CD: Aaron I am quite pleased that you are participating in the FUSEVISUAL interviews. Many thanks! I’ve followed and laughed my way through the comic strip for years. Tell us a bit about yourself and how in the hell did you come up with a photo-centric cartoon based around a duck?
Aaron Johnson: By accident, of course! Years ago I was in a band that needed some random daily content for our 4 or 5 fans. I jokingly tried to think up the most unmarketable comic strip concept imaginable. So one morning I woke up and one idea hit me: A duck who’s a professional photographer. Within days of posting the comics strips, I was receiving hundreds of emails from readers all around the world encouraging me to keep it going?
CD: You are not a professional photographer but have great insights into the mind of working shooters. How do you get your ideas? Do you have photographer friends or is it from the clients’ perspective?
Aaron Johnson: I classify myself as a Professional Hobby Photographer. Not necessarily the requirement needed to write a comic strip about pro shooters, but I do have 20 years experience working as a creative professional with a minor in freelance gigs. Many of the the situations, trials, and tribulations portrayed in What the Duck are universally shared among many occupations. Some of these themes include illustrating our value to clients, balancing art and business, and dealing with morons while keeping our dignity.
CD: I love the fan photos with the plush doll version of the duck. (http://www.whattheduck.net/fanpics – I ordered one this morning to take up into the helicopter) How did that start and what is the most memorable fan picture to date?
Aaron Johnson: On day two or three of first writing the comic strip, a fan asked when the WTD plush toy would come out. I thought it was a ridiculous idea and dragged my feet for several years. That decision further confirmed how big of an idiot I am as the WTD plush toys became huge sellers. And now I get to vicariously live through the awesome fan pics that are sent in. The most memorable fan picture is the one that didn’t happen. A WTD fan was shooting a PGA tournament which featured special guest, NBA legend, Michael Jordan. She asked MJ if he would pose with WTD for a quick pic. He gave it a disgusted look and very matter-of-factly replied, “No. It looks like a d*ck, not a duck.”
CD: You have built an online presence around the comic strip. How did this come about – was it planned or did one thing lead to another??
Aaron Johnson: It has been a very organic expansion. The lesson learned from the WTD plush toy fiasco was to: listen to your fans and trust their feedback. Any and all success from the strip can be 100% attributed to the loyal readers and their word of mouth. Most of my decisions regarding online presence have come from the suggestions of fans. I came to social network sites like Facebook later in the game. You have to go where your fan base goes.
CD: It is fairly common for photographers and creatives to also play music. Does playing Jazz bass balance your life as a runner, animator, designer, father, husband and cartoonist?
Aaron Johnson: You can never have too many creative outlets, just not enough hours in a day. I’ve been blessed with the gift to do many things half-assed (more of a curse really). I enjoy playing music because it’s a departure from the visual arts but shares many of the same concepts.
CD: What advice would you give a young person about to embark on a career as a photographer maybe as a cartoonist?
Aaron Johnson: Do and create something that YOU like. Find something that you would love doing whether it becomes a success or not. That way if it doesn’t pan out, you still had fun doing it. I didn’t go into WTD with the goal of harvesting boatloads of international fans. I only wanted to create the comic strip that I would enjoy reading and producing. Everything else has been icing on the cake.
What’s in Aaron Johnson’s bag?