Chaddy-Ann Newton describes his illustrative style as “Saturday morning cartoons at night.” The world that his cartoons inhabit is one populated almost solely by ducks. Ducks with hair, ducks in clothes, ducks wearing bandanas, ducks with beards, ducks in glasses, masked ducks, ducks dripping out of other ducks’ eye sockets, Marge Simpson ducks, ducks in hats, four-legged and six-legged ducks, stretchy and melting ducks, spooky vampire and skeleton ducks, dog ducks, bat ducks and eel ducks.
There is certainly a kind of nightmarish or hallucinatory quality to the endless stream of yellow features, orange bills and beady eyes staring out from Chaddy-Ann’s cartoons, which are produced, it seems, in a frenzy of compulsive creativity driven by the obsessive pursuit of a single image. Although it takes on many different guises, the figure of the duck is a persistent and overarching presence that pervades the mind of both cartoonist and viewer in a surreal and warped parody of “Saturday morning cartoons”.
Chaddy-Ann conceives of the work he shares as an ever-evolving comic strip, harking back to his introduction to illustration via his friend Ted Gudlat, who showed Chaddy-Ann a huge comic that he’d produced for publication. At the time, Chaddy-Ann was making music but, as he says, “I had no drive to pursue it any further than composing pieces alone in a room.” Leafing through his friend’s comic, he perceived an example of the very drive that he lacked in his own music-making. In his words: “I could kinda see him sitting alone in a room just like I did all the time, but putting focus into something that could come into fruition. I started wanting to make comics. That year – 2015 – I went to Toronto Comic Arts Festival and that really confirmed that this was something I want to put my energy into.” You could say that Chaddy-Ann has since taken to cartooning like a duck to water.
Speaking of how he caught duck-fever, Chaddy-Ann says: “I operate primarily on intuition and observation. I was looking for something to channel my energy into evolving, and when the ducks started coming out in my sketchbook, I felt something in them that urged me along. When I would post drawings of the ducks, people would respond to them more than everything else. I found that inspiration came to me more quickly through the ducks – I could envision the world they inhabited and they had a sort of voice about them that allowed me to see how they could grow and interact within this environment I was perceiving.” Before the ducks came into his life, Chaddy-Ann tells us, he had “felt a nagging emptiness that I intuitively knew as a call to be creative.” Who knew that ducks would be the answer to that call?
So, Chaddy-Ann has found his niche, and it’s proving to be fruitful – the ducks are flowing thick and fast, and they’re getting noticed by commissioners wanting to harness the duck-mania. Chaddy-Ann states: “Watching my comic series unfold is the most rewarding part of everything I work on. There is nothing more fun to me than jumping into my sketchbook and staying there until I come out with a completed piece hours later. I also do a lot of commissioned work that is usually based on taking photos and reworking them in my own style – it is a lot of easy, very focused work and those who commission it really seem to enjoy the outcome, not to mention that getting paid to draw is always a high point for me.”
How long will the duck saga continue, we want to know? (We hope forever, obviously.) Chaddy-Ann tells us: “I do think a lot about other projects and comics that I’d like to make, away from the duck realm, but I also suspect I might have a long distance to travel in the journey unfolding with the ducks. I am very ready and accepting of the idea that I might be making ducks for a long time to come. I’ve granted a lot of flexibility in their world and my approach to it as a means of keeping it interesting, so that I may never become seemingly ungrateful for them.” On behalf of the illustration community, we’d like to express our gratitude for Chaddy-Ann’s gift of the ducks. Thank you, Chaddy-Ann, for the ducks that the illustration world didn’t know it needed.