Interview with Deborah Peyton: Cartoonist, Designer, Entrepreneur

March 4, 2005

    Freelance cartoonist, illustrator and creator of the “Day to Day” comic strip, Deborah Peyton is gradually making a name for herself in the art of cartooning. She has keen sense of what tickles the funny bones of readers in all walks of life. In a truly creative twist, Deborah is taking her wonderful work from images on paper into prints on fabrics and buttons. Come on along and find out how this talented cartoonist, designer, entrepreneur and mom is making her distinctive mark in cartooning.

Hello Deborah and welcome to The Cartoonists. Thank you for taking time out from your busy schedule to share your story.

1. When and where were you born, Deborah? Would you tell us about your family?

I was born on July 13, 1963 in Fredericton, New Brunswick. My parents divorced when I was fifteen. Until then we could have been the “poster family” for the all Canadian family. My mom was a nurse and my dad, a Mountie. I have two brothers, one older and one younger. My husband, Derrick, and I have been married for 15 years. We have two daughters, Jaime (20 yrs) and Krista (14 Yrs).

2. Were you interested in cartooning as a child?

Yes, I was very interested in cartoons as a child. As long as I can remember I was fascinated by cartoons. Actually, my enjoyment went beyond the stories and humour. I remember, even at a very young age, loving the colours and the clean outlines of the artwork. Some of my favourite cartoons on TV were The Bugs Bunny Roadrunner Hour, The Flintstones, Scooby Doo, etc. In my teens it was MAD Magazine. I had a HUGE collection of MAD pocket books. Ha! I must have drawn hundreds of Don Martin characters. Archie was also another favourite. I would spend hours drawing Betty and Veronica.

3. Did you attend art school or start down another career path?

As much as I drew when I was growing up it never occurred to me that it was something I could do for a living. I never really thought beyond the pure joy of drawing. I was a hairstylist for 10 years before I met my husband. When we married we moved from Fredericton to St. John’s, Newfoundland. Here I enrolled in University as a mature student. I chose to do a joint honours degree in Geology/Geophysics. This was a very busy time for us as we now had two small children. In my third year I became very ill and subsequently had three major surgeries within 12 months. I was forced to stop university so I could recuperate. It was during this time that I began drawing again. NOW it occurred to me that I could be a cartoonist.

4. When was your first comic published?

My first cartoon was published in 1993, about 6 months after I stopped going to university. It was published in a small weekly newspaper in Enfield, Nova Scotia where we had recently moved. My single panel feature was called ‘Day to Day’ and it ran weekly for the next six years in this paper. In 1994 we moved back to Fredericton, NB and ‘Day to Day’ was picked up as a daily here. In 1997 I self-published my first book titled ‘Day to Day’ and in 1999 my second book, ‘Surviving Day to Day’. I sold over 13,000 copies. I also had a small line of t-shirts, mugs, magnets, calendars, etc. In 2001, after suffering a family crisis, I retired ‘Day to Day’. It was a very difficult decision for me because my characters had become very much like old friends. I took the next two years off.

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5. Where are your cartoons published right now?

I returned to work in 2004 as a freelance illustrator/cartoonist. I do custom cartoons and humorous illustration through my company, Fine-Tooning. I’ve also formed a business partnership with designer, Debra Quartermain. Through our company, ‘PQexpressions!, we design and create artwork for licensing. Debra has an amazing eye for design so together we collaborate on the designs and I do the artwork. We have a lot of fun working together. Currently we are in the final stages of a line of baby fabric for a large fabric manufacturer. It will be available on the market in August, 2005. A U.S. button manufacturer will also be licensing some of the same designs for a matching line of baby buttons. It’s all very exciting.

6. How do you create your cartoons?

When I create a cartoon I always write the gag first. I spend a lot of time on this. It’s important to have correct timing and proper rhythm in the punch line. I don’t want the reader stumbling over awkward phrasing. When I’m happy with the gag I use regular laser printer paper and pencil in the rough. I use a Hunt 101 pen nib for drawing and a Speedball B5½ nib for lettering. My ink is Speedball waterproof, black India ink. Depending on the effect I’m looking for sometimes I will do my line work with a black, ultra fine point Sharpie. For the colour work I will either use my Pantone markers or I will do it completely on the computer. Again, it depends on the effect I want.

7. Is the computer one of your tools?

Yes, the computer is one of my tools. A very important tool. I do most of my work in Photoshop, anything from cleaning up line work to airbrushing an illustration.

8. Do you have assistants or help from family members?

Other than bombarding my family with, “Is this funny?” I do all of the artwork myself.

9. Deborah, you have a distinctive style in both your delightful humour and art-did it come naturally or did it develop over time?

I think the ability to see the humour in every day life and transform these ideas onto paper is the part that comes naturally. The style and quality of the artwork is, in my opinion, what develops over time. Ha! Looking back at my earlier cartoons I definitely have to say that it takes time to develop ones skill as an artist.

10. Which do you find more important, the writing or the drawing?

I feel, in cartooning, the writing is the most important part. A beautiful piece of art won’t save a bad gag. That being said, I believe it’s necessary to have a good grasp of the technicalities of drawing and design. That is balance, perspective, composition, etc. This also applies to drawing the human figure (posture, body weight distribution, facial expressions, etc.) All of this has to be considered while keeping detail to a minimum.

11. Are your characters based on yourself or family/friends?

My characters in ‘Day to Day’ were loosely based on my family. I often wrote about situations that I or my family encountered on a daily basis. I think every character I develop for a cartoon has a little piece of me or someone I know in him or her.

12. Do you use particular methods to keep inspired? Do you wake up in the middle of the night with ideas and scramble to jot them down in the dark?

I don’t believe a cartoonist ever stops thinking about ideas. Every situation is a potential cartoon so for that reason I always carry a notebook. I even sleep with a pen and paper beside the bed as I will often get ideas while I’m drifting off to sleep. As much as I love drawing cartoons I have to say that the writing is my favourite part. To me writing gags is a lot like fishing (and I love fishing). I can spend all day happily casting my line into the water but the second I hook a fish it’s absolutely electric. I know a good gag when I think of one, but a GREAT gag... I can actually feel it. It’s a rush!

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13. Has it been challenging to juggle cartooning and raising a family?

It has been a challenge, yes. Especially when the kids were younger. That was when I was doing the daily, selling my books, moving merchandise. My husband travels quite often with his work so at times it was a little overwhelming. (He is a Survey Engineer involved with ocean mapping.) It’s better now that the kids are older. We only have one at home now so I have my studio in her old room. But working around family and their various schedules isn’t the only challenge. It’s also the isolation of working alone. I’ve chosen to work outside of the house for two days/week just to stay in touch with the world. I love animals so I was lucky enough to find a job at a veterinarian clinic in my area. It’s also been wonderful having a business partner for the past year. We get together once a week or so and discuss new ideas and designs over lunch. A real brainstorming session. It’s a nice change after 12 years.

14. How do you promote your work, Deborah? Has the Internet helped?

Promotional mailings such as postcards, promo sheets etc. We attend tradeshows regularly as well as networking meetings and, of course, word of mouth.

My website hasn’t been up that long so I still have a lot of new artwork to put up. Even so, it’s been a great marketing tool. It’s so simple to direct a potential client to your site. I’ve been back to work just less than a year so I still have a lot to get going.

15. What goals do you have for your work?

Right now my focus is on getting Fine-Tooning back into the loop after my time off. I am working on a new daily strip that has been living in my head for the past few years. I am also rebuilding my portfolio with the new work I’ve done over the past several months. I’m very happy with the quality of my work since I’ve returned so I want to bring that into the forefront. My other work through PQexpressions! has been doing phenomenal already. We have a lot happening with our designs so that’s been keeping me quite busy. I’m very excited to see what the next year brings.

16. Are you a member of any cartooning society or professional group?

Yes, I’m a member of the National Cartoonist’s Society. It’s based in the US although we now have a Canadian Chapter. It’s a wonderful way to meet other professionals who do what you do. Ha! It’s so refreshing to talk to people who actually care about ink and paper and pens and all that cartoony stuff. I try to attend as many of their functions as I can. I’ve made some great friends through the NCS.

17. What advice would you give to aspiring cartoonists?

Cartooning can be a tough business. We keep hearing, “Everybody’s cutting back! Newspapers, magazines!” But that doesn’t mean there isn’t business out there. You have to be smart, diligent, and good at what you do. You have to approach this as a serious business. Be creative and don’t be afraid to try something new. I remember during a particularly trying time at the beginning of my career I spoke to a veteran cartoonist and he told me to, “...push yourself beyond where others would quit.” His statement has kept me going many times when it would have been easier just to give up.

Good luck with your plans, Deborah. Thanks for letting us share a moment in your busy, creative life.

Deborah's books, "Day to Day" and "Surviving Day to Day", may be purchased through

Deborah Peyton's Home Page. Interested in custom illustrations and cartoons? Have a look at Deborah's samples:

Deborah Peyton's and Debra Quartermain's "Partners in Design" site. Order cool specialty cards, note paper, paper dolls:

© Susanna McLeod 2005  
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on