for people who want to send me questions.
Q. You have conveniently put up your licensing options online so that people can quickly (and legally) use your comics. Was this in response to illegal use of your comics or was this added to your site to satisfy the quantity of inquiries? Has this quick licensing option helped people in both cases?
A. I set up the licensing page mostly just to answer questions that I found myself answering over and over. A lot of companies and publishers license my comics for corporate presentation use, or for publication in textbooks, and so on. The illegal use of comics and other images is an ongoing problem of the Internet. People see something they like, so they grab it and share it, which is great. But for some weird reason, some people trim away the creator’s name and website. Why would anybody do that? I try not to worry about it too much, because it can make you crazy trying to track down illegal-usage stuff. Thankfully, most people understand that if they use a comic in a company newsletter or something like that, they should pay for the use of somebody else’s creative work. I’ve licensed comics to all sorts of companies around the world and it’s cool to see how people use them, especially in school textbooks and other educational works.
Q. What’s next for Savage Chickens?
A. I’m very excited about starting work on a new book. It’s going to be awesome! I can’t give all the details yet, but it’s a graphic novel for kids and it doesn’t involve chickens. And I’m stepping off of the post-it note for the first time – it’s going to be in full color! Not just yellow and black! I’m having a great time working with color, and it has been really fun to work on something that has a narrative, with characters and a proper story. Very different than my usual style of joke-writing!
After that, who knows? I’ve got a pile of book ideas that I want to do. And I’ve been pitching ideas for animated shows, so I expect I’ll start some new animation projects in the coming years. So much fun stuff to do!
Q. Thank you so much for your time! Anything else you want to add?
A. Thanks for interviewing me! This was fun!
Some Favorite Comics: