John Kricfalusi’s Canned Laughter
by Brian Walton on August 7, 2012
Ren and Stimpy‘s creator is looking for new producers, and you could be among them! John Kricfalusi’s latest cartoon, funded entirely by Kickstarter, will feature the further adventures of George Liquor, as he torments his family by serving up mystery unlabeled cans for dinner. It’s based on John’s actual childhood and his old-school, tough-guy dad. Need more incentive? There are great perks for contributing, including toys, T-shirts unique drawings and more. Here’s John K to tell you more:
Nerdist: Is “Cans Without Labels” intended to be a standalone story, or do you have more George Liquor stories that you’d like to do too?
John Kricfalusi: George Liquor lives inside of me. He is my guilty conscience. He commands me to tell the world stories of decent people with high morals and a fear of God. In this way I can cleanse myself for all the dirty hippie commie type things I do by drawing funny pictures.
I have a million George Liquor stories. Here’s just the tip of the iceberg. The tip, I say!
N: George Liquor is largely inspired by your dad. Did you always know you wanted to do a piece about him at some point?
JK: About my Dad? I kinda have an obsession with authority figures and I guess it’s because of my relationship with the old man. He is a super-serious, disciplined guy who believes in rules. Whether the rules are arbitrary or necessary matters not; he doesn’t differentiate between them. Rules are GOOD on principle. Anything that stops you from following your nature is holy.
I have a character named Jimmy The Idiot Boy. I pitched a show to Nickelodeon called Jimmy’s Clubhouse and the story I pitched had Jimmy’s Dad (patterned after mine) waking him up at the crack of dawn to take him to the “happiest place on earth”. Jimmy, thrilled, imagines he is going to Disneyland and is bewildered when it turns out that his father drives right past Disneyland on the way to the rugged wilderness where they spend a few days living like our ancestors – going buck naked through the woods and surviving the harshest elements of nature.
They end up lost, starving, and frozen under an avalanche. Luckily Dad knows exactly what to do in this situation. He pulls out his favorite recipe book “1,001 Ways to Prepare Your Own Foot”. They survive and Dad loves every minute of the harrowing adventure.
Anyway, Nickelodeon actually loved this pitch and asked me to make 2 series for them, Ren and Stimpy plus Jimmy’s Clubhouse.
I didn’t think it was a good idea to give away 2 of my best properties so I sold ‘em Ren and Stimpy to see how it would go.
George Liquor was a main character in Ren and Stimpy, but for some reason the execs at Nick hated him – even though he was a very similar character to Jimmy’s Dad. Later, when Spumco and Nickelodeon split, I asked for the rights to George back, since they didn’t want to use him anyway. Then I teamed him with Jimmy and created a bunch of new characters to inhabit his world. Jimmy is an idiot, but George is determined to raise him into a God-fearing upstanding American.
N: On your Kickstarter video, your own performance as George is hilarious. Have you thought about doing more voice-over stuff?
JK: I hate the sound of my own voice. I cringe when I hear my answering machine, and I can’t even listen to my own podcasts!
N: What influenced your decision to turn to Kickstarter to fund this project?
JK: The fact that networks are so retarded. I have pitched numerous projects to them for years, and they always fall out of their chairs laughing. Then, the next day, they pass on the show for some crazy arbitrary reason.
Network execs are a sort of wimpy form of hippie authority figure. They are trained to say “no” to everything, but say it in a real soft flaccid sort of way.
Even when they do want to buy something, the first thing they do is put it into “development” – which should really be called “undevelopment,” because this is where a committee of secretaries and nephews get together and undo everything that made the concept and characters work. Sometimes this development process takes years – years of money thrown out the window when they could just make the damn thing and let the audience decide whether they like it. It would be a lot cheaper for them to do this and totally more efficient – plus, they would get more hits that way.
That’s what’s great about Kickstarter – it’s totally up to the creative people and the audience. No armies of middle men (and women) trying to second guess an audience of regular folks they don’t understand and pissing all over stuff that already works.
And the other important thing about crowd-funding is that the person who creates the project ends up still owning the rights.
If this works, I will try it again with more cartoons, toys and books. I love the fact that you are in direct communication with the fans and this model gives them the power over what they like to watch.
N: Do you think crowdfunding will become the norm for indie animation as we go forward?
JK: Well, the irony is that I don’t think of what I do as “indie” animation. I’m totally mainstream. It’s just that TV isn’t anymore, and so I’m left no choice but to go indie.
N: If this project is successfully funded, would you use Kickstarter again for future projects?
JK: Absolutely. I think Kickstarter is the greatest internet invention to come along in a decade. If it works, it could change culture and bring back rapid progress in so many creative fields by giving the control back to the artists and entertainers and letting the audience have direct input into the works of their favorite creators. It would really open up a lot of diversity and get us out of the modern franchise culture where non-creative people control everything and make tasteless one-size-fits-all products that have very little humanity or distinct personal touch.
N: What are the biggest expenses when it comes to making independent animation? Is it harder to do it hand-drawn rather than all on a computer program?
JK: The biggest expense by far is how many drawings you do. I use a lot of drawings and try to rely as little as possible on computer tricks like “tweening”. It’s hard to do that with the kind of budgets web networks offer. Since Flash became the industry norm, it’s become the standard practice to use as few drawings as possible and just slide them across the screen like moving cutouts.
I’m sure the audience would much rather have characters who have more expressions and poses, who seem more alive because of clever performances, but there’s a whole generation of people who have grown up with moving cutouts that they’ve come to accept this shorthand way of producing cartoons. Whenever I show kids classic cartoons like Popeye or Bugs Bunny or Mighty Mouse they are amazed. It’s like a completely different kind of art form, and they are instant fans.
My influences are mainly from a time when “performance” was the most important ingredient in a performer’s art. That goes for live action, music and animation. Classic sitcoms like The Honeymooners or I Love Lucy were written with the purpose of showing off the individual talents of the performers. In many of today’s sitcoms, the writers seem to fill all the characters’ mouths with the same interchangeable sort of witty one-liners. Of course there are exceptions like Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is all about the characters.
N: You have such a distinct style, but it’s constantly evolving and changing over time. From which animators do you draw inspiration in honing your own signature art?
JK: Not just animators but all kinds of entertainers. Cartooning influences are too numerous to list ‘em all but here’s a partial list: Bob Clampett, The Fleischers, Terrytoons, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Grim Natwick, Rod Scribner, Bob McKimson, Ed Love, early Hanna-Barbera TV cartoons…..
Comic strip artists: Charles Schulz, Johnny Hart and Brant Parker, Milt Gross, Al Capp, Chester Gould, Billy De Beck, Dale Messick, Gene Hazleton and Harvey Eisenberg, Walt Kelly, Virgil Partch… on and on.
Comic book artists like Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, Peter Bagge, Howie Post, Milt Stein… millions of ‘em!
Actors: Jackie Gleason and Art Carney and Audrey Meadows, Kirk Douglas, Robert Ryan, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Pier Angeli, the cast of The Beverly Hillbillies, All In The Family, The Jack Benny Show, Dean and Jerry, THE THREE STOOGES – ESPECIALLY MOE (the authority figure).
Music: Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Count Basie, Burl Ives, Woody Herman, The Spirits of Rhythm, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Elvis, Ella Fitzgerald – again way too numerous to list ‘em all!
N: Who are some of your favorite animators working today?
JK: Nick Cross, Aaron Springer, Katie Rice, Mike Judge, Bill Plympton, and many more who will be mad at me for forgetting to mention them. And Jim Smith, who drew a lot of hilarious poses for Cans Without Labels.
N: Your opening for The Simpsons was terrific. Tell us about that and how you got involved.
JK: Al Jean emailed me and asked me if I would do a couch gag in my style. I said yes! He, Matt and I gagged it up over lunch and I went and animated it with John Kedzie, Tommy Tanner, and Sarah Harkey. I did it using Toonboom’s Harmony program (now I use the much cheaper more efficient “Animate” program, also by Toonboom.)
N: Do you have any other projects coming up you’d like to talk about?
JK: Spumco Book: a lot of fans have been asking me to crowd fund an “Art Of Spumco” book. I will talk to a couple publisher friends and see what that would cost.
A virtual studio: I am trying to get together a studio of very funny cartoonists and animators from around the world. We are a dying breed but I think Kickstarter may help to revive the dream.
Digital toys: I love the combination of cartoons and toys. I collect cartoon toys myself and would love to make more toys. I am currently developing some “virtual toys” that you can collect and trade online.
I also want to revive the concept of entertaining commercials like they used to have when TV and radio shows were directly sponsored and the commercials were written and performed by the TV casts and crews themselves.
This model worked great on television, and I don’t know why they ever abandoned it in favor of commercials that everyone wants to fast forward through. With the internet, we could do this even better. I think the perfect business partnership is a direct relationship between the creators, the audience and the sponsor. Without all the middle men who disrupt this natural partnership in current corporate media. All these elements are present on the internet and I’m amazed no one has put them together yet. I am too willing to do it and so are the fans.
Now I just need to find a sponsor who really wants to sell their products without irritating the audience.
In general, and as always, I am trying to bring back truly “creator-driven” cartoons. I’d like to thank all the fans who are helping me do it with “Cans Without Labels”.
Want to donate and score cool swag? Check out John K’s Kickstarter page.