08 Oct Stories of Starting Episode 12: Danny Micheal Vaillancourt, Digital Artist & Social Media Marketer
Stories of Starting Episode 12: Danny Micheal Vaillancourt, Digital Artist & Social Media Marketer. Danny is a digital artist and satirist/writer from Montréal, Canada. Currently serving as Marketing Manager and Columnist for the satirical news publication WokenNews.com, his digital work have been featured on numerous media platforms and marketing campaigns made global headlines.
Watch the video interview on YouTube:
Heather: Today we’re here with my friend Danny for another episode of Stories of Starting. Danny can you introduce yourself?
Danny: My name is Danny Micheal Vaillancourt. I am a Montreal digital artist. I am 27 years old. I’m also a satirist, social media marketer and co-founder of WokenNews.com
Heather: As always I like to backtrack and let people know how we met each other. We met a few months ago at Creator HQ. I was giving a workshop about social media for artists. That’s where we connected and I found it super interesting what you were doing. Then we connected online. I discovered about all your amazing projects. As it turns out we have a little thing in common because you create memes. Up until about 2 1/2 years ago I didn’t even know what a meme was! Because I write comics and they went viral on Reddit, I got to know about the whole culture and got to know a lot of people in the community. Let’s start with that. How did you get started making memes?
Danny: It actually started about 2 years ago. It was more on a whim more than anything. What happened was I was at work. I remember there was a really bad situation with clients. I made a joke. My co-workers laughed a lot. They said “you should make a status about that.” I found an image online to make it as a meme and it just blew up!
Heather: That is so amazing. So you really weren’t involved with the community before.
Danny: Not at all. I shared memes, but I never had the intention of actually creating them.
Heather: That’s incredible. It’s amazing how we morph into these things. For me, I used to hand draw comics and when I discovered Piccolage and all these Apps you could use online to create these types of images it seemed like a natural thing to do. Now these memes are huge in popular culture. It’s crazy. So you started creating memes. At that point were you just sharing them on Facebook?
Danny: I started sharing them on Facebook then I wanted to get more exposure. I started sending them out to Pages. Even now that I’m a part of many bigger pages that’s basically how people are getting a lot of the work out, just by sending it in. I just kept sending it in and eventually one person in particular caught interest in me. I started working with him. He gave me my own Page and I went from there.
Heather: Oh wow. This is the Woken News page?
Danny: WokenNews.com is our official website.
Heather: You started with the Page then you developed the website?
Danny: Essentially he is the owner of the Page. He decided I should be on his team and I went from there.
Heather: So the website is a satire website. Tell me a little bit about the website.
Danny: It was also created more on a whim. He suggested it and it caught all of our interests. We already had a platform with so many Facebook likes. We used that to market ourselves. It definitely blew up. More than we anticipated.
Heather: Something else you are developing is your meme workshop, the panel you did at Comiccon. You told that whole story of how that Scooby campaign went viral. Tell us about that. That was a cool story.
Danny: Essentially we wanted to market ourselves in that way. I wanted to generate a lot of people to our site. I created a campaign on Change.org called Make Shaggy a DLC Character in Mortal Kombat 11. That blew up more than we ever anticipated. It even caught the attention of the co-creator at Boom for the petition. Matthew Lillard who played Shaggy in the Scooby Doo movies made a few comments regarding it. It was during the time when Mortal Kombat 11 was going through their marketing campaign. It was also a time when the Ultra Shaggy meme was completely viral so we utilized them both together to create it.
Heather: So what finally happened with that. Are they going to use the idea?
Danny: Oh no, they said it will never happen.
Heather: Too bad.
Danny: But hey, it worked for us. It also brought a lot of publicity towards them. It was all in good fun too.
Heather: What an amazing idea. And I’m sure there’s a lot of mainstream companies that are starting to use memes in their advertising.
Danny: Yes. Memetic Marketing is becoming more commonplace. Particularly if you want to attract at 13 to 30 demographic. Memetic Marketing is little touchy because you really have to be current with the kind of memes. It can also backfire. A lot of critics say when it fails it seems like the company is trying too hard.
Heather: I can certainly see that. If they’re not immersed in the culture they don’t know and they can do a faux pas. I know whenever I have a question about a meme or I’ve never heard of one before I’ll hop on KnowYourMeme.com Sometimes people make reference to different memes and I have no clue what they’re taking about. I’m trying to get a little bit educated. Actually the person that educated me the most is the guy that used to have Exploding Fish. Well it was called Exploding Fish and now it’s called Chad Mojito. Whenever I have questions about memes I just DM him like “what’s this all about?!” Sometimes I’ve done parodies of them not because I want to seem knowledgeable about them, but because it seems appropriate at the time. It’s a fascinating culture.
Heather: Danny, I wondering when growing up were you into Art?
Danny: I definitely was the artsy kid. I grew up in a very small town of less than 1000 people. It’s one of those places where you either have to be very manual or sporty. I was more inclined to spend my childhood drawing or reading.
Heather: Did you like to paint? Did you do other media?
Danny: I dabbled a little bit in everything in the arts. I tried singing lessons, dance lessons and acting. None of those were for me but they were still fun experiences.
Heather: I know you do a lot of collages. Some are meme related but you do some that are more painterly. Do you use a lot of Photoshop with your things now?
Danny: Yes, exactly.
Heather: Tell me a bit about a process that you might use to create something.
Danny: I start with a base, either a background or an image in particular. I make sure it’s either free for commercial use or part of the public domain. I add onto it layer by layer. I can use my pen to draw in the rest.
Heather: Do you have a Photoshop program?
Danny: I usually use Photoshop for the end piece to make sure everything looks OK. I literally go through up to a dozen Apps. One App may have a particular tool for something and another for something else. *see Footnote below for Apps
Heather: Maybe if anyone’s interested in creating their own memes I can link up some of your favourite Apps in the blog post. People can play around with them and see.
Heather: On the Page that you manage can people actually submit memes and get them published on your page?
Danny: Yes, sure if it’s fitting and we think it’s great. We encourage everyone to give it a shot.
Heather: I think it’s great. It’s incredible how things get shared all over the place. We inspire each other. I have a Facebook group, but they’re jewelry makers. They post photos of their work all the time. I find it as inspiring to me as I inspire them.
Danny: I find it really important too. You need a community that supports each other.
Heather: You talked about using copyright free Art. I know at one point you put out some merchandise and there was a question on your post about copyright. How do you tackle that? How do you know what’s OK to post and what’s OK to sell?
Danny: That’s an entire subject on its own. It really varies on what you are trying to do. Parody is considered under the Fair Use Act. Essentially you wouldn’t be penalized for making a parody of something. It’s kind of a grey zone. It really depends on what you are trying to parody and what images you are using because it can come back to you. Luckily the website that I use for the merchandise, they do a whole process of approving or not approving based on if it’s copyrighted. So it’s helpful.
Heather: That’s amazing. If you can cut out that hassle of having to investigate yourself. So you have merch on your website. What sort of things do you have with the memes and logos?
Danny: I’ve created designs on my own. A lot of humour on the shirts. Even artistic designs. I’m slowly adding them and marketing them on the Page. It really depends on so many things. We always encourage people to send in their ideas and I’d be more than happy to do it for them.
Heather: I’ve often thought about making merch. Have you found a good site that is print-on-demand?
Danny: One of the ones I use is Shop Spread. The best thing about it is they take a percentage of how much you make but they only create the actual t-shirt once the order has been put through.
Heather: That’s great. Like print-on-demand for books.
Danny: The good part about it is it doesn’t cost anything.
Heather: That’s great. That’s the trouble when you have overhead. You did an Art Show at the Rialto and you had printed a bunch of stuff. That’s always an investment when you have to prepare for things like that.
Heather: Do you do a lot of in-person shows?
Danny: Besides the panels, which I’m going to be doing more later in the year 2020. Besides that I’ll be doing a couple conventions. I’m doing another one for RAW Artists in Toronto. I will also be a vendor selling at the Horrorama Convention in Toronto in November.
Heather: That’s fantastic. Do you think you’ll have a kiosk at Comiccon as well?
Danny: Maybe. I hadn’t thought about it yet but it’s definitely something I might look into. I can see your work there.
Heather: Maybe I should. We can share a table. I loved the panel that you did about the memes.
Danny: Thank you.
Heather: The one you did after that, was it similar? Did you evolve it a little bit?
Danny: I did actually because I realized where I went wrong. I wouldn’t necessarily say I went wrong but I used the weaker points and worked on that in my panel. I had to cut some of the videos because it dragged on a little bit. I tried focusing more on the monetary aspect of it. How to make money from memes. It put people a lot into focus. I also left more time open for the Q & A.
Heather: That’s great. Did you have a lot of interaction, a lot of questions?
Danny: I did.
Heather That’s often where we get ideas on what to add to our workshops, right?
Danny: I was also better to hear their personal stories so I could give more personalized answers.
Heather: I’m sure there are a lot of people who want to learn more about how to monetize their memes and their artwork. That’s definitely a very cool direction to go in.
Danny: I would have to say probably Facebook the most. I’m on so many different platforms but I’d say Facebook is the one that gets the most traffic.
Heather: Things are so easily shared on Facebook. That’s what I’m discovering. Do you do videos? Do you have YouTube?
Danny: I don’t actually. I keep getting suggestions. It may be in our realm of possibilities in the future.
Heather OK, and can you envision what type of video you might do?
Danny: I guess more like video memes.
Heather, OK, so is it a thing?
Danny: It is actually a thing.
Heather: I did not know video memes were a thing. How might one do a video meme. What does it consist of?
Danny: It entirely depends. It could be a variety of different things. It could be a dub over of some existing media for humorous purposes. It could be somebody’s own 3-D video and they add in their own stuff.
Heather: So it’s almost like a video collage?
Danny: It could be, yes.
Heather: I think Patrick from Creator HQ used to do something like that years ago. When I interviewed him he spoke about that. There is a name for it. Some kind of video thing that’s like a video meme. I’m going to dig back into that interview and find out. I’m sure he said he was doing this years ago. (***Note: Patrick was making Anime Music Video (AMV) which is typically a fan made music video consisting of clips from one or more Japanese animated shows or movies set to an audio track)
Heather: Do you use Twitter at all?
Danny: I do actually. I got more back into Twitter. In terms of connecting with different influencers that’s been the number one for me right now.
Heather: I let Twitter go for a while. Now I’m realizing it can be a great platform for reaching some bigger accounts.
Heather: Tell us where we can find you on-line, all your Pages and Sites.
Heather: Do you offer some services on your website as well?
Danny: I do. On my personal website I offer strategic marketing campaigns. I can also do logo designs. You can send in any idea you want and I can see where I can go with that.
Heather: That’s so cool. For the marketing campaigns is it memes for marketing or is it open-ended.
Danny: It’s open.
Heather: Can you choose one of your campaigns that you’ve done that you find super interesting.
Danny: For some reason the only one that pops in my head is the Shaggy one because of the momentum that it gained. Even though we didn’t go with the intention of him actually going into the game. I ended up being the biggest fan of the entire campaign because I saw the amount of support that it got. It created its own fandom. People were putting their own mod versions into other games. It was incredible to watch.
Heather: The buzz and such a unique approach to it as well. You must get a lot of people that are confused about your site. Whether the news is actually real of not. Tell me a little bit about that.
Danny: It’s happening a little more frequently, but that’s because we’re getting a lot more attention. There’s a couple of articles they had to fact-check. There were so many people sending in requests. They weren’t entirely sure if it was satire or not. But just go to our About page. It’s all written there. Now we’re starting to put it at the bottom of every article so people don’t get confused.
Heather: That’s a good idea. You come across so much stuff on the internet that sometimes it’s overwhelming what you see. Some stories you read sound ridiculous but they could be true.
Danny: Exactly. I’ve always been sceptical about what I read on-line. I’ve become even more so ever since doing it. It’s best to confirm your sources from all different media all over the internet. I do think the majority have some sort of bias either politically or about certain subjects. It’s best to get the facts first and go from there.
Heather: I know whenever I’m the least bit sceptical I can always go on Google. I would type the subject then ‘spam’. There are sites like Snoops dot com.
Heather: Yeah. So your stuff must be all over there.
Danny: We’re actually more on, not Trendalizer, but it’s essentially it’s about what’s most trending in the media.
Heather: Is there anything else you’d like to tell the viewers about your work or any other ideas.
Danny: Honestly my best piece of advice is, as somebody who grew up very shy, the best thing you can do is just go with it. You can’t know without trying. You’ve got to really take that first leap because you never know what can happen.
Heather: I’m really excited for all your new projects. I’m going to link up all your stuff. If anyone has any questions about creating memes or that type of marketing be sure to get in touch with Danny.
Danny: I’m much better behind the camera than I am on the camera!
Heather: You were great! Amazing. It was perfect.
Danny: I answer all my emails and I’m more than happy to get to know anybody who wants any advice, any help or just wants to chat. Contact me.
Heather: Fantastic. OK guys so we’ll see you the next time. Bye
Outro: Thanks so much for tuning into Stories of Starting. If you would like to inspire others with your story, big or small, be sure to reach out via StoriesOfStarting.com Until next time always remember, your story matters.
*Special thanks: Special thanks to my Woken News business partner, meme-pimp-daddy and someone I am fortunate to call a friend, Corey Daniel Boger. You took a chance on me and I owe a big part of my success (and for everything Woken) to you. I would also like to thank my friends and family for their support, the Woken modmins (my second family), online friends whom I cherish and the meme community. I love you all. ~Danny