John Kricfalusi, the well-known, groundbreaking animator and business-friendly mad monk, really wants you to know he'll be at the Anaheim House of Blues, Thursday, Feb. 9.
"Make sure to tell everyone they can't miss this show!" says the man once fired from his own animated creation, who has spent his career since—nearly 15 years—making sure never to put himself in that position again.
And so he created the first cartoon series produced exclusively for the Web, the Goddamn George Liquor Program. He did commercials—Nike—and music videos—Weird Al—freelance and on his timetable. He's now trying to put together financing for a series of new cartoons released as direct-to-DVD. And there are the live shows, like the one at the House of Blues on Thursday, Feb. 9, which he has been doing around the country and world—he's big in Auckland—and which will feature uncut cartoons such as Ren & Stimpy, a little number he whipped up in 1991 that, along with The Simpsons, changed the nature of TV animation.
"I remember watching it at 11:30 Sunday morning and standing telling people the next morning that I'd just seen the future of cartoons and it's Ren & Stimpy," says Mike Lazzo, who would go on to create Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. "For the first time there was a cartoon that didn't make me feel stupid for watching it. It reminded me how cartoons could be amazing."
If you weren't there at the time, it's hard to imagine the thunderclap Ren & Stimpy created. Though Rugrats would become Nickelodeon's signature series—before anyone knew what a Spongebob was—Ren & Stimpy put the network on the map by attracting not only kids—elementary to college—but adults—30s and 40s—raised on such animated dreck as Scooby Doo, Groovy Ghoulies, Scrappy Dooand Gerald Ford.
Like the Looney Tunes that inspired it, Ren & Stimpy was silly and subversive, driven by character as much as story, with most episodes devolving like the Honeymooners—another influence—to a heavenly payoff when the main character completely lost his mind, usually because of and at his slow-witted friend/foil (Ralph: "You are a mental case!" Ren: "You eeeediot!").
There'll be a lot of that at the show. And a lot of questions after the cartoons, which, Kricfalusi says, he enjoys. In fact, unlike musicians who get sick of fans requesting the big hit—how does Jagger keep from slitting his own leathery throat every time someone yells "Satisfaction!"?—Kricfalusi is thrilled to answer their questions, loves it when they recite dialogue along with the cartoons and says, "I'm not tired of Ren & Stimpy, I wish someone would ask me to make 100 more Ren & Stimpys."
Actually, Nickelodeon did, just not the way he wanted to make them, so the network eventually fired Kricfalusi from Ren & Stimpyafter the first two seasons. The story at the time was that Kricfalusi was an uncompromising arty type uninterested in money but crazy on control. Not so, he says; success kicked his ass.
"That first season, we dealt with only one executive, Vanessa Coffey, who I really liked, and she loved the show and everything went along fine and within about a month, Ren & Stimpy was a giant hit," he says. "All of a sudden, everyone at Nickelodeon wanted to license everything to do with the show, which meant they actually had to watch the show, because most of them had never seen it. When they saw it, there was a lot of 'Oh God! This is on our channel?' And that's when the notes started, 'Change this,' 'You can't do that,' it was murder."
The experience confirmed what Kricfalusi had always believed: cartoons, like books, were best when they were the result of a single vision.
"Cartoonists should make their own cartoons," he says. "I don't make cartoons for adults or kids, don't make cartoons by committee. Networks are not the natural place for me, they hate me, because they don't want a real artist making cartoons, someone who's going to bare their soul to the audience. You know "Stimpy's First Fart," where Stimpy's fart escapes and he gets depressed and he sits and stares at the swirls in the ceiling? That was me being depressed when my girlfriend left me.
"Yeah, I've thought many times about quitting animation. Not because I don't love it. Because I love it too much and the corporate world just won't let us do what God put us on the earth to do. It's as if the whole business hates its audience."
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And Kricfalusi contends that he loves the business. That no matter what vibe Nickelodeon gave out about him, he doesn't have a problem making a buck—or one for his partners. He's presently trying to raise seed money for his direct-to-DVD idea by pitching advertisers on having their products pitched in the cartoons by the very characters Kricfalusi creates. It's not a new idea—Jack Benny, Milton Berle and Johnny Carson did it—and Kricfalusi says he could make entertaining ads that would move product.
"People have this idea that I'm this artist who has no interest in money, and that's not true," he says. "I want to help my sponsors. I tell them, 'Let me help you, it'll keep you happy and my audience happy.' When I did those fake commercials on Ren & Stimpy, they were there to show people that I could sell stuff. I did a commercial for Log, a made-up toy, and what happened? Kids started showing up at toy stores asking for Log. Now, if I can sell a fucking log, imagine what I could do with toothpaste."
Interesting question. You should ask him about it at the show.
AN EVENING WITH JOHN KRICFALUSI AT ANAHEIM HOUSE OF BLUES, 1530 S. DISNEYLAND DR., ANAHEIM, (714) 778-2583; WWW.HOB.COM. THURS., FEB. 9, 8 P.M. $25. 18+; HEAR KRICFALUSI AND GUEST HATER GUSTAVO ARELLANO LIVE ON THE POCHO HOUR OF POWER. KPFK-FM 90.7. FRI., 4 P.M.