When Douglas Paszkiewicz joined the web3 ranks, he donned the moniker of his long-running comic series Arsenic Lullaby. An internationally renowned master of macabre, Paszkiewicz’s dark humor cult favorite Arsenic Lullaby series has been nominated for the comic book industry’s two highest awards in the U.S., the Harvey Award and the Eisner Award as well as the Comicdom Award in Europe. His work has also been seen in MAD Magazine, The Tick, and on Comedy Central.
For this week’s Creator Spotlight, we sat down with Arsenic Lullaby himself to learn about his transition from stand-up comedy to (quite literally) sit-down comedy, his comic Golden Age influences, and Arsenic Lullaby’s first issue: about a census worker who kills baby to keep his count perfectly accurate.
MP: When did comic books enter your life?
AL: Years and years ago. I initially started out as a stand-up comedian. But I was always rather talented at illustration, and I always enjoyed comic books. I just gradually figured out that the jokes I wanted to tell I could tell a lot more efficiently and have more punch in comic book form because you don’t have to verbally set up weird scenarios.
You’ll lose the crowd trying to set up some weird fantastical situation, but I could just draw an opening scene and people are like, “Okay, this is an alien world and there are some aliens and some spacemen,” and right from there you can go and tell some joke that is just fantastical and weird, as bizarre as you want. You don’t have to do a whole lot of setup because the visuals are there. So then I just started off doing comics that way and they went over well and so I kept going and here I am.
MP: Where were you putting out these comics at first?
AL: Independently. There was basically one distributor and they would distribute everything from Batman and Spiderman to independent stuff. There was only one place to go, which made it really easy. And so I submitted some work and they said “Hey, this is pretty out there, let’s give this a whirl.” So that was my start. It went over pretty well right away. Stores picked it up and it went from there. So I kind of went through a fairly traditional method even though the book was so weird and out there.
MP: How did you come to find your style?
AL: I started as an illustrator. I was talented, but I wasn’t in anyone else’s league. The people I’d have to compete with —people who draw for Marvel and DC and even the Indies who were out at the time, I wasn’t in their league at all.
But I knew I could tell a story better so I analyzed people from Mad Magazine and Golden Age guys like Jack Cole who did Plastic Man and Basil Wolverton. I found guys who had sort of a cartoony whimsical style, and I broke it down. Okay, how are they using frames to tell this story? How are they leading the eye to get make sure the reader sees the information that they need to see without making it too obvious?
I was developing a style that was sort of function over form. I wanted to make sure I was getting the point across and getting the joke across. And then, eventually, you do six, eight, ten comic books. Your drawing style just develops on its own. You get better because you’re practicing. The style just sort of developed on its own
MP: What were the early stories like?
AL: Well, there was a story about a census agent. Somebody just brought this up to me the other day. It was a census agent. It’s his job to count every man, woman, and child. Everything has to be calculated and accurate. And so he went off his nut doing all this, and he decided, “Okay, every baby born after I make this count, I gotta get rid of it. I gotta whack it.”
So now the census is done, and he’s just sneaking around killing all the babies that were born afterward so his numbers remain accurate. But you know, he has to make it look like an accident. So all the stories were him coming up with this weird elaborate scheme just whack some child.
MP: It seems like on the other end, he’d have to keep some people alive.
AL: Yeah, someone has to manage it, but that’s not my department (laughs). That’s someone else’s department.
MP: Does the imagery in your standalone NFTs come from your comic books or are these separate universes?
AL: A lot of the characters are culled from the comics. And I would say that all the NFTs could exist in one of my comics. You know, obviously, the style is the same but it’s all the same universe.
Some of them are covers that I modified or added elements to, and then some of them are just completely new things. These characters, this situation, this scene could easily be happening in the Arsenic Lullaby universe.
Even my standalone works, I like them to tell a story on their own. I want it to capture your imagination. I want people to see it and feel like they’re seeing something that’s going on, some glimpse of some other world.
MP: How does your mindset shift when creating standalone pieces versus sequential, story-based work? You sort of addressed that, but maybe you can elaborate?
AL: I think I pretty much would just reiterate what I said. I’m viewing every piece I do very much as just a glimpse into this world. It’s all just a glimpse into the same world.
I would say with the NFT pieces. I’m able to do a lot more with detail and making it intricate, and it’s nice, being able to add a little bit of movement. I can do more with color because when you draw a comic book, I’ll be honest, the printing presses that are cranking these out, they’re not set out to put out works of art. Lots of the details get lost. You make a cover and it gets trimmed, the elements get trimmed off, and even a really good printing press — If I spend eight, nine, ten hours illustrating something with a brush where the tip is basically no thicker than the tip of a pin — a lot of that detail gets lost. It’s kind of heartbreaking seeing the end result.
But with an NFT I can scan that in at 600 DPI, and it every single line and nook and cranny — that crack in a glass — it’s all there. And it’s just warms my heart to be able to mint something and know that all the details are there. Every corner, every piece. The colors are exactly what I wanted. Because that’s the other thing when you print something up. the colors are never gonna match. They’re always faded or they’re more orange or they’re more blue. If it’s more humid or the paper stock is weird, it’s going to end up looking quite different. But with an NFT, it’s exactly how I want it to look and it’s wonderful.
So, I would say the biggest change in mindset: this is gonna look exactly like I want it to look and that’s amazing. That’s huge. Wow, look at that! That’s exactly what I drew. There’s no smudges, there’s no blurs. The tint isn’t all effed up. There isn’t a staple in the middle of anything. I didn’t have to put a UPC barcode on the corner and wreck the composition.
MP: Can you tell me a little bit about the process of discovering what a piece is about? Do you start with a with a pretty solid idea? Or are you discovering things as you’re drawing?
AL: No, I think I think I’m more meticulous than a lot of people. I mean, there’s two different art approaches. I think some people are able to just go on pure instinct. I’m going to start something; I’m going to move stuff around, splash some color here, and just let my artistic instincts happen. And they do amazing stuff that way.
I can’t get my head to do that. It’s not how I’m wired. So I’m rather meticulous. I have a good idea of what I want it to look like. I’ll start with a rough sketch. And then I’ll decide on the dimensions and do a very refined pencil work. Then I’ll ink it ink with a brush so I make sure all the lines are… you know, it’s very meticulous. I don’t really leave a lot to chance. I don’t do a lot of exploring. Once the idea is in my head and on paper, then I just refine it and make it as detailed as I can.
MP: When did you first get into NFTs and what was the gap between learning about it and actually jumping in?
AL: I learned about it while I was on a a site called Steem, which has since become Hive. There are some guys out there who had gotten into NFTs, and they mentioned it to me, Hey, you should try this out. And initially, I couldn’t really get my head around it. I’m like, Okay, I do what now? I was completely fuzzy on even how the blockchain works. Then I looked at what they were doing, and I’m like, Wait, we can do all that?
You can animate this? You can add music? It just opened a whole new world. I don’t just have to have a static image. I don’t have to just rely on hoping that the viewer understands the timing I’m trying to get across. I can animate it and manipulate the timing. So the story I want is exactly how I want it. A little bit of a control issue perhaps.
I initially started just putting a few covers up because I thought to myself, I put a lot of work into these and the printer really murdered them. That was enough to get me started, so on the next one, I added a little bit of motion. And the next, I tried a new thing, and so. That was sort of the progression of getting my foot in the door and starting to learn things.
MP: I noticed your Alotta Money tribute. What was your relationship with a lot of money?
AL: I didn’t know him very well, to be honest, but he was very, very important to me in the sense that he was he was an artist who wasn’t afraid of being proud of his work. He wasn’t afraid of showing up. He wasn’t afraid of promoting himself. Hey, I’m this guy. This is what I do. It’s pretty damn good. And this has value. My work matters. What we’re doing here matters. NFTs matter.
This space that we’re creating is important, and he conveyed that to so many people. I don’t think even he realized how many people he inspired to just go, Yeah, what I’m doing is important, what I’m doing has worth and it has value and there’s a lot of people on this planet and hardly any of them can do this. We’re doing something important here.
And he was always very encouraging to me. And as far as I know, he’s always encouraging to everybody he ever ran across. I mean, there isn’t anybody who has a bad thing to say about him. And when he passed away, I felt a real loss. And so did a lot of people. And so with the tribute, I said, “Why don’t we turn this loss into something? Why don’t we put this painful energy into something positive?” So we all did our versions of his iconic profile pic, in our own styles, so the world can see all the different people from all the different backgrounds that he mattered to.
With that piece, I wanted to give us all something to do besides feel bad, and to show the whole world that this guy mattered a lot to a lot of people. He made a huge, huge difference. I don’t think this space would be where it is without someone like him who came in both guns blazing and said, Look at us. Look what we’re doing.
MP: The tribute is a really powerful piece. And it does exactly that. It just feels like Oh, wow. Look at how many lives he touched.
AL: Yeah, that was my hope. I was such a small part of that I was just the idea guy. Everybody pitched in just amazing work. As people were sending stuff to me, I was taken aback because even I hadn’t realized the vast difference in styles and artists that he helped and for whom he mattered. And everybody did such an amazing job.
And I’ll say this too: I worked in the comic book industry for a long time, and I’ve been on a lot of projects and a lot of collaborations. And usually, they’re a nightmare. Working with other creatives is a nightmare. It’s all egos and people all want to be the feature and they all want to matter more than the next guy and they all want to butt heads. That didn’t happen here.
Everybody got on board and they all played nice and they all knew what they wanted to do. They all knew what the point was. I just can’t say enough about everybody who was part of that. I mean, they are such a good example of what makes this space great. Everybody’s just trying to do something amazing and they’re all trying to help each other and they’re all positive and encouraging. It was a really nice learning experience for me that working with creatives doesn’t have to be awful.
MP: What’s your advice for artists just now entering the NFT space?
AL: Just give it hell.
For somebody who’s young in their career: just start learning as fast as you can. There are so many tools available here. An NFT can be anything. It can be abstract, it can tell a story. It can be anything. So just try to make a connection with your work. That’s really it at the end of the day. That’s what all creatives are about, whether they’re comedians or musicians or filmmakers. You’re trying to make a connection with somebody.
So don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Do what you like, do what inspires you. Whatever pops into your head, create that. Don’t worry about anything else that’s going on.
Then, continue to improve. Just do the best work you can, that you’re happy with. And be proud of it. Be proud of what you do. Because on your worst day — all of us artists are the same way: we’re looking at work, Oh this didn’t turn out right; this wasn’t good…
You have to remember that there are 8 billion people on this planet. How many of them could even do what you just did? Very, very few. Talent is a rare thing. So be proud of it. Be proud of what you make. And don’t be afraid to tell people that you’re proud of it. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not ego to do something good and be happy with it.
MP: Have you ever published a full comic on chain, like a .cbr file or something like that?
AL: Not yet, but that’s in the works. Comic Boxels is starting up. Josh Blaylock is a friend of mine, he’s doing that. His comic book label is Devils Due Publishing. I believe it’s live now. I’m going to start doing some stuff through that. At some point, when I’m done with every other project that’s in front of me, that’ll be the next thing.
MP: Can you list a few of your favorite crypto artists?
Learn more about Arsenic Lullaby
- Arsenic Lullaby Official Website
- Arsenic Lullaby’s MakersPlace profile
- Arsenic Lullaby on Twitter
- Arsenic Lullaby on Instagram