Interview with Aaron Johnson of What The Duck

Aaron Johnson is the cartoonist behind What The Duck.


PetaPixel: Can you tell me a little about yourself and your background?

Aaron Johnson: I’m the creator of the syndicated comic strip, What the Duck.

PP: What is What The Duck?

AJ: What the Duck is a photo-centric comic that I started, on a whim, in July of 2006. It originated as a joke and was meant to be a “blog-filler” for my band’s web site, at the time. What began as a five day joke quickly evolved into something much bigger. Three plus years later, the strip is now featured in magazines and newspapers internationally.


PP: Do you ever feel constrained by the fact that your strip is “photo-centric”?

AJ: Although the strip is photo-centric in nature, the comic is really about the lives and trials of creative professionals. That provides a lot of shared experiences, and material, and represents a voice that isn’t always heard.

PP: How widely is your strip syndicated?

AJ: The strip is featured in newspapers throughout the United States, Canada, and Malaysia. For three years the comic has been a regular read in magazines in the UK, Canada, South Africa, and the States. Obviously, it largest and broadest audience is on the web.


PP: How many people are involved in producing What The Duck? Is it just you?

AJ: Just me.

PP: What is your own background in photography?

AJ: My interest in photography both started and ended at an early age. I saved a long time to buy my first 110 camera not realizing the money pit of film, processing, batteries, more film, that would follow. So I laid low for 18 years and got back in the game when digital was more standard and around the time my son was born.

I majored in motion picture film (concentration in animation) and I’ve had a career that works closely to commercial advertising, but I am by no means a photographer. There are only so many hours in the day.


PP: Do you work full-time on What The Duck?

AJ: The strip has become a second career. I love my “day job” and have no interest in giving that up.

PP: What do you do for a living?

AJ: By day I’m an animator and graphic artist.


PP: How often do you draw new strips? How much time does it take?

AJ: Being a daily strip, I try to keep it on a daily schedule. It’s hard to determine how much time any particular strip takes because the process is often drawn out and not all done in one sitting. Most of the time is spent whittling down an idea to its most concise and direct form.

PP: I noticed you sell What The Duck merchandise. What are your best selling items?

AJ: Plush toys, books, and shirts like “Photoshop: Helping the Ugly Since 1988” are always popular.


PP: What is your favorite kind of photography?

AJ: I’m a sucker for really great photojournalism.

PP: What kind of camera do you shoot with?

AJ: I’ve acquired an arsenal of pro gear for the soul purpose of taking pictures of my kids. However I think I’m going to gaffer’s tape all the logos until I get my endorsement deal : )


PP: What are your favorite comic strips?

AJ: The one and only strip I read growing up was Bloom County. It had an huge impact on me. As a working cartoonist, there not enough time to follow a lot of strips and there’s always that risk of subconsciously ripping off someone else’s gag.

PP: What advice do you have for someone starting their own comic?

AJ: Make the kind of comic strip that YOU would like to read (and see). Make the kind of comic strip that if no one else read it, you’d still love to make it.


PP: Is there anything you wish you had done differently early on?

AJ: I should have made the WTD plush toys earlier. They look great and fans have really responded to them.

PP: How do you make What the Duck plush toys?

AJ: I worked closely with a plush toy manufacture on the initial design. At any given time, I usually have a few hundred plush ducks, in the house, ready to go.


PP: Do you animate and narrate the animated comic strips posted to your YouTube channel?

AJ: The animated strips are entirely a one man show. Animation was my first love so they’re fun to make, when time permits.

PP: Do you always carry around a notebook to write ideas that pop into your head?

AJ: I always carry a digital recorder with me. Sometimes I use it.


PP: At any given time, how many ideas do you have queued and ready to be drawn?

AJ: I’m usually two months ahead of schedule.

PP: What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of running What the Duck?

AJ: Most enjoyable: Hearing from fans.

Least enjoyable: Dealing with web site technical issues.


PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

AJ: Thank you for supporting the strip and for taking the time to “listen” to me babble.