Ray Friesen is the writer and illustrator of the comic compilation Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken currently being published by Top Shelf Productions. Ray is one of the funniest and open comic creators I have ever met. I spoke to him briefly at APE previous to this interview and in just a few minutes I felt we had been friends for a while. It’s this kind of attitude that had made Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken such a success among kids and adults. Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken is about well…a penguin who is a pirate and a chicken who is a ninja, it’s a love hate realtionship between the two hence the title of the book “Troublems with Frenemies”. I asked Ray about the openness he shares with his fans as well as where his ideas for this book first came about. I hope you enjoy the interview
Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken is one of the most creative all ages comics out in comics today. How did you first develop the idea for this completely wild project?
First of all, you said it, not me,I’ve been drawing penguins since forever; they’re my favorite creatures. I had a fairly normal penguiny penguin named Mellville, and he was always getting confused for other penguins. ‘Chilly Willy! Happy Feet! Madagascar!” people would say at me, so I began wondering at ways to make a penguin that was more distinctive. Simultaneously, I drew a book called Yarg! in which the major villains were Pirates. They were far more interesting to write than the quote unquote hero character, and had a lot more storytelling capabilities, it seemed to me. Jerks are funnier!
Simultaneously, I had been spending a while trying to get a comic strip into Nickelodeon Magazine. The editor Chris Duffy liked my work, but it wasn’t right for the magazine. He gave me some very good advice: “You’ve got 80 billion characters, with complex storylines. Can you write something with like, one or two people in it?” and my brain went BOOM! Pirate Penguin. I then figured he needed a friend to argue with, so a Ninja Chicken happened.
What process did you go through to get PP Vs. NC picked up by Top Shelf Productions?
Chris Duffy said he really liked PPvsNC, and I did a little dance, and then Nickelodeon Magazine was shut down. It was a strange roller coaster week. So I sat on the characters for a bit, started putting them on my website, and then I saw Top Shelf was publishing several collections of cartoons formerly of Nick Mag. I sent them a package, explained what was going on, and the next day, Chris Staros (are all my editors named Chris?) wrote me an email saying I was really funny and we should make some books. Books! I had been hoping for Book. It was surprisingly easy!
Did you use a traditional pitch when pitching to Top Shelf (high concept, sequential art, outline)?
I just sent them some of the comics I had already create, about a half dozen two pagers. They wanted to know if I could write a longer story to anchor the shorter ones, so I wrote a script. Since my characters do a lot of talking, that suited me fine. I had to punch up the adventure and plot a bit more, which I hadn’t done with these characters, but felt confident about from some of my other books.
What made you want to begin working with the all ages genre in general?
I like all forms of comedy, but the best kind always appeals to adults, and kids. If done right, they’re just better, more jokes per square inch than the next leading brand. Think classic Looney Tunes, there are different tiers of laughs (which also means the kids can rewatch it when they’re older, and laugh at entirely different things!) I love the immediate reaction I get from kids, they laugh uproariously. Whenever I do a school visit, I get to be rockstar!
The relationship between pirate penguin and ninja chicken is something between Tom and Jerry and Spy vs Spy, a love hate kind of thing, was it always your intention to create this kind of rivalry between the two?
It’s definitely an Odd Couple kind of thing. When it started, the plan was to be much more spy vs. spy antagonism, but it mutated. I think I’m best writing comedy arguments for some reason, talking in addition to the sword fights. They kind of have a brotherly level of antagonism. They’ll punch each other, but then go out for ice cream. I just felt I had more storytelling possibilities, although that was probably a subconscious thing. I like Tom and Jerry, but they do tend to repeat themselves sometimes.
You manage to create a sense of competition between pirate penguin and ninja chicken, but keep it wholesome and generally silly to suit a younger audience, how did you find this great in-between spot of not to serious competition.
I didn’t have to look too hard; I think it just comes naturally. Most writers find a sweet spot between writing what they know, and a writing challenge. I tried writing something completely different lately, and it didn’t work out all that great, because I was forcing myself to be something I wasn’t. Pirates who are also penguins are the sort of thing I’m good at, I’m gonna stick with them! Plus do a bunch of other things; I always like variety, even if I only write 3 basic personality types (The crazy one, the cranky one, and the responsible one.)
As an all ages creator you have made yourself completely open to the public, on your site (http://www.donteatanybugs.net) you have contact methods and personal responses everywhere. Have you found this attitude of openness and being a generally fun guy better for you as an all ages creator?
I live in a tiny cave full of art supplies, so I have to be real open to the public so I can have some social interaction! Seriously, I love hearing from fans, and I want them to contact me any way possible! And reversing that process, I’ve met a wide variety of cartoonists I admire, some are open and fun, some aren’t. I like the former much better! You always want the story of how you met the author you like to be a good one.
As an artist do you ever consider working with a writer to collaborate on projects, if so what would be the best way for a writer to present you with a project in your opinion?
I’ve definitely considered it, and tried it a couple times! It hasn’t worked out all that great… I think I would do better writing something somebody else would draw, rather than me drawing something somebody else writes, I keep wanting to change things. There’s no specific way to approach me about anything, just email me ala paragraph seven!
What next for Pirate Penguin Vs. Ninja Chicken?
I’m working on Book Two for Top Shelf, and I think it’s gonna be even epicker (epiculent?) than the first one. It’s tentatively titled ‘Escape From Skull Fragment Island’ and yes, it does have hot air balloons in it. I *may* temporarily retire Pirate Penguin from being the weekly web comic on my site in favor of a different thing, while I draw the book (there’s no such thing as too much Pirate Penguin, but… it’s twice the normal amount of Pirate Penguin for my drawing arm.
Any last minute advice for aspiring all age’s comic creators?
DRAW! Draw all the time! Draw the sort of things you like to draw, draw the things you hate to draw (so you get better at them, for me its technology. I keep writing stories with motorcycles in them, and I hate drawing motorcycles!). Start doing a comic, and keep it up. Practice makes you soooooo much better. Show it to friends, show it to enemies, post it online! Make copies and sell them, and then draw the next issue! Figure out what you’re best at, and then do it times a bajillion, and that’s how you become King of whatever it is.
I want to thank Ray again for taking the time to answer some questions, if you haven’t checked out Ray’s site yet I highly recommend you do, there are regularly updated web comics that Ray has created for free!!!! You can check out Links below.