DeFlocked goes 'round DeNation

It's almost a case of a local guy makes good. If you take out of the equation the part where he's already been an established television comedy writer for such shows as Saturday Night Live, Talk Soup and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

And, though he has lived in Montrose and the Crescenta Valley for the past 12 years, he grew up next to the cornfields and dairy farms of western Massachusetts.

But, La Cañada and the Crescenta Valley are still ready to claim this talented 38-year-old who took his locally spawned comic strip to new heights this week.

Jeff Corriveau is the writer and illustrator of the edgy, warm and wooly comic strip, DeFlocked, which made its first debut two years ago in the Valley Sun, and recently went syndicated. DeFlocked now is seen and read across North America, featured in newspapers from La Cañada to Calgary, Canada, and Rock Island, Ill., to Seattle, Wash.

“We've set forth all over the globe,” Corriveau said. “It's the biggest launch for King Features in six years.”

King Features is part of Hearst Entertainment & Syndication Group and one of the world's largest distributors to newspapers of comics, columns and editorial cartoons.

Corriveau and his wife, Karen, live in Montrose with their 6-month-old daughter, Amelie, and 18-year-old cat, Beemer.

About a year ago, King Features contacted Corriveau about the comic strip, and subsequent meetings led Corriveau and his cast of outcast witty farm animals to the greener pastures of a syndication deal.

“I'm just amazed — I can't even explain it,” Corriveau said of his long shot leap into comic strip stardom.

“When I sat down to [write a comic strip] I didn't have any illusions; I had no idea where it was going to go,” he said. “But, people have told me since then, to try and get a syndication deal you'd have a better chance of becoming an NBA star.”

To understand how Corriveau created DeFlocked, one needs to know the actor-turned-writer-turned-cartoonist's roots. Corriveau grew up in a New England farming community with his two younger sisters, Michelle and Nicole, who both still live in that part of the country.

A neighboring farmer planted corn all along the street where the family lived. Corriveau's home was situated right next to the farmer's dairy barn.

“I was surrounded by cows and farmland,” Corriveau said. “I loved that lifestyle. That is, until I went to [visit] another neighbor, who was a butcher. I became a vegetarian for the next 10 years.”

After graduating from high school, Corriveau earned an associate's degree in liberal arts from Springfield Technical Community College and later studied English and communications at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Westfield State College in Massachusetts.

He moved to California in 1996 to pursue a career as an actor. However, after working as an extra and taking bit roles, he began writing jokes for the Los Angeles Times' Laugh Lines section. That success led the young writer to prepare a packet of materials, which he submitted to a few television stations.

By 1999, he was writing material for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn and Saturday Night Live. His success as a comedy writer came as a surprise to Corriveau.

“I was just blown away. It was pretty thrilling for a kid in L.A. who just threw something against the wall to see what sticks,” he said.

Soon, he was asked to be the co-lead writer for Talk Soup. When that series ended, he wrote for E! Entertainment. However, writing scandalous or crazy celebrity stories eventually caused Corriveau to begin taking stock of his life. “I started evaluating and I wasn't doing anything with my life. There came a point when I could not write another Paris Hilton sex joke,” he said. “I wanted to do something valuable with my life and TV comedy wasn't it.”

That life evaluation led the writer back to memories of his youth. “I started looking at parts of my childhood that made me happy,” he said.

Back to when he'd pore over dog-eared copies of the classic Peanuts cartoon, he recalls, adding, “Charles Schultz was a defining influence in my life.”

He admired Schultz's ability to write “a daily personal note, seven days a week, and reveal his innermost feelings, his fears, his desires, and put it all down on the page.”

Corriveau said he wanted to emulate Schultz's ability to create deep characters that were relevant to readers. “Every-man characters; characters that readers feel slightly superior to, so they feel better about themselves,” he said. “Like, look at that Charlie Brown kid. He made you think, 'I have won a few ballgames, I have been on a few dates, my life isn't that bad.'”

On Oct. 5, 2006, Corriveau sat down at his dining room table and began to draw, and write, his first comic strip. However, that draft wasn't the comic strip he presented to Valley Sun Editor Carol Cormaci.

“That first try was so atrocious,” he joked. “The artwork was so bad, I'm embarrassed to look at it. But, I was determined I was either going to sink or sail off into the sunset. So, I forced myself to keep with it and, like anything, if you stick with it long enough, you get better.”

When he was finally satisfied with his creation, Corriveau contacted Cormaci and the rest is history.

“Jeff showed up, quite unannounced,” Cormaci recalls. “He told me he'd been in the entertainment industry and he really wanted to have a comic strip. So, I looked at his comic strip and thought 'Gosh, this is great, but how do I tell him I can't pay for this, it's not in my budget?' ”

Cormaci said she was impressed with the comic strip and was delighted when Corriveau said he'd give her the strip “just to have it published.”

DeFlocked has been a wonderful addition to the Valley Sun, she said.

“I know our readers enjoy it, and the newsroom cracks up over it, so much so that I found room in our budget to keep the comic when it went syndicated,” Cormaci said. “I'm delighted to see Jeff make good with this.”

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