Doug Savage likes most companionship animals… dogs, cats, lizards, widow spiders… the usual. But he also likes domesticated birds, especially Galliformes. He’s convinced that one of those subspecies (chickens) with more than 20 billion individuals scratching the worldwide soil for grain (as well as laying eggs) will rise one day against our fragile supremacy. That, or they’ll catch a deadly cold and then we’re all f****, pretty much.
Or maybe he’s just portraying the very essence of our human stupidity, our simplicity as earthly beings who despite thinking our western culture has reached the peak of human sophistication with all its new social structures, opportunities or dreams…. it’s just as rotten and basic as 1000 years ago.
Cocks, roosters, hens, pullets, cockerels… he loves them all equally, such a scientific passion for this species that he’s decided to dedicate them a daily note!
Behind these corporate-hater chooks, marketing-addicted fowls and existentialist-goosey chicks there’s a Vancouver-based cartoonist who seems to know very well all the nasty tricks from the office environment. And after more than 6 years of chicken love “Savage Chickens” has slowly but steadily become one of the biggest memes on the Internet.
aqnb: Hello Mr Savage, do you know why is tofu so tasteless?
DS: If you’re talking Timmy Tofu, it’s because he’s a dirty-minded, smoking, drinking, cussing giant block of tofu. Regular tofu is perfectly tasty though!
aqnb: Is it true that chicken drawing eliminates migraines?
DS: It worked for me! I started drawing the chickens during a time when I was getting terrible migraines every few days. It was like some creative part of my brain was trying to escape. Painful! But I haven’t had a migraine in years now. Drawing chickens MUST be the answer.
aqnb: And you personally know anyone with alektrophobia?
DS: No. But I guess alektrophobes would have good reason to avoid me!
aqnb: We’ve read your comic notes came to be while working in the office …. when did you decide to transform it into a daily webcomic and think “this could be a massive hit”?
DS: In the beginning, I didn’t set out to create a daily webcomic. I’d been drawing the cartoons on sticky notes for a few months, and then one day I started a blog – on a whim, really – and uploaded the first cartoon. Blogger was still fairly new, and I thought “Hey this is cool, I’ll give it a try.” It was fun so I stuck with it and the first time that I thought “this could be a massive hit” was a few months later when I got featured as a link of the day on My Yahoo.
aqnb: If we’re well informed, the sticky fowls are just a passion not your real job. What do you do during daylight? Are they aware of your chicken personality disorder?
DS: I edit technical manuals for a big software corporation. It uses a totally different part of my brain than cartooning does, which is kind of nice. My coworkers know about the chickens and they’re all very supportive and encouraging.
aqnb: you often mention “Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings”, Peanuts as your early inspiration sources… what are you currently reading & watching?
DS: I cut off my cable TV because it was too much of a distraction, so lately I’ve just been watching old stuff on DVD like The Rockford Files and The Incredible Hulk. I love old 70s TV shows for some reason. Comic-wise, I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels, and getting caught up on the excellent work of local artists Jason Copland and Jason Turner.
about the poultry….
aqnb: One thing you constantly ridicule is the corporate world… with merciless line managers or the exasperating incompetence of ordinary workers… what hides behind your irony dripping?
DS: I think corporations are really interesting, because they’re perceived as these monolithic impersonal structures, but they are created by and composed of individual people. People with dreams and hopes and aspirations. We seem to lose our uniqueness in these environments, and then the corporations become these lumbering entities whose only real goal is to make more money than the previous quarter. That’s why I like that the chickens’ boss, PROD3000, is a robot that they themselves created. The corporation is a monster, but it’s a monster of our own creation. If we don’t like it, we can come up with something better, right?
aqnb: last January you celebrated Savage Chickens’ 6th anniversary…. and after so many laid eggs you have a pretty long list of characters. Do you know how many? who shall you be introducing in the coming weeks?
DS: Yeah it’s hard to believe it’s been over six years! Most of the cartoons feature the chickens, but I create new characters all of the time. Some appear regularly (like Timmy Tofu, Worm, and PROD3000) and others have appeared only a few times (Tree Astronaut, Psychic Skunk, Zombie Neurologist, for example). I can’t say who will show up in the coming weeks because I don’t know. I tend to create new cartoons every day and I never know what they’re going to be about or who’s going to show up in them.
anqb: Your sticky notes have been nominated for several comic awards and lately you seem to grab more and more attention… Fmylife, CBC a few weeks ago… Where else would you like to see your chickens?
DS: I’ve been very lucky to have my web site featured by so many people. It’s great to get so much encouragement, especially from people whose work I enjoy and respect. But what I really enjoy is walking by somebody’s desk – somebody I’ve never met – and seeing one of my cartoons tacked to their cubicle.
aqnb: and after so many years drawing… you finally publish a book! why now? how is it going so far?
DS: It’s been going really well so far and I’ve heard lots of great feedback about the book, from new readers and existing readers. Why now? I was really just waiting for the right opportunity and this was it! This project was so much fun to work on and the folks at Perigee Books and Penguin USA are amazing.
aqnb: You’re opening to other farm animals… cows, pigs, sheep-dogs….. you’ve been reading George Orwell lately?
DS: Heheh no I haven’t read Orwell in years, but I really like drawing pigs. Like a lot of cartoonists, I have trouble with cows and horses. When I started off, I used to shy away from ideas that involved figuring out how to draw something new. But now, I see it as a challenge and it’s part of the fun for me; I love drawing different creatures but making them feel like they still belong in the Savage Chickens universe.
aqnb: And besides your first book and your daily sticky note… you’ve recently said to be looking into new projects…. more animation, painting….?
DS: I’ve been dabbling in painting, because I really like it. I work in black and yellow all of the time, so it’s fun to try working in colour. Watercolour painting is particularly challenging because watercolours have a mind of their own. And yes, I’m definitely going to do more stop-motion animation projects, and I have a couple of other book projects in the works that will hopefully start to come together this year.
aqnb: You certainly have evolved your drawing style as well, from those basic ballpoint post-it drawings to the more “industrialized” & uniform current notes… are you looking / experimenting with new ways of drawing while trying to keep the simplicity or…?
DS: Yeah the cartoons were pretty scruffy-looking in the old days. I just grabbed the nearest ballpoint pen and didn’t worry about whether or not the sticky note was crinkled or anything. I still draw every cartoon on a single sticky note, but I re-draw them several times to get them just right, and I spend more time cleaning up the scanned image. I like the clean simplicity of ink on paper, but I’m always trying to learn more and try new techniques so we’ll see where it goes.
and back to Mr. Savage….
aqnb: I also work for a big corporation and the results of our team’s “people poll” came out recently… quite devastating to be honest. Do you have a good work / personal life balance? what would come last in your personal “people poll” list?
DS: If I had to choose something that would come last in my personal “employee satisfaction survey”, it’s that I could probably use a vacation – I haven’t taken a break in a long time! But I’m pretty happy with my work/life balance now in terms of balancing my day job and my cartooning. Ideally, the line between work and life should be blurry. If you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t feel like work; it feels like your life’s work.
aqnb: While asking Graham Annable the other day about how he comes up with his crazy ideas it all seems very natural for you guys. What’s the key for a successful daily comic strip?
DS: Yeah coming up with crazy ideas does come naturally; it’s not so much a technique as it is a way of seeing the world. Sometimes I find that I can kick-start my creative process with random words or images, but usually I just sit and think until an idea shakes out of my brain. What’s the key for a successful daily comic strip? If I had to pick one thing, it would be persistence. Be persistent about posting regularly updates and promoting your work. And be persistent about continuing to learn and create new things.
aqnb: Thanks for your time Doug!
DS: Thanks for the interview!