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The (sort of) Serious Side to Cartoonist Eric Decetis & His 30-year Career

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Born and raised in Sacramento, the local artist with international fame and world-wide laughter known as Eric Decetis reflects on his career and his art. Many know Eric Decetis as “the guy who draws funny cartoon cards” but Eric is a very accomplished and awarded watercolor artist. Yes, Eric is funny but he is also prolific and has mastered his watercolor medium in ways that some artists only dream.

People lose themselves in the subject of Eric’s cartoons and overlook the amazing detail and nuances of the watercolor. Some of the cartoons may take 80 to 100 hours of painting to create the perfect shading and transparency. The originals are completed with Dr. Ph. Martin’s Radiant Concentrate Individual Watercolors which are extremely difficult to master. This watercolor medium is special order only. Many artists avoid this medium due to the amount of practice and discipline to learn the control, the technique, as well as mix the pigments. Hence, this is a fast approaching a lost art.

With a brief Q&A Eric enlightens his fans about his feelings on computer graphics and his art, his new exhibit at Little Relics Boutique & Galleria with some reflection on his days working with Larry Flynt and his start with gentlemen’s magazines.

SR: This show is a 30-year retrospective of your art career with some highlights and glimpses to your childhood drawings and artwork. What piece of the show are you most proud to exhibit and why?

ED: I would probably have to say the original Lost Puppy artwork. Certainly not my best work but for some reason it has become infamously iconic and recognizable. Had I known it was going to gain the notoriety it has I would have drawn it a lot better.

SR: What about this particular exhibit is thrilling?

ED: Having lived long enough to attend.

SR: Aside from the hilarity and guffaws your artwork creates, what is the passion behind the artwork?

ED:  Lawyers, Guns and Money (Warren Zevon).

SR: When you get an idea, do you let it marinate or do you get the overwhelming need to illustrate it immediately? Is the idea process slow and deliberate or do you find your musings at the grocery store, driving or just people and dog watching?

ED: The majority of the time I go right to the drawing table soon after the gag sparks. The genesis is pretty convoluted with no set pattern. It may be inspired from a radio talk show, a conversation overheard at dinner or just a random visual thought that comes to mind for no apparent reason. Or it may be just from the voices in my head.

SR: Considered an artist of a "dying watercolor process" by the Ohio State Cartoon Art Museum, how does that make you feel? How long does the process take? Dying Watercolor Process translates that you use concentrate and you work each cell by hand and absolutely nothing is computer generated. Why not add some computer graphics to your art?

ED: "Dying". Geez. I didn’t know it was even sick. Makes me feel like I coulda’ had appetizers with Jesus et al at the Last Supper. I do know it’s a very tedious process using radiant concentrated water colors (aka "dyes") that few cartoonists use today. I taught myself how use them when I started working for the magazines in the early 80’s.

It was the medium of choice back then because of the resulting vibrant colors for print reproduction. Unlike synchromatic or regular water colors, dyes are very unforgiving and require a hand brushed layering process. As such depending on the complexity of the piece, some cartoons can take up to a week to render.

As to adding computer graphics at this stage of my career, I’d rather wake up on the floor of an adult bookstore bathroom with a dead rat in mouth.

SR: In the era of censorship and the governmental attack on the First Amendment, you were working with Larry Flynt as a contract cartoonist. In the midst of the FCC tightening the restrictions on publications especially gentlemen’s magazines, were any of your cartoons banned by the FCC due to censorship and what was the impact on you as an artist and your artwork?

ED: None of my work with LFP (Larry Flynt Publications) was ever banned. Larry was always pushing us to go as far as we could with our jokes and art and then go a step beyond that. He thrived on controversy and felt—like Bob Cuccione (General Media-Penthouse Publications)—that the cartoons where a major component in magazine sales. Larry was fierce about the first amendment and taunting the FCC, but he was also concerned with litigation fallout from trademark violation.

One of my earlier controversial pieces was a cartoon of a doll named "WhiteTrash Knocked-Up Trailer Park Barbie". He had me revise Barbie to "Darbie" to avoid any potential issues with Mattel.

As far as impact on me as an artist, as an aspiring cartoonist I just wanted to get published and earn a living. The magazines were merely the vehicle for accomplishing that.

SR: As an artist did you see any benefit from Larry Flint’s crusade against the FCC and censorship? Did you gain any new freedoms publishing your artwork?

ED: At the time I had no interest in Larry’s political crusades. Since I had no training in art, my focus was on developing my own recognizable cartoon style and learning how to find and perfect a medium that worked for me.

It was a launching pad for what I hoped would be a career. I just didn’t know what planet I’d land on.

SR: Do you feel that your experience during this era has paved the way for many of today’s cartoonists to "push the envelope" per se?

ED: I can’t speak to any influence my work may have had, based on the content of my writing.  If anything I hope that those who aspire to make a career in this industry are motivated by my modicum of success. If you have the tenacity and discipline to shake rejection in a figure eight the possibilities as a cartoonist are endless regardless of your style of humor.

To meet Eric and hear more of his musings, please join him at Little Relics Boutique & Galleria, 908 21st St. on January 12th, from 7pm to 10pm. This retrospective has some of his early work when he used an airbrush for most of the cartoon and then marches through to present time including the original and most famous, Lost Puppy. Viewers will see the evolution of Eric’s craftsmanship and his humor. Show runs until January 26th.
 

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About the author

Susan Rabinovitz

  • Trina Drotar

    Some images of his watercolors, not just the cartoons, would have been nice.

    • Hi, Trina:

      I should clarify…my only images using radiant concentrated water colors (aka “dyes”) are exclusively cartoons. Thanks very much for your kind interest in my work!

      Sincerely,
      Eric Decetis

  • So very cool! It is refreshing to see there are still cartoonists that use the unforgiving watercolor & dye process to create cartoons. I also enjoy and respect the computer generation artists & resulting artwork, but Eric’s beautifully executed work definitely leaves me in awe when seeing these pieces up close and in person. I’ve already stopped by once for a sneak peek, and I’ll be back on Second Saturday!

    • Thanks for the very kind words. Very humbling.

      Looking forward to meeting you. I’ll be the guy that looks like Fred Flintsone.

      Sincerely,
      Eric Decetis

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