Deborah Peyton lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia and I thought it would be apropos to begin with her as I'm going to meeting her for lunch while I'm visiting in the Maritimes on my vacation! Deborah is a multi-talented cartoonist who began her cartooning career creating comic panels. She has branched out in a variety of areas such as book illustration, character design, fabric design, custom cartooning and more. We talked about some of these things in this conversation. There's much more at her web site, Fine-tooning.com.
Like many of my cartoonist friends, I met Deborah online first and then for the first time in person at the NCS Reuben weekend in Boca Raton, Florida in 2000.
Deborah, your initial career paths were completely non-cartoon related. Can you tell us about that and how you ended up becoming a cartoonist?
“therapeutic” exercise gradually, over several years, evolved into a career. That was sixteen years ago. Ha! It was a pretty rough way to begin but I’m so glad things worked out the way they did.
When we met, you were self-syndicating a daily panel called "Day to Day" and doing very well with merchandising Day to Day products. I believe you said the Day to Day merchandise was making more money than the newspaper slots were paying. I think people would find that aspect interesting since more and more web cartoonists are having success with a very similar type of business model . . .namely making money from the merchandise of your cartoon rather than the sale of the cartoon itself. How many newspapers did you sell your feature to and how did you handle the merchandise sales? (-and what kinds of Day to Day merchandise did you sell?)
Ha! Self-syndicating might be a generous term for what I was doing with my panel. Other than my first weekly paper and then our local daily, I never actively pursued others. Over time I managed to be picked up by several more papers here in Eastern Canada and a couple in the US. I used the deadline for these papers as an incentive to keep producing cartoons on a daily basis. Over time I eventually had enough cartoons for a collection. My first print run was 2000 books. I acquired a regular, Saturday morning booth at our local market and just started selling. At first it was just books but soon I began adding other merchandise to go along with them...”Day to Day” t-shirts, mugs, fridge magnets, bookmarks, calendars and greeting cards. This worked out very well as people often purchased the merchandise to go along with the book. I soon added a second collection, “Surviving Day to Day”. I started attending gift shows, book fairs and craft shows. I also exhibited at Book Expo in Toronto. I eventually sold just over 13,000 books. So, while there was a little income from the papers, most of my revenue came from books and merchandise.
"Day to Day" had some attention from two of the major syndicates. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, and actually, if the timing had been a bit different, I would have pursued it further. At the time I had many irons in the fire, so to speak, and wasn’t in a position where I could focus on the suggested changes to my feature. It was recommended I move from the single panel to a strip. It wasn’t something I wanted to throw together because of a lack of time. To do this properly would have required my full attention and I already had other commitments.
You and a partner started a company called “PQexpressions!” which, among other things, successfully developed and licensed designs for fabric. How did this come about?
This was one of the “irons in the fire” I mentioned in your previous question. I was asked to illustrate a book for my friend and designer, Debra Quartermain. One of her areas of design is plush toys and she was working on a book called Easy to Sew Playful Toys. She wanted several of her plush toy projects brought to life as illustrated characters giving helpful tips and hints throughout the book. The illustrations eventually caught the eye of fabric manufacturer Northcott Silk Inc. and we were asked to design a fabric collection for babies. The collection was based on one of the book’s characters; a bunny called “Buggles” and was made up of 11 designs. The designs were licensed by Northcott and printed on bolts of fabric; one quilt panel and ten supporting fabrics. The Buggles collection was distributed to independent fabric and quilt shops throughout North America and eventually picked up by Walmart Canada. This was very exciting for us and it introduced me to brand new possibilities for my artwork.
How is your work schedule different from writing a daily panel to the design work?
My work schedule has changed somewhat. Not so much in the work load but rather in the deadlines. With the daily I was working towards deadlines that were a few weeks away whereas now the deadlines are based on seasons. For example a collection that is going to be released in the fall is generally completed by late spring. Also, the time I would normally spend in my pyjamas drinking coffee and writing gags is now spent on design work at the computer.
What are your tools of the trade?
I’m still using pen and ink when I draw the characters and decorative elements for the fabric designs. After I draw the line art I scan it and do the colour and design work on the computer. The design process can be a bit technical as there are quite a few specs required by the manufacturer.
What are your plans for the future? Have you considered trying to create a character for licensing or do you want to stay with the design aspect? Do you ever think about trying another panel?
Well, I really enjoy the fabric design so I hope to continue with that. Now that I’ve been introduced into the world of licensing I would like to pursue some of the opportunities it has to offer. That being said, I’ve had an idea for a strip that’s been banging around in my head for several years. I do miss writing and drawing a daily feature. Perhaps now that things have settled down a bit (both of our daughters are out on their own now) I can settle into my pj’s again with my coffee and write that strip...
Visit Deborah Peyton's web site: Fine-tooning.com