Co-creator of Cyanide and Happiness, Rob Denbleyker tells us about his web comic that has become controversial and yet extremely popular.
Web comic artiste Rob DenBleyker of Cyanide and Happiness fame started his career in Internet humour during his high school days. When he was 14, he created stick-figure animations on Flash and started posting them on the Internet “just for fun”. He eventually started drawing and creating content for the popular comic as a college student in Dallas, US in 2004. Rob recalls, “It all kind of happened organically. When I started posting my stick figure animations, I came across other guys who were doing the same thing. One of these people, Kris Wilson (co-writer for the web comic), made comics in his free time that I thought were hysterical. So one day we were talking and decided to try working on it as a daily project. The others joined in and Cyanide & Happiness began.”
Since 2005, Cyanide and Happiness has established itself as a popular web comic and has been noted for its dark humour. Their topics range from politics, AIDS to death, abortion, religion and even suicide. In fact in 2013, Rob was banned from Facebook for 12 hours for posting offensive content based on Jesus’ crucifixion. Rob tells us that the incident hasn’t changed his approach towards his craft. He says, “We primarily try to be funny. It becomes offensive, I think, because of who we are, and how we think. I later realised that the Facebook incident was primarily an algorithm and we got automatically blocked. Someone from Facebook messaged me and explained that it was automatic, and then my page got white-listed. So no more bans!”
Rob’s web comics use the classic newspaper panel and are created in Macromedia Flash. He reveals that the style for stick figure illustrations are influenced by co-writer “Kris Wilson’s original style, which itself is influenced by co-writer Don Hertzfeldt”. He states that the design is kept minimalist so as to get the idea across. “I also often try to do my comics in as few panels as possible. It allows the characters to simply become a vehicle for jokes.”
When it comes to creatively collaborating on something for the comic, Rob reveals that the process is varied, and at times, he goes ahead with a comic after getting a nod from his co-creators. Talking about the process, Rob elaborates, “It varies a lot from comic to comic. Some ideas come from talking to the other guys and trying to make each other laugh; some come spontaneously to me out of nowhere; and sometimes I sit down and stare at a blank piece of paper and try out random dialogue ideas. It’s a process of processes, really. Figuring out how to write is something I’ll probably never figure out exactly.”
Rob’s inspirations include the legendary Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson and The Far Side by Gary Larson. He believes the books have “influenced his cynical sense of humour and taught him how to build a joke.” He says, “As a kid reading these comics, I was in constant awe of how simple and funny they were. Starting from age 10 or so I would draw my own comics and show them to my friends at school. Calvin & Hobbes aroused my passion for comics and my desire to write scripts and drawing.”
Having come a long way since being the school kid who doodled, Rob and his team today have come out with animation projects (eleven full-length episodes of The Cyanide and Happiness Show) and even four comic books on the same theme. They are currently working on getting their new ideas on ground. These projects spell busy times for the team but Rob isn’t complaining. He concludes, “It’s been a wild journey so far, especially the past two years since we started animating full-time. It’s a huge amount of work but insanely rewarding. I think the child me would be impressed that the adult me gets to make cartoons for a living.”