Mind Meld with Joe Deagnon and Kirby Stasyna!
Chicken Outfit is the result of a lot of hard work by Joe Deagnon and Kirby Stasyna and it’s one of the funniest, creepiest, best looking books out there! I’ve mentioned all of this in two reviews already! KEEP UP. To celebrate the Kickstarter campaign for issue three going live, Joe and Kirby join me in this edition of the Mind Meld to tell us about horror, porn, and the absurdity of life!
1. Chicken Outfit is one of the weirdest, most creative books I’ve read in a while and it has a very classic horror comic vibe, with a big helping of comedy. How would you both sum the series up?
Kirby Stasyna: I think it’s fantastic that you were able to see the elements of classic horror comics in the pages of Chicken Outfit, hidden beneath our cartoonish characters and absurd situations. I spent many years hiding in a cave made of blankets with a flashlight reading and re-reading comic books about ghosts, monsters, maniacs, and the unknown. I’d read them into the night, until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, only to realize that there was no way I dared close them and try and sleep with these visions of revengeful specters and blood-thirsty monsters still fresh in my head. It amazed me how these pictures and words could affect me, how they could challenge my beliefs about what was real. It may be dismissed as the illogical fear of a child, but, for me, the stories actually came to life after I read them. My love of horror comics will forever shape the way I see the world, how I write and create, lending its wonderful use of mysterious characters, foreboding settings and often shocking twists to weave enthralling tales of fear.
Chicken Outfit is the story of two friends who are trying to stay sane and get paid in the new consumer reality. They’ve been ushered in by the mass adoption of the commercial internet and our story is full of mundane conflicts with terrible bosses, relationship collapse, money troubles, computer crashes, and drowning it all with pints at the end of the day. It’s about the infectious social evolution of our culture that has been transmitted and shared by all who interact with overloaded with useless and redundant information. Our characters relive one of the fastest cultural shifts in the history of human culture, one that offered virtually endless access to information, money and effortless global communication. This new world comes a higher price than anyone could ever have been imagined. If this is what Chicken Outfit had turned out to be about, there would be more than enough to sustain its pages with stories and images of chaos and terror, but unfortunately for our heroes, their troubles are only beginning.
Joe Deagnon: First and foremost, I’m a horror fan. I saw John Carpenter’s Halloweén in the theatre in 1978 and it was a life changing event. 80’s horror in general has seeped into the pores of Chicken Outfit. Science fiction, satire and parody also play a large part in its development.
On the surface, Chicken Outfit is the story about two guys that work in a technological, corporatized environment when one of them inadvertently opens the doorway to another dimension and unleashes hell on earth. They must fight to save the world and eventually form an alliance with a psychic and his fishing buddy. It’s the classic Hero’s Journey where the lead character is caught up in a dangerous world and must fight to save his friends and in our case, his sanity.
The underbelly of the story is how these characters deal with the internet, future shock, and the daily trials and tribulations of their mundane lives. It’s our little media and culture blender. A mix of satirical commentary and genre tropes regurgitated into a mask of cartoon surrealism as the vehicle.
2. Despite the insane situations and interesting fashion sense, the heroes of Chicken Outfit, Rusty McDoodle and Stan Munson, seem like pretty average guys. Are they at all based on yourselves or people you know? How much of what has happened to these guys has happened to both of you?
KS: As opposed to saying that the characters and the comic were based on anyone or anything in particular, I feel that they have been born out past experiences and relationships; a genetic cocktail of the DNA of things that we’ve done and people we’ve known. After they were conceived, the characters have developed and grown, seemingly on their own, changing without us consciously changing them. Much of what I contribute is inspired and guided by my experiences, but this is a new story, about new characters and not the story of our lives. I think the characters have a lot in common with me, but also have secret sides that even I don’t know about. This is important when bringing the characters to life as opposed to making them seem alive. Writing about our heroes would be a boring endeavor if their personality was pre-determined. Having elements in the story and relatable characters makes writing a natural process. There are character traits such as Rusty’s pathetic and exhausted view of the online world or Stan’s hacker side that draw heavily from aspects of my personality.
But I consider them all unique and completely separate individuals from us. The writing process is less about: “This is what Rusty would say in this situation,” and more about “What would Rusty say in this situation?” It’s the unknown elements about them that keep me interested in the writing because while we have our general story arc and know what is going to happen, I still look forward to seeing what all these characters are going to do in response to the situations we have put them in. I like to think of myself as the Dungeon Master of their adventure and they are the players in my game. The players chose their fate based on the situation I put them in, but they still rely on a random roll of the dice to determine the outcome. This unknown is what gives them life, as their actions often surprise me by the time we’re finished writing a scene.
JD: I think all good characters have recognizable traits to trigger empathy. When we’re writing, we take the stance that our life experiences influence our writing, and the characters, to provide the reader with that doorway to empathy and hopefully ring true to them.
We haven’t based the characters on anyone in particular; they’re more of an amalgamation of various people and experiences throughout our lives. We discuss how each event unfolds and how individual characters might react in the situations. We’ve tried to make each of the main characters fully formed so that they evolve with each new issue.
3. Chicken Outfit has a very delightfully absurd sense of humour, with plenty of satire in there. What helped form this sense of humour that you both bring to this series?
JD: Growing up with a steady diet of Mad Magazine and National Lampoon was my major introduction to parody and satire. I also read underground and horror comics like Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Zap, Weird, Nightmare, Heavy Metal, Eerie and Creepy. The discovery of Robert Crumb and other artists like Wally Wood, Mort Drucker, Ralph Steadman, Basil Wolverton, Harvey Kurtzman and Jean Giraud was a massive revelation. After reading Batman and Spider-Man in my pre-teens, I was thrilled to find that the medium of comics was much more than superheroes, syndicated funnies, and Archie digests.
Album comedians had a tremendous influence on my humour, being holed up in my teenage bedroom most of the time. I loved the observational humour of Cheech & Chong, Steve Martin, Woody Allen and George Carlin. As well, Frank Zappa & The Mothers is probably my favourite source of contemporary satire.
Kirby and I see eye to eye on a lot of things, so we’re constantly in touch online (we live in different cities now) talking about everything from what’s happening in current culture to society’s ills. We have specific philosophical leanings, which helps provoke some fairly humorous arguments. We document everything that might be usable and toss it into the pot.
KS: Life is ludicrous. Our existence is perhaps the biggest joke of all and everyone has their own way of dealing with it. For me, it’s to throw that hilarity right back at the wall of life like a rotten egg, and to live life without taking things too seriously. It’s not a decision or a conscious choice that I made one day, I don’t feel particularly funny and never try to actually write jokes. I am always being told to stop joking around and to take things more seriously, but I can’t, it’s just me and my reaction to things, an expression of how I see the world. I think that our characters and the satirical tone of our writing allows us to approach grisly and appalling situations without turning the reader off with overt negativity. By presenting our story in a digestible way, we almost sneak our point in, slid beneath our relentless joking and satire. One important aspect of Chicken Outfit that is that we never really decided exactly what we were going to do, we simply started doing it. We didn’t design Chicken Outfit to be funny; it just turned out funny, which is a really good thing because if it hadn’t, it would be one hell of a depressing story.
4. Joe, your art is very unique and incredibly fun, but how did you develop your style?
JD: It takes a long time to break away from imitating the styles of existing comics and influences to developing a specific sense of my own style. You take a little bit from here and a dash from there, trying to find your voice along the way. I’m in a constant state of honing my work now, trying to perfect it, to master technique. It’s a constant evolution, a journey without end.
In the beginning, I cut my teeth by drawing Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, Spider-Man and whatever else I was digging, just to mimic the work and get a sense of anatomical proportion. I moved on to animation college to learn theory and put those theories into motion. Eventually you settle into your comfort zone and what best represents you in your expression as an artist. For me, I knew I’d found my voice when people started saying I resembled my comics.
5. How does working together compare to previous projects working alone? Do you find yourselves ever disagreeing?
KS: One of the main reasons I decided to work on Chicken Outfit was because it was a collaboration. Working by myself can be a rewarding creative pursuit, but it lacks the interaction and fellowship of working with a partner or team. The sharing and combination of the right partners is always better than the sum of their parts. We were lucky because after we effortlessly worked together on the job it was easy to extend our teamwork to include projects of our own. In the early days of the commercial net, when our graphics and programming were helping make the companies and clients we worked for tons of cash, many of us tried to make our own dot com fortunes together. The trouble, in my opinion, with those endeavors was that they were primarily designed to make money, not to be artistic expressions. A few shutdown start-ups later, we rejoined forces with the intention of simply using our talents to create comics that we would like to read. It was this fundamental twist in concept that made us such a great team on Chicken Outfit. Of course, it also made us flat broke. In the early days of the comic we had to resort to sneaking our own sardine sandwiches into the bars we worked out of.
Regardless of how good a team works together, I think the sign of a really good team is one that is locked in constant disputes. There should be a challenge in thinking and re-thinking your ideas. In our case, the fight usually starts over who is going to be paying for the next round, but that is just a warm up for the endless arguments that seem to consume most of our meetings. It’s not a bad thing, it all leads to a better comic and neither of us take it personally. For me, it was the experience of working so long on the Internet that taught me to separate my personal feelings from my work. If I want to control something, I can always do something on my own, but any decent teammate must understand that a collaborative project is bigger than both of them and must be a combination of ideas in order to truly succeed.
JD: Oh yeah, for sure. It can run the gamut from what a character would do in any given situation to structural and thematic disagreements. I think the way we provoke one another stimulates creation and makes the process more exciting. We have each other to bounce ideas off of and I think the most satisfying thing about a partnership is that rub – being open to making the idea better, funnier or more horrific. More often than not, we arrive at a happy medium eventually.
When I worked alone, I had no frame of reference, though it was liberating on some level to not care about what others will think. Through the collaborative process I think we’ve both grown as artists. I still work on other projects to get back to that singular, whole feeling sometimes. Collaboration is more social and at times more rewarding.
6. Porn is mentioned a lot in Chicken Outfit. Heck, Stan Munson works in that industry! Is there something you both want to tell us?
JD: Kirby and I used to work in the adult web business. He was one of the creators of the Naked News. I was an art director and video editor. At the time, it wasn’t very cool to tell anyone what you did (not that it is now), so it was a very insulated group. It was almost as if you were cut off from the real world, living in some kind of bizarre fantasy machine and hardly glamorous. People have all sorts of ideas as to what you’re up to, when in reality, it was very corporate and rather dull office work. I had no prurient interest in it; it was another job in my field that, at the time, paid ridiculously well. The best part of it all was that we were smack in the middle of cutting edge internet technology.
The general public is beginning to come to grips with the idea that without adult entertainment’s cash injection in the 90’s, I doubt we’d have moved as rapidly through the development of video and e-commerce online. It was the same with the VHS market in the 80’s. Adult entertainment drove the success of the new format and other media companies followed.
In Chicken Outfit we’ve used porn as a metaphor for the genesis of the internet. Eventually, all of the characters’ problems stem from this event. Now that we’ve established that in issue one and two, I think we’ll probably start to move away from it as a key theme.
KS: Everyone who worked in Internet development in the late 90’s had experiences with porno sites. 9 out of 10 job postings eventually turned out to be related to some sort of adult scheme. It was an exciting and transitional time, where the future was only limited by how many people you could get to pull out their credit card. There was also a strange irony about working in “Adult“. Everyone you knew thought you were living some sort of millionaire’s lifestyle, sleeping in hotels and surrounded by crowds of beautiful men and women. In reality, you were jammed into some sort of tiny cubicle, doing endless and repetitive tasks like encoding video on a workstation that continually crashed or making thumbnails of some of the worst quality erotica you had ever seen. Things changed quickly and while lots of money was made, it turned out to be a terrible experience driven by relentless greed that would eventually consume itself. While our comic isn’t a particular tale about any one person or persons, the surreal nature of Chicken Outfit is tailor made to play out on the stage of an adult internet company.
It is a little known fact, but Pamela Anderson is directly responsible for advancing the development of the Internet. When her sex tape was released, adult revenues virtually doubled over night. Armed with this surge in income and an increased demand for their content, porno sites and the companies that provided the technologies they used, frantically pushed their limits to offer more content, better technologies and better formats in order to lure customers away from their competition. Advances came quickly as companies would pay anything to be first in line to get the next big thing. Adult sites also were some of the earliest adopters of large scale e-commerce and sales models that are still in use today. Free trials that end up costing money if you don’t cancel in time, recurring memberships, cross-sells, spam, popups and many other of the world’s most hated marketing techniques were all perfected in the world of online porn. So the next time you get tricked into paying for a website you thought was free or receive an email about a fortune that you are about to have wired to your bank account, thank Pam and thank porn!
7. What can you tell us about what to expect from Issue Three and onwards?
KS: The plan with Chicken Outfit has always been to create a four issue mini-series and print it as a graphic novel. This will become the essential volume from which the Chicken Outfit universe will sprout. I consider the graphic novel to be our “pilot episode” which serves as a basic map of our universe and the creatures that exist within it.
As you have seen in the first two issues, there are elements in the story that are beginning to become connected and the paths of the characters are being drawn closer and closer together. So far, the actions and events have occurred in the real world which seems to be invaded by some sort of unknown power, you can certainly expect this vantage point to be dropped on its head and the line between what is real and what is not to be basically erased.
Once the graphic novel is complete, we will continue to develop the on-going story lines through each new issue, and we also have self-contained issues that will tell new self-contained episodes and give us the opportunity to change things up a bit in terms of story and style. We have been tirelessly working away at this for years with our notebooks are bursting at the seams with notes, jokes, sketches, and ideas that we cannot wait to share. I would prefer not to go into any detail or give anything away but if you like the insanity and characters so far, we think you’re going to love what we have planned for the future.
JD: In issue three we’re going to flesh out what the hell is going on up to this point with issue four acting as a bridge between volumes. We’ve planned out the main structure and story for volume one and beyond that, it’s going to be quite an interesting experiment. The culmination of this part of the series will set the stage for all future issues. Expect the unexpected.
8. Can you tell us more about the Kickstarter campaign?
JD: We’re about to start penciling and inking the 3rd issue of Chicken Outfit and given that crowdfunding doesn’t have the stigma it once did, we don’t feel like we’re setting out with hat in hand. We’ve done a great deal of work to get to this point and people really love the series, so we’d like to take it to the next step.
We wanted to get comix lovers involved and make them a part of the process. Shipping has gone through the roof here in Canada and when we’re shipping to people outside of our country, it’s a bit spendy. We’re just looking for some finishing funds for this issue and we’ve already gotten straight to work putting Rusty and the gang in many more tangles with corporations, technology, and many forms of monsters and demons. The script is just about complete and we’ve mapped out where issue #4 is headed as well.
We’ve got some great rewards for backers and once we get rolling, we have plenty of weird things in store. We’re also looking forward to hearing from the public and interacting with people who dig what we’re doing. We really love sharing the adventures of these odd little guys and we’ll be making Chicken Outfit until the story runs out, which given our plans for this universe, won’t be any time soon…
Interview by: Ross Rivers!
Editor’s Note: At the time of this interview, the Kickstarter for the third issue was running and I would like to happily say that they managed to successfully raise the funds! Also, don’t forget to check out their way awesome website!