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Exclusive: What The Duck Review and Interview with Aaron Johnson

What The Duck: Review

There are few things on internet that have become household names – and yet Aaron Johnson’s web comic What the Duck has tackled the photographic world. The name has been made ubiquitous. Photographers, artists and anyone who reads it instantly falls in love with W.T. Duck, the sarcastic, rude and arrogantly lovable duck that features so prominently as the main character in the series. What the Duck’s popularity has only been reflected by the immense number of fans who purchase merchandise and read the comic daily.

Things started in 2006, when WTD originated as a ‘blog filler’ for the vacationing Carol Kroll and has since continued at the demand of tens of people. As Johnson comments, “The strip started in July of 2006, on a whim. It was meant to be an inside joke that was to run only 5 days. The idea was to create the most niche, dry comic strip imaginable and three people would read it. I misjudged.”

To say that What the Duck relies heavily on camera jargon is an understatement. In fact, the comic thrives off geekiness, using this as the base for most of its comics. Yet this does not mean that the jokes are singularly limited to photographers. Instead, it applies to a wide range of professions, and deal with many of the conflicts and problems many face in the workplace. In Johnson’s own words, “…many of these issues cross over to other careers and professions.”

After over some eight hundred and fifty strips, one would expect WTD to have repeated some of its jokes: indeed, there are common traits within several of the strips. However, the comic still vibrant with the satirical and dry voices of the characters. Many of the comments made in the strips are complete reflections of what many photographers feel and think: the stress of working as a photographer, the occasional beginner who immediately wants to earn money from photography, the hassling of clients and the let-downs in technology – WTD has it all.

The style of the strips are undoubtedly minimalistic, and this is what makes What the Duck so appealing: it doesn’t rely on fancy artwork to provide the jokes. Instead, it is effectively conveyed through the simplicity of it all. Although the characters are somewhat basic in look, Aaron Johnson has injected life into them, and one can easily understand the little changes in the details, used in expressing the humour that WTD is so famous for. He is to be praised for his work in this field and in succinctly delivering the punch-lines in the way that WTD does. It’s little wonder that WTD has expanded from a small comic series on a blog, to being published internationally in magazines and newspapers, being read by many thousands each day.

The best thing about What the Duck is that Johnson embraced the photography community worldwide with his cartoons. He doesn’t name his strips; instead, he leaves it up to anyone at all the comment on the page and gives it a name. Then, these suggestions are voted on. If you have an idea for a WTD strip, he’s always eagerly accepting new propositions. And all – every single strip – of the comics are available for reading on the internet for free, despite the fact that there have been two  compilations of the strips in a book form. It is this openness that has led to WTD no longer just being about the comic strip; it’s exploded to include tee-shirts, plush toys, collectibles, wallpapers, avatars, water bottles, signed prints and even a Flip MinoHD Camcorder with W.T. Duck plastered all over it. What the Duck has continued for three years, and it’s going to keep going. Why? Because the generosity shown by Johnson has reflected on to the interest caught so dramatically by his readers. What the Duck is now read all over the world, in newspapers in the US, Canada and Malaysia; in magazines in South Africa, the United Kingdom, the US and Canada; and, of course, the internet.It’s not a love/hate relationship, because What the Duck simply can’t be hated.

It’s more of a love/laugh pair, and WTD is something that we hope will continue to amuse us for a long time to come.

What the Duck can be read online daily at and is available in two books: What the Duck: Rule of Nerds, of the strips from the first year, and What the Duck: A W.T. Duck Collection, featuring comics from the second and third years.

Exclusive Interview with Aaron Johnson

1.    How exactly did you get the idea of using a duck as your main character?
The entire concept of the strip hit me at once, one morning. As I was pondering the ridiculous notion of creating a photo-centric comic strip, I saw how my arms were positioned behind my head and saw the potential for a duck character. Below is a picture, as an example.
2.    Inspiration seems to rarely come to W.T. Duck, but you seem to have plenty of it – what’s your secret?
Repetition and abnormal brain wiring. Creativity is like a muscle and the more often you use it, the more conditioned it becomes. It also helps that my brain is wired to always think “outside the box”. It works great for writing a comic strip – not so great when balancing a checkbook.
3.    WTD is no longer just about the comic strip anymore. Now, you offer t-shirts, water bottles, plush toys and even a camcorder. How did this start?
It’s all the result of listening to what the fans wanted. I never imagined selling a WTD plush toy, but it was a common suggestion from readers. I’m humbled that fans want to support the strip.
4.    Do you have a day job, or is WTD your sole focus?
I do have a day job. Often times people judge your success on whether or not it generates enough income to quit your day job. However, my day job is also a dream job and I really enjoy doing it.
5.    Any chance of you making WTD your career?
I’m thankful, happy, and content with how things are now.
6.    Despite WTD’s popularity, you still choose to make the comics available online for free. Any plans to take them down and only sell them in books?
There are currently two WTD books available. The first book (What the Duck: Rule of Nerds) contains the first year’s strips and the second book (What the Duck: A W.T. Duck Collection) is a collection of strips from the second and third years. There are no plans to take down or limit the material on the web site.
7.    Do you have any personal interest in photography?
Yes. I’d say it’s more of a sickness than an interest.
8.    W.T. Duck faces many problems with his clients; however, seeing as you are not a professional photographer, how did you build these ideas up?
Part of it is because I have a knack for putting myself in other peoples shoes, part of it is realizing many of these issues crossover to other careers and professions.
9.    Many of your creations are certainly very frank in the way they speak. In fact, this is what makes your comics so humorous and allures many of your readers in.  Does this come from anyone you particularly know, or is it simply the wicked voice in your head speaking?
There’s an efficiency to the strip that is intentional. I essentially created the comic strip that I wanted to read. Something that wasn’t wordy and gets to the point. I think the duck says what we collectively would like to say ourselves, but commerce and putting food on the table prevent us from saying.
10.  What are your hopes and realistic expectations for WTD in the future?
That’s hard to answer because everything the comic has achieved is way beyond my wildest expectations. Realistically, I’d like to keep creating it as long as people are enjoying it.

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