The Interview: Jeff Corriveau, "DeFlocked" Creator & TV Comedy Writer
You've written for "Saturday Night Live." You've provided punch lines for Leno. And your comedy credits include head writer for E!'s then-titled "Talk Soup." With such a resume, what propels a professional joke-writer to devote his career to arguably the hardest humor market to crack these days?
In the case of JEFF CORRIVEAU, who launched his strip "DeFlocked" last May, having his own syndicated comic was a longtime dream. So as "DeFlocked" approaches its first anniversary, Comic Riffs caught up with the cartoonist to ask: What it's been like, trying to build a client list precisely as newspapers are cutting their print comics -- or are being shuttered entirely?
Corriveau recently spoke with 'Riffs about Mamet (his strip's emotionally lost sheep); Cobb (his straight-arrow pooch); Tucker (a "peculiar" boy); and how his characters are making it in an economically brutal comics landscape.
MICHAEL CAVNA: So you wrote comedy for years. How does that kind of writing compare with creating three-panel comic strips?
JEFF CORRIVEAU: There are certain tenets to comedy that apply to comic strips, too. Certain word formulas. ... If you follow a certain groundwork and have some decent technique behind hit, you've got a pretty good shot at it.
I also made sure this strip is relevant to people -- otherwise, who cares? There are only three parts of life that are relevant to almost everyone: Work, relationships and their future. If you can hit any one of those three, you're good. ... I try to get the nucleus of what's happening with people. I'm able to find that little heart of the matter.
MC: So in your previous life as a humorist, how did you get started with late-night TV?
JC: I came out to L.A. to be an actor. I used to work in a couple of mystery theaters, which basically filled two of my adolescent needs: to act and to shoot guns at people. It was the best sort of immersion that anyone could have -- a different audience every night, and it's all improv. You're just winging it, and my improv skills got sharper.
While in L.A., I remember reading the L.A. Times and [discovering] this section called "Laugh Lines" that quoted the late-night comics. I thought: I can do that, so I [submitted] my work. I spent that whole summer writing as if I were writing for an actual show. I sent my stuff in blindly and within in a couple of weeks, I heard back from "Craig Kilborne," and then "SNL" and Leno. I was shocked.
MC: So what's it like, breaking in now, as you face tough economic times and paper cuts?
JC: The strip launched with roughly 70 to 80 papers. Since then, the outlook has been both discouraging and encouraging. I haven't decided which half of the glass is which. It's discouraging because we had a tremendous response to this strip when we brought it out to the marketplace. We even had a few [newspaper] editors who told us: This is going to be big. I was told: "In any other decade, you'd be in a couple of hundred papers by now. ..."
"There are a lot of these issues that are completely out of my control. You see the handwriting on the side of the boat.
MC: And is that boat the Titanic?
JC: Yes (laughing), it can seem that way. But I have to say: I'm encouraged -- everything's going to a digital model. You take the responsibility for content away from a lot of different hands. Syndication will still be powerful and syndicates will be an aggegrator on the [front lines]. But it's all going to be determined by the user. If you have fan base of 20,000 people, those are YOURS. You're not going to have to [cede that] to newspaper editors determining: We're going to take this strip or not. The fans will determine your financial future.
MC: So has the first year of syndication been enlightening? Or should I say: eye-opening?
JC: This is all new to me. When I started this, I never expected what the [comics] industry was like -- all this politicking. ... I wasn't prepared for that. I also wasn't prepared for how much what you do affects people. I get fans e-mailing about [the role of] my strip. One woman -- a mom -- from Colorado wrote to tell me her son, who is 16, is a reluctant reader and has 'Calvin & Hobbes' books, but that "yours is the only strip that he reads and that got him to start reading."
MC: And what your take on King Features's still-new online comics portal, Comics Kingdom. Do you think such digital delivery systems for comics are promising?
JC: Comics Kingdom works because it says to newspapers: You can put comics on your Web site and you can make money off of it.
No one knows how much time we have left in the swimming pool with the print model. Ten years for now, it's going to be a different landscape. So basically, Comics Kingdom allows newspapers to provide really good content for newspapers to put on their Web sites and they can sell ads against it -- something they've always had trouble doing in print. ... That's the idea -- that online readers will see those ads. Strips can spread virally this way, sand people will ask their print newspapers to carry those comics.
I've come to the sad realization that it doesn't matter how good or bad your comic is -- once you're syndicated. It's about your online presence.
| April 23, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories: Interviews With Cartoonists
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