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!

Advertisements

Bloom County And Berke Breathed

bloomcounty
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.

berkeley_at_work

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

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.

cartooningrhino

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.

clipart_gang

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”.

garfield-the-cat-30th-anniversary

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.

dd-breathed27_op_0499349313

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.

billprocess

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.

The Brilliance of the Beatles

the-beatles

The brilliance of the Beatles and their creative process has been such a part of our lives for so long that we often forget it all began with these four kids from a working class port in England. Their music and the changes they brought to our culture is unprecedented and will likely never be repeated. To say they have been the soundtrack of an entire generation is an understatement. With the release of the Beatles Rock Band for Xbox and PS3, along with the digital remastering of their entire catalogue of music, their impact continues to inspire a whole new generation of fans.

The creativity that came primarily from the Lennon and McCartney collaboration over a period of roughly 10 years is simply beyond comparison. Whole albums of music were completed in 15 hour recording sessions and the process to create another one would begin all over again with another remarkable record due in only a matter of months.

So how did it happen? What was the secret that separates the Beatles from any other band in the history of rock, for that matter, the history of music? What creative tips and techniques can we learn from the genius of Lennon and McCartney? The answers are far too complex and too encompassing to be dealt with in a simple post on a blog, but there are some great insights that we can learn and apply in our own daily search for inspiration even if we are only skimming the surface.

Over the next few days I’m going to be sharing some of the tips and techniques that I’ve found on my search into the greatest musical and poetic geniuses of our time. I invite you to join me on this journey as we travel the back roads of Liverpool, Hamburg and America to find the inspiration behind the brilliance of the Beatles. For now I’ll leave you with a list of Seven Sources of Creativity that sparked the minds of Lennon and McCartney and unlocked a treasure trove of amazing music. Tomorrow we’ll just how many Beatles songs sprang from these Seven Sources.

1. People
2. Places
3. Things
4. Emotions
5. Environment
6. Childhood
7. Sounds

Coyotes and Creativity: Markus Pierson

“There’s no doubt in my mind that my success has more to do with luck than talent, more to do with stubbornness than vision, more to do with ignorance than insight, but the fact remains that I pursued my dream and attained it against staggering odds. I say this now to anyone who will listen: even if I had failed, it would have been worth it. Better to face a brutal truth than to grow old wondering what might have been.”Markus Pierson

PiersonPhoto

I first saw the amazing work of artist Markus Pierson on a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. His depictions of Coyotes, often dressed in zoot suits, resonated with me immediately. I grew up in West Texas with a great love of the desert southwest and the animals that roam the landscape. Pierson’s art, particularly his early pieces, were full of southwestern imagery, complete with towering saguaro cactus’, enchanted moons with wistful faces and wide open, tumbleweed lined highways. So I bought a lithograph, taped a few of his images from a calendar to my drawing board and added this statue to a shelf at home.

tn_jvecxbdwjhla

Clearly this was an artist who knew something about long drives across desert vistas that lead you a thousand miles to nowhere, and I could relate to that. Another reason I found Pierson’s work so compelling, is it’s almost, but not quite, humorous illustration, which is one of the genres I practice and love a lot. So I connected with his art on that level as well. But there was one more element that sealed the deal for me about Markus Pierson. It was the words.

Markus_Pierson_Spectacular_Journey-1

“That many had ventured farther and done so in finer style bothered me not. My journey was my own and I found it to be quite spectacular.” from the Pierson painting Spectacular Journey.

Pierson’s paintings are always accompanied by words. Intriguing sayings that seem to call out to that part of us that says “Live Fully”. And I love that.

Markus Pierson grew up in Lansing, Michigan. Not exactly the southwestern artist I had envisioned painting Coyotes next to a Kiva fireplace in Taos and driving a 57 Cadillac through the back roads of New Mexico. A near death experience at 24 left him in a place of deep reflection. He decided that life was too short not to be doing what he loved. So he quit his job as an accountant to pursue his passion to create art rather than to crunch numbers for the rest of his life. The idea to draw and paint Coyotes was inspired by a song by Joni Mitchell called Coyote. He worked as a billboard painter during the day to build a bridge to his dream, and to pay the bills. At night he painted and bonded with the Coyotes . His breakthrough came after painting of a couple of Coyotes in the throes of passion as a wedding present for some friends, simply because he couldn’t afford to buy them one. The wedding party loved it and before you know it, Pierson goes from starving artist to selling in hundreds of galleries seemingly overnight. Well, not quite overnight, but you get the idea.

Here’s Five Creative tips from the art and life of Markus Pierson:

1. Be Courageous. Markus made the defining decision of his life on from a hospital bed. Some thought he was crazy to abandon a good paying job with a relatively secure future, to follow the artists soul inside of him. Crazy? No. Courageous. Very. But it was the right choice.
2. Be in preparation for Inspiration. A song. Markus Pierson’s entire life’s work was inspired by a song. As creatives we must always be open to inspiration no matter where it comes from. John Lennon’s song “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” was inspired by a poster in an antique store, almost word for word. The inspiration for the Peanuts comic strip character, Lucy, was inspired by Charles Schulz’s ex-wife. Could it be a billboard or a movie poster or a t-shirt, or a painting that inspires your next project. It could if we are open to the possibilities all around us everyday.
3. Be willing to Sacrifice. Each act of creation takes sacrifice. For Pierson it meant leaving his career in search of his calling. It meant late nights alone in a dingy, small apartment cranking out Coyotes. It meant taking that job as a billboard painter to build the bridge he needed until his paintings could pay the bills. For some of us, it may mean something as simple as setting aside an hour or two a day, completely dedicated to pursuing our dreams.
4. Create for Your Contentment. Don’t create something just because you think it will sell, because, it often won’t. Entertain yourself. Create something completely for you own amusement, your own satisfaction. Pierson found drawing and painting Coyotes was something he wanted to do. Actually something he had to do. He didn’t really care if no one else liked them. He did. That is all that mattered. When we create from this part of our souls, we create something totally unique. And that passion, that joy that we feel when we create at that level is what invites people to like it. They don’t see the art. They see the soul in the art.
5. Live Fully. Create Boldly. This is probably the biggest thing we can learn from the art and life of Marcus Pierson. Life is short. The chances we don’t take now are the regrets that haunt us later. When the race is over, don’t we want to know we’ve run it?

“No one works this hard and this smart – and has it come to nothing.”Markus Pierson

For more on the works of Markus Pierson you can see his website here.

Creative lessons from District 9

Neill-Blomkamp-001

The surprise hit movie of the summer has got to be the sci-fi thriller District 9. The film is produced by Peter Jackson and conceived and directed by a 29 year old South African named Neill Blomkamp. There are some wonderful lessons to be learned from the story of this very talented artist who began his career as a 3-D animator. Though his family relocated to Canada when Neill was 18, he never forgot the South Africa of his youth, an area ravaged by the effects of apartheid. It is the application of allegory, brought about by Blomkamp’s South African upbringing, that gives District 9 real authenticity and relevance that connects with audiences in in a relatable way. In other words, it is born from the truth of experience.

Blomkamp attended the prestigious Vancouver Film School and worked as a 3-D animator on projects like Stargate SG-1 and Smallville. As a rising young star he directed, wrote, and produced a small short film in 2005 called Alive in Joburg. The clip below is his original film that was to become District 9.

Blomkamp was tapped by Peter Jackson to direct a movie based on the popular video game Halo. When the deal to complete the film fell through, Jackson felt compelled to allow Blomkamp to direct a larger version of Alive in Joburg. Jackson arranged the financing to back the film for $30 million, a tiny budget compared to, say, Transformers 2 which cost in excess of $300 million. And District 9 is far and away a better film. Here’s a link to the trailer of District 9.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6PDlMggROA

Here are 5 things that we can learn from the creative process of Neill Blomkamp.

1. Create from the core of you. This single factor is what sets Blomkamp apart from so many young creators ( and old ones as well) and why his movie is so fresh and feels so original. He incorporated his own personal reflections of the environment he grew up in and translated it into a new story arch. He not only wrote what he knew and what he had experienced but found the right kind of story to share those experiences.
2.Follow your bliss. Blomkamp combined his love for science fiction, his affinity for video games, his talent and background in special effects together with his own life experience to create something real.
3. Let your influences inspire, not conspire. Blomkamp’s creative influences are apparent in District 9. The basic premise for the movie is taken from 1988’s Alien Nation, as well as other science fiction classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Independence Day. Even his love of the game Halo is a part of the making of this film. But Blomkamp puts a fresh, new original spin on the genre, and makes it his own. Though the influences are there, they are part of the creative process, not than the creative outcome. It takes creative confidence to achieve that, one that is born from a lot of experience. Sure, Blomkamp is only 29, but he started as a 3-D animator at 16. He listened to that internal voice to create from. The inspirations were only a part of the mix.
4. Give the process time. The gestation period for creative projects varies, but it is often years in the subconscious before it comes to the forefront. I’ve read stories about creators who work amazingly fast (John Hughes, for instance, in one our previous blog posts), but rest assured the seeds for stories, paintings, songs, comics, and screenwriting are planted long before they blossom. Blomkamps short film Alive in Joburg was done in 2005, but it’s story was conceived in the miind of the creator years before it came to the big screen as District 9 in August 2009.
5. Don’t let a defeat dictate your destiny. Creativity of any kind faces obstacles. The moment that Blomkamp learned that the film he was supposed to direct ,“Halo”, had been shelved, my guess is he probably didn’t consider it one of the greatest days of his life. But it was. He went on to direct District 9, a more original film, one that will better position him to achieve more as a director and creator. Every act of creativity takes courage. The road is never easy. In 1982, I had a newspaper editor tell me that I had absolutely no talent, and that I needed to get out of the cartooning business. Rather than let it defeat me, I used it as a driving force to land a cartooning job for a paper in Colorado. It kept me motivated during my 26 year career there (the paper folded in February 2009) and still pushes me to continue to create in new ways as I continue my career. So standing firm in the face of adversity, believing in your creative product and persevering until it comes alive makes the outcome so much sweeter.
Remember: Be Fearless. Create Boldly.

A look into the brilliant art and wisdom of Sandra Boynton

17boyton.xlarge1

Photo by Phil Mansfield for The New York Times

“If you don’t know the answer, fill up the space joyfully anyhow.”
SANDRA BOYNTON

I have long been a fan of the art and words of Sandra Boynton. The simplicity in her line work and drawings communicates in an amazing way to a great many people. How many? We’re talking about a woman who has sold over 19 million books and over half a billion greeting cards. And here’s the key. For her it was never about the numbers, the money, the fame, the accolades, or in her case, the chocolate. OK, maybe a little about the chocolate. But what It was, and still is, is all about the art of self expression without compromise, without concessions.

Boynton says in a recent article in the New York times “I don’t do things differently to be different; I do what works for me,” she says. “To me, the commodity that we consistently overvalue is money, and what we undervalue is our precious and irreplaceable time. “

Time. As I grow older I’m more aware of the clock ticking on the time I have left on this planet. I’ve lost enough loved ones in the last few years to know that time is precious. It’s one of the reasons I’m relishing this season of creative reinvention. I want to make the most of it. For 26 years I’ve been a sports cartoonist. But I have always wanted to do more with these gifts and talents. Something more than a cartoon about some recent sports story. Something that impacts people in a very real and authentic way. I want to create something, as Hugh MacLeod best explains it, that doesn’t require someone else’s money, or someone else’s approval.


“The Sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will. Your idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours alone.”

Hugh Macleod from his bestselling book “Ignore Everybody”

Read that quote again. Let it sink in for a moment.

Sandra Boynton is the perfect shining example of someone who has held steadfast in her quest for creative sovereignty.
not the hippo

Boynton’s career started with selling her own line of Greeting cards while still and English major at Yale. She hit a trade show in New York city with her designs, signed on with a company called Recycled Paper Greetings, did the cards her way and the rest is history. Billions of greeting cards, books and CD’s later she still has no agent, no super fancy business set up, no one else calling the shots. When she started merchandising her work with things like stuffed animals, mugs, jewelry, sheets or towels, she maintained control over the finished product so it didn’t stray from her vision. What she has is, in a nutshell, is freedom. I think that is what all creative people crave.

going-to-bed

Boynton didn’t stop at cards and books. Her first love was always music and she set out to create songs for her children’s books that didn’t make parents go crazy having to listen to it. Her book and CD packages are not only great but they fill a niche that is still somewhat untapped.

Here’s a great peek into that musical direction and creative process she is following.

And now a few creative insights that we can learn from Sandra Boynton:

  • Write for yourself. Strive to stay in touch with your own childhood. That is where the voice of authenticity speaks loudest.
  • Read and look at other creatives who inspire you most. Think Sponge Bob here. Soak it up but don’t fixate on it. That way you can find your own voice in the mix of the inspiration.
  • Work at it. Though it may look that way Boynton was not an overnight success. She worked at her craft hard. Hard work is a common thread in creative work. Good stuff doesn’t come without some long hours and focused effort.
  • Stay true to yourself. Do your art or writing for yourself first and foremost. One thing I love about Boynton is the underlying personal passions she shares in her cards and stories, hence the love of Chocolate. It’s what make her stuff real and authentic.
  • Do what comes naturally. Boynton has never professed to be the greatest artist of all time. She played to her strengths, which in her case happened to be adorable Hippos with a lust for chocolate.
  • Creative in a good environment. For her it’s an old barn next to her home, filled with old jukeboxes and stuff that sparks her to create. It doesn’t have to be fancy. But like your art, make that space yours.
  • Innovate, innovate. Sandra didn’t stop at greeting cards. She went to books, After books she went to her music and book compilations. Next. She’s talking about Broadway.
  • Don’t sell yourself or your talent short. Respect your creative talent enough to fight for it and stand up for it. If you don’t, no one else will.
  • Strive for freedom and sovereignty over your own creative work.

For more on Sandra Boynton click on the icon below. Trust me, her world is worth the trip.

boyntonbarnyard dance

And to see the rest of the New York Times article about her go to

“Sandy Boynton is someone who understands the profound importance of nonsense and silly beans.” – Meryl Streep