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updated: 11/1/2011 2:30 PM

Cartoon creator from Itasca drew inspiration from artistic parents

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  • Itasca native Duncan Rouleau goes into his tough guy mode. The artist/producer cites his parents and Chicago's Channel 44 as his chief inspirations.

      Itasca native Duncan Rouleau goes into his tough guy mode. The artist/producer cites his parents and Chicago's Channel 44 as his chief inspirations.

  • "Generator Rex" is one of several projects created by Man of Action, a production company cocreated by Itasca native Duncan Rouleau.

      "Generator Rex" is one of several projects created by Man of Action, a production company cocreated by Itasca native Duncan Rouleau.

  • Itasca native Duncan Rouleau cites his parents and Chicago's Channel 44 as his chief inspirations.

      Itasca native Duncan Rouleau cites his parents and Chicago's Channel 44 as his chief inspirations.

  • "Ben 10 " is one of several projects created by Man of Action, a production company cocreated by Itasca native Duncan Rouleau.

      "Ben 10 " is one of several projects created by Man of Action, a production company cocreated by Itasca native Duncan Rouleau.

  • Video: 'Generator Rex' clip

 

Duncan Rouleau grew up in Itasca with three brothers. One became an attorney; two became engineers.

Rouleau?

He became an artist, animator, writer and producer.

How did he wind up as the black sheep of the family?

"Actually," Rouleau politely corrected us, "I followed in the family footsteps. They were the black sheep."

Oops. We should have mentioned that Rouleau's dad Frank enjoyed a successful career as a graphic artist in Itasca, and that his mom Marge worked as an art teacher in the Wood Dale school district.

Most people probably don't know Rouleau's name, but they might have heard of his animated TV shows "Ben 10" and "Generator Rex." (Catch "Ben 10" Fridays on the Cartoon Network, or visit toy stores for obscene amounts of "Ben 10" merchandise.)

Both shows bear the unmistakable stylistic influences of Japanese animation.

"When I was a child, I'd watch Channel 44 on UHF in Chicago between 3 and 4:30 p.m. every day," Rouleau said.

"It would show all the Japanese imports like 'Speed Racer' and 'Godzilla.' So, if I had to name a major influence, it would have to be Channel 44!"

Rouleau also credits other influences for his talents as a writer and animator: comic book illustrator Jack Kirby, John Lennon, Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee and Paul McCartney.

The 46-year-old Rouleau almost seemed embarrassed to name his greatest influences, so we pressed him hard until he told us: his parents.

Seriously.

"Both my father and my mother allowed me into their world," he said. "I used to be able to draw in my father's studio and see him work. Then it wasn't much of a mystery as it is to other people.

"I got to look under the hood and see the mechanics of being a working artist. That showed me that there was a real way to apply those impulses I had as a child to be an artist. That was essential.

And Mom?

"My mother gave me a love of the history of art. The different movements and reasons for them. It gave me a deeper understanding of my place in it."

After graduating from Roselle's Lake Park High School in 1982 and the University of Illinois as a theater major four years later, Rouleau worked as a parking valet, waiter and bell boy at Los Angeles area hotels.

Quickly, he segued into writing and drawing comic books for Marvel Comics and DC Comics, contributing to X-Men, Superman and the Justice League of America.

There he met Joe Kelly, Joe Casey and Steve Seagle, with whom he would soon form Man of Action, a production company that publishes graphic novels and comic books, plus creates films and TV shows based on them.

"I love to tell stories," Rouleau said. "That would be the very basic appeal of what I do. I love drawing. It's about communicating a thought or idea, and about getting a response from an audience."

Rouleau thinks that digital communication replicates the instant audience feedback he used to receive as part of the theatrical experience at the U of I.

"With the advent of digital media in other fields, such as TV, it shortens the gap between the point of it airing -- the performance of it -- and the response. You can get it almost instantaneously within a day."

The University of Illinois not only gave the animator a college degree, he met his future wife, Lilli Fields, on campus. Today, they live just outside of Pasadena with their three children, Gus, 15, Maggie, 13, and Cully, 9.

Rouleau said living in California is all right, especially since he works in a studio out of his home. Still, he feels lucky to have grown up in the Chicago area when he did.

"It was a great time to be in Chicago during the '80s," he said. "It was a well-represented town in film and in TV. From movies like 'The Untouchables' and '16 Candles' and all the John Hughes movies and 'The Blues Brothers.'

"Bill Murray was at the height of his power. Chicago was the center of media in a lot of ways. There was a strong attraction to be a part of that."

And, perhaps, a strong motivation not to be the black sheep of the family.

-- Dann Gire

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburban people in showbiz. If you know of someone, send a note to dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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