When Cartoonists Illustrate! Part 2: Derf

When Cartoonists Illustrate! Part 2: Derf SUTTONSIGNER.jpgBy Ward Sutton

When Cartoonists Illustrate! There's often a line drawn between cartoonists and illustrators. All this week, I'm profiling talented people known for their cartooning and showing their work in an illustration context.

Derf Backderf, writer-artist of the international bestselling graphic novels My Friend Dahmer, Punk Rock & Trailer Parks, and Trashed, has been making comix for a long, long time and has won a buncha awards for it. See more at http://www.derfcity.com/. (All illustrations in this story are by Derf.)

SPD: How do you like illustrating compared to cartooning?

Derf: Oh, there's no comparison. Illustration can be fun, but, at most, you're just re-interpreting, or maybe enhancing, the idea of someone else. When I make a graphic novel, that's an entire self-contained world that's completely my vision. Every word, every line, every shade. I really dig
that. That's not meant as a put-down of illustration gigs. That's just my personal preference and what satisfies me creatively.

LPfrontcover_sm.jpgSPD: Do you actively look for illustration work?

Derf: Not any more. It's dwindled down to a couple jobs a year. I'm too busy making books to bother with much else. In truth, I never tried very hard. Back in the 90s, I probably did a dozen illustration jobs a month, but that was mostly people seeking me out, not me stumping for jobs. I was never very good at hustling for freelance illustration. My problem always was that I didn't like being told what, or how, to draw. This was a slight problem when working with editors and art directors. I got a lot of kill fees.

SPD: Have you illustrated, or would you illustrate, cartoons that others write?

Derf: never have. I'd be interested in writing and someone else drawing, because writers call the shots and I'm power mad. Besides, writing is less work than drawing.

PAFposter_small.jpgSPD: Do you have a dream illustration gig?

Derf: Y'know, I've been thinking about that recently. I would have loved to have drawn covers for sci-fi paperbacks and digest mags in the 50s and 60s. I know they didn't pay squat (probably better than most illustration gigs now!), but, man, they looked like a lot of fun and I believe those guys had a lot of freedom, as is often the case with low-paying jobs. I've been buying a lot of these old mags lately, just for the covers. Kelly Freas, Virgil Finlay, Richard Powers, Jeff Jones, Ron Turner, just this wild, crazy stuff. I don't have the technical mastery of those guys, but the
conceptual part of it, that would have been a gas.

Derf Backderf: Derfcity

Related Stories:
An Interview with Seattle Art Director Art Chantry
When Cartoonists Illustrate: Part 1: Kate Beaton
Alt Week: Guest Editor Cartoonist-Illustrator Ward Sutton

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