Cartoons That Have Influenced Me: The Ren & Stimpy Show

Yes, I know, you could really see this once from space, if you weren’t too distracted by a mad chihuahua screaming about his ice cream bar from the bathtub.

Ah, Ren and Stimpy. The timing on this coming out was especially convenient, I believe I was 11 or 12, and my solidification of loving cartoon art was just starting to congeal. I was already well obsessed with things like Looney Tunes – particulary older Looney Tunes – and then one Sunday morning this show hit my TV. Here was something brand new; yet looked so much like these cartoon I loved. I was immediately drawn to the throwbacks to 40s Warner Bros animation, which were immediately apparent even to me at that age.

I think what really drew me in were a few solid things, though:

1. The artwork, yes. Especially during season 2, the artwork was fantastic. The animation was superb. But the still closeups, which quickly became a trope in other cartoons, were amazingly detailed. And at my age, it certainly helped these were things like balls of lint and Magic Nose Goblins.

2. The totally bizarre imagery. Did I mention I love surreal things? I’m pretty sure I have, repeatedly. And this show had plenty of it — and I’m not just talking about the randomness of things like “Black Hole”. The abstract, ever changing backgrounds that suited the mood of the show, the intentionally ignoring models, and living farts. All of it was strangely appealing – the illustrations, the animation, it was great to watch. During season 2, the art in particular hit a zenith – Sven Hoek and Son of Stimpy had some amazing imagery in them.

3. The drama. Bear with me, here, but let’s face it: At it’s core, The Ren and Stimpy Show was a psycho drama in its first two seasons (and honestly, these are the episodes that count). While yes, not every episode fills this bill, many did – Stimpy’s Invention, sure; but Sven Hoek, The Lost Episode Man’s Best Friend, In The Army, and even A Visit To Anthony certainly all qualify. (And let’s not forget about Season One’s Space Madness – but I could sure list more). I realize this is me, but psycho dramas are particularly appealing and engaging. Maybe it’s because I toe the line with sanity so closely myself?

I won’t really get into the whole Adult Party Cartoon or even the Games Animation episodes, and it’s too bad John K. was fired at the height of his run. I think seeing more episodes he could have come up with under the original paradigm would have been a gift. And what was done has clearly and indelibly influenced my style. During middle and high school I drew dozens upon dozens of Ren and Stimpy comics – they’re all long gone by now, but, if I recall correctly, they involved things like Stimpy joining a cult, Ren fleeing to the moon, the two battling Martians (this comic did directly influence the martians in Damn It, Monkey!), and probably has stained countless other things I’ve done.

Cartoons That Have Influenced Me: Porky In Wackyland

* AUTHOR’S NOTE: Starting this year, I’ll be starting a series of blogs about cartoons, comics, and other visual media that has influenced me – think of this as a small peak into the madness inside my own head.

Porky in Wackyland… Oh, what to say and where do I start with this cartoon?
I can’t think of any cartoon that exemplifies more just what draws me to cartoons in general than Porky in Wackyland. I’m likely parroting a large number of people when I call it Bob Clampett’s finest work. And frankly, this cartoon scared the hell out of me as a kid, but the more I watched it the more it grew on me and warped my fragile little mind.

There’s so much going on, particularly in the first four minutes, that I dont really a recap of the picture is particularly appropriate; plot is minimal and the entire thing is built of a manic pace of surreal images. The film builds its entire premise on building something up, then doing the unexpected, or just plain bizarre to begin with. There’s a small undercurrent of satire, but each example is confined to its specific gag and doesn’t detract from anything else in the film.

In short? Its a masterpiece.

Wackyland plays a huge part of the style in Jason in a Strange Land, and for some imagery and stylistic issues in how I planned on handling Razzle cartoons. While it’s hard to duplicate something like Clampett’s manic pacing in a comic, the throwaway satire was planned for Razzle, and the backgrounds for both cartoons would have been (or are, in Jason’s case) extremely surreal. As I plan the next chapter in Jason In a Strange Land, I am consistently looking back on this cartoon, and this was in fact, the inspiration for writing this series.

Jason In A Strange Land

After taking some time to pour through my old projects, I found something I had simply dropped and forgotten about for over a decade – Jason in a Strange Land. Honestly, I’m not terribly sure what made me drop this, other than a move across the country let it slip through the cracks as I focused on life and other creative endeavors.

The titular Jason.

I remember clearly why I started this project, though, as I really wanted to go in a very specific direction with this and achieve a few goals:

  • The art style was intended to be extremely surreal.

    It’s no secret I’m into bizarre, surreal or “deranged” art and cartoons – in fact, I love them. Cartoons especially are excellent examples of surrealist work in and of themselves, but if you compare the works of, say Chuck Jones (extremely beloved and amazing cartoonist) to, say Bob Clampett (another beloved, excellent cartoonist), or perhaps even the difference between Bloom County’s original Run and the early strips of Outland, you’ll see the differences I’m speaking of. During this period was when Damn It, Monkey!’s original run was at its peak (in my opinion) and I was exploring some other art in comics I had like Ratboy Is Dead(‘s previous run) and Something Inane (a now defunct comic I’ll likely touch on again another time.)

    I very distinctly remember wanting to get extremely surreal and abstract with this, and I even found the original storyboards for the first six pages of the comic. Half of it is basially an acid trip.

  • Explore philosophical elements in the story.
    Strange Land is just that – a bizarre, surreal land with no known location anywhere, and the laws of reality may or may not apply, depending entirely on cartoonist’s whim. I had written a small portion of the next area of the story while waiting to be called for Jury duty, and it got pretty deep (though, as a first draft, likely rather rambling and disjointed) on the very nature of existence. What better thing to think about when waiting to be a potential juror?
  • Social commentary on loneliness and friendship.
    This ties in closely with the former; Jason was, as a character, misanthropic, bullied, and an outcast, for no real reason other than other people were jerks. Taken to Strange Land could be considered a blessing – a chance to start new, a fresh new start… or become horribly isolated as there are clearly no other people around.
    Not to say that there are no other characters.

    Hans Booker and Backpack.

    Hans Booker is really nothing more than a 90s goth version of the Hamburger Helper Helping Hand, and backpack is a literal backpack, but in Strange Land, he probably fills in a role more akin to a malevolent or mischievous wise old owl, or the Cheshire Cat. Honestly, this whole idea is probably ripe for references to Alice in Wonderland.

    Aside from these two, there was also a group of characters made from a random assortment of objects – Rat Face, Jesus, Bitey, Erasercase, and Tony’s Conscience. The designs in and of themselves are another nod to dark surrealism, as well.

Since I’ve redrawn the characters from their original sketches, and I still do have the first storyboards, I’m going to at least finish those pages of the comic. There’s about six, and the story is listed with the boards I did for the comic. I may actually do the comic in color; I may not. We’ll see. I may continue the project after this, depending on my personal drive and reception (you know, that thing where you can give me direct feedback in the comments section or on social media HINT, so try actually saying stuff to my misanthropic, introverted little self.

I’ll keep everyone posted about my progress on the comics, as well, so please stay tuned.