Matt Feazell started drawing stick-figure comics in his notebook in high school. Now, at age 55, he still can’t stop.
The Hamtramck cartoonist debuted his signature stick-figure character, Cynicalman, “America’s first laid-off superhero,” in 1980. He’s been self-publishing what he calls the “smart-aleck adventures” of Cynicalman in black and white ever since, creating a supporting cast of stick-figure characters, including Antisocialman, Stupid Boy, and Cute Girl.
“If I’m not drawing just exactly what I want to draw, I’m not happy,” Feazell says. “Reading comics by an unhappy cartoonist is no fun.”
In some ways, Feazell seems almost to resemble Cynicalman come to life, which might seem a strange statement, given that his signature creation is an ultra-minimalist stick figure. But it’s a testament to Feazell’s eye for simple detail that you can see common traits between the two: a slouched posture, a face ready to break into a sardonic grin, and a trademark sense of humor.
Feazell readily admits to a similarity between him and his creation. “He’s kind of [me] on a bad day,” Feazell says. “I was having a bad day when I first drew the face, and I tried to channel that.”
Feazell first sold one of his comics in 1980, when he was working in a St. Louis record shop. He had written and drawn a mini-comic (a comic folded, stapled, and cut from a single 8-1/2-by-11 sheet of paper). He placed a stack of them on the store counter as freebies. Then someone asked him how much the comic cost. Feazell quickly blurted out, “a quarter.”
“They took the mini-comic and gave me a quarter,” Feazell says.
He says his inspiration to create mini-comics was rooted in a punk-rock aesthetic. “My early mini-comics were kind of like the Ramones on paper,” Feazell says. “The panels were kind of like a rhythm, the pages were like verses, and each one started with, like, a ‘Johnny B. Goode’ guitar solo. Something to get your attention.”
Feazell has cleaned up quite a bit with age, almost to the point where it’s hard to imagine him in a long-maned punk stage. He wears a button-down shirt tucked into khakis, and a neat haircut frames his thick-rimmed Woody Allen-style glasses. He lives in a creaky but well-kept 1926 house with his wife of five years, Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski, whom he met at the record store back in 1979.
Although Feazell’s punk look has receded into the past, his punk-inspired spirit of independence never wavered. He made a name for himself in the ’80s doing a regular feature in the small-press comic Zot!, and his comics have appeared locally in Orbit and the Metro Times. The closest Feazell ever came to working in the bigs was a six-year stint at Disney Adventures magazine.
That’s not to say he never tried to be a comics pro. In high school, Feazell assembled a portfolio of traditional superhero-style comic art, with the hope of landing jobs with such industry titans as Marvel and DC Comics. “All I was doing was drawing portfolio samples and asking someone to kindly let me draw comics,” Feazell says. “Eventually, I realized I didn’t have to ask someone to do it; I could just go ahead and do it, which came as a revelation to me.”
And he’s never stopped, hopping from one job to the next to support his true calling. Most of his previous day jobs have involved doing newspaper-ad design. Feazell holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism, but he says that college taught him to be a “lousy reporter” and “not a very good artist.”
Feazell’s penchant for self-deprecation runs strong. He also mentions that he thinks he’s “not a very good writer,” bringing up his comic, “The Death of Antisocialman,” which was written by Walt Lockley. In the story, Lockley created a girlfriend for Antisocialman. “It didn’t occur to me that any of my characters would have girlfriends,” Feazell says. “I’m kind of a shallow guy and my characters are kind of one-dimensional.” Yet Feazell reveals not shallowness, but a certain fear of self-disclosure. “I’m a little bit shy about putting too much of myself into these characters,” he says.
Feazell isn’t shy about his sharply sarcastic wit, which turns up as often in his conversation as it does in his drawings. He says he was “really annoying” in junior high, but he honed his sense of humor with age. “It helps me get by,” he says. “It might be inappropriate sometimes, but I just can’t turn it off.”
It’s helping him get by right now. Currently between jobs, Feazell keeps busy doing weekly online Cynicalman strips and wrapping up post-production on Cynicalman’s film debut, which he wrote, directed, and finished shooting this summer. For now, Feazell’s outlook seems less than cynical. “I’ve got a three-story house in Hamtramck and I’ve got a studio that’s bigger than my bedroom for the first time in my life,” he says. “And that’s all right.”