Last year, I created a weekly animated editorial cartoon called Beaver Fever. A political and current events smart-ass kind of show, along the lines of The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert, Rick Mercer, 22 Minutes format. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it was on par with those shows, just the same format. I get emails asking what happened to it and why I don’t create any new episodes.
Many editorial cartoonists have suggested that animation is the future of editorial cartooning. There are currently a few cartoonists in the US who are successfully doing it. If you’d like to take a look, check out Mark Fiore, Walt Handelsman, and Jib Jab.
During the 2006 federal election, I did some animation for the CBC. A weekly animated editorial cartoon that taught me a lot of hard lessons on the hurdles associated with working for a publicly funded organization when it comes to political opinion. I didn’t enjoy it, but I learned a lot about Flash animation and about dealing with the CBC.
Believe it or not, those first animations are still online. Click on THIS LINK and scroll down to Flash Cartoons. One of those is the first appearance of Beaver Fever, even though the beaver looks like some evil overfed Orson Welles type personality. My favorite is Harperstein, because it generated the nastiest emails I have ever received. I ticked off a LOT of right wing pro-Conservatives with that one and ended up on the phone with a few different folks at the CBC for far longer than I wanted to be.
I spent a fair bit of time and money that year learning Flash. I bought a number of books, which I found didn’t really work for me. Then I discovered Cartoonsmart, the brilliant website by Justin Dike. If you’re a cartoonist who wants to learn Flash animation, save yourself a ton of frustration. Buy his tutorials.
A year later, I decided to see if I could syndicate my own animation, and that’s where Beaver Fever came in.
What I learned is that a lot of people were interested in it. I received a lot of positive comments and traffic. I even had some promising interest from some newspaper websites and one newspaper chain. What it came down to was that nobody wanted to pay for it….well, actually one paper in Ontario did pay for it. They were very supportive of it, actually. But syndication is only successful with many clients, and one client just wasn’t justifying the 20 plus hours of work the episodes took each week. From scripting (and revision), graphics and character creation, animation, voice work (all done by me), audio editing, music editing, and other production efforts, I was exhausted each week, especially since I still had to create my regular print cartoons and other work for clients. I can go without sleep on a tight deadline, but not for five months straight.
BUT…I’m not complaining, just explaining. For awhile there, I really enjoyed developing the character of Tim Castor, playing with voices, and learning Flash in the process. At times, it was a lot of fun. And while it didn’t pay off, I think it was a risk worth taking. The experience is not something I regret, not even for a moment.
I learned that I was capable of animating in Flash and delivering a weekly animation, but also that I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I do drawing and painting. And finally, I learned that Canadian newspapers and online news media aren’t yet ready for an animated editorial cartoon, at least not one they have to pay for. Or maybe they just didn’t want mine.
Either way, it was an experiment and I’ve moved on. But the Big Plans website (the home of Beaver Fever) is still online. For one, I think bigplans.ca is a great domain name and I’m hanging on to it. It’ll be my ‘let’s see if THIS works’ site. It’s also a good online portfolio of my Flash skills, because I am still called upon to create Flash components for a client’s website from time to time.
I can guarantee that the future will hold more experiments, whether they are with Flash or something else. So if you haven’t seen Beaver Fever and would like to take a look, all of the past episodes are still there.
The original sketch sheet
The Flash character sheet. Notice his hands were originally grey, trying to make them look like how they would be on a real beaver, matching the nose colour. Unfortunately, his hands got lost in his suit and a couple of people thought he was wearing gloves. Changed his hands to brown in the second episode and went back and fixed the first one. The character sheet doesn’t show the different arms, ties, and muzzles I created as well.