Duckman by Everett Peck

Everett Peck is an American alternative comics artist and animator. His comics career was brief and consists mostly of the one-shot comic book 'Duckman' (1990), which was adapted into a critically acclaimed animated TV series between 1994 and 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. Unfortunately it always remained a cult show and was cancelled after only four seasons. Peck has remained active in animation throughout most of his life. His other projects were mostly TV adaptations of popular blockbuster films and never gained the same amount of critical praise as his signature work 'Duckman'.

Everett Peck was born in 1950 in Oceanside, California. 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 comics 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 are 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, which led to so many arguments that he quit caricaturing people. 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), which was based on the success of the live-action film 'Ghostbusters' (1984).


Duckman from Dark Horse Presents #29

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'. It stars a disgruntled, lustful anthropomorphic duck named Eric T. Duckman who works as a private detective. He is assisted by his much brighter associate: Cornfed the piglet. Duckman rarely solved a case on his own. He was such a self-centered egomaniac that situations often went beyond his control. Cornfed usually did all the hard and significant work. Still, the comic was more than a mere detective comic. Peck depicted his characters as underdogs in a tough, bitter and unsympathetic world. Duckman regularly rants about everything that irks him about life. It gave the comic a philosophical edge, wondering how one could escape from this stressful existence? The same year Peck joined the animation company Klasky-Csupo, which was headed by Hungarian-born Gábor Csupó. The company animated the first three seasons of Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons' as well as Csupó, Arlene Klasky and Paul Germain's '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. He eventually invested his own money in animating a pilot episode, which eventually got greenlighted. 'Duckman' (1994-1997) aired on the USA Network. Its pilot episode was directed by Marv Newland, famous for the classic short 'Bambi vs. Godzilla' (1968).


Duckman from Dark Horse Presents #29

'Duckman' took the initial concept of Peck's comics but expanded upon it. Duckman and Cornfed remained the main characters, but while the comics version of Duckman was a chain smoker his animated counterpart became a former smoker. Another major change was his family life. In the original comics Duckman had a wife, but for the TV show it was decided to make him a widower. He now tried to cope with his surviving family members, none of which really respect him. His sister-in-law Bernice is a sarcastic fitness enthusiast and acts as the mother figure to his three sons, the Siamese twin Charles and Mambo and dumber older brother Ajax. Another notable presence in the house is Grandma-ma, who appears to be in a vegetative state and only communicates by breaking wind. Duckman was voiced by Jason Alexander, Cornfed's husky voice by Gregg Burger, while Dweezil Zappa, son of Frank Zappa, did Ajax. Gabor Csupo, head of Klasky-Csupo, was a huge fan of Frank Zappa and knew the musician 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 four months before the pilot episode premiered. It was "dedicated with fond memories" to him.

'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 is a low-life loser who 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, 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. Much like 'The Simpsons', the series also featured celebrity guest voices, among them James Brown, Leonard Nimoy, Burt Reynolds, Ben Stiller, Henry Winkler, Kim Cattrall, Tim Curry, David Duchovny, Lisa Kudrow, Ice-T, Coolio and Bob Guccione. In fact, Dan Castellenata even had a surprise guest spot as Homer Simpson near the end of the episode 'Haunted Society Plumbers'. The cameo was done with official permission of 'The Simpsons' creators. 'Duckman' quickly gained a cult following and critical acclaim. It was nominated for four Emmy Awards, yet always lost. 'Duckman' was also well received in Europe. 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. 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 the stories. Peck also came up with the concept of a 'Duckman' video game in 1997.


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

Since 'Duckman' 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. Nevertheless 'Duckman' was still cancelled after only four seasons, ending its 70 episodes on a cliffhanger. Though, contrary to many other short-lived animated TV shows the program is still fondly remembered and rediscovered by new generations because of its strictly mature and intelligent satire.

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 a 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). In 1998 he also designed characters for an episode of 'Godzilla: The Series' (1998), which cashed in on the 1998 Americanized 'Godzilla' blockbuster. Peck was furthermore involved as an executive design consultant for the animated TV show adaptation of the live-action SF comedy 'Men in Black' (1997) called 'Men in Black: The Series' (1998-2000). In 2003 he also worked as a character designer on the animated TV film 'Stinky Pierre' (2003). Peck's first more personal project since 'Duckman' was the children's animated TV series 'Squirrel Boy' (2006-2007), which aired on Cartoon Network. It centers around a young boy, Andy, who owns a talking squirrel named Rodney. The show failed to catch on and was cancelled after two seasons.

Evertt Peck drawing

Everett Peck is furthermore active as a painter and illustrator. He 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. Dark Horse Comics released a compilation of Everett Peck's graphic work in 2006 named 'It's Not My Fault' (2006). The book collects his paintings, illustrations, cartoons, sketches and comics.


Peck artwork for the Boston Globe

www.everettpeck.com

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