To Better Know a Renegade: Derek Evernden

Hello all! It feels like it’s been ages since we’ve talked. How are things? Oh… that bad huh… Well hopefully this will cheer you up. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Canadian Cartoonist/Sartorius/All-around-good-guy Derek Evernden. Derek released his debut book Bogart Creek Vol. 1 this year to critical acclaim. But who is Derek Evernden and what exactly is in that glass he’s holding?… the answer(s) may shock you!

Sean: How did you get started as an artist?

Derek: I started drawing from a young age and kept at it thanks to my parents’ encouragement. They nudged me to audition for an arts program at Unionville High School (in Southern Ontario). Getting into that program was incredible because I got art classes daily, in a range of disciplines. By the time I’d gotten to York University, where I did my BFA, I’d already had more life drawing classes than most students would have during their degree. 

But as far as getting started as a cartoonist goes, I’d have to say it really took hold of me when I landed a summer job (which turned into three summers) drawing caricatures at Ontario Place. I was working alongside other cartoonists and we all shared tips and tricks and talked about different gags we’d incorporate. If you had a run of twelve people and they all wanted to be drawn as baseball players, you needed twelve jokes about baseball to be able to entertain them and not seem like you were recycling material. So whenever I had down-time I was coming up with all these different scenarios, essentially early gag cartoons. And of course the faster you drew, the more money you made – there was no pencil under-drawing, you just went for it with a Markette marker and hoped for the best. It made me fast, accurate, and forced me to develop a unique style.

Sean: Who are some of your biggest inspirations?

Derek: I’m sure this’ll blow people’s minds, but Gary Larson, first and foremost, for his ideas, sense of humour, staging…hell, even his captions are funny on their own (I try to avoid words) – he’s still unparalleled after all these years. Bill Waterson is untouchable in terms of style – the brush work, the sense of energy and motion, so perfect for capturing the feeling of being a kid. Jules Feiffer, for his loose lines and understatement, and fearlessness in terms of economy and minimalism. Of course he’s also a master of dialogue, which I’m absolute crap at. Jim Unger, who used loose lines of a different kind. I tried to copy Herman a lot when I was a kid. His punchlines are short and blunt and if you don’t ‘get it’ you probably should be checked for a pulse. John Callahan is one I’ve come to later in life and really admire, even if he’s insanely politically incorrect at times. He had huge balls. Edward Steed is another I’ve gravitated to while working on Bogart Creek. His style – with Steadmanesque ink globs and quill scratches – and his characters with no necks and almost goblin-like faces and stick legs – is almost funny enough to make you laugh regardless of the punchline. But his jokes are every bit as twisted and unpredictable as his style. Charles Addams – again, I gravitated to him recently because people compared Bogart Creek to his work often enough that I thought I’d better take a serious look. Gorgeous craftsmanship and technique and really dark jokes. Last one: this is almost entirely about sheer illustrative ability: Doug Sneyd. There’s no similarity whatsoever to Bogart Creek, but I’m just floored by his technique. Met him at a Toronto Comic Expo and he was the kindest, most modest guy – I bought one of his pencil sketches for $300. If I’d had the $10K to buy one of his finished pieces, I wouldn’t have hesitated.

Sean: What are some secrets to your creative process?

Derek: Keep pens and scraps of paper everywhere. In the bathroom, by the bed, by the computer, on the kitchen counter, in your wallet, by the TV chair. Staring at a blank sheet of paper over and over again, whenever you have a lull in your day, is bound to trigger an idea.

If you can’t just ‘come up with something’ write a list of topics and force yourself to draw something funny for each. And if you can’t come up with a list, just draw randomly, like one-person Ouija board. Throw all the darts at the board that you have, then move on to cutlery.

Check the rhythm of the panel – there should be three beats to build to a laugh. Don’t hand-hold the audience; make them figure out the third beat – let them discover the ‘Aha!’ moment.

Leave as many ‘mistakes’ as possible – ugly comedians are funnier than good looking ones.

Coffee, weed, wine.

If you have the freedom, sleep when you need to sleep. Nothing beats a good sleep.

Get control of your time and space: I couldn’t do what I do living in a shoebox in downtown Toronto (where I lived for 20 years). I needed to get out, get some space and perspective. I live in a little rural village, and sitting out back, staring off into space knowing no one will interrupt me is invaluable. In the city I had too many distractions, too many other brains chattering, too many bloody kids in my sandbox!

Have a trusted group you can run your jokes by before sharing them with the world. You need that little comedy club where you feel safe bombing.

Sean: Any upcoming projects you would like to tell our readers about?

Derek: Bogart Creek Volume 2! Should be out in the fall of 2020, via Renegade Arts Entertainment.

Sean: What are some of your favourite tools of the trade?

Derek: I’m not too particular with pens because it all winds up in the computer (and being precious about the art can kill the energy of the joke) – Microns and Extra-fine Sharpies work. And brush pens are handy to add thickness and line variation (Kuretake Sumi, Pentel Fude). I do all my initial sketches in ball point. Goes back to childhood; it makes you less concerned about perfection and is closely linked to daydreaming (that bored kid in grade 5 geography, filling up the margins of his notebook).

Lately, because of the sheer volume of illustrations I need to do to keep up with my self-imposed publishing schedule, I do most of my final art on a MacBook Pro, in Photoshop, using a Wacom Intuos Photo Pen Touch Tablet. I’m curious about the pending release of Adobe Fresco for the iPad, as the portability would be great. I’ve never been able to justify (or afford) the cost of a Cintiq. 

Sean: Any advice for up and coming creative types?

Derek: It’s trite, but true: you have to create a lot of stuff before you find your unique voice. So go for quantity over quality, and leave your ego on the street. You’re going to bomb more than you’re going to hit the mark, but eventually it tips and suddenly you’re riding a great wave of your own (but then you still have to keep creating a lot of stuff!).

Be aware of what other artists are doing, but don’t rip them off (unless you’re a kid!). You can be influenced – it’s impossible not to be, and it’s foolish to work in ignorance of the body of work you’re contributing to – the great cauldron of cartoons; the grand dialogue all comic artists are having – but don’t be derivative. Don’t worry about it while in the act of creation, but afterward you’d better be honest with yourself, because the hive mind of the internet will sure as hell be. Like Christoph Niemann said, be a careless artist, and a ruthless editor.

And to reiterate my earlier point: have that trusted, private audience you can share work with before you throw yourself into the meat grinder of the general public. 

Derek’s debut collection Bogart Creek Vol. 1 is available on our website or wherever fine books are sold.