Thursday, December 31, 2009

Roadrunner is Tragedy

I woke up this morning with a very odd thought immediately pressing in my head: why did the Roadrunner cartoons always make me feel a little weird as a child? I lay there and thought about it for a good fifteen minutes at least. Why this random topic was my first thought of the day, I have no idea. I hadn’t been watching any of them recently. But then again cartoons are always swirling around in my head, so this shouldn’t really have been a surprise.

I was one of those kids who watched all the Looney Toons cartoons so often that even at a very young age, I could easily tell the different directors apart. Chuck Jones was one of my favorites. But something about roadrunner rubbed me differently. And I think I figured it out this morning.

Wile E. Coyote never got what he wanted. Never. And yet we as an audience were manipulated into rooting for him. If you look at any good character, he/she has a core emotional or physical need that we can relate to. And with Wile E., his was hunger. Everyone in the world can relate to being hungry, and I think there are very few people that would fault him for wanting to eat. It’s nature.

(Truthfully, though, it always annoyed me how if he had money/credit to order from ACME he could’ve just order some food. I know he explained how delicious roadrunners are in one of the cartoons, but still.)

Some characters deserve their fate. Elmer Fudd never gets the rabbit. But he’s motivated by ego; he’s a huntsman out for sport, with the unfair advantage of firearms. So of course Bugs spars with him and always comes out on top. But Wile E. isn’t motivated by any selfish flaw. He just wants something to eat. That’s the same reason I always felt bad for Pete Puma. But I was okay with Pete losing since I liked Bugs more. Later when they made Wile E. talk, gave him an overinflated ego and pitted him against Bugs, losing felt right. But I’m focusing on the pure Roadrunner cartoons.

I never rooted for the Roadrunner. He’s not a real, relatable character. He’s an unattainable goal. In the Dec/Jan ’09 issue of Written By, author Michael Tolkin said, “The tragic hero is asking for something they shouldn’t be asking for.” So Chuck Jones wrapped up a tragic hero in a cartoon world. He set him in a lonely, unpopulated desert landscape. The only other sign of life we see is the occasional truck that smashes into him. Not only is the coyote at a clear disadvantage against the incredibly fast roadrunner, but no amount of ingenuity will ever help him. And not only does he never achieve his goal, he doesn’t even get any consolation prize. Even the laws of nature are against him. All he ever receives is pain, just because he’s hungry. At the end of each cartoon all we’re left with is a long, lingering shot of Wile E. falling to his death. As a kid, I internalized this feeling, and it was different from the other Looney Tunes.

I’m not usually one to overanalyze cartoons, but I do take them seriously as an art form. And I do spend a lot of time thinking about how cartoons made me feel when I was young, and how I can recreate some of that feeling in the cartoons I make now. I don’t think a lot of artists rationalize the emotional meaning behind their art during the creative process. They just have to get it all out. It’s generally not until you later look at a body of work as a whole that you get a glimpse of the artist’s worldview. Obviously Chunk Jones’ goal was to entertain and make us laugh. But what in his life was he relating to with these stories? What was the emotional drive behind it all that led to a series of decisions that created a starving, lonely, tragic character that never gets any breaks?

So this is the weird conversation in my head I woke up to. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be lucky and just wake up with a boner like usual.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays from Batman!

Sorry that I haven't posted anything in a while. In just two weeks I'll have delivered the very last episode of Chowder and my time at Cartoon Network will be over. It was a good 7+ years that I spent there. And Chowder is doing really well in the ratings, so thanks to all of you who watch. There are still plenty of premieres to go, so keep watching. But starting with the new year, I move on to the house of mouse. Bye bye CN! Like a phoenix, you will rise from the ashes someday!

I've been developing some new show ideas and so far the pitching process has been going very well. It looks like I'll find myself pretty busy over the next year. People have asked me about how the whole pitching process works and I've been thinking of some good pointers. I promise to sit down soon and share them. I'm such a procrastinator...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Japan Super Wonder Get : 100% Orange

I came across a comic book called "Sunao Sunao" by an artist called 100% Orange. Printed in black and white and crude in execution, I thought it was a reprint from the 60's or 70's. But when I found a book collecting his commercial artwork, I soon realized this was an amazing contemporary artist. I love drawings like these with rough, loose line-work. It's so kinetic and alive. And his sense of design, his use color and shape, and his sense of humor and whimsy make him someone I'm extremely respectful of.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Japan Super Wonder Get : Jansson's Alice in Wonderland

While in Japan, my favorite part (other than the food) was seeing all the books and toys. We wandered through endless bookstores filled with great comics, illustrations and animation art. The only downside to getting a lot of books is that they're heavy to lug around. I'll post some of the best ones, starting with this:

Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Tove Jansson.

If you're not familiar with her, she's a Finnish author who created the extremely popular Moomintroll series of children's books. Drawn and Quarterly recently put out a collection of her comics.

What I love most about her art is it's both sweet and melancholy. It's imaginative and charming, but not cutesy. And yet there's a feeling of that bleak, overcast, Finnish-ness to all of it.

She approaches this book with such a unique take. Look at how she draws the Mad Hatter looking nothing like the goofy, insane man we always see. He's more like a crazy hermit.

If you want to see all the art, someone has scanned it at this site.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No New Chowder This Week

We've been pre-empted by Clone Wars. But next week we're back with an all new episode that reveals Shnitzel's mysterious past as a... Yakuza Samurai bodyguard!

And in case anyone wanted a closer look, here's Marmalade from "A Faire to Remember."

Monday, August 31, 2009

We're Off!

As fires rage nearby here in LA, we're packing for tomorrow's trip to Japan. Once I'm back, perhaps I'll talk about my Tetsujin 28 obsession. Earlier today we dropped the dog off at the kennel. I miss him already. Oh god, I'm one of those people! I know he's going to have fun, but I still feel a little guilty abandoning him. I wish he could understand that we'll be back soon. He's definitely in for a different lifestyle this week.

In the meantime, here's an interview I just did. Thanks to Charles for the thoughtful questions.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Hot Girl

I didn't really think there'd be this many upsides to having a show officially cancelled by a network, but I'm feeling happier than I've been in a long time. Since we've only got post-production, my schedule finally eases up. I haven't had a break like this in a long, long time. Now I can relax and do all sorts of fun things like finish Final Fantasy XII since I need something to quell my occasional World of Warcraft tremors. (I've been off WoW since November, but occasionally go into a store and look at the Lich King expansion box lustfully.) I'm also taking a vacation to Japan, a dream of mine since I first saw Akira back in the late 80's.

The other upside is it's like being the hot girl who just got out a bad relationship; your phone starts ringing from everyone else who's been wanting to date you. It's nice to hear from other networks how much they enjoy the show, especially when you don't really hear it from your own. Chowder has opened up a lot of awesome possibilities for me, and creatively I'm feeling more inspired than ever. There are some new ideas I'm working on that will hopefully find a good home somewhere in the next year.

We're still finishing up lots of good episodes. I think you'll see that we hit a really good groove third season. My biggest worry before we were cancelled was what would happen to the crew, but luckily, a large chunk of them got hired over at Disney on a new project. It's funny how many old CN faces I see over there now.

I'll have to talk more about my Japan excitement soon.

Friday, August 07, 2009


A while back we were working on a one-hour Chowder special. I was a little worried we wouldn't be able to pull off a movie on a tight tv schedule, and I was right. So we shelved it. Maybe with a little more time it could have gotten it there.

The basic story is about Chowder finding an enchanted map that leads to Pie Land, and more importantly to Gravy Jones' lost treasure: the ultimate gravy recipe. Panini and Endive have the other half of the map, and of course only true love can unite the two halves of the map to show the location of the treasure. There was even a big kiss between the two kids in the action-packed finale.

This character was the leader of a group of beach bum rats, the Pie Rats (we love bad puns on this show). He was based off Matthew McConaughey. We were even hoping to get him to to do the voice. Picanahey wants the gravy recipe for himself since he's heard it has amazing tanning properties - his goal in life is to have the best tan in the world. Picanha is a type of Brazilian bbq.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Chowder Expressions

Here are a few expressions I drew.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Mung Model Note

Early on we noticed that Mung's eye blink was just his pupil blinking without any eyelid. If he was half-lidded and then blinked, the lid color would flash away for a few frames. So I made this note for the animators. You can still see his original blink in the opening of the show.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Model Note

This was a note for the animators. In the earlier episodes, his feet move and bend a lot more. We still show leg when we need to stretch him or do extreme poses, but this is for a basic walk.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Comic Con Roundup

(Pendleton Ward, Thurop van Orman, and me with no beard)

The CN panel and signing went great. While we weren't really allowed to talk about what's been going on here or what our future is, we had a great time connecting with the fans. I saw some familiar faces from past cons and met some awesome people who made incredible Chowder costumes. It was also exciting to see all the enthusiasm for Flapjack and Adventure Time as well. There's still love out there for silly cartoons!

I'm not one to usually go to panels (I like just walking the floor and looking at the people and stuff for sale), but I knew I'd regret it terribly if I didn't see the Mighty Boosh panel. And man, it didn't disappoint. Those guys were a little taken back by the fan love. I think the girl screaming was topped only by the Twilight panel. Plus I got to sit up front in the VIP chairs! Working at CN finally pays off!!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Comicon Time!

Well it's summer and that means one thing - ANTS!!! We've got them swarming in the house. So I suppose the only thing I can do is head down to San Diego to escape. Lucky for me Comicon is happening this weekend.

If you're down there, be sure to come to the Twilight panel. I hear Robert Pattinson will be on it!!! He's so dreamy!!! Oh and if you can't get in to that, then come to the Cartoon Network comedy cartoon panel. You'll see myself, Thurop VanOrman (creator of Flapjack), and Pendleton Ward (creator of Adventure Time), along with various actors and writers of said shows. It should be fun for all! And there'll be a signing afterwards. But since CN didn't want to pay for a booth this year, they're doing some weird raffle for the signing line. Apparently you have to be there Thursday morning to get tickets to go to the signing since we have limited time and space. I dunno. It's all so confusing.

CN comedy animation panel
Room 6-A
Thursday 4:15
Signing afterwards

**Double check your guidebook to make sure this is all correct!

See you there!

Monday, July 13, 2009

New Time Slot - 7:30

I just found out that we're in a new time slot beginning this week - 7:30 pm Thursday. So be sure to readjust your schedule! This is our third time change since we began, for those of you keeping count.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Monday, July 06, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Welcome to the new CN!

As I sit here on an empty floor of an empty building looking at all the empty animation offices, I can at least put this on endless loop for some comfort.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Dinner Theatre

This week's episode was supposed to be promoted as a special, so I figure at least I could get the word out. It's a half-hour story about the catering company putting on a mystery dinner theater show. Waiting for Guffman was a big inspiration. I love that film so much, probably because I had so many crazy theater friends in high school.

This is one of those episodes where nothing actually happens. I always like those kind of stories - the much ado about nothings. They're harder to write but give you more time for little character bits; like Shntizel standing in line at a bank, or the cast from Evil Con Carne stuck in traffic on their way to a heist. I want to give a big thanks to Bill Reiss for making it turn out so well.

And also a very big thanks to the crew of the show. They've been friends of mine since we worked on Billy & Mandy and it's sad to be laying them all off. Each week there's fewer and fewer of us left. It's rare when you get work with people you really like, and I'm grateful for having that for the last seven years at CN. I hope we all get to work together again soon!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Early Endive & Panini Designs

Here's some art from the original Chowder pitch I brought to Cartoon Network. Both characters changed pretty radically once the series began. Endive had a physical change, but Panini had a total rethinking. In fact, she was originally named Borlotti (a type of bean.) The first version of her design had pointy ears, but that didn't fit with the rounded, soft feel of the rest of the characters. She also had an outfit where only her face poked through.

In this stage, she was kind of mean and I thought of her as someone who would take advantage of Chowder to her own ends. She seemed like an Angelica from Rugrats. But then I realized I don't like those kind of characters. She needed to be cuter and sweeter. Once I figured out she'd have a crush on him, everything about her made sense. Not being of the age yet where he's into girls, she would cause Chowder plenty of consternation, but in a more fun way. And the new name seemed to suit her better.

Endive's character stayed pretty much the same, but became more of a triangle shape. The long nose was always there and was supposed to represent the way she would look down her nose at everyone. It was great to see her personality evolve naturally over the course of the series, especially when written by William Reiss. Now it's crazy trying to imagine if the two of them had stayed like this.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Jay Bastian

When I came to CN on the Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, I was lucky to work on a show with a great crew. But the show also had another great element, Jay Bastian. Jay was our executive in Atlanta, and I don’t think there could have been a bigger supporter of the show. Billy and Mandy had a lot of opposition over the years, and I know that Jay stuck his neck out for it again and again. Upon meeting Jay and the rest of the executives in charge of CN’s original series, I was impressed by how much they genuinely loved animation and the people who made it.

Jay was one of the first people I pitched Chowder to. The first thing he said was, “It looks young.” But the next thing he said was, “It’s you, so I’m sure it’ll be awesome (and wrong).” When the time came for Chowder to begin, I was thrilled to find out that Jay would be the executive in charge of the show. He never gave notes for the sake of giving notes to justify his job. His notes were his gut feelings. He didn’t approach his job as an executive – he approached it as a fan of the series. He always pushed us to do better, letting us figure out our own solutions rather than dictating exactly what he wanted. He respected the artists and that’s rare. His list of credits runs far and wide across the last 11 years of CN.

Anyone who knows Jay knows he has three favorite movies: Star Wars, Jaws, and Indiana Jones. Anytime Jay had a story problem in one of our episodes, he’d invariably compare it to one of those movies for reference. Always. Without fail. So here’s a drawing I made for him, merging two of his great loves.

(I probably should've made Truffles into Yoda and Ceviche into R2-D2.)

I’ve been spoiled and it’ll be hard working with anyone else. I hope that Jay and I can work together again sometime soon. And like the Golden Girls said, "Thank you for being a friend."