Story: Liz Ohanesian
Photos: Shannon Cottrell
John Kricfalusi, also known as John K., still remembers the first cartoon he saw that made him want to create animated stories. It was Mr. Magoo. Specifically, it was the opening sequence of the UPA cartoon, when the incredibly nearsighted Mr. Magoo stares through the two Os in his last name as though they’re spectacles. “All of a sudden his eyes pop open and he sees the audience,” Kricfalusi recalls.
He was only four or five when he caught the cartoon at a matinee in Germany, where his family was living at the time, but Mr. Magoo made a profound impact on the little boy who would grow up to create one of the best loved cartoon series of the 1990s. “I didn’t analyze, I just knew that this is very different from the world that I had been existing in,” says Kricfalusi of the experience. “This was a magical world. I wanted to be one of these magicians.”
Of course, that happened, but it took a while. “For the longest time, I thought animators were witches because I would draw like crazy and no matter what I did, [the drawings] wouldn’t move,” he says while sitting at a table filled with comic books and his own drawings. “I would stare at the drawings, cast spells on them to try and make them move.”
Young Kricfalusi learned how to draw by copying characters from Hanna-Barbera cartoons. He made his own comic book-style stories for Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and others.
Years later, Kricfalusi created Ren & Stimpy, undoubtedly as influential on kids of the 1990s as Hanna-Barbera’s early TV work was for him. He’s also a pioneer of web-based animation, having distributed his series The Goddamn George Liquor Show online way back in 1996. Now he’s taken to Kickstarter to crowdsource his latest adventure for George Liquor, “Cans Without Labels.”
So far, Kricfalusi has raised over $74,000 on the crowdfunding platform, but he has ten days left to reach his ultimate goal of $110,000 to get the money. “Animation costs more, especially my type of animation,” he says. “I use a lot of drawings.” But, while $110,000 might seem like a lot for a single cartoon episode, it’s not. The Kickstarter campaign notes that this is half of what it cost to create a Ren & Stimpy episode of the same length.
In typical Kickstarter fashion, if Kricfalusi doesn’t hit his goal by the last day of the campaign (8/17), he receives nothing. “It sort of becomes stressful and addictive because you have to keep looking at it every five seconds. Did I get $10 more? Is this going to make it?” he says. “I wake up three times every night. I’m not getting any sleep.”
Kricfalusi isn’t going it alone. His assistant, John Kedzie, is doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes fundraising work, keeping tabs on the campaign’s progress and updating content. The two work out of Kricfalusi’s home studio, making cartoons on computers while surrounded by an army of vintage toys and classic jazz music filters through the house.
There’s an interesting retro-modern dynamic about Kricfalusi’s work that makes it so important. Kricfalusi certainly takes advantage of modern technology. He uses a Toonboom program, Animate, to work. He puts together small teams of artists who often work remotely. “You don’t have to have a big studio,” he explains. “I don’t have to use people who live near me.”
This works well for someone with a style as unconventional as Kricfalusi’s. “There are a lot of people who are really good at Batman superhero type of stuff. There a people who are good at cute stuff, like My Little Pony or whatever,” he says. “There’s hardly anybody who does my style. The more of the world that I can draw talent from, the better.”
Despite his use of modern conveniences, Kricfalusi’s style is very much rooted in classic animation. His characters are cartoony in the best way possible, with all the exaggerated humor and emotional expressions that were made famous by the likes of the Fleischers, Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones. Like the Golden Age animation directors, music is important to Kricfalusi’s work too. “It’s almost as important as the drawing,” he stresses.
He mentions how crucial music was to cartoons made between the 1930s and 1950s. “The directors timed everything to musical beats, even if they didn’t know what music they were going to use at first,” he explains. “A director was like a drummer in the old days.” The music, regardless of whether it was classical or jazz or any other genre, had a tremendous impact on the audience. “That’s why the old cartoons feel so good. You’re laughing at the jokes, you’re enjoying the animation, but you’re also bopping up and down in your seat.”