‘Lackadaisy’ Creator Tracy Butler: The Conskipper Interview

It’s not easy bankrolling your own animated series, but the creative team at Iron Circus Animation, creator Tracy J. Butler, and director Fable Siegel are ready to take a page from their frisky cats and make a Lackadaisy series a reality.

The new crowdfunding campaign on BackerKit aims to fund new hardcover editions of the Lackadaisy webcomic, the first ever Lackadaisy plushes, and most importantly, a number of follow-up episodes to the original Lackadaisy pilot.

The campaign is off to an impressive start, garnering the support of some of the nearly ten million viewers (and counting) of the Lackadaisy 27-minute animated pilot.

Lackadaisy creator Tracy J. Butler details the history of her original webcomic story and the metamorphosis of the project in this exclusive interview.

How did the story of Lackadaisy begin for you?

Tracy J. Butler: I didn’t know it at the time, but it started with a collection of cat characters I would draw all over my junior high school notes to pass the classroom hours. Years later, after I moved into an old house in the St. Louis area, I developed a fascination with the history of the city and fell down a rabbit hole of research. That collected information started to metamorphose into a Prohibition era story, and those cat characters of my childhood reemerged suddenly – as cats do – at the forefront of my mind. Somehow these two seemingly unrelated things, cartoon cats and Jazz Age St. Louis, merged together into the concept for Lackadaisy. It felt right somehow, and so I ran with it!

What is it about the 1920s, and St. Louis for that matter, that makes for the perfect setting for your story?

Butler: It’s easy to over-romanticize the 1920s, but it’s also hard not to see it for the hedonistic fever dream it was, full of art movements, social movements, criminal movements, and chaotic politics. It was an important rebellion against Victorian and Edwardian rationales in many ways, even if it all came crashing down at the end of the decade. It’s its own sort of comic-tragedy, and I find that a little irresistible.

That, and I liked the idea of telling a St. Louis based story, in part because it’s so often overlooked. We usually get the New York version of events, or the Chicago perspective, or something out of L.A. For me, at least, a story about some once-upon-a-time place in the Midwest – someplace a little faded like an old photo – is a little more poignant and relatable.

Did the transition from webcomic to a traditional comic change any aspects of the art or perspective that was formally delivered on a screen?  Is the approach to creating a web comic different than the traditional printed medium?

Butler: Somewhat. At the outset, I liked that the web format allowed for a more freeform approach to page lengths. I like each page to encompass a sort of complete thought within the arc of the story, to unfold at a pace that properly sets the stage for an important climatic scene, or to hit the right humor beats with the right timing, without feeling rushed or constrained. So, I make each page as long as I feel it needs to be to accomplish these things.

Of course, when it comes time to fit pages of inconsistent length into a consistently sized physical book, it turns into a jigsaw puzzle of a layout project. I do my own book layouts, though, so at least I’m not inflicting that on some poor editor!

In spite of the extra work it creates, I’ve stuck with the varying page lengths. I have since adjusted my digital file organization techniques to better facilitate the book layout reshuffle, though. That worked out ultimately, because as smartphones became ubiquitous, I was able to reformat the entire comic to date for mobile reading as well.

What influences come through in Lackadaisy from other anthropomorphic tales?

Butler: It’d be difficult to name everything in that category because, as a kid, I absorbed every bit of media having to do with animal characters that I could possibly get my hands on. I’d read and reread Call of the Wild, Black Beauty, Watership Down, Plague Dogs, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, and The Last Unicorn. Animated features like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Secret of NIMH, An American Tale, and Cats Don’t Dance really piqued my interest in my formative years too. I might have been a little bit obsessed with Calvin and Hobbes as well. All of these things really compelled me to draw and invent characters, and as result, they snowballed into my collection of influences. I’m sure they continue to affect my drawing style and story sensibilities in ways I’m not even entirely conscientious of at this point.

The animated short based on the webcomic has become an enormous hit with almost 10 million views.  You have stated that other animated projects have garnered similar attention, but then fizzle out.  How does your strategy behind your crowdfunding campaign hope to avoid this pitfall?

Butler: Ah, well, it’s perhaps not true that those things have fully fizzled out. For all I know, the creators of those seemingly dormant projects still have plans for them. I hope they do. It’s just that sometimes the next steps can take years. That’s often the case if you’re shopping your pilot and pitch around, looking for network funding. That means taking lots of meetings, engaging in contract negotiations if the meetings get you anywhere, and entering into development with some corporate entity that might eventually launch the project into full production…or that might toss it in the bin after keeping you waiting and guessing for a year or two.

Fable, Spike (our executive producer), and I have seen that happen to too many projects. We know how fickle and risk averse the networks are – especially right now – and we didn’t want to subject Lackadaisy to that fate. We didn’t want to agree to sacrifice a great deal of ownership and creative control only to get stuck in development limbo. Instead, we want to harness the momentum we have. We want to keep working with the collective of artists we established a rapport with on the pilot. We want to call our own shots without the interference of people far more beholden to shareholders and algorithms than to creative integrity and employee wellbeing. So, we’re forging ahead on our own terms.

That comes with its own set of risks and limitations, of course. It’s not the easy route, and it’s not like it’s a surefire thing, but we feel it’s the best chance Lackadaisy has of continuing forward in the present climate.

Upcoming projects?

Lackadaisy Season 1 is going to be an enormous undertaking unto itself, but we do have some plans for related short animations and other treats in-between episodes!

The Lackadaisy BackerKit campaign will be running until August 24 and can be “backed” right here.

If you have yet to see the original animated episode, check it out below.

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