I first discovered Douglas Paszkiewicz’s work when someone IM’d me a link to one of his Arsenic Lullaby comics on his website. It was shocking, offensive, and brilliant, just like all the rest of his work that I’ve seen and collected since then. I’ve run into Douglas at a few conventions over the past couple of years and now consider myself a full fledged fan of the insanity that inhabits his comics. Douglas has a new Arsenic Lullaby collection coming out at the end of the summer and currently is nominated for an Eisner award. This week he was kind enough to talk to me about his new work, how he got started, and his overall work in the industry.
Fandomania: First things first (and so that I know how to plug this interview on our podcast), what is the correct phonetic pronunciation of your last name?
Douglas Paszkiewicz: Pass – kay – vich
FM: I first knew of you through Arsenic Lullaby, but I know you’ve been active in the industry with a lot more than that. How did you first get into writing and drawing comics?
DP: I started on a crime comic called Harvest Moon that me and two other guys published independently. And when that ended I just continued on with my own book Arsenic Lullaby… and after that started turning heads, more freelance work would come in. I actually started as a stand up comic and have said at least twice a year that I am quitting comics, but everytime I do, something good happens so I stay.
FM: Are there any particular people who specifically have influenced your work and style?
DP: Jack Cole who did the original Plastic Man in the 40’s and 50’s, and David Bosewell (Reid Fleming: World’s Toughest Milkman) were big influences. Nobody could move the reader’s eye across the page and make you feel like you were seeing things actually move like Jack Cole, and David Bosewell’s ability to pace a story was a big influence. There were others of course, but those are the two biggies. When I started getting Arsenic Lullaby ready to pitch to the distributors I just studied everyone under the sun. I would take the best pages and dissect them… How did this person pace the story, how did he lead the eye across the page, why did he use these angles, and so on.
DP: It evolved from the crime comic. It wasn’t going well and the writing was on the wall, so it turned from a crime comic into a “whatever we think is our best work” comic. My best stuff was dark humor stories. And so when I decided to continue on myself I just made the whole book that format.
FM: Your comics tend to be hilarious portrayals of subject matter that could be called “controversial,” to put it lightly. What range of reactions do you get?
DP: I’ll never know what kind I get from the average guy who picks it up off the shelf, but at a convention I see a lot of people either put it right back down and walk away or just stare with their mouths open… and then buy everything we have.
The book is called Arsenic Lullaby, so in my mind that should clue you in that this isn’t a kiddie book. Granted it’s pretty hardcore even for someone expecting a mature audiences comic, but just the same you’re looking for trouble if you pick up a comic book with a title like that and you are a sensitive person.
FM: Is there anything you won’t write about?
DP: Sure… politics, sex, and religion, and I’ll tell you a big reason why; if you have a book revolving around these topics the people who pick it up are picking it up not because it’s good but because it’s written about whatever they want to thumb their noses at. Or, in the case of nudity or sex, they are picking it up to look at a boob. That gets in the way when you are trying to lead them into a punch line. You want a reader who is focused on the story, not on his politics or crotch.
FM: Recently you’ve been writing for Mad Magazine. How did that happen, and what’s it been like?
DP: The Universal Press Syndicate was semi-interested in having me do a Far Side-type newspaper strip, but no matter how much I watered it down it just wasn’t a good fit. So I had all these samples lying around and just mailed them to Mad for the sake of not wanting them to go to waste. They liked them and for some reason continue to publish my stuff. It’s nice because if the joke isn’t funny I can blame it on them watering it down… although they don’t really do that too often.
FM: You have a new book coming soon. What can you tell us about that?
DP: It’s a must have if you have already read some issues, and a good starting point if you haven’t. Each book has ten or twelve one page stories and three longer stories. I’ll run down the longer ones.
Two middle aged men get turned into vampires and discover that they are too old and out of shape to feast on the delicious blood of regular humans. They continually lower the bar to things they can actually catch – cripples, retarded kids, and people in comas.
Voodoo Joe, a witch doctor who is cursed and must live in the suburbs, is attacked by a team of his old victims – a paralyzed girl scout, a ten year old who had his hands cut off by Joe, and a man Joe turned into a fetus.
An alcoholic snack food mascot (Baron Von Donut) goes to Cuba to be reunited with his lost love, the Cuban fruit mascot. Standing in his way are his boss, the Cuban government, and himself. This one is tough to explain, but it may be the best story I’ve ever written… just really well crafted.
And you MUST MUST MUST tell your store that you want a copy before the end of June. This is an independently published comic. Don’t take any chances and think that it’ll just show up on the shelves. You MUST ask your store to order it. I cannot stress that enough. Nothing drives me crazier than me spending months plugging and promoting a book, only to have people come up two months later when they are hearing how good it is and e-mailing “hey how do I get your book?” It’s TOO LATE then. Stores place their orders NOW for books coming out at the end of summer. So if you want to get this, tell your store NOW to order Arsenic Lullaby (distributed by Diamond Comics and published by A.L. Publishing).
FM: We’ve run into you at several conventions over the years. What cons do you have coming up where our readers might be able to find you?
DP: Wizard World Philly (as a guests of Angry Drunk Graphics), Comic Con International (at our own corner booth under Arsenic Lullaby Publishing), Wizard World Chicago, and MNCBA Fall Con. We may add more, so keep an eye on the website. The conventions are a great place to pick up original artwork, t-shirts, prints, and stuff I’m too lazy to distribute through stores.
FM: You work very much in the realm of “indy comics.” Can you talk a little about what’s involved in that, as opposed to working with bigger publishers like what you’re doing for Mad?
DP: It’s a big pain in the ass to publish independently. You have to do seven jobs at once. What a lot of people don’t realize is that this book is as good as it is because no one filters me, because no one see it until it hits the shelves, because I do the job of everyone who would normally see the book. I publish it myself, I do the writing, layouts, inking, lettering, post production, promotion, accounting, arrange the convention appearances, etc, etc.
The only thing I don’t do is distribute the book. A lot of people get confused as to what is publishing and what is distributing. The publisher is whoever pays to have the book created, and the distributor is the company that collects orders from the stores and then delivers it.
It’s a lot of work and a little complicated, as opposed to Mad where I just write / draw / collect check.
FM: You’ve been nominated for an Eisner Award this year. What is that like, and has it caused you to think any differently about how you do your work?
DP: Ask me after the sales come in for the next book, and then I’ll be able to properly assess what it means to be nominated for an Eisner. In reality it has slowed me down a little because I would often bitch to myself that no one notices the little things like, say, whether or not the label on the box in the background is in perspective or if I spend an hour deciding if the figure in the foreground should be shifted over a quarter of an inch. “Screw it. No one notices anyway,” I’d say to myself and then make a quick decision and move on. But after being nominated I must now consider that clearly someone DOES notice all the little things I do or don’t do. They are enablers to my OCD.
FM: This is one thing I always like to ask in interviews: What are you a fan of?
DP: Well I mentioned Plastic Man and Reid Fleming The World’s Toughest Milkman already. I think Lienel Yu did some great work on the New Avengers recently. That is a guy who understands that background IS important and that if you have a page of two people talking it is NOT an excuse to just copy and paste the first panel seven more times. He changes the perspective, changes the expressions, and has establishing shots… things a lot of people are getting too lazy to do.
FM: Anything else you’d like to share with us?
DP: Well I’d like to thank you for the interview and tell people to go to the web site and check out some samples. This book isn’t for everyone, but the people who read it love it, so give it a try.
Thanks in advance!
You can check out Douglas’ work on his website at http://www.arseniclullabies.com/