Cyanide and Happiness founder talks web humor

Cyanide and Happiness author Rob DenBleyker develops ideas for strips by reading classical philosophy and collaborating with friends.
Cyanide and Happiness author Rob DenBleyker develops ideas for strips by reading classical philosophy and collaborating with friends. Photo by Emilie Foyer.

Upon arriving on campus Monday afternoon Rob DenBleyker tweeted: “If this is New Haven I’d hate to see the old one! [cue laugh track].”

DenBleyker, one of four authors of the popular web comic Cyanide and Happiness, came to New Haven for a Davenport College Master’s Tea, where he maintained the same sense of humor he displayed in the tweet as he answered questions from a crowd of 70 students. Cyanide and Happiness is known for its unusual, graphic and insensitive jokes and draws over one million visitors to its website every day. DenBleyker discussed the history and creative process behind the web comic, which he said often plays off the “darker side of humanity.”

“My inspiration comes from people and how horribly they treat each other,” DenBleyker said. “I don’t think of it in terms of what’s okay and what goes too far — just in terms of what’s funny and what’s not.”

DenBleyker and the other co-authors of Cyanide and Happiness started working on the comic’s development in 2004. Though the comics were published daily beginning in 2005, the authors did not meet each other face-to-face until the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con. The comic’s popularity grew in part due to the authors’ unique sharing policy, which encourages readers to repost and re-blog comics, effectively allowing anyone to spread Cyanide and Happiness’ content.

At age 26, DenBleyker said he has not held a “real job” since he was 17. But his career in Internet humor started when, at 15, he founded “StickSuicide,” a website devoted to animations and games graphically depicting the violent deaths of stick figures. While many of his Cyanide and Happiness stick figure characters have been ill-fated as well, he said he has at least “graduated from death humor to more mature themes like cancer and hookers.”

Cyanide and Happiness regularly makes jokes about abortion, suicide and AIDS. Responding to a student’s question about the extent to which the comic will make fun of these controversial topics, DenBleyker said the authors have not received a huge amount of serious negative feedback and do not intend to tone down the edginess of their comics.

The comic DenBleyker referenced that got the most laughs out of the crowd was one in which a young boy cries for four panels over the mangled corpse of his father who just got hit by a car.

In an effort to come up with the high volume of content a daily comic series requires, DenBleyker said he develops comic ideas by reading classic philosophy texts, writing for up to ten hours a day, and collaborating with friends. Davenport Master Richard Schottenfeld said DenBleyker’s creative process resembles that of Yale students in their studies.

Three students interviewed at the event, who all read Cyanide and Happiness daily, said they enjoyed hearing DenBleyker discuss his work.

“We need a reminder in this gray, crime-ridden city that the rest of the world is this depressing,” said Natalia Dashan ’16, who attended the event.

After the Master’s Tea, a cluster of the comic’s fans converged around DenBleyker and asked him to sign their books. Though DenBleyker and the other authors have published two collections of Cyanide and Happiness’ strips, the site generates most of its revenue from advertising.

The website’s newest book, a collection of each year’s most depressing and distasteful comics, will be released next month.

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