DR Beitzel is a cartoonist, creative producer, and Pennsylvania fellow living a NYC dream. His day job is playing video games in a Times Square skyscraper; his evenings are occupied writing funnies and drawing comics for the likes of MAD Magazine, McSweeneys, and his own Phatypus Comics. And like several of his idols before him – Matt Groening, anyone? – he’s now making the petite leap from comics to cartoons. His GO! Cartoon “The Bagheads” is a historically accurate depiction of trash take-out travails with former roommates and his competitive clashes with his older brother. He maintains that the Goat (”Goooat”) is its sole foray into the cartoonish make-believe. He studied politics, so you know that he has 0 capacity to – dare I even suggest it!? – fib.
Sooo, where’d you study animation?
I didn’t! I first went to a community college in central Pennsylvania. It was full of a bunch of cool people – unfortunately not Donald Glover or Alison Brie, but fortunately also not Chevy Chase. Then I went to University of Pittsburgh and studied communications and political science.
Poli- what now?
Yeah… it was the Obama era. I thought “It’s all uphill from here! We’re just riding this political train into the Promised Land!” Reality hit hard. Back then, Jon Favreau was writing Obama’s ‘Yes We Can’ speeches, and I was all riled up. I wanted to be a speechwriter.
At one point a local city councilman asked me to write some remarks for him to use on Martin Luther King Day. I was idealistic and had a head full of steam, so I wrote this fiery, passionate stemwinder that drew on self-sacrifice and righteousness. I even referenced “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. The thing was, it was for a pancake breakfast at a rural Pennsylvania fire hall. So, I’m pretty sure he went out and said something like, “Thanks for coming. Go Eagles”. I was young and naive, and didn’t realize that every speech didn’t have to be “Ask not what your country can do for you …”
When did you decide to NOT work in politics?
When I met a real life politician. (I laugh) No, really! He was a hometown representative – I’m from the Pennsylvania boonies. And he was a Republican, which was fine; I was just looking for a foot in the door. But when he found out I was a Democrat, he asked me if I was a double agent. Like he actually suspected me of being in cahoots with the Dems to get dirt on him! So weird. And then finally, it came down to either an unpaid internship with a politician or a paid gig without a politician, so I chose to get paid.
Chasing that dollar. What was the paid gig?
I started out as a freelance editor for fashion and fitness blogs. The biggest perk – and irony – was that I was working in sweatpants from my couch. I got jobs at some TV and radio stations; one was KQED, the PBS affiliate of Pittsburgh where Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was filmed. It was covered in memorabilia – tons of history there. And I wound up sort of staying in the political sphere, cause I got a gig writing for MAD Magazine.
What kinda stuff have you done for MAD Mag and others?
Comic parodies. Like Captain Red America: he only represents Red America, so a lot of his enemies are things he doesn’t actually believe in. Like, he can’t fight back against climate change, because he doesn’t believe in climate change. So it just beats him up. I also do some writing for McSweeneys, the San Francisco book publisher and online publication. They have some of the funniest stuff published anywhere, and I always wanted to write for them. I love doing comics, because if I have an idea, I can just put it out there—there aren’t really stakeholders involved. I just wrapped up a Valentines comic for Bushwick Daily, a local Brooklyn mag, about the types of people you meet on Tindr.
How’d you transplant to NYC – did you always want to move there?
Ehhh… I’m one of those unwilling New Yorkers who loves to hate it. The city has its upsides; it’s the best comedy scene. When I first arrived I joined UCB, which everyone does when they come to New York. It’s like getting a metrocard. I saw Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson perform before Broad City was picked up. I might have stuck with UCB, had I not stumbled into a great job out here.
Oh yeah? Where at?
Nickelodeon. I got the opportunity super randomly, about a month after I arrived. It’s a really fun place to work: Nerf gun battles, table hockey. Sometimes they bring kids in for tours and to play around. The downside is that we’re in Times Square, so when I venture into the street I’m guaranteed to get a face-full of armpit. But playing video games is part of my job – I produce app games related to Nick shows.
That is the Dream. What’s your favorite game you’ve produced?
Probably TMNT: Legends. We had a tremendous team of real fans, and the game looks great. I got to go to Montreal where the team is based. The job is really all about working with vendors, game studios, and these inherently creative people to make sure that the ideas are on brand and fun for our audience. It’d be really easy for these teams to make a game for 34 year olds: ie. themselves. So I’m there to make sure the games are awesome for kids.
Did you choose the cartoon life, or did the cartoon life choose you?
Mutual selection. As a kid, I’d go to my grandma’s house and draw through all the paper she had. I looked up to Sergio Aragones of MAD. I was always drawing in the margins of the handouts at church – it was kind of out of control. But in high school and college, I stopped drawing for a bit – I guess I was partying too much – and then got back into it as an adult. And now, I’d love to follow the tracks of some of my heroes like Matt Groening: his model for translating his comics into cartoons, building worlds for these great characters. Making comics and cartoons lets you maintain the mindset of a kid.
How did you come to pitch for GO! Cartoons?
Just a random Google search, looking for places to send some stuff. I only barely met the deadline. I put together a thumbnail pitch and sent it on in.
Did “The Bagheads” change much from pitch through production?
Not really. The core story was always a brother and sister arguing over trash take-out. Although, originally there were flashbacks, dragons, some ice zombies… a lot did have to be trimmed down. Which was tough, because as you can probably tell, I’m a pretty big blowhard.
Who inspired the Bagheads, and were they always, you know… bag headed?
The Bagheads were always bagheads. And their dynamic is based on me and my brother. As kids we’d draw the guys from Guns ‘N Roses with bags over their heads. This was primarily because I couldn’t draw faces, because I was 5. But it became a running gag between us. So when I was getting ready to submit to Frederator, I knew the character’s personalities, but I didn’t know their appearances. So I reached into my childhood and pulled the baghead idea out.
What do you enjoy the most about Elbow and Artemis?
I’ve always liked duos that have a lot of fun conflicting. Ren and Stimpy, Bugs and Daffy. Those good-natured conflicts where you’re kinda buddies, but you’re also kinda at each other’s throat. That’s how it was with my older brother. He’d pick on me, but I loved it; he was my primary antagonist, but he still loved me. And I like that Artemis and Elbow’s personalities create conflict: she’s hyper-competitive, he’s lazy. And trying to keep them from tearing each other apart is their worrywart father, who’s very concerned about the danger his kids pose to each other. Those relationships can serve up a lot of stories.
What inspired Nuke Man Jones, who’s still pulling off the eternal dunk as we speak?
Harlem Globe Trotters, for sure. I was really looking for things that Elbow might see at a high altitude. Nuke Man is stuck up there in Earth’s orbit now, mildly crying for help. But he accepted his fate long ago.
The billion dollar question: do the Bagheads have bags for heads, or are they wearing bags on their heads?
Ya know, I’m gonna opt not to answer that one. The question of the bags can remain an unanswered mystery if it gets a series. It’ll be like The Leftovers for kids.
How about some favorite cartoons?
The Simpsons, seasons 1 through 10: that’s my favorite TV, right there. South Park can’t get enough love, those guys have turned out classic after classic. Looney Tunes, Ren & Stimpy, Beavis and Butthead – Mike Judge is a half-unsung genius and a hero. Jim Henson and The Muppets, even though it’s not a cartoon; puppets count, right?
I’m also really inspired by old school newspaper comics. It breaks my heart that they’re disappearing. Calvin and Hobbes is gorgeous and the most inspiring thing to me; I just re-read the collection, again. I appreciate that Bill Watterson refused all the licensing and merch deals people wanted to make for it. I read once that he left something like $200 million on the table.
Yeah. Once, I was making some parody album art for a local store’s event, and I made one based off of Notorious BIG’s “Ready to Die” cover: Notorious HOB’s “Ready to Live”. People wanted prints so I started selling them, and then it dawned on me that I was breaking Watterson’s anti-commercial stance. So I stopped selling them, and just told people, “Sorry, I really can’t!” Watterson is the JD Salinger of comics.
What do you like to do outside of your work*? (*everybody else’s play)
I like to connect with my inner hillbilly – errr, inner hippie – whatever it is. I go to the beach and state parks pretty often. And I love stand up shows: I’ve seen Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, a lot of amazing comics out here.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a musical animated series idea with two musician friends, Jeff and Matt. It’s really cool and is somewhere between Hamilton and Freaks & Geeks. I’m also working on a comic strip about animals in a post-human world. It’s really cartoony, except the president is a photo-realistic opossum whose speeches are just incoherent, ear-piercing screeches. I’m not sure where that falls on the fiction/non-fiction spectrum.
Great talking with you D.R., thanks for the interview! Looking forward to all of your future endeavors. And I’ll be sure to vote for you if you ever return to politics / being a spy for those wily Pennsylvania Dems.