Talking to John Kricfalusi (John K to fans) is a weird experience, because every now and again you can hear the Ren Hoek in his voice. It’s sort of surreal to realize you’re having a conversation with Ren about how the 1930s was the pinnacle of American progress.
Ren & Stimpy first blew onto the scene and the national consciousness as a kids show on Nickelodeon a decade ago. Eventually creator John K was ousted, some shitty episodes were made without him, and then the characters went away. Then a few years back the fledgling Spike TV asked John K to make some new episodes of Ren & Stimpy, and this time to make ‘em edgy, for grown-ups. And so Adult Party Cartoons were born.
They didn’t last long, though. Spike never even bothered airing all the episodes for some reason. But you’ll be able to see them on July 18, when the Ren & Stimpy: The Lost Episodes DVD hits stores (order it here from CHUD.com!). Packed with raunchy humor in the patented Ren & Stimpy style, the set is a real treat for fans.
By the way, we’re still running our “Win a phone call with John K” contest. Click here to see that, and to enter.
Ren & Stimpy isn’t the only thing John K has going on – check out his blog for info on his attempts to get The Goddamn George Liquor Show made into direct to DVD cartoons. You can read some of the nutty storylines by clicking here, here or here on his John’s blog.
Q: How did the Adult Party Cartoons come about? You were fired off of Ren & Stimpy…
Kricfalusi: Actually we never were fired. They just started their own studio and stopped paying us. They never said, ‘You’re fired.’ They started their own studio, showed up one day with trucks and started moving all the stuff over there and they called me and asked me to go to lunch. They said, ‘John, if you continue to consult and do voices, we could really make it worth your while.’ I said, ‘Nah, no thanks.’
Q: You didn’t own the characters at that point, right?
Kricfalusi: I owned the characters until I sold them to Nickelodeon, and that was the only way I could get them on TV.
Q: How did you get them back for the Adult Party cartoons?
Kricfalusi: Some of the people who might have been there during the original Nickelodeon series started Spike TV. They took over TNN and changed it to Spike TV, and they were big fans of the show and they knew that a lot of the problems came from the fact that it was such a radical show for the time, and it was on a kid’s network. So they said, ‘Let’s put it on the man’s network!’ They asked me if I had any stories that were rejected by Nickelodeon, and I said sure, I got plenty.
Q: What happened to the show on Spike?
Kricfalusi: That’s the funny part. They said, ‘Go ahead, make it as edgy as possible, put everything in that you couldn’t do on Nickelodeon.’ We did, and everybody laughed and they liked it and then they just didn’t put some of them on. Which is OK, because that just makes them more rare and great for selling direct to DVD.
Q: Were the episodes they didn’t air too edgy?
Kricfalusi: One of them is really obvious as to why they couldn’t get it on TV – it’s called Naked Beach Frenzy. It has naked girls running around on it and stuff like that. It’s not X-rated or anything. They weren’t really sure if they could show nipples on TV or not, and I asked them if it was OK if we draw them in or should we hide the nipples by having their hands in front of them all the time and stuff like that. They said, ‘Nah, go ahead and do it.’ So we did it, and they looked at it – you know, there are so many people involved in these things, and it may have been the broadcast standards department who disagreed with the creative executives. I don’t know, I’m not behind the scenes. But for some reason it never made it on the air.
Q: Is there a future for Ren & Stimpy if these DVDs sell well?
Kricfalusi: I’m not the one to ask because I don’t own Ren & Stimpy. I keep talking to Paramount and Comedy Central, who put out the DVDs – those people are great. They let me design the packaging on some of them and stuff. They let me do all the supplemental materials, all the intros and stuff. There’s a lot of fun stuff on the DVD that you could never get on TV. They’ve said that if it sells well on DVD they would be open to doing brand new episodes straight to DVD, which is probably the best home for it anyway. When people buy things they don’t want them censored.
Q: Speaking of censorship, you’ve been involved in an interesting thing the last couple of days with YouTube. They’ve been pulling down Looney Tunes clips you put up there.
Kricfalusi: You know what, that’s not directed at me or anything. That somehow got reported wrong. I plus many other bloggers host clips from classic cartoons and stuff like that to YouTube and we talk about them. We have a whole little community going. There’s a guy named Thad who has a blog from Niagara Falls, and he puts tons of clips up and identifies who the animators are, which is great for die hard fans like me and other animators who love the old cartoons. We always want to know who animated what. All the old animators have individual styles, and it’s nice to know who did what in what style. So all this stuff is really educational and should be covered by Fair Use. The funny thing is that one of the cartoons that YouTube took off that I was putting clips up from is a public domain cartoon. That’s the irony of the whole thing, Warners doesn’t even own it.
Q: So they just had a kneejerk reaction and took it down.
Kricfalusi: I have no idea. I’m not behind the scenes on any of this stuff.
Another irony is that Warner Bros, when they release DVDs of these very same cartoons, they beg me to go over and do commentaries on them. They put my name on them and help sell them.
Q: Have you contacted anyone at Warner Bros and asked them what the heck is going on?
Kricfalusi: You know, these giant corporations, they have eight million departments and none of them talk to each other. They hate each other. None of them work together. That’s why it’s amazing – Warner Bros is very screwed up. I know some people who work there and say they can’t get anything sensible done ever. The people who do know these cartoons and love them and want to promote them, want to make money for the company, can’t do it. Their hands are tied.
Q: It’s mind boggling because it does fall under Fair Use, and the stuff you guys are doing with the clips is educational.
Kricfalusi: For one thing, they don’t run those cartoons on TV anymore. Maybe in the middle of the night they’ll run the odd one. But they do want to sell them on DVD, and a lot of young people have never seen those cartoons. How do they know to buy them on DVD? This is a great way to promote them. I’m not making any money on this – it’s not like I’m selling the cartoons and competing with them. I’m promoting their stuff. There’s nothing I like better than old cartoons from the 1930s to the 1950s. My whole blog is about making cartoons cartoony again, and going back to our roots. Warner Bros made my absolute favorite cartoons. Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and Tex Avery are my heroes. I write about them all the time.
Q: What is it about that era that attracts you?
Kricfalusi: Everything about American culture attracts me to that period. That was the era of American progress. That was the era when every human in the Western hemisphere believed tomorrow would be better than today and did everything they could to make tomorrow better than today. If you look at anything from 1930 and then look at it from 1940, you’ll see a huge progress. Everything today is backsliding; everything gets worse every year.
We were the greatest country on Earth a hundred years ago. It stayed that way for about fifty years and now look at us – everyone hates us. That was the time when everyone looked up to America because look at all the progress that happened here – all the inventions, the science, the art. We created jazz, we created rock ‘n roll, we created animated cartoons, and we developed all those to phenomenal heights for a few decades. It was just like the whole world looked at us like, ‘Wow, Americans have a great quality of life. They invented all these arts and they’re pushing science and medicine that makes our lives easier. And they invented these arts that make our lives fun.’ Now you look at all art and it’s all about ugly things. It’s all about shooting each other. It’s depressing! Art isn’t art anymore. There’s no art that pleasures your senses anymore. And it did in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
Q: Why do you think cartoons have lost that cartooniness?
Kricfalusi: Because cartoonists don’t make the cartoons anymore. We’re not in charge anymore. There was a short period there, when we did Ren & Stimpy, that it was so successful that they coined a phrase to describe cartoons made by cartoonists. They called them ‘Creator driven cartoons.’ Then all of a sudden all of the networks wanted their own creator driven cartoons because it was a trend. But what a dumb thing to invent. How about ‘Musician Made Music?’ How about ‘Scientist Made Science?’ ‘Plumber Made Plumbing.’ Why do you even need a term for that? But you do, because cartoonists don’t even make cartoons anymore.
Q: How do you deal with that world today? I know you’re designing the animation for a show called The Zodiacs. Is it tough for you to go into that kind of work for hire situation?
Kricfalusi: Actually it’s a lot easier. Before I made my own cartoons I was a designer. I designed other people’s cartoons. That’s the easiest job in the world for me. No stress! You don’t have to think it all up, you don’t have to run a studio, you don’t have to train 40 people, you don’t have people in-fighting. Any kind of job that I can just do myself… I’m actually doing that job with Katie Rice, who’s a phenomenal designer. She and I also did a Weird Al video. We laid out all the design and posing for a Weird Al video that was beautifully animated by Copernicus Studio.
Q: That was his latest video, right?
Kricfalusi: He has an album coming out where every song is animated. But I can’t tell you any of the names or anything because they’re still debating what the release date is and they asked me not to give away any details.
I’m also doing something right now for Tenacious D.
Q: You had done a video for them before. Is this another video or is it something for the movie?
Kricfalusi: An opening for the movie and a video.
Q: What do we see in the opening? Is it an origin story or something?
Kricfalusi: I don’t want to give that away. But it’s a funny gag. It’s something Jack and Kyle came up with and we’re animating it for them.
Q: You’ve been involved in some very controversial cartoons – the Mighty Mouse show got some wrath, and Ren & Stimpy had some controversy. Is that just who you are – is your artistic sensibility the kind of sensibility that’s going to chafe people no matter what?
Kricfalusi: It probably wouldn’t have in the 1940s, but since we live in such a bland age anything that makes any kind of statement that looks artistic – I mean, there’s no art happening right – you do something artistic and it changes everything.
Q: Are there any cartoons that you currently like?
Kricfalusi: Most animators that I know are all traditional. At least the guys that I hang out with all love Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Betty Boop, Tex Avery and that kind of stuff. Nobody I know even watches TV anymore. We all buy videos and watch old movies and old cartoons and old TV shows.
Q: The Ren and Stimpy DVD is out next week. You mentioned that there is some cool extra stuff on the disc. What can fans look forward to?
Kricfalusi: There’s tons of extra stuff. I did an intro for every single cartoon and I told the backstory of how we came up with the story. Then after each cartoon there’s a little sitdown with the people who worked on it, just talking about the experience of making the cartoon. There are a lot of clips of pencil tests and animatics and background sheet painting and model designs and I think we gave them some animatics for cartoons that we haven’t made yet. There’s one called Life Sucks, and everyone who worked on it swears it’s the best Ren & Stimpy cartoon ever, even though it’s not made. It’s the best story, it’s the most epic story. It’s very philosophical. Hopefully if this does well, Paramount will let us make Life Sucks, as well as some of the other stories we’ve come up with.
Q: Is it easy to come up with new Ren & Stimpy stories?
Kricfalusi: I have like a hundred stories written. I would never run out of them. They’re so easy to write for. We were specifically asked to make super edgy ones for Spike. Some fans don’t like that; a lot of fans love it. I show them at movie theaters all the time, we do retrospectives around the country. Whenever I do it they sell out and everyone starts screaming in the middle of the new cartoons. But some people want to go back to where it was a kid’s show where everything was double entendre. I’m fine with that – I have lots of stories for that too.
But I’ll tell you, I never want to give up drawing sexy girls.
Q: Who can blame you?
Kricfalusi: Even little kids like that. I was horny when I was a little kid. I didn’t know what it meant or anything, but I wanted to see ladies naked.
Q: As a professional animator do you get to use real models, or do you have to do it all from your imagination?
Kricfalusi: It’s pretty much from our imagination. The funny thing is that most of the naked girls were drawn by Katie Rice – were drawn by a girl. The best girl artist in the world that I know of is Katie, and she’s a girl. Obviously. But she draws the cutest, sexiest girls I’ve ever seen. You should link to her website – funnycute.blogspot.com.
Q: The next Ren & Stimpy DVD will be the Ultimate Episodes collection. What will be on that?
Kricfalusi: The Ultimate Episodes will have everything ever done, plus extras.
Q: And that includes the episodes you didn’t work on?
Q: Are you annoyed to see those in there?
Kricfalusi: It kind of desecrates the purity of the Spumco episodes.
Q: Do they let you say nasty things about those episodes on the DVD?
Kricfalusi: Oh yeah. There’s commentaries – they asked me to do commentaries. But I got some of the guys who did some of those episodes, so we got to argue a little bit in the commentaries.