Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Note: This week’s Animated Discussions is truncated due to Mel being waylaid by a nasty sinus attack. So we’re just doing one item this week. We’ll be back to full strength next week, fortified by loads of tryptophan. That’s a stimulant, right?

Our Pal, John K.

When we first started writing Animated Discussions back in 1992, our main motivation was that we wanted to spread the gospel of Ren And Stimpy. R & S was unlike any cartoon we’d ever seen. It was wildly insane, a spastic blast of inspired frenzy that elevated the art of character animation to heights that hadn’t been seen since the heyday of the legendary Warner Brothers cartoons of the 1930s and 40s. After an explosive start, Ren and Stimpy and their creator, John Kricfalusi, ran into a brick wall of creative interference and resistance at their network, Nickelodeon. John and his studio, Spumco, were eventually fired from the show, and with a replacement squad of less-talented cartoonists, the show limped along before being cancelled in 1995. We covered this period extensively for the Gazette, and while it was great getting to do so many interviews with John and his crew, watching the cartoon after he left was like spending time with a friend who had a terminal illness. The deterioration was depressing.

However, the influence of John’s run of Ren And Stimpy simply can’t be denied. Nickelodeon couldn’t manage to duplicate the success of John K. on Ren And Stimpy, but they had pretty good luck with a little show called “SpongeBob Squarepants,” which could never have existed without Ren And Stimpy pioneering the renaissance that animation saw in the 1990s. You can see the Spumco influence all over TV, today.

Since the end of his run on Ren And Stimpy, John K. has done some pioneering web cartoons, taken a memorable shot at Yogi Bear, directed a video for Bjork, and produced the series “Ripping Friends.” He’s also done several commercials for clients around the world. In 2003, he was given the chance to reunite with his abducted children, Ren And Stimpy, for “Ren And Stimpy’s Adult Party Cartoon” for Spike TV. Sadly, this experiment didn’t pan out so well. Spike was struggling with their identity as a network, having just changed their name and focus, and didn’t really know what to do with the show. They tried to build an animation block to imitate the success of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, but they had no idea how to program it.

There was also the problem that John K. had to fire up an animation studio from scratch, staffed mostly with fresh, young talent, and wasn’t able to meet the delivery schedule that the network wanted. The first couple of “Adult Party Cartoons” were uneven, and by the time the new Spumco hit its stride, Spike had lost interest and never bothered to put the show back on their schedule. There are three unaired episodes that are said to be among the most brilliant Ren And Stimpy cartoons ever produced. Word is that we may get these gems on a DVD collection early next year.

When that DVD finally does see the light of day, animation fans will rejoice! But that’s not all that John K. is up to these days. Katie Rice, one of the fresh, young talents that worked on the “Adult Party Cartoon,” has spilled a bit of info on her blog: John K. is directing a new video for Weird Al Yankovic. There’s no word yet on what the song is, but you can read more about it on Katie’s blog, and see a tiny sneak preview to the right of this paragraph.