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Aaron Johnson retires WT Duck

Last July WT Duck (or What The Duck for us fans before the title was changed for syndication) creator Aaron Johnson ended his syndication run after an even five years. Aaron cited wanting to have more time to devote to other projects. I asked him a few questions about his plans, his experience taking a popular webcomic into syndication.

AG: Why did you end the strip?

AJ: I still continue to strip and make comics. July 19th marked the 5th anniversary of What the Duck. It also drew to a close the daily production of the comic strip. WTD lives on, just not as a daily. My laundry list of things I want to do (both WTD related and not) has gotten too large and too ignored. I’ve had to turn down too many opportunities over the years simply because there weren’t enough hours in the day. Unfortunately (or fortunately) WTD is not the kind of strip that can be “farmed out”, production wise. Besides, I feel if you talk too much, your words begin to have less meaning.

AG: You say it’s still a weekly, are we talking Sundays?

AJ: The idea was to turn the volume knob down a tad. This did mean exiting my contract with Universal and they were kind enough to give me back my firstborn. I don’t have concrete plans as to the scheduling and frequency of the strip but it has been weekly since July. Statistically, Mondays draw the most traffic so it’s been a Monday comic for the last couple of months. I still continue to self-syndicate the comic to print publications domestic and internationally. I miss writing the strip everyday, but not as much as I’m enjoying this – how do you say it? Free-time?

AG: Are you keeping it going as a webcomic?

AJ: Absolutely. These last couple of months have confirmed that dialing back the production hasn’t changed things much. The fan-base continues to grow, licensing offers, speaking engagements, publication requests, sales – keep coming in. The difference is now I can devote the proper amount of time and energy to those things. When I accidentally started this thing (in 2006), I vowed to write it as long as people were reading it. No matter how hard I try to ‘suck it up’ (and we know I’ve tried), people continue to follow it.

AG: Your feature was very popular on the web before you took it into syndication, how would you describe your experience in syndication compared to your strip as a webcomic?

AJ: Here’s the thing – I never set out to be a comic strip cartoonist, period. So EVERYTHING has been icing on the cake. Syndication was great. John Glynn is an awesome guy. To Universal’s credit, they were completely supportive and never got in the way of what I was already doing. In the big picture, newspaper syndication was just another revenue stream and audience for What the Duck (as is self-syndication, licensing, merchandise, advertising, etc.). If you have something that people are interested in reading, you’d be foolish not to explore any and all forms of media and methods of distribution out there. As far as some tangible experiences between newspapers and web: It’s easier to have relationships with your fans online. There’s a little bit of a disconnect with readers who are only following you via the newspaper. I guess you could compare it to a two-way and oneway street. Online, you instantly know what works, who’s reading it, immediate feedback from your audience, etc. With the newspaper audience, it’s a little like throwing a message in a bottle out into the ocean everyday. You know it has the potential of reaching millions of people, but you don’t really have a good idea who and how many people are reading your work everyday. Again, I had a wonderful time with newspaper syndication (and the Andrews McMeel book) and if there is a newspaper market for a “Monday Comic”, I’m game.

AG: Did you produce two different versions of your strip or did both your online audience get the same as your newspaper readers?

AJ: Essentially, it was the same strip. During newspaper syndication, I think there where only a handful of times I had to alter something to be more “newspaper friendly”. In those cases, I created the newspaper version and still ran the original version everywhere else. Often times a simple one word swap did the trick. To be honest, I’m surprised by that. If you look back at that body of work, I think you’d be surprised as well. Maybe having a strip based around a creative professional cuts you some slack. Kids are less likely to be offended by comics dealing with bad clients, tight deadlines, self-employment, and bridezillas. The only formal complaint (I was aware of) came from a mom in Canada, who’s son was upset over a strip brandishing a gun (and you thought this comic was about photography). http://wtduck.com/strip/1043

AG: When you tweeted the announcement that your ending the daily run you mentioned other projects. Care to share some of those projects your working on? Any of them cartoon related?

AJ: Cartoon related: More speaking engagements, a third book, commissioned work, etc. Noncartoon related: playing more jazz (bass), remaking Ghostbusters with my kids, ? $#!t! Now that I’ve actually written these ‘post plans’ out, I think I may have made a huge mistake ? what was I thinking?! Abort! Abort!!

Community Comments

#1 David Jones
September/27/2011
@ 3:48 pm

Good luck Aaron on your future projects!!! If you make an animated version, have the duck go back to college and call the show “Duck U”…..

#2 john platt
September/28/2011
@ 4:19 am

this makes me very sad. WTD has been one of my favourite comics overall in the last few years. good luck with future projects Aaron

#3 Scott Metzger
September/28/2011
@ 10:34 am

What the Duck is a really good strip. Unique look and great writing. I wonder how many papers it ran in.

#4 Derrick Wood
September/29/2011
@ 1:36 am

Fantastic for you to leave on what sounds like your terms. Best of luck with the other endeavors that you mentioned!

#5 Dan Hong
October/3/2011
@ 2:33 pm

Blame you for surpressing normal comments. Damn censorship.

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