Ren and Stimpy: John Kricfalusi and the art of Creativity

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!

Bloom County And Berke Breathed

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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.

academia-waltz

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.

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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.

The Mind Blender: aka the Cure for the Common Rut

The Mind Blender...Sure to give you more than just whirled peas.
This is just a little contraption I came up with to try and jolt the old creative juices. One word of caution. Don’t try to blend all of these at one time unless you really want to end up like Christopher Walken. Oh. And One more thing. Make sure the lid is on. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

themindblender

Cartooning 101: An Introduction

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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Creative Collaboration in the workplace: The Lennon and McCartney Way.

Lennon-McCartney-Songwritin

Creative brainstorming in the corporate environment can often be a challenge. There’s almost always someone in room who doesn’t speak enough and always someone who speaks way too much. Egos can impede the entire process, particularly if one of them happens to be the boss. An overbearing manager can bring the entire process to a screeching halt leaving some fantastic ideas, ideas that make you money, totally unexplored.

Creativity in today’s workplace is needed now more than ever. Thousands of businesses nationwide are passing up a golden opportunity to innovate, which is vital for survival, simply out of fear. The newspaper business, which is where I spent the bulk of my career as a cartoonist, is a prime example of an industry afraid to change, afraid to invest the money it takes to reinvent the business model. Papers across the country are laying off some of their most creative talent and cutting content to save money in a time when they need to be totally committed to out-of-the-box creativity and innovation.

So what can we learn from the collaborative relationship of John Lennon and Paul McCartney that can translate to the corporate environment? Plenty. I think there are some key elements that Lennon and McCartney used to create some of the most lasting music of our time that we can incorporate into the day to day creative brainstorming in the workplace.

Brainstorming with the Beatles
1. Check the egos at the door. To have successful sessions of creative brainstorming it’s vital that everyone is free to pitch ideas equally. There can’t be a pecking order and there can’t be a room full of yes sir, bobble heads. Unless, of course, you want really crappy ideas that make the boss feel like he’s Einstein when his creative IQ is more like Goofy. The reason Lennon-McCartney worked so well is there was mutual respect. It worked for them and it can work for you.
2. Give every idea a chance. Everyone involved in the session must be totally free to submit whatever idea they have on their minds without the fear of ridicule or apprehension. I’m pretty sure the idea for the song “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” sounded a little lame at the time.
3. Be the Yin to their Yang. Lennon-McCartney did the bulk of their songwriting by throwing out small ideas that were the exact polar opposite in lyrical content of the song they were working on. Always remember that “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time” was countered with “It doesn’t get much worse”. That’s Yin and Yang.
4. Be Fearless of Failure. Not every song the Beatles recorded was a hit. Don’t expect every brainstorming session to be one either. Keep digging and eventually something will click .
5. Find the right atmosphere to Create in. Lennon and McCartney did a lot of their creating in hotel rooms and recording studios. While those places can be stifling, kind of like the boardrooms we brainstorm in, you can bet they were comfortable and relaxed. Have a day of casual dress, meet at a bowling alley and do your brainstorming while bowling a few frames. Break out the Hawaiian shirts, put on some Jimmy Buffett, string up a few Christmas lights in that boardroom and start the meeting over Virgin Pina Coladas and Margaritas. Now that’s an atmosphere you can create in
6. Check the cell phones and blackberries at the door. Distractions are the mortal enemy of creativity. Sure, a bowling alley isn’t exactly quiet, but it’s a lot better than someone taking a cell phone call in the middle of a brilliant brainstorm. Set aside the time and treat it with care. Lennon and McCartney wrote about Penny Lane, not ON Penny Lane. And neither should you.
7. It’s brainstorming not brain surgery. Some people thrive under pressure and great things can be created under a tight deadline but to put expectations on every session is just not conducive to great brainstorming. Sure Paul McCartney got the melody and structure for the song “Yesterday” all at one time. But he went around singing “scrambled eggs” for weeks until he could find a lyric more suitable for the song. So throw some windup toys on the boardroom table, cater in some ice cream and have some fun while you’re thinking up the next great idea. Relax. It’s only brainstorming.

The Beatles: 7 Sources of Creativity

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The Beatles have inspired hundreds of thousands of artists, writers, musicians and songwriters. There are an unending amount of creative tips and techniques we can learn from their years of creative productivity. Today I want to share some of the cool things about the inspirations behind many of the Beatles most memorable songs.

By the time the Beatles were invited into the living rooms of America in February of 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Shows, these young guys from Liverpool were already a polished and very experienced band of musicians. They had spent years playing 5 hours or more a night, 7 days a week in the clubs of England and Hamburg, Germany. In his recent book “Outliers” author Malcolm Gladwell attributes the Beatles incredible success to the 10,000 hour rule.. Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule estimates that it takes roughly that many hours of dedication and hard work to become proficient enough with your God given talents to be truly masterful. I think it’s a great example that nothing great is ever achieved without years of preparation.
With-the-Beatles
The early years of the Beatles creativity were influenced by the music they grew up with including Gospel, R&B, rockabilly and the beginnings of rock and roll. The subject matter of their early work consisted primarily of love songs and teen relationships. As they matured, so too did their music and the inspirations behind the songs.
Lennon and McCartney worked together in the early 60’s bouncing their songs off of one another face to face, often in hotel rooms while on tour. Their popularity had forced them into a world of isolation and yet their exposure to all of the many places they toured and the people they encountered certainly primed the pump to create at an amazing pace.

Tomorrow I’ll delve more into that collaborative process and how we can apply the Lennon McCartney creative approach in the atmosphere of the corporate workplace. But for today I think it’s key to remember that their relationship and their approach to songwriting allowed them a greater range of creative options to explore than if they had chosen to work separately.

I’ve broken down a list of Beatles songs and the inspiration behind them into categories. I think this helps to be able to see how many songs were influenced or inspired in different ways and I hope gets your creative mindset open to the possibilities for the creative sparks all around us everyday. They are there, if we are open enough and observant enough to see them and use them in our own process. Much of the information I gathered for my research for this list came primarily from the terrific book “A Hard Days Write” by Steven Turner. I highly recommend if you want to get a much more in depth explanation behind the songs.


The Beatles and The Seven Sources of Creativity.

1. People


Iris Caldwell, one of the girls McCartney dated inspired “I saw her standing there”- Paul
Dot Rhone, another of Paul’s girl friends from1961 inspired “PS I Love You”-
Jane Asher, McCartney’s most steady female relationship in the Beatles early years was the inspiration behind numerous songs including “We can work it out”, “And I love her”, “You Won’t See Me” “I’m Looking Through You”, “Here, There and Every where” and “For No One”
Pattie Boyd, George Harrison’s wife whom Harrison had met during the filming of “A Hard Days Night” inspired “I Need You” “ “If I Needed Someone”, the enduring “Something” and the Eric Clapton song “Layla” after her affair with Clapton.
Cynthia Powell ,John Lennon’s first wife inspired multiple songs including “Do You Want to Know a Secret” after Lennon learned she was pregnant. The couple married shortly thereafter.
Lucy O’Donnell was Julian Lennon’s child hood friend that inspired a picture that became the source of the Lennon classic “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
Tar Browne was the friend “who blew his mind out in a car” in the song “A Day in the Life”. Lennon wrote the lyric partly after the tragic car accident that claimed the life of Browne, a well to do Irish socialite.
Prudence Farrow-Mia Farrow’s younger sister who inspired the song “Dear Prudence”
Linda Eastman, whom McCartney married in the later Beatles years inspired many songs including “Birthday” from the White Album
Yoko Ono
, Lennon’s second wife inspired-”Don’t Let Me Down” and, of course, ” the ballad of John and Yoko”. There’s no real proof that Yoko was the muse for the cryptic song about a Lennon extramarital affair in the song “Norwegian Wood”
Rosa Parks was the inspiration for the classic McCartney song “Blackbird”
Timothy Leary’s run against Ronald Reagan for Governor of California inspired Lennon’s attempt at the campaign song “Come Together”
Julia Stanley,John’s mother inspired the song “Julia”
Mary McCartney, Paul’s mother provided some of the inspiration for ”Let It Be”

beatles-abbeyroad
2. Places

Abbey Road
Hamburg helped inspire “Ticket to Ride” Lennon’s veiled song about the licenses prostitutes in Hamburg had to acquire to be legal.
Penny Lane a song by McCartney was about the area he and Lennon had grown up in.
Strawberry Fields was a large Victorian building in a heavily wooded area close to one of Lennon’s childhood homes. The building became a place he could escape to be alone to think. He remembered it fondly as a place he could let his creative imagination roam free. The building is no longer there.
High Park was the farm in Scotland owned by McCartney and the inspiration behind “The Long and Winding Road”
The Lennon song “In My Life” had numerous references to places he remembered during his youth. He took them out so the song could be a bit more relevant to a wider audience.

3. Things


“Eleanor Rigby” was actually a name on a tombstone near the place where Lennon and McCartney first met. It wasn’t until years after the song was written that McCartney became aware of the actual existence of an Eleanor Rigby tombstone. The name had manifested itself subconsciously from something he had seen years before.
“Paperback Writer” was written mostly because Paul liked the sound of the words. SGT Pepper reference to salt and pepper or Dr. Pepper
Salt and pepper became “Sgt. Pepper”
Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland inspired some of the lyrics Lennon’s “Lucy in the sky with diamonds”.
The Goon Show, a British radio comedy show also was a source for Lennon’s lyrics in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “I am the Walrus”
A piece of property Paul had purchased sight unseen became a song called “Fixing a Hole”.
Newspaper articles inspired McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home” as well as Lennon’s contribution to the song “A Day in the Life”.
An 1843 Circus Poster that Lennon discovered in a 1967 stroll through an antiques store inspired the classic “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite
Eastern philosophy inspired George Harrison to write “Within, Without You” “I, Me, Mine”-
A box of corn flakes became the song “Good Morning, Good Morning.
Television advertising Slogans helped Lennon pen the anthem “All You Need is Love”. Lennon found himself more at home after 1965, burned out from the rigorous schedule the Beatles had kept in the early 60’s. Simple things found around the house now inspired Lennon songs mostly because he was too worn out to venture any further.
A play-on-words became “Hello Goodbye”

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4. Emotions


Both Lennon and McCartney lost their mothers at a young age, which influenced each in very different ways.

Lennon internalized it more, and it manifested itself in his songs like “Help”, It Won’t be Long”, “Tell me Why” “I’m a Loser” and “Nowhere Man” each stemming from feelings of isolation, loneliness, and insecurity.

McCartney, whose childhood was much more stable than Lennon’s, despite the loss of his mother, tended to write more optimistic songs like “All My Loving”, “She Loves you” and “We can Work it Out”.
McCartney wasn’t always upbeat. His song Hey Jude was a compassionate letter to Julian Lennon, who was forced to endure his parents painful divorce, and “Let it Be” was all about the pain of the Beatles being torn apart at the seams after the loss of Brian Epstein.
Paul and John weren’t the only ones who were able to express emotions through their songs.
“It’s been a Hard Day’s Night” and “Eight days a Week” were both inspired by Ringo Starr’s frustration with the Beatles often grueling work schedule
“Don’t Bother Me” was written after George Harrison’s day in bed with the flu.
“Here Comes the Sun” was also written by Harrison to express a glorious moment of freedom from the the painful ongoing business meetings at Apple studios that would be the bands undoing

5. Environment


Much has been made of the influence that drugs played in the creative process of the Beatles. Many of the alleged references such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” being a cover for a song about LSD just simply weren’t true. But clearly some of their songs were a product of their environment and the time in history in which they created. Songs like “Rain”, “Got to get you into my life”,”Tomorrow Never Knows” and “She said, She said” were most likely songs about their experiences. Since I come from the school of thought that any kind of artificial stimulus impedes the creative process (that includes caffeine, so I’m guilty as charged) I won’t speculate here as to the outcome that the Beatles experimentation had on their process.

Dreams can often be part of the creative process. The song “Yesterday” literally wrote itself musically as McCartney awoke one morning. He sang “scrambled eggs” to remember the melody and completed the lyrics much later.
A Family boating outing
inspired Ringo Starr’s Octopuses Garden.
“It’s Getting Better All the Time” and “Fool on the Hill” were a product of McCartney’s many walks with Martha his dog.
beatles-cartoon-box-set
6. Childhood
“Yellow Submarine” was a McCartney’s attempt at writing a children’s song
“Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields” were both childhood recollections and the song “I Get by With a Little Help from my Friends” was a children’s song for Ringo’s Billy Shears character on the Sgt. Peppers album.
The writings of Lewis Carroll were a definite influence in John Lennon’s creative process, as I mentioned earlier. The poem “the Walrus and the Carpenter” inspired “I am the Walrus”.
And, strangely enough, McCartney’s song about growing old “When I’m Sixty Four” was written at the ripe old age of 15.
Beatles - Sgt Pepper
7. Sounds
The Beatles sound was inspired by a myriad of musical influences. They were known for borrowing a chord from a Glenn Miller song to practically lifting a bass part right out of a Chuck Berry tune.
Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Smokey Robinson, Wilson Pickett, the Shirelles, the Chiffons, Nina Simone, The Loving Spoonful and the Who were all influences that the Beatles incorporated into their songs and melodies.
The key were there is incorporated, not copied.
It’s OK for an artist to reflect those influences that inspire them, to learn from them. It’s not cool to have your art, writing or music be so influenced by one certain artist that it ceases to be yours. In other words, like the Beatles, diversify your inspirations.

There’s a lot to absorb here. Take your time or print this list out and just ponder it for a while. And next week as you start to create, set aside a little time to be inspired by something in your world that is under each of these Seven Sources of Creativity categories. I’m going to do it and see what I find. I hope you will too.

Tomorrow I’ll be back here with The Beatles Build a Better Business or Creative Collaboration in the workplace the Lennon and McCartney Way.