Monday, March 19, 2007

Writing For Cartoons 4 - Ideas: The Origin Of Cecils

The Premise:
A premise is a quick and short explanation of what your cartoon is generally going to be about.

What is a premise for? It helps clarify the purpose and intent of your cartoon for you. You can also use it to hand to other artists to get them thinking up gags and bits to add. Your premise should be crystal clear so that anyone reading it instantly gets it.

You also use premises to sell the executives on your idea.

Some history:
1987: Bakshi's New Mighty Mouse Adventures Premiers
It causes a big splash.

It is the first cartoon made in at least 25 years that allows the cartoonists to completely create the material.

I hired people to write who had never written cartoons before, but were funny cartoonists: Tom Minton and Jim Reardon.
We also had a comic book writer, who had a lot of trouble writing for cartoons. Non-stop verbal obscure superhero type dialogue.

Tom, Jim and I wrote most of the cartoons: On scripts. We wanted to write on storyboards but that was too radical a concept at the time.

The show came out and had cartoonist humor all over it. And all kinds of "plots" that didn't follow the 12 legal ones all the regular cartoon writers had memorized. No skate boards, no celebrity cameos, no "parodies" of Spielberg movies. We did have a cheesy kid character and we made Pearl Pureheart feisty and liberal, I guess to appease the Network, but we made fun of these contrived elements all the time.

Cartoonists are basically artists with a sense of humor. We make fun of everything and everyone all the time.

The show influenced the whole TV business.

The following year, the Scooby Doo writers at HB copied the superficial elements of it and offered up A Pup Named Scooby Doo. All of a sudden they were doing things that everyone told me you couldn't do in cartoons a couple years before: "Breaking the 4th wall. Takes. Wonky backgrounds. Satire. etc."

in 1988, Bob's wife Sody Clampett (who I love a lot!) told me she wanted to develop Beany and Cecil for Saturday Morning TV. I said "great!" and started writing up story ideas.

She was surprised when I started pitching them. She said "But John, you're an artist. We need a writer. You do the pictures!"

I said, but I wrote the Mighty Mouse stuff and she didn't believe me. "You just directed it, didn't you?"

I said, "Didn't Bob write a lot of his cartoon material?" "Well, yes but that's different. He's Bob!"

I didn't wanna fight with Sody, so I got her to also hire Tom Minton, who himself was a storyboard artist before I hired him as a writer on Mighty Mouse. We agreed not to tell Sody, that he could draw.

She loved all the stories when he pitched them. Whenever I did, she kinda didn't take it seriously. Irony of ironies!

Where do I get my ideas, people ask me. From everywhere. Anything I notice in life that's interesting, I laugh at it.

I always liked nature shows and evolution. I think evolution is funny, Nature is the greatest comedian of all time. Naked Mole Rats, Liver Flukes, Tarsiers, Axolotls and Lemurs all had made appearances in my cartoon pitches that never sold.

I was thinking about what kind of oceanic adventures Beany and Cecil could have and It thought. Hey! Maybe they could go to the Galapagos islands and see variations of themselves, each adapted to the different environmental conditions of each separate island.

Tom and I brainstormed the idea, then I wrote up this premise to pitch Sody. It's a much longer premise than the kind I wrote later for Ren and Stimpy, but I just wanted to get all the ideas down.

I hadn't discovered computers yet! This was prehistory. We did everything the caveman way. By hand.

When I pitched it to Sody, she looked at me like I was some poor dumb crazy artist. She loved me too though, so had Tom talk me down gently.

2 years later I rewrote it (on a storyboard) with Jim Smith and we made "Untamed World" for Ren and Stimpy.

Win a piece of Jim and cartoon history here!
Jim's Guitar