INT: John Kricfalusi
I grew up a huge "Ren and Stimpy" fan. I remember buying my first t-shirt at a local comic convention and taping episodes on Sunday morning while my parents dragged me to church. Phrases from the cartoon (like "the jolly, candylike button!") entered my vocabulary. So when I heard original creator John Kricfalusi (who was bounced from the show by Nickelodeon) was bringing back new episodes to SpikeTV, I was pretty pumped. Then I heard it was abruptly cancelled and I was bummed. Then it was released on DVD and, again, I was pumped. Then I got the opportunity to talk shop with John K., a fellow animation buff, and I was really pumped. Read on.
Mike Sampson: Hi John.
John Kricfalusi: Hi Mike. What kind of site is JoBlo.com?
We're a movie site primarily. Reviews, news, interviews, DVDs, etc. The name comes from the idea that the site is from and for your average "Joe Blow."
Oh cool. I thought maybe it was a gay magazine at first.
I wish I had a dollar for everytime I heard that.
Well I'm relieved.
As for "Ren and Stimpy" are you glad, in retrospect, that Nickelodeon refused to air these episodes originally so you could push the envelope even more on SpikeTV?
Mmm...no I would've rather stayed working on stuff and developing the art of it. What's more interesting to me... If you look at the first two seasons of "Ren and Stimpy," the first two episodes are really crude. Drawing-wise and animation-wise. And they got better and better. That's more interesting to me than content itself to tell you the truth.
Did you have a lot of the same problems with Spike that you did with Nickelodeon? It seems like they stopped airing these after a few episodes.
Only three aired.
And how many were there?
It's like six cartoons. It's nine half-hours cause a couple of them are two-parters.
Was their decision content-driven or rating-driven?
I couldn't really tell you. One of the ones they didn't air, they focused tested and it tested great. There was one sequence where they didn't laugh as hard at as the rest of it. And I focus test them in a way cause I run them in movie retrospectives. People ask me to come to their city and I bring a pile of cartoons and I always start the show with "Naked Beach Frenzy." I used to start it with "Man's Best Friend" cause you need to have one that really gets the audience going. "Naked Baked Frenzy" everyone stands up in the middle and starts screaming [with laughter]. And that's the one they didn't air. They had me heavily censor it and it was so heavily censored full of black bars and airbushed out nipples that it couldn't air like that cause you couldn't really call yourself a "man's network" if you're airbrushing out what men like most.
It's got to be frustrating to have gone through this with these characters once before, return to TV under the auspisces that you're going to have some free reign and then again be censored like that.
Yup. Well maybe if it does well on DVD they'll do some direct-to-DVD. That's really where it belongs anyway. People want uncensored stuff and if they pay for it with their own money they want what the artist came up with.
Why did you decide to revisit the characters?
I wanted to eat regularly (laughs). I didn't decide. Spike called me up and said, "Hey, remember all those episodes that got rejected by Nickelodeon that you wrote? Well make em now and make em even edgier than you did when you wrote it. Cause we're gonna be the 'man's network'."
So that was the first offer in all those years to bring them back?
Well I don't own the characters. It could only be offered to me by the people that own those characters. Nickelodeon, Spike, MTV...they're all the same. They're all Viacom networks. If I owned the characters they'd be all over the place.
Your knowledge of animation seems almost encyclopedic and as an animation buff, what do you think is wrong with animation today?
I don't want to say that anything is "wrong." It's fine and you should have a lot of variety. But the main thing cartoons do best is not being practiced anymore. And that's being cartoony. Cartoons now are all down-to-Earth and don't even do what real humans can do. Maybe they're edgy and might swear more than they ever could before and do jokes about Scientology and child molestation in the same cartoon. But all art, according to me, should first entertain your senses. It should pleasure your senses.
When I listen to music I wanna hear a melody that's gonna make my ears happy. If there's a message behind it, that's fine but even if there isn't a message, I don't care. As long as my ears are having a good time. If I look at a painting and it's an ugly ass painting, I don't give a shit if there's some message behind it. You've got to earn my attention by pleasuring me first. Old art from the the 20s and up until recently, the number one issue or art was to pleasure the senses. Modern stuff - the last 30 years or something - it's uncool now to do that.
Why do you think that is?
(Thinking)...I dunno. It just got out of control. There's music now that doesn't have music in it. You got me...
Are there animated shows or features that have come out recently that you admire?
Gorillaz is brilliant. Jamie Hewlitt. That's great. I love "Beavis and Butthead." I don't even think Mike [Judge] would say it's great animation but it was funny as hell. To me that was a show that was an exception. 90% of art should be artistic, in my opinion. If there's 10% that's an exception, that's fine. Everything has room for exceptions. But now the exception is the rule. 99% of art now is stuff that doesn't have art in it. It's just the wrong proportion.
Do you see a lot of animation today that you find derivative of "Ren and Stimpy?"
Well a lot of people worked for me that work for, say, "SpongeBob SquarePants." Aaron Springer was responsible for the original popularity of the show and he and I like a lot of the same stuff and we have similar styles.
OK, thanks for you time John.