Cartoons That Have Influenced Me: Animaniacs

So, basically immediately after I posted my last blog about what’s influenced me, it was announced Animaniacs was making a return to Hulu.

I watched a metric ton of this show when I was in middle and high school. Reluctant to really get into it at first, my cousin helped get me into this early in the show’s run one Thanksgiving day. It took me a few episodes to really “click” on what was going on, but I realized this was as close to a good, modern day revival of the Looney Tunes format we were going to get.

While that may not exactly sound like glowing praise, allow me to explain — I don’t like things that purely emulate or revive something. Animaniacs stood very, very well on its own and still paid homage to classic Warner Bros animation, without focusing on too much. And it did this much better than Tiny Toons; while Tiny Toons was decent, it was still derivative. Animaniacs paved a lot of new territory, its characters were all new territory. The shows concept, while thin, held together (lost, classic cartoon characters escape confinement, hijinks ensue).

I like large ensemble casts when done well. (There are several examples of this: Looney Tunes/ Merry Melodies, Bloom County, to name a couple), but it’s important that each character stand well on its own. There can be exceptions to this; Mr. Skullhead isn’t exactly a well developed character, but the gags always work. (And yes, my favorite character is by far Wakko, so much so, I spent years honing my impression of him. I’m a blast at parties.)

Razzle is one character who undoubtedly was influenced by this cartoon. Her design is very much akin to the Warner Bros – far more than I intended, to be quite frank. The original notion of the set up with Razzle was to be more akin to 20s/30s animation; but let’s face it; so were Yakko, Wakko and Dot.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on liking Animaniacs — if I was, it certainly wouldn’t be rebooted. I could probably talk ad nauseum about the show (I didn’t even touch the music on the show, which is amazing to say the least), but it wouldn’t be anything that wasn’t already covered anyway by so many other people. Warner Bros. (and the Warner Sister) animation is fairly influential on what I’ve done, and let’s face it – this is a golden, modern example of that, and I’m glad it’s coming back.

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.

Damn It, Monkey! Reflections

The first webcomic I posted (that I took seriously — none of that stuff on my first few sites) was Damn It, Monkey!. Back when this site was under, and only humor related items (none of this gaming stuff), I used it as a platform for launching Damn It, Monkey.

Monkey, from Damn It Monkey!Damn It, Monkey! was initially inspired from some late night session in my basement between a friend and I working on some bizarre contraption or something – joking as we built a fake TV set with a monkey puppet and on what that could eventually be. (Note we did all this knowing neither of us had any access to a camera). We never really got around to doing anything with it, but 5 or so years later, I started drawing again, heavily, as something amorphous– as in, I don’t remember and couldn’t tell you precisely what– had rekindled my love affair with cartoons. As I tooled with and reworked the initial ideas from several years before, I came up with a great idea for a satire of sitcoms. You know, in comic format, because that makes sense.

Monkey was a parody of ALF, who instead of crash landing into a garage, crash lands into a basement. He’s super intelligent, but accident prone, and all of his inventions blow up. The father is a clear parody of conservative TV dads such as Red Foreman, Ward Cleaver, Jim Anderson… eh, you get the idea, and Rob the son, is your basic idiot. Stacy went through a couple of changes, from a depressed goth girl to an outright sociopath who nearly murdered others on a few occasions. She was actually my favorite character to write for, as the conflict between her and Rob was good, and frankly, I like dark humor. Mom herself went through several changes, too. Initially a flapper (the absurdity tickled me) and then an alcoholic, and then a regular, and then a general exasperated TV Mom in its initial run, and when I rebooted it on its own domain, a not-so-secret alcoholic again. Mostly done because I thought the initial character, while workable as a straight-man type, just wasn’t very interesting and a weak link in the comics.

My biggest lament with Damn It, Monkey was rebooting it to begin with. I should have never, ever done that. The pacing was all off for a page-an-update serial, the serial format just didn’t work for its style of humor and the story was too weak to carry it (the comic was never about story), and I really couldn’t keep up with the schedule of regular updates (a flaw very common with every project I’ve ever done.) The character of Mom was the only real improvement. Squirt too – initially a simple youngster parody, and a vague, untouched parody of adopted children in sitcoms, I was able to touch on his character a little more in the reboot.

On apathyzeal, I’d post updates to the comic every six weeks or so, as entire episodes (you know, because it was a sitcom!) and update with 30-40 pages at once, with a complete story arc. Like sitcoms, every. single. episode. would have a very special guest star; some real (Abraham Lincoln, Kim Jong Il), some cartoons(Homer Simpson, Mario), and some real cartoons (Michael Jackson). Of course, the plot somewhat centered around these characters, and allowed me to either toy with some very solid characters such as Homer Simpson and the bots from MST3k, or allowed me to just have some general fun, especially when Lincoln was involved. I like this too, because it was another vehice for satire, and the guest star could either poke fun at the real counterpart, or be an outright homage. Or, both. Or, in the case of Mystery, Inc. – simply convenient to the plot to include them in general. It also allowed me to make some very cartoony pictures of some of them, as the cartoons I did draw a little bit more in my style intentionally (think when Jay Sherman visited the Simpsons.)

This format worked much better for Damn it, Monkey! for several reasons. One, pacing. The humor just worked much, much better I feel – it allowed for 30 some pages of whimsy, no need for filler if I couldn’t keep up, and the pacing was usually spot on. It also allowed me to keep a running joke going and know exactly when it should end; the end of the episode. It was also just useful for not having to carry things over from one page to the next when the story did end. I hope sitcom writers know just how good they have it to have things happily reset after 30 minutes.

As a note, I’d also occasionally sneak a few visual tributes to some cartoonists in some episodes, too. Slight references to the golden age of cartoons can be seen (notably Clampett and Jones), but also modern ones such a Jhonen Vasquez showed up, too.

Unfortunately, a serial was just the wrong format for the comic when I rebooted it. Running gags could go on forever or die young, and each page really has to end on both a note that was intended to be funny, but wraps up the page, for the moment. I retooled the characters a bit, too, and while mostly for the better in some respects, Mandy and Rob’s relationship turned unintentionally into Billy and Mandy. I never watched the show too intently, and I never intended on this, but I definitely recognize those similarities. Frankly, if I ever re-re-booted it, I’d go back to something much closer to my original ideas. Not that I’m saying I would, but I’m saying I have thought about doing so a slight amount, and I stress slight. A serial works much better for what I’m doing with Ratboy – allowing for character development and a progression of a single linear story. Much, much better. And frankly, I need to keep going on that before I can think of working with Damn It, Monkey again, anyways.