We’re going to expose the lives of gay cartoon characters!” That’s the unlikely pitch Showtime executive Peter Keramidas heard last year when his network decided to defrost the animated Web series Queer Duck from the then-struggling Icebox.com. Since January, the hilarious exploits of the rainbow-flag-wearing avian protagonist (voiced by Jim J. Bullock) and his three friends—Openly Gator, Oscar Wildcat, and Bi Polar Bear — have been airing in weekly three-minute installments on Showtime’s website (sho.com/queerduck). ”It’s embarrassing to say that all of the characters — and even some of the plots — are based on these cheesy puns,” admits series creator Mike Reiss, a veteran TV producer and onetime writer for The Simpsons.
Whatever the inspiration, Queer Duck and his absolutely fabulous interactive environment keep fans flocking to the site, where a total of 20 episodes (including the five that originally appeared on Icebox) will eventually roost. Especially alluring is the clever animation by Web ‘toon pioneer Xeth Feinberg, who first teamed up with Reiss on Icebox’s decidedly revisionist Hard Drinkin’ Lincoln. ”I remember thinking it might be funny to do this with ridiculously cute cartoon characters,” says Feinberg, whose ear-pierced, leather-clad Bi Polar Bear delivers quips in the droll manner of Paul Lynde. (RuPaul sings the theme song—and voiced Queer Duck’s brother in the ”Fiddler on the Roofie” episode.)
Feinberg has developed similarly buoyant personalities (though not as finely attired) for his other Web shows, including the must-see antics of mallet-swinging Papu and the goofy retro charms of Bulbo, an homage of sorts to the black-and-white cartoons of the ’20s and ’30s. ”I had a doodle of the face of Bulbo on a piece of scrap paper and I just scanned that in and put a body on it and I’ve never drawn his face again.” Bulbo’s silent adventures — including a dizzying walk through the 20th century — are the product of Mishmash Media (mishmashmedia.com), Feinberg’s own boutique animation studio, which he runs out of an ”old, ramshackle apartment in a corner of Brooklyn.”
With Reiss writing Queer Duck episodes out of his home in L.A., their collaboration is done almost entirely via e-mail. ”Like the President and Vice President,” says Feinberg, ”we’re never in the same place at the same time.” Once the episodes have debuted on the site (where you can test your gaydar while waiting for the show to download), Showtime airs them on Tuesday nights, following an encore of Queer as Folk. Reiss is already working on a script for a Queer Duck movie, but he’s less enthusiastic about writing many more of the shorts. ”It doesn’t pay very much, so I’m doing it for the pure love of it,” he says, adding: ”If doing 20 episodes is for love—what’s another 40?”