Laugh Yourself Dead With Arsenic Lullaby

by Vince Brusio

Douglas Paszkiewicz is a very funny guy. Just ask him. He’ll tell you. Which is why the Arsenic Lullaby: The Devil's Only Friend TP (APR161272) is in the April PREVIEWS catalog. The guy is true to his word. He’s funny. His books are funny. And if you don’t believe us, just use Google to see how long Doug’s been putting out Arsenic Lullaby. In this PREVIEWSworld Exclusive interview, we talk to the man who walks around locked-and-loaded, and give an ear to the creator whose sole mission in life is to make you laugh…or else.

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PREVIEWSworld: Arsenic Lullaby: The Devil's Only Friend TP (APR161272) comes on the heels of a couple of cartoon shorts on Comedy Central's Triptank. Tell us what it's like to now have your little tykes on television.

Douglas Paszkiewicz: It was anti-climactic and weird.  First off, my role in the making of it was done about a year before it aired. By the time my first short appeared, the shine was pretty much off the apple because to me that was five projects ago.  All the highs and lows and angst had been wrung dry for about 6 months...mostly.

The weird part was I had almost zero idea of how it turned out.  My job was to adapt the story from Arsenic Lullaby into a TV script…that’s it.  I wasn’t involved in the character designs, directing, some of the storyboards were obviously taken right out of the comic but I didn’t know that they would go that route or have any hand in the decision. 

The studio has people for all of that. That isn't a complaint, it is simply how thing s work. They have people with way more experience under their belts than me for those jobs. Once the script was written my job was done, and I didn’t have any clue as to where it went from there.

I didn’t know what it would look like, sound like, how much changes would go on...nothing.  Normally, there is no reason you would, when your job is to write the script. However, in my case I had a bigger vested interest in promoting the episode than your average writer, because it is tied to my comic book.  That left me to promote the hell out of a cartoon, and cross my fingers that it wasn’t a TOTAL train wreck.

That’s weird.  That’s a weird position to be in.  You have to tell the whole world to watch this and hope you have called their attention to your shining moment and not a complete disaster.  We’ve all seen what Hollywood can do to a good idea.

I knew how good it was in the comic book, and I knew how good it was in my own head, how good it would be when it aired ...I would learn along with everyone else.  I watched it...and was mortified.  They changed quite a bit.  The aliens looked different, the pacing was different, the voices seemed to me to be an odd choice.  I had a whole Richard Lewis angst vibe and regretted telling anyone it was going to be on.  Turns out, everyone liked it and thought it was the best cartoon of the episode.  About a week later I watched it again, and thought "oh, yeah...i guess that is pretty good."  I guess as much as I try not to be a temperamental artist type, even I have my moments.  I‘ve watched it a couple of times since with a clear head, and all the changes they made make sense and it was good.  It took until about the third viewing before I realized that Tom Kenny, the voice of Spongebob Squarepants, was the main character.

PREVIEWSworld: Arsenic Lullaby has been around for what seems like forever! Given its longevity, would you say that it's proof of how indie comics work: meaning, an uncompromising vision by a creator?

Douglas Paszkiewicz: I would say it is proof that there are a lot of screwed up people in the world.  Which may go hand in hand with an “uncompromised vision.”

It's going to sound glib when I say this, but there are a lot of people out there with real problems, maybe their childhood wasn’t great, maybe they made some mistakes along the way, maybe they’ve had some tragedy, maybe life didn’t turn out the way they wanted, maybe they hate their job, maybe they reached adulthood and still feel like they are always on the outside looking in, those people...they want to laugh too.  Are they supposed to laugh at the same watered down pap that calm, well-grounded people with comfortable lives find funny?

Some people can have one light beer and get a good buzz, other people need something a little stronger to take the edge off.  Those are my people. Call it part of the cosmic balance of the universe, or the weight on the opposite side of the scale as cat memes.  Arsenic Lullaby has lasted so long because "birds of a feather, flock together": it is the “uncompromised vision” of a guy who is genuinely a bit screwed-up, and he is writing things that he finds funny, and so like-minded people seek it out...even if they are only like-minded on a Monday morning after being stuck in traffic for two hours. The book is there for anyone who needs something a little stronger than what the rest of the world finds funny.

PREVIEWSworld: For those not familiar with Arsenic Lullaby, can you give us a synopsis of the book's origins, and how the title has appeared in the PREVIEWS catalog over its decade-long history?

Douglas Paszkiewicz: The one fly in the ointment has always been trying to describe it without sounding like a lunatic.  The best quote I think I've hear to sum it up was "It is like a Far Side cartoon mixed with a Clive Barker horror movie."  I think the best thing to do would be to give you a specific example: one of the longer stories in the new issue.  Cthulhu returns to end the world and finds out he waited too long, and humanity already wiped itself out.  It's a real let-down for him, as you can imagine.  There is only one human left, and he's real lonely, and kind of the touchy feely type. He ends up giving Cthulhu the creeps, and Cthulhu spends most of the story just trying to get the hell away from the guy.

PREVIEWSworld:  How do you formulate your ideas for Arsenic Lullaby? Is there some stimulus, ritual, or teacher's guide to Truly Tasteless Jokes that helps you break through the ice of conventional comedy so that you can fish for new belly laughs?

Douglas Paszkiewicz: If I were to write a guideline it would be "make it funnier than anything else...period."  That's all I am concerned about.  People often think I am setting out to be shocking, nothing could be further from the truth: I am setting out to MAKE people laugh.  That, in my mind, is what "funny" means.  It MAKES you laugh.  Anything that doesn't evoke laughter is just clever, or cute, or witty...which is fine, but it is not "funny" unless it makes you laugh. I don’t set out to be tasteless or shocking, I just write what I find funny, and it is very important to me that the book be as original as possible.  After 6,000 years of humanity telling stories, the blackest and most taboo subjects are the only ones that have not been stomped dry yet. To that end, the element of surprise is fairly vital to "funny." I am dealing with taboo subjects because they are often all that is left to have that element of surprise, and can be thrown a curveball that makes someone laugh.

Originality is also important because I don't just write the book, I illustrate it, and each page takes about ten hours to complete. Any story I publish damn well better be worth looking at for ten hours. I have the following gauge: if there are 100 professional stand-up comedians in a room and more than 10 of them could come up with the joke, I throw it away. 

If you are writing a superhero book, your content is only competing with other superhero books and the occasional movie or TV show.  But if you are writing a comedy book, you are mining for content in the same genre as every comedy book, stand-up comedian, TV show, movie, sitcom, or hell...even every funny commercial.  So, I don't put pencil to paper unless I think it is an idea that is really, really solid and original.  I don’t want to spend ten hours illustrating something, and then see some comedian on HBO tell the same joke.

PREVIEWSworld:  What do you get out of creating and publishing Arsenic Lullaby? And where do you see it going from here?

Douglas Paszkiewicz: Well, instead of paying a lot of money to a therapist, I let my warped brain wander on the paper and generate revenue.  It’s a business model most screwed-up people don’t think to use.  As far as where it is going, judging by the direction of society in general, I’d say the sky is the limit.

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