July 22, 2008

The Boy with Ducks for Hands

Our latest in a series of very well received campaigns for the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick has just launched and we couldn't be more excited.

This year, in our ongoing effort to help promote www.2tongues.ca (and all that it stands for) to 9 - 13 yr old N.B. kids, we introduced Max Mallard, The Boy with Ducks for Hands. We follow Max on his profound journey as he learns how to embrace how he is different and ultimately use it to his advantage. As with everything to do with the 2tongues project, the idea here was also to create something that was entertaining first, with our message subtly buried within.

Before Max came to be, we had tried many different character and story ideas. There were Alien Races, chickens that knew verbal Kung-Fu, and evil villains that were stealing major New Brunswick landmarks.

The concept and story line that we settled on was one of a unique boy that was born with ducks where his hands should be. Until recently, Max had been living his life with this strange and complicated "birth deffect", never really knowing how to deal with it and most times resenting it. One day, he discovers that there may be a way to communicate with the ducks, and he starts to see the potential benefits of having them.

The core idea for this character was one that had been filed away in Stephen's memory banks for several years waiting to be used for something.

Stephen recalls:
"One day I was bathing my infant son in the tub. For safety, we had one of those rubber duck covers that fit over the steel faucet. The little fella had taken it off and shoved his hand into it creating a type of "duck-arm". As he waved it around in the air and splashed it into the water with glee, I thought... "hmmmm... interesting..." and into the database that visual went."
The amazing Jon Richard (Jerkstore.ca) helped us with the original conceptual sketches:

And ultimately - this version that was presented to the clients:

Simon Gadwell - The Boy With Ducks for Hands was born (His name would change later). Note the placement of his arms. There was some original sensitivity to the fact that it looked like the arms were going up the ducks' "butts", so Jon came up with this clever solution.

At this point we brought in Dano LeBlanc (creater, writer and illustrator of Acadieman). Dano's understanding of story development and sense of humour were such an asset at this point. With the foundation of Stephen's great story and tons of really good input from Dano and others, we were off to the races.

From there we called in the help from our pals at Fatkat Animation led by their brilliant (and very British) illustrator Mick Harrison. Mick took "Simon" to the next level.

Here's where the arms-up-butt issue "reared" it's ugly head again...

As Mick was working on styles and poses, he quickly realized that the arm as one of the wings was going to be very limiting and ultimately not recommended.
We ended up deciding that his arms would attach at the spine of the duck. Problem solved. It sounds like such a small little thing here as I write, but debates over this were many, long and sometimes heated.

Once that was settled, Mick came up with so many great illustration styles and character designs that we really had a hard time deciding which one was best. Here are but a few of the many examples:

After much discussion, some minor tweaks and help from some carefully selected kids, this version was chosen. In fact, you'll note that we liked this design so much, it ended up being the pose we used on the cover.

We later made the decision to go from this "line-less" style to a more traditional outlined style of illustration:
From here, we started working on some of the other characters:

And then onto laying out the comic itself. Check out how it evolved from rough sketch to final layout:
Click to enlarge

Gene (El Presidente of Fatkat) Fowler himself ended up helping bang out the final cleaned up drawings and had a huge hand in the final look of it all.

After some last minute story tweaks and French translation issues, we finished adding the lettering; tightened up the layouts; did some colour correcting, and it was then off to press.

Tim Hicks and his team at Advocate Printing accepted the job of printing the 20,000 initial copies we ordered. Off to Pictou, NS we went for the press approval.

What a sight that was! Seeing those babies flying off the press like that was awesome! Everyone at the plant was excited too. It was the first real comic book they'd ever printed as well. After a year of working on it, this day felt like Christmas morning.

Now it's time to release it to the masses.

Keep your eyes peeled over the summer at various events and festivals all over New Brunswick. The Max Mallard street team will be out there handing them out FREE with stickers and tattoos to all the kids they can find. Look for them, they'll be wearing these Tshirts:

Soon, you'll also start seeing them on your local comic book store shelves as well.

Also be sure to check out Max's very own internet home by following the link on 2tongues.ca
where you can also read the comic online. There's even some bonus pages there telling the incredible story of the origin of Max.

I was a huge comic book fan and collector and I can't tell you how many comic books I actually drew myself as a kid. Being involved with this project has been a real dream come true.

Once again, thanks to:
Jon Richard, John Smith, Buddy Bolton, Dano Leblanc, Denis Foulem, and Shannon Doyle for their valuable advice and assistance; the artistic talents of Mick Harrison and Gene Fowler and the Fatkat Krew (those guys are frickin cartoon geniuses!); Tim Hicks and gang at Advocate; Dan Britton at TriMedia for giving Max a voice; the Razor crew of Angela Price, Gail Martin, and Benoit Burke. Extra thanks to Michel (the Commish) Carrier, Giselle Goguen and the entire team at the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick for promoting both official languages in this province and supporting this endeavor. A special thanks goes to Stephen's son, Ethan Brander for being the inspiration for Max.