Duckman by Everett Peck
Cover of 'Duckman', Dark Horse, 1990.

Everett Peck was an American alternative comic artist, painter, illustrator and animator. His comic career was brief and consists mostly of the one-shot comic book 'Duckman' (Dark Horse, 1990), which was adapted into a critically acclaimed animated TV series (1994-1997). 'Duckman' aimed at an adult audience and featured clever, sophisticated socio-political satire. At the time it was often cited as one of the few animated sitcoms that could equal 'The Simpsons' in that field. 'Duckman' inspired a comic book spin-off (1994-1997), published by Topps, as well as a 1997 video game. Unfortunately it always remained a cult show and was cancelled after only four seasons. Peck remained active in animation, but his other projects were mostly TV adaptations of popular blockbuster films ('Jumanji', 'Ghostbusters', 'Men in Black', 'Godzilla'), safe for his children's series 'Squirrel Boy' (2006-2007). None of his later animated shows ever had the same critical praise and legacy as his signature work 'Duckman'. 

Early life and career
Everett Peck was born in 1950 in Oceanside, in the county San Diego, California (some sources claim Taos, New Mexico). As a child he already enjoyed sketching. Several of his school text books were so full of doodles and caricatures that by the end of each school year he wasn't able to sell them back to the next group of students to use the following year. Peck grew up reading Mad Magazine and loved the work of Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Basil Wolverton and Don Martin. Other comic authors who shaped his style were Joe Kubert, Floyd Gottfredson, Carl Barks, Virgil Partch, Gahan Wilson, Robert Crumb, Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso. In terms of animation he was influenced by Walt Disney, Max and Dave Fleischer, Tex Avery, Looney Tunes and the UPA studio. Among his other graphic influences were John Tenniel, Heinrich Kley, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Von Dutch, Heinz Edelmann, Philip Guston, Jeff Koons, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Ronald Searle.

Peck studied at Long Beach State university where he got a degree in illustration. He published his first drawings in his high school magazine and made caricatures at the Hollywood Wax Museum in Buena Park. After graduation he moved to New York City and made a living as an illustrator for prestigious magazines like The New Yorker, Time, Rolling Stone and Hugh Hefner's Playboy. Peck also designed ads for companies like Honda and Nike. He sometimes drew caricatures of people he met in bars, in exchange for drinks. Unfortunately, the more he drank the less his portraits resembled their subjects. As Peck described in a 23 September 2008 interview by Ryan Ball for Animation Magazine: "I used to draw caricatures of people sitting in bars in exchange for drinks. But after a few beers my drawings started looking worse than they usually do and people started getting mad. I almost got in a fight a couple of times so I quit doing that."

Peck's biggest passion was animation. After leaving college he met up with several former Disney animators, among them Ward Kimball. In the 1980s he worked as a character designer for the popular animated TV series 'The Real Ghostbusters' (1986-1988), based on the success of the live-action film 'Ghostbusters' (1984).


'Duckman' from Dark Horse Presents #29, 1990. 

Duckman comics (Dark Horse)
In 1988 Peck created a character named 'Duckman' who appeared in issue #22 of Dark Horse Presents and reappeared in the 29th and 31st issue. In 1990 Dark Horse published a one-shot comic book around 'Duckman'. Everett Peck wrote and drew everything personally, while Jim Siergey was an inker. Eric T. Duckman is a disgruntled, lustful, bespectacled anthropomorphic duck. He works as a private detective, assisted by his much brighter associate, Cornfed the piglet. Duckman rarely solves cases on his own. He is such a self-centered buffoon that Cornfed usually does all the hard and significant work. Apart from being a film noir parody, 'Duckman' also has a philosophical edge. Peck depicted his characters as underdogs in a tough, bitter and unsympathetic world. Duckman regularly rants about everything that irks him about life. 

Duckman TV series
In 1990 Peck joined the animation company Klasky-Csupo, headed by Hungarian-born Gábor Csupó and his wife Arlene Klasky. The company animated intermezzos for Jim Henson's 'Sesame Street', the first three seasons of Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons' as well as Csupó, Klasky and Paul Germain's children's series 'Rugrats'. For the latter show Peck co-wrote one episode: 'Beauty Contest' (1991). Peck tried to convince Klasky-Csupo to adapt 'Duckman' into an animated TV show. While Csupó liked the idea, it was difficult to find financial backers. Peck eventually invested his own money to create a pilot episode, directed by Marv Newland, famous for the classic short 'Bambi vs. Godzilla' (1968). 'Duckman' (1994-1997) aired on the USA Network, animated by Klasky Csupó. Two other co-directors and animators on 'Duckman' were Jaime Diaz and Rumen PetkovIstvan Fellner worked as lay-out artist and character designer, while Cathy Malkasian was a storyboard artist. 


'Duckman' from Dark Horse Presents #29, 1990. 

'Duckman' took the initial concept of Peck's comics, but with a few changes. While Duckman was a chain smoker in the comics, he became a former smoker on the show. His wife was written out. In the 'Duckman' animated series, Duckman is a widower who has two children from his previous marriage. His oldest son, Ajax, is dumb as a lamp post. His younger sons, Charles and Mambo, are a Siamese twin. Duckman lives together with his sister-in-law, Bernice, who is a sarcastic fitness enthusiast. Another notable presence is Grandma-ma, who appears to be in a vegetative state and only communicates by breaking wind. None of his family members respect him. He frequently quarrels with Bernice, while his children basically ignore him. Just like in the comics, Duckman earns his bread with his own detective bureau, where Cornfed is his associate. His secretaries, Fluffy and Uranus, are two overly cute teddybears who speak in high-pitched voices. They always try to brighten him up by telling him to keep a cheerful attitude or refrain from making offensive, politically incorrect remarks. Duckman, however, is not amused. He hates his dead-end job, problematic family life, sexual frustrations and lack of social status. One of his few joys is murdering Fluffy and Uranus whenever they annoy him. But the duo miraculously survives in every next episode. 

Duckman was voiced by Jason Alexander, already well known as George Costanza on the sitcom 'Seinfeld' (1989-1998). Another recurring celebrity voice was Dweezil Zappa, son of rock musician Frank Zappa, who played Ajax. Gábor Csupó, head of Klasky-Csupó, was a huge fan of Frank Zappa and knew him personally. Zappa gave rare permission to let some of his pre-existing scores be used as incidental background music in the show's first season. The theme music of 'Duckman' was written by Todd Yvega and Scott Wilkes, who used samples from Zappa's musical archives. Sadly Frank Zappa passed away from cancer in December 1993, four months before the pilot episode premiered. It was "dedicated with fond memories" to him. During its three seasons, other celebrities were special guest voices. Among them musicians James Brown, Ice-T and Coolio, publisher Bob Guccione and actors Leonard Nimoy (Spock on 'Star Trek'), Burt Reynolds, Ben Stiller, Henry Winkler (The Fonz on 'Happy Days'), Kim Cattrall (Samantha on 'Sex and the City'), Tim Curry, David Duchovny (Mulder on 'The X-Files') and Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe on 'Friends'). Voice actor Dan Castellaneta even had a surprise guest spot as Homer near the end of the episode 'Haunted Society Plumbers' (1997). The cameo was done with official permission of 'The Simpsons' creators.


'Duckman' comics.

'Duckman' followed in the wake of other adult animated TV shows, such as Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons' (1989) and Mike Judge's 'Beavis & Butt-head' (1992-1997) and had a similar subversive edge. It combined the intelligent satire of 'The Simpsons' with the absurd comedy and sexual frankness of 'Beavis and Butt-head'. Duckman sarcastically ventilates his frustrations at the people around him. He, his relatives and Cornfed frequently clash with sleazy businessmen, shady media stars, lewd women, corrupt politicians and equally untrustworthy government officials. The program offered sharp satire of reality TV, the C.I.A., beauty pageants, psychiatrists, religion, shock comedy, the modern art industry... And yet, the show still had humanity. Any viewer can identify with Duckman's bad luck in harsh modern society. Despite being an anti-hero, he genuinely loves his family and tries to carry on, despite the odds. 

The TV adaptation owed much of its success to Peck's close creative involvement. He designed the characters, co-wrote the scripts and made sure that the overall tone of his comic was respected. Since the show was broadcast on a tiny network they had to work with a small budget and never had high ratings. But it allowed them a lot of creative freedom, particularly since they didn't have to worry about child viewers. Interviewed by Ryan Ball for Animation Magazine (23 September 2008), Peck credited the show's success to its mature themes. He always wanted it to be strictly for adults: "I think one thing people respond to is that Duckman is pretty much the only animated show out there that’s truly an adult show. One thing that I was concerned about initially was retaining the attitude and sexuality of the comic in the animated series. I think we were pretty successful. I didn’t let my kids watch it." Interviewed by Marty Mulrooney for Alternative Magazine (18 November 2009), he added that the balance between comedy and emotion was "pretty unique to prime time animation". Peck: "I can’t really think of any other shows before or since that deal with characters having realistic emotions and deep feelings. In that sense Duckman was probably the only true animated adult show."

'Duckman' quickly gained a cult following and critical acclaim. The show was also well received in Europe. Nevertheless it was still cancelled after only four seasons, ending its 70 episodes on a cliffhanger. The first three seasons were broadcast on Saturday nights, while the fourth was programmed in the early morning hours. This likely didn't help gaining and maintaining a large viewership. Also, the USA network wasn't as widely syndicated as some other TV channels. Though, contrary to many other short-lived animated TV shows, the program is still fondly remembered and rediscovered by new generations. 'Duckman' also had a slight influence on other adult animated series. Much like Fluffy and Uranus always died in each episode, but miraculously survived in the next, Trey Parker and Matt Stone did the same with the character Kenny on 'South Park'. One of 'Duckman' 's traditions was an annual travelogue episode, in which Duckman and Cornfed spoofed the 1940s 'Road To...' Hollywood musical comedies with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. This annual 'Road To...' parody travelogue idea was copied by Seth MacFarlane in his own animated series, 'Family Guy', with the characters Stewie and Brian Griffin. 

Duckman comic book series (Topps)
To tie in with the TV show, Topps published six new 'Duckman' comic books between 1994 and 1996, as well as a three-issue limited series called 'Duckman: The Mob Frog Saga' (1994-1995). The stories were written by Stefan Petrucha, while Peck, Scott Shaw and Don Alan Zakrzewski drew the covers and Jay Lynch, John Costanza, Gary Fields, the Craig Yoe Studio, Clizia Erling and George Erling illustrated. 


Comic art from the first Topps issue of 'Duckman'. Pencils by the Craig Yoe Studio.

Other animation series
When 'Duckman' was still on the air, Peck also made graphic designs for the animated TV sitcom 'The Critic' (1994-1995) by Arlene Klasky, Gábor Csupó, Al Jean and Mike Reiss, as well the children's animated TV series 'Jumanji' (1996-1999), based on the popular 1995 family movie of the same name. In 1997 he returned as a character designer and executive design consultant for a reboot of the original 'Ghostbusters' animated series named 'Extreme Ghostbusters' (1997). A year later he also designed characters for an episode of 'Godzilla: The Series' (1998), which cashed in on the 1998 Americanized 'Godzilla' blockbuster. Peck was additionally involved as an executive design consultant for the animated TV adaptation of the live-action SF comedy 'Men in Black' (1997), called 'Men in Black: The Series' (1998-2000). He was also a character designer on the animated TV film 'Stinky Pierre' (2003).

Peck's only personal animated show since 'Duckman' was the children's TV series 'Squirrel Boy' (2006-2007) on Cartoon Network. It centers around a young boy, Andy, who owns a talking squirrel named Rodney. Aldin Baroza and Ted Stearn were storyboard artists. Although 'Squirrel Boy' lasted two seasons, it was eventually cancelled. 

Advertising art
Everett Peck has additionally created advertising art for Nike, Honda and TV station identification logos for the network UPN. For Pizza Hut he once created a promotional comic strip, titled 'The Fuddy Duddy Family'. 

Evertt Peck drawing
'Ralph'. 

Graphic contributions
Everett Peck illustrated Eric Metaxas' book 'Mose the Fireman' (2004) and the book 'Big Curmudgeon: 2,500 Outrageously Irreverent Quotations from World-Class Grumps and Catankerous Commentators' (2007), compiled by John Winokur.

Recognition
Three 'Duckman' episodes, 'T.V. or Not to Be' (1994), 'Noir Gang' (1996) and 'Duckman and Cornfed in Haunted Society Plumbers' (1997) were once nominated for an Emmy Award, yet all lost. The series did win a CableAce Award for Animated Programming (1996). Between 10 September 2011 and 29 January 2012, Everett Peck's art was subject of a solo exhibition at the Oceanside Museum of Art in Oceanside, California. His work has additionally been exhibited in Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C. and even Tokyo, Japan. 

Final years and death
Everett Peck spent his final years in California, where he was mostly active as a painter. Peck had a part-time residence in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He passed away in 2022 in Solana Beach, California from pancreatic cancer, at age 71. His passing was mourned by Jason Alexander (voice of 'Duckman') on his Twitter account. 

Books about Everett Peck
For those interested in Peck's life and work, the book 'It's Not My Fault' (Dark Horse Comics, 2006) is highly recommended. It collects all his paintings, illustrations, cartoons, sketches and comics.


'Baseball Rivalry', artwork for the Boston Globe.

www.everettpeck.com

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