Wow! Yesterday, Bill Watterson, today Berke Breathed. Cool. Enjoy these links.
If you are a fan of Calvin and Hobbes here’s a Must See Bill Watterson Interview his first in 15 years.
And here’s a fantastic sidebar story by John Campanelli who scored the interview.
Admittedly I was a late comer to the genius of John Kricfalusi and Ren and Stimpy. My renewed interest in animation sparked a sort of reeducation on the art and Kricfalusi’s name kept popping up. It only took about 15 seconds into the intro of the show on DVD to realize I’d been missing something very special. I was always a huge fan of animator Tex Avery and discovering John K’s Ren and Stimpy was like seeing Tex Avery all over again.
While attending last summers Comic-con I sat in on a panel that John K was giving. You can see the same thing I did here on YouTube.
I had actually been exposed to Kricfalusi earlier than the Ren and Stimpy stuff. His involvement in the New Adventures of Mighty Mouse back in the 80’s was a springboard for him. I always loved the look and feel of those cartoons. John K’s infulence are all over them. Thankfully they are now available on DVD as well.
What I love most about Kricfalusi is his passionate, undying dedication to preserving the art of animation for future generations. Whatever your opinion of Family Guy or the Simpsons is, the quality of the animation involved is even less appealing than the Hanna Barbara cartoons of the 60’s and 70’s. It’s limited in its scope as well as it’s character design. An entire generation of cartoonists and animators are being influenced by an inferior form of animation. That’s why John K and Ren and Stimpy are so important. Kricfalusi’s blog is a must read for the creative process of character design and the process of squash and stretch animation. For John K it’s all about quality.
These days we are adjusting to a new world. Changes in the way media is consumed is evolving literally by the day. The new Apple iPad is just one example of how quickly the game changes. As creatives we have to continue to find ways to bridge the old disciplines of our art into new packaging and new ways to be seen and heard. It’s just one of many reasons why I consider a guy like Kricfalusi so valuable. He was the first guy to use Flash animation to produce cartoons on the internet.
Five things we can learn from John Kricfalusi
1. Innovation is the key to survival in this current changing job climate. We have to find new ways to keep ourselves relevant. That might mean learning WordPress and starting a blog. Or learning a new discipline like Flash animation or Dreamweaver. Staying on top of the technology is not only interesting but necessary for job survival.
2. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Changing Technology doesn’t mean the old ways don’t work. They just need to find the vehicle in technology to keep them relevant.
3. We must all become entrepreneurs. Gone are the days when we worked for somebody else until we retire. For John K this meant starting his wildly popular blog and doing cartoons for the internet. He forged new trails and continues to do so.
4. Stay true to your vision. In Kricfalsui’s case this has actually meant getting fired from his own show. He doesn’t like compromise. No matter the cost.
5. Pay it Forward. Kricfalusi could have thrown in the towel after he was fired from Ren and Stimpy after the first season. Instead he keeps on experimenting on new ways to produce content and help others by passing down his knowledge of animation and cartooning to a new generation on his blog. It’s a very cool thing.
Click on Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy to see what I mean!
Penguins and things
I got the chance to meet Berke Breathed early in my career while visiting a girlfriend of mine who was attending UT Austin. Berke was the second most famous guy on campus at the time just behind this running back named Earl Campbell. Breathed had just published a book of his wildly popular cartoon strip “The Academia Waltz” that he was doing for the Daily Texan, UT’s student newspaper.
The thing that struck me most when first meeting Berke was how absolutely accidental the whole cartooning thing was for him. Here I was, doing everything I could to become a cartoonist, drawing constantly, studying the art form and immersing myself in anything that had to do with comics. And there was Berke, doodling these amazingly hilarious strips about college life, seemingly unaware he was creating brilliance along the way, with this “I could really care less about cartoons” kind of attitude. It was, as you can imagine, somewhat maddening. We crossed paths now and then throughout the years but, unfortunately, never became friends.
But his work was another matter. It became, at the time anyway, the ultimate example of a successful comic strip. Millions of adoring fans, millions of dollars in the bank account and millions of cartoonists who wanted to be just like him. The first complete anthology of Bloom County strips is now available, a worthy exploration into, perhaps, the last great social-political cartoon commentator of our time (no offense to Garry Trudeau and Doonesbury). I highly recommend it.
One of the things that has driven me crazy about Breathed is his flippant and canned answers he has given in the numerous interviews he has given during his career. It was if he was running a marketing campaign to spin his career into cutesy, dismissive quotes, with little substance or insight into the real human being who drew penguins with big noses and influenced an entire generation with his own unique brand of humor and satire. Finally someone got it right. Rather than bore you any further with my ramblings into the creative genius of Berke Breathed, I’ll simply point you to this new LA Times interview, where finally, Breathed drops his guard long enough to show us the real and authentic voice behind Bloom County.
Cartooning 101: An introduction
This particular study of the art of Cartooning is intended for kids ages 12 and older. I’ll do a simpler one for the little tykes later on.
So you think that you might want to be a Cartoonist, huh? You want the million dollar mansions, the Mercedes in the driveway, and the 3 rounds of golf that you get to play every week, because, hey, it only takes a few minutes a day to bang out a cartoon, right. Oh, and don’t forget the groupies. Groupies just like the ones that used to follow Led Zeppelin around back in the 70’s. You want thousands of those.
Before I tell you the truth, you might want to sit down. First off, there aren’t many cartoonists who own mansions. I know. You’ve read all about Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts raking in billions every year, just on Snoopy pajamas alone.
Or maybe you saw an interview with Jim Davis, whose ability to put Garfield images on everything from lasagna boxes to moon rocks, has made him a frequent guest on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”.
Yeah. Sure, there are those guys. But, for everyone of them, there are thousands of cartoonists who live from paycheck to paycheck or, worse, handout to handout. It’s not a career for the faint of heart. No mansions, no Mercedes, no golf, and NO groupies. Ok. Maybe Berke Breathed, creator of Bloom County, might actually be able to attest to groupies (it had something to do with the allure of a Penguin with a big nose), but for the rest of us, no groupies.
So at this point you may be asking yourself, then why do it? Why torture yourself with the deadlines, and the low pay and the general disrespect you get daily from editors who think that people only worship at the feet of writers. Cartoonists? We’re the low rent district. So why, why, why?
In a word. Love. We love to draw funny little pictures that make fun of the editors who pay the art form no respect. We love the ability to skewer the politicians who are running amuck throughout our communities with a single solitary image that reduces them to tears. And we love to lampoon everything from a tall soy, no fat, latte, to the poor fool who can’t afford one, which sometimes is one of us. We were the ones who learned how to draw cartoons in Algebra class. The ones who scrawled stuff on the desks at school. The ones who would rather watch a great episode of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner as opposed to, say, something redeeming on the Discovery channel. If that describes you, then welcome. You are one of the ones. If not, that’s OK. I’ve heard the Guitar Hero and Rock Band come with groupies…So there you go. I hope you’ll stick with us regardless because, well, just remember this…When you see a few funny drawings making fun of people who are playing Guitar Hero for hours on end, you’ll want to know where they come from.
So, now, where does that leave us class. At the beginning. In these posts I’ll be covering a variety of subjects that I hope will bring you some insight and some tips and techniques that can help you become a cartoonist, or perhaps, a better one.
We’ll deal with stuff like “where DO YOU get your ideas?”, tools of the trade, the penciling and inking process of putting it all together to make a cartoon. We’ll deal with Wacom tablets, scanners and some Photoshop basics to help you color stuff for publication or the web. We’ll talk about syndication, otherwise known as “Lawyers, Guns and Money” (just kidding about the guns part), web comics, which is where the future lies, and other models of monetizing your cartoons. Above all, I think we’ll have blast that will put us on the road to becoming one of the most noble and honorable of professions: The Cartoonist.
Stay tooned for our first chapter, which will take us into the scary and frightening mind of the Cartoonist. We’ll explore the thought process, exactly how and where to get ideas and inspiration from. We’ll reach deeply into the human soul and psyche to find out precisely where “EHHH, What’s Up Doc” really comes from. So hang on to your seat cushions. We’re about to enter the Cartoonists Zone.
During my recent trip to the San Diego Comic-Con I sat in on a panel that featured a wide variety of people who have created Graphic Novels for children. Jeff Smith, the creator of the amazing graphic series Bone, was among them.
An example of Pogo by Walt Kelly
I’ve been a huge fan of Bone for years, attracted initially by its art style, reminiscent of legendary Pogo cartoonist, Walt Kelly. Kelly was the cartoonist’s cartoonist, an old school guy who rendered each panel of his strip in glorious detail and who made tremendous use of black and white contrast to make his strip pop off the page. Clearly, Jeff Smith felt the same way I did about Walt Kelly. But Bone quickly became more than artwork to me. His sense of graphic storytelling is powerful and engaging, two qualities I would like to strive for as I set out to create my own Webcomic.
Here are just a few creative tips that impacted me while recently watching the documentary about Jeff smith called The Cartoonist.
1. Take a risk. Smith left his day job as a co-founder of an animation studio and gave himself a year to try and make Bone successful. Bored by the constant grind of commercial work, Jeff and his wife decided together to take a leap of faith. Jeff Smith faced the fear and took the chance.
2. Have a Plan. Smith put together an actual business plan, with set goals and a definitive sense of making his dream viable creatively and financially.
3. Do the research. Jeff immersed himself in learning to tell a story. He did this by reading Huck Finn, Moby Dick and books by J.R.R. Tolkien. His intent was not to emulate but rather to learn the art of narrative storytelling. I might add J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis to that list if I were doing the research today. Learn from the Masters.
4. Find your own voice. For Smith it was in his three protagonist characters, each reflecting a different part of his personality. Be authentic, not opportunistic. Don’t try to create something because you think it might sell. Create something because you love it, and quite frankly, don’t care if anybody else does. Authenticity like that resonates with people.
5. Do the work and Don’t give up. In the case of creating Bone that meant working often seven days a week, sometimes 20 hours a day. Nothing great is birthed easily. Think of the creation process as labor pains.
For more on the fascinating world of Jeff Smith and Bone visit his great website at http://www.boneville.com/
Dreams cannot reside in the house of fear.
Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high.
There’s a land that I heard of Once in a lullaby.
Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue.
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.
Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far Behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops, Away above the chimney tops.
That’s where you’ll find me.
Somewhere, over the rainbow, bluebirds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow,
Why then – oh, why can’t I?
If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow,
Why, oh, why can’t I?
I just returned from the San Diego Comic-Con, a place where some dreams come true, while others are shattered. Talent is everywhere. Creativity abounds. It is an electric environment for those in the comic industry as well as the fans it attracts.
You may find yourself at a place in life where those dreams you once held have been stored in the attic somewhere within the recesses of your soul. Occasionally, maybe after seeing a great movie, reading a great book or viewing a stunning piece of art, that dream is allowed to briefly come to the surface, like some reclusive groundhog in hibernation, only to see it’s shadow of fear and return to it’s protective burrow for six more months of “I can’t do that”.
Why not? Why can’t you do it? Someone whose work you have just seen in that book or movie or comic book that stirred those dormant dreams inside of you did it. They chose to embrace the fear and do it anyway. They chose to put in the long hours, the grueling deadlines, to face the insurmountable odds to reach their potential and the dreams that were most likely planted in them as a child. Probably like the ones inside of you. What’s holding you back? The mortgage? The ridicule of colleagues, friends, sometimes even spouses? You cannot silence that voice inside of you forever. The one that tells you “Do it” “Do it Now”. The one that keeps telling you to go for the glory of creating that part of you that no one else on earth can possibly create. Feel the Fear. Stare it down and beat it like some overgrown Goliath in front of you. And get on with it. Fly. Fly now before it’s too late.
“But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight —
Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight”