Arsenic Lullaby Creator, Douglas Paszkiewicz
I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to become friends with some of my favorite creators of art. I spent the formative years of my adulthood hanging out in a Richmond, Virginia factory painting foam penguins with Gwar. Most recently I not only got to become friends with Arsenic Lullaby creator Douglas Paszkiewicz, but he invited me to do voices on the animated version of his work.
Arsenic Lullaby is a book I’ve been reading long before I was a comedian. I’m fairly certain I discovered it right near the beginning when I wandered into Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan asking for something dark and void of superheroes. I was hooked and picked up every thing I could find ever since.
Many have tried to explain Arsenic Lullaby, few have succeeded. I’m not even going to try. Saying it’s an intensely dark Far Side doesn’t do it justice. Like South Park, the brilliance of Doug’s work is that on the surface it’s brutal and hilarious. Just beneath the surface, it’s brutal, hilarious and quite a smart, satirical commentary. I wish one day I can become half the writer that Douglas is.
I was fortunate enough to sit down with him outside Milwaukee at a comedy club a couple of months ago. The club owner just finished yelling at me because he was upset about the playful tongue in cheek ribbing I gave his club. Douglas and I kick things off reminiscing about his start in show business on comedy stages not too far from where we conducted this interview.
Mike: So you started off as a comedian when you were so young that your mom actually had to take you to the clubs.
Douglas: My uncle.
My mom to this day still doesn’t know where we were going. She may have figured it out by now.
In the Milwaukee area?
Yeah. Just in Milwaukee.
What were some of the ridiculous things you had to deal with? I imagine as a kid, you must have gotten pushed around a lot.
You know, because I just had to go in and out I didn’t really have to deal with anything. I probably spent 30 seconds in the club other than when I was on stage. It was so long ago. A couple times I would just have to wait in the back and have a club soda while the other guys were on. They didn’t want me near the bar or the alcohol. I didn’t really have to deal with the BS at all. It wasn’t until I got older that I had to start dealing with the crap that everyone else had to deal with.
Was that all in high school?
Were you already working on comics back then too?
No. I had no interest in comics at all until I was 22 or 23. At that point I decided stand up wasn’t for me. There was a brief period in my life where I decided to get a real job, but that passed quickly. Why piss away all this talent so I figured out how to weave one into another.
I assumed your stand up was a dark satire like Arsenic Lullaby with a biting commentary, but you’ve told me that you were more sort of like Stephen Wright.
No. It was sort of Stephen Wright-ish. The similarity would be in Arsenic Lullaby I juxtapose a couple concepts to create a very strange premise and stomp that mud hole dry, accepting the premise and working every angle of absurdity. Plus, I was so young, how much stage presence can you have when you’re 16? Plus I was 5’4” maybe 98 pounds. The writing was really good, but the stage presence was not there. Arsenic Lullaby is very…I don’t know if you want to say “shocking”.
That was one thing you said in another interview. I don’t think it’s shocking. It’s edgy. It’s not shocking for the sake
Edgy is maybe the word I’m looking for. Now, my personality is very direct. You can see where my personality and the book are one in the same. When I was doing stand up, the writing was great, but the personality wasn’t forceful enough on stage. It wasn’t as powerful as the jokes. The delivery system wasn’t there.
When I first met you a couple years ago in Flint, the first thing I thought was, “oh, Voodoo Joe is clearly Douglas!” Am I right in that?
Yeah, probably. They’re all facets of either my personality or personalities of people I know. It’s a cheap writing tool. You take the personality of someone you know very well and plug that personality into a different situation. You keep that character consistent. In a way they’re all little facets of me. I would say Joe is a large chunk of my personality and Baron Von Donut. When I’m on the advance, I’m Joe. When I’m morose and retrospective, that would be the donut.
What hooked me on Arsenic Lullaby is that the writing is so sharp. It’s a book I bring with me on the road to share with other comedians. What’s your writing process? Do you sit down and force yourself or do you wait for an idea to hit you?
Both, because the book has longer stories and it also has quick one page things. A one page story is something that pops into my head that’s funny that I can translate into a cartoon. It’s very much the same with writing stand up. You have the longer stories where you have to work and formulate and get a beginning, middle and an end. The stuff that just pops into my head which kind of writes itself like the Auschwitz 1939 and all the piles of bodies are being poured into the land fill and the next panel is Auschwitz 4092 or whatever and the futuristic construction workers and one of them has the jack hammer and hits oil. That’s sort of an intellectual kind of joke I suppose. That just kind of pops in my head and I draw it out.
But as far as the other ones like Voodoo Joe or the Donut or the newer cowboy character, I just thought they’d be fun to draw. The process goes, I’m sketching in my sketchbook and I sketch up some character that might be fun to draw on a regular basis, so I force myself to create a story for that character. The cowboy is the most recent one. I was sketching, drew a cowboy and thought, “I like drawing cowboys. I gotta come up with something for a cowboy!” So now I force myself to slap some sort of premise on there and juxtapose him into another weird concept so I can squeeze eight or nine pages out of it. And after you do that two or three times somehow those eight or nine page stories give you enough tools to have a supporting cast or plot lines or whatever.
You’ve revisited the story line with the cult a few times over the years. Is that a situation where you know how the story is going in advance or are you revisiting it as the fans get to revisit it?
You know what, usually not. Usually I already kind of have it figured out or have a skeleton idea. Then it’s, “How much can I draw before the deadline?” I can cram as much as I can before the deadline. Then the next time I need four or five pages, I plug it in there. That’s kind of how it works. I have a rough idea and as pages or deadlines call for, I plug it in.
Any news on the cartoon pilot?
I have no news. I probably won’t know anything until Spring. I’m trying to get more cartoons done before San Diego (Comic Con), because that’s kind of the Super Bowl of our industry. That’s where all the Hollywood types dredge the lake for bodies.
How does San Diego work? Is it like a smaller convention, where you have to basically rent the space or the table?
Yeah. You rent the space. In that regard it’s like any other show. But that’s the only way it’s like any other show. You’ve got 160,000 people who walk through the door, which is several thousand times more than any other show. You’ve got the regular fan or reader off the street who bought the ticket; you’ve got the people who are there to buy properties and the people who work in the industry. It’s a strange, strange mix and it sucks because you don’t know who you can be rude to! That’s the problem over there. You have to be nice to everybody!
Okay, this isn’t a question as much as it’s an observation. I just want to point out the irony on the DVD commentary for the animated pilot you start off by talking about how you hate commentaries that never talk about what you’re watching, but then you never address the cartoon again! Instead you’re bitching about your neighbor and it’s a hilarious commentary.
I didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought the whole thing was kind of self serving. I had to do it because it’s become the standard where you’re supposed to have two voices coming out of your speakers that have nothing to do with the picture being shown to you. Plus, it’s a cartoon, so I couldn’t say, “After this scene, Barry and I knocked over the camera!” It was all drawn up and time consuming and meticulous so there were no wacky stories I could share behind the scenes of a talking donut with a hat that I drew.
I was going to spend the whole time bitching about director commentaries, but I really only had thirty seconds of bitching to do on that! I was irritated, so I just let the machine crank out whatever was irritating me!
You’re doing a podcast now too. I can’t find it. It’s not on iTunes.
Don’t you have an MP3 player?
I do. I just don’t have the technical know how.
I’ve gotta put it on iTunes. I’ve been doing it for about a year. I didn’t plug it at all and I really still don’t plug it much. The first six months I was just trying to get my feet wet. I don’t really know where I want to go with this thing. I’m used to writing stuff out. That’s my thing, crafting something. I wasn’t sure that venting was going to be entertaining or if I could do it for an extended period of time.
You’re a stand up comedian. Aside from just being funny, there’s thing you have to keep in mind like how much of the story am I leaving out. Is it still making sense. In your head, you know everything that happened. You have to make sure you’re still giving enough information in between the screaming and yelling so people still know what you’re talking about.
Yeah, like will the person who runs a comedy club understand that I’m joking!
Exactly! How thin skinned is the idjit, gonna be? It’s ridiculous. Now that I sort of have the hang of it as much as I ever will, I should stick it on iTunes.
I look forward to that. I need to figure out if I want to go back inside and apologize or just get it over with. I’m not coming back here and I want him to know that not coming back is my choice, not his.
I get into situations like that too. I’m really not really sorry, so I’m not going to apologize, but maybe I should apologize. On the other hand, go eff yourself! I shouldn’t have to apologize for this! Grow the fuck up! At the same time, if the world were full of grown ups, we’d be out of jobs. The fact that there are no grown ups around gives us enough stuff to point out.
Posted on February 26, 2011, in Interviews and tagged Arsenic, comedy, Douglas Paszkiewicz, Interview, Lullaby, mike bobbitt, Milwaukee, off the mike, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.