Friday, August 17, 2007

How "COOL" ruined everything pt 1 -Actual Cool

Cool works very rarely and in not many fields of entertainment.

It sometimes works in music. Here's the inventor of cool.

Elvis is naturally "cool", but he is not merely cool.
He earned the right to his 'tude by having extreme talent and skill and charisma. He has a really wide range of musical influences and styles. He invented all kinds of new ways to sing, not just "cool" ones.

He doesn't only shade his eyes. He has a million expressions and emotions. Cool is just one of them. Watch and see!

Robert Mitchum was cool before they started using the word to describe guys like this.
Again-he's not merely cool. You don't get the right be cool by just keeping your eyes half closed and having no respect for authority. You have to have amazing attributes to begin with.
Robert Mitchum is suave. He has an amazingly deep charismatic voice. He is weird looking and handsome at the same time.
He's rugged and manly. He can act. He can kick your ass.

Nowadays, everyone wants to be cool, but they don't think they need anything to back it up.

Even back in Elvis and Bob's time, not all amazing people were "cool". That is another attribute added on top of the rest of their talents.

There were lots of great musicians that were not what you would think of as cool. Same with actors.

Entertainment needs a wide range of character and styles. If everyone tries to be cool, there is no variety or contrast.

I have a theory that everyone who followed Elvis, up until this day wanted to be cool,so bad, that they gave up all other pursuits, just to cultivate an instant image and quick reward.

That's how we have music with no melody that has only one emotion-anger.
Or we have dark, ugly movies that are way too serious.

The worst medium to try to be "cool" in is cartoons. Cartoonists are among the nerdiest folks on the planet, and we are supposed to be the most honest and observant of the wide variety of human types.

"Tude" is the poor man's cool. It's the executive version of Elvis. As if you can just strike a rebellious pose and automatically earn the right to be thought of as someone who goes against the corporate herd. I think it's the opposite of actual cool.

When we try to be "cool" we abandon all our natural powers of observation, variety and strong humor-humor that makes you laugh out loud, rather than humor that makes you feel like you're part of the cool group.

Many cartoonists think being able to draw well is corny, in the same way that music with melodies or happy melodies is corny.

"That's my style" is an admission of wanting to be cool, instead of wanting to be able to draw a wide variety of characters and shapes and expressions, etc...

There are lots of emotions and moods that could be conveyed in every art, especially cartoons. We can heighten the range and emotions better than any other medium-as long as we don't wear blinders and filter our drawings through what we think is a cool "style".

When I search around Deviant Art or even some of my commenters' blogs I see lots of potentially talented young cartoonists trying too hard to be cool-drawing cool humans wearing baggy pants. Kind of Jamie Hewlett mixed with anime. There are tons of drawings by different artists, yet you would think it's all the same artist.

As if you can just copy the expressions and a couple angular shapes from Gorillaz and presto! You are as talented as Jamie Hewlett. Jamie can actually draw like a sonovabitch and it's his personal style. If you wanna be like Hewlett, learn to draw for real, like he did and make up your own style. If you are not actually cool, you don't have to draw cool. Draw funny if you're funny. Draw cute, or better yet draw many types of characters. Look at the world around you and many different cartoon styles and use your eyes and your knowledge to mix up the most interesting things you see.

Now think about it-how many people would want to watch cartoons with your cool characters in them? How entertaining is a cool cartoon? Why would they pick your cool human characters over the other million cool cartoonists' cool dude characters?

This is a very big subject and I would like to discuss it with folks over many posts if anyone's interested or has their own ideas on the subject.

To be continued...


Ian M said...

It's ALWAYS bothered me when cartoons try to be "cool." I think Tiny Toon Adventures was a huge culprit of the "look at me, I'm cool" sort of thinking. It's easy to fool a 4 year old, I suppose, but now that animation has a wider audience, (people who buy sets of animation for themselves, not their children, etc.) can't we do away with this hokey fake cool shit? Watching some episodes of Tiny Toons now, as a young adult, is physically painful.

It's like every character now who's "cool" you just want to punch in the face. And almost all cartoons have it. If nothing else there's other kinds of cool besides "wears sunglasses, makes wise cracking comments, and acts like he's better than everyone else" cool.

Anonymous said...

Thank God for Superbad.

Thunderrobot(aka Chet) said...

No cartoonist thinks that its corny to draw well. I think that a cartoonist by definition is able to bend rules a little and create shapes, and drawings that dont follow the rules of construction, weight, or negative space, and if a cartoonist doesnt care to have drawings that have construction than thats their problem.

I am in awe of the great drawing masters such as chuck jones, and i want to draw as well as them, so i like the idea of learning the same drawing concepts that they used. I want to be as good as an artist as i can be, but i realize that you dont have to use drawing concepts such as construction to have a good drawing.

Im sure that "real artists" that study "van gogh" would turn their noses up to cartoon drawings of any kind, including drawings that used construction, and weight, and all of the other drawing concepts you have talked about.

Dooley said...

It seems to me that Bugs Bunny is the cartoon equivalent of Elvis. He's 'cool' but he also has a wide variety of characteristics beyond that. Many cartoon 'stars' who came after Bugs wanted to have that same level of cool, but neglected to add any other character traits besides 'cool'.

Cool Cat, anyone?

Kelly said...


I have been drawing all of my life. I fill up sketchbooks rapidly, with observations of my surroundings. I also doodle silly things out of my own head, trying to incorporate what I have learned by studying reality. I would be honored if you would ever take a look at my blog, where I have posted a handful of cartoony drawings. If you could let me know if I am on the right track to becoming a successful cartoonist/illustrator, I would greatly appreciate it!!

Thanks for keeping such a fascinating, forthright, and informative blog, it has already given me so much to think about. If you look back a few posts on my page you will see your name mentioned alongside some (hopefully) funny drawings.

Brad said...

WOW! Good post and well said, its hard to jam all that theory into words.

A lot of high school kids try really hard to act 'cool' (I did it, everybody did it) but barely anybody backs it up with talent or REAL personality. Its fake, boring and one dimensional.

There was a troupe of kids that tried to be James Dean with the sulking and all that, but then you'd talk to them and you realized they had no reason to sulk and there was nothing in their brains.

I have a few friends who draw their 'style' but its boring because they don't have the fundamentals to back it up and there is no observation of life in the drawings.

Beast said...

Hmmm. Great points on cool.

Beast said...

Theres nothing worse than when they try to make claasic characters dress cool when they already are. Take Bugs Bunny. The modern stuff where he's in Hip hop clothes or leather jacket..uggh.

Brad said...

BTW can't wait for part 2...

here are my contributions to the upcoming Fake Cool:

-Oceans 11-13 (the actors are too self-aware and are trying to one-up each other the whole time with flashy dialogue)
-Matthew McConaughey
-CSI: Miami

Brad said...


Don't you have to know the rules before you can bend them?

I don't think being an animator or a cartoonist is an excuse to ignore basic art principles.

Looney Moon Cartoons said...

The problem with 'tude' is that it is trying to be cool. If you are cool you don't have to try to be cool. If you aren't cool the harder you try the less cool it makes you. Trying to be cool is the polar opposite of cool.

btw. Kelly - I wanted to check out your blog but the link didn't work

Johnny Mastronardi said...

>Don't you have to know the rules before you can bend them?

Yes! You have to know the rules and be able work under them before you can break them. Studying Van Gogh will actually increase your skill as a cartoonist, because you can pick up on the principles of art that he used. Even Picasso, one of the most avant garde artists of the 20th century was skilled classically. Just looking at his Wikipedia page, compare Yo, Picasso and the later works, such as Guernica. Picasso started as a realist and learned how he could break the rules and deliberately create a distinctive style of art.

The same should be true of a hero in an artistic work. Good heroes know the rules and know when the situations are extreme enough that the rules no longer apply. Modern heroes only display anarchy mixed with all the arrogant angst prototyped by the 60s beatnik.

Real cartoons also typify anarchy, but playfully and comedically. While "cool" is self-absorbed disregard, cartoonishness is manic craziness.

TamalH said...

I think it's partially due to the fact that many media people think of a "cool" person in the most stereotypical way, and it happens to be the most boring and overused kind.

There are many different types of cool, not just the "shades wearing, convertable driving, anti-authority-take-no-BS" kind.

Sethdr said...

Great post, and well said.

I want to know who thinks drawing well, is corny!


Anonymous said...

John, what do you think of Humphrey Bogart? To me, he was not only a 'cool' actor, but he had full respect of his profession, such as this quote he made during his career:

"I don't approve of the John Waynes and the Gary Coopers saying 'Shucks, I ain't no actor—I'm just a bridge builder or a gas station attendant.' If they aren't actors, what the hell are they getting paid for? I have respect for my profession. I worked hard at it."

Adam H said...

Great post, and I'm eager to read the next one, or two, or ten.

The cool I hate the most is when it's cool to be lame & not good at anything or care about what you do: the lethargy cool. Don't have energy or an opinion, cause it ain't cool! Coolness in general is so put on & it drives me fucking crazy!

Imagine what the world would be like if everyone were honest to themselves & everyone else & just acted the way they naturally felt, rather than smothering their personalities with nonsense like being cool?

Mellanumi said...


Totally agree with you on every point. I think Brad summed up the mentality of our age when he referenced the new Ocean's movies. It makes me want to puke when high profile actors think they can feign humor with false appendages and cosmetics. It can only augment, not supplement.

The whole mentality is: We only aspire to greatness, so we will ape those who were truly great. The problems is, unless you're as great as the person you're aping, then you only call attention to the serious lack of talent that separates George Clooney from Frank Sinatra.

A perfect example: Brando.

When he played Marc Anthony in 1953's Julius Caesar, he breathed new life into the role--especially with his delivery of the funeral speech. John Geilgud said that with Brando's performance, all other performances of Marc Anthony had been wiped from memory. You watch that performance and you'll know what he meant.

Another is Vince Vaughn's performance as Johnny Cash.

Terrible simulation is Cate Blanchett's portrayal of Katherine Hepburn and Jude Law's mechanical impersonation of Errol Flynn in "The Aviator." They're fine actors, but they simulated instead of being.

Today's comic art makes my colon recoil. If I didn't spend so much time at the racks, I couldn't tell you the difference between Humberto Ramos, Chris Bachalo, et al.

One common sentiment amongst all artists is that once you get past technique, you're not self-conscious about style -- you move beyond to something more ephemeral than meaning: Emotion.

Emotion is where meaning springs. Hitchcock himself was asked about how he captures scenes in the screenplay format. He replied by stating that he doesn't go for scenes, he shoots for emotions.

Emotion is that magical nirvana, g-spot where everything else melts away and you're finally honest with yourself as an artist -- where the structure of the piece is insignificant, and you know in your gut everything is just right.

That's the spot I strive to touch.

CGsucks said...

Great post John.

I've sort of always had your view of "coolness". I believe you can't act "cool" you can only be cool naturally. Wearing baggy trousers, sunglasses, and having a bad attitude doesn't make you cool. It makes you a poser.
Im a developing amateur artist myself. Even when everything I produced was crap(now only 60 percent is crap), I never tried to draw cool people. Even today, I never draw characters with baggy pants, sunglasses, visors or any other lame-o accessories.
It drives my nuts when cartoons today try to be "cool" or "with it". Especially when they make "extreme" grandmas(hey arnold,hoodwinked, etc)
THis is all coming from a very nerdy teenaged male. I read comic books, watch sci fi channel, and own several swords. Dont I just reek of nerdiness?
I like to draw all sorts of things. As a nerd, I dont draw only nerdy people, nor do I only draw "cool" people. I draw buff people, skinny people, fat people, men, woman, kids, magicians, zombies, warriors, robots, evil circus performers, pretty much anything that pops into my head. What I try to accomplish with my drawings is not "coolness". I guess what I try to do is make my drawings good or interesting to look at. I hope I never have resort to sunglasses or visors to accomplish this.

The Jerk said...

not only was robert mitchum cool and manly, but he wrote poetry, too!

Barbara said...

I think that's the place where young artists learning to draw go wrong: They see art that they like, but they don't have the experience or knowledge to observe what's good about it, and they just copy what they see on the surface. I did it when I was a kid.

I think when we see all of the stuff on DeviantArt drawn by kids we freak out and think the art world's coming to an end, but I think it's really just because ten years ago, all of those same kids' drawings would be stuffed in a corner of their bedroom somewhere. We didn't have the platform of putting our stuff on the internet like we do now.

Even if kids now have the flawed notion of "this is my style", they'll (hopefully) improve in some way as they get older and wiser.

Convincing people to stop acting cool is another thing. I think some people just really want their drawings to be cool in every way possible, because more than anything else, cool equals respect. It also all comes down to your mindset and what you grew up on and were influenced by.

PCUnfunny said...

"-Oceans 11-13 (the actors are too self-aware and are trying to one-up each other the whole time with flashy dialogue)
-Matthew McConaughey
-CSI: Miami"

Add Pierce Brosnan as James Bond to that list as well. He Set Bond back 50 years. Thank god for Daniel Craig in CASINO ROYALE. In my opinion, true cool is when you un-afraid to act the way you are and fluant it. That's well Elvis, James Dean,and Bugs Bunny did.

Colin said...

Theres no such thing as cool anymore. Now, the definition of cool(according to some studio heads) is a character with spikey anime hair who rides a skateboard and says "Boo-Yah"!

litlgrey said...

You know those last few Bugs shorts directed (if one can use such a word so early in the day) by McKimson, with pathetic scripts by John Dunn?

This is a Bugs who seems to have nothing going for him BUT fake cool - a Bugs who in some cases both looks and occasionally comments that he doesn't even want to be there.

What a desperate difference to the Freleng Bugs of the late '50s who is impishly happy anywhere wherever he is, and who leaves his audience with lines like "And me? I love everybody!"

desiree said...


I agree that Elvis was one of the 1st "cool" people in entertainment, but the inventor of? I think your forgetting the 2 men before him - Marlon Brando & James Dean. Elvis was even a fan of Dean. Now Elvis, you could argue was the 1st, because he gained more attention for his rebelliousness. However Dean and Brando follow your "logic" of cool too. They had the talent, skill and charisma. Three things lacking in today’s biggest music & movie stars, They didn't just having the tude, they could back it up in actions, as well as having a wide range of expressions. I think we can agree that Dean and Brando were know for being complex men.

Jay said...

Ya know, I came up with this same theory a while back, and now here it is on your blog! Great minds think alike ;)

I don't believe "cool" can be stopped. For instance, have you noticed how kids try to act like teenagers now? Young kids. Eight to twelve year olds, maybe younger.

Do you know WHY they act like that? Because the majority of parents these days are teenagers! So since being cool is so important to them, they teach their poor kids to be cool.

Back in the day, parents would teach kids morals, to be good upstanding citizens, etc.

These kids are going to grow up thinking there's nothing more important then being cool, and pass that on to their kids, and so on, and so on.

Most people are just mindless followers, it seems. They don't want to be a real person, they just want to be accepted by all their mediocre peers. Which apparently means being "cool" at all costs.

Dave Schlafman said...

Drawing cartoons is not cool. It's cool like saying, my dad's an astronaut...which is still even cooler. It's humorous when I go into a book store to look at animation books and I'm standing next to a ten year compare that with Brando...not cool again.

Great work shines not because it's cool, but because it's original...just keep it fresh and people will start to take notice...and sometimes watching every episode of Family Guy is more harmful because it molds your mind and imagination to do something similar...Stay in a cave, but keep the window open to observe what's directly outside your rock.

John, I really like the blog. Sometimes, I feel your harshness on the industry is intense, but after working for a year and a half in a flash animated studio, I have come to realize a lot (but not all) of what you preach is in fact right on. This post is funny because you're the renegade of today's animation world...I bet if you asked 100 animators, 75 of them would use your name to describe cool in animation...afterall, it is cool to be the're not afraid to speak your mind about how the industry could be better, and that's why so many people tune in.

Love it. Godspeed.

JohnK said...

Hi Chet

if you wanna be 1/10th as good as Chuck Jones, you have to learn construction...and about 100 other things too.

There's no avoiding construction if you expect to have any control over your drawings.

It's the number one most basic principle.

pinkboi said...

THANK YOU!! As an 80s child, cartoons were ruined for me by lame attempts at cool - like the California Raisins *shudders*, or Cocoa Puff's Sonny (who was thankfully recently decoolified)

So many things that are interesting in people are frailties, like brief moments of acting like a monkey, a child or a member of the opposite sex. All quite un-cool.

Elvis' appeal is limited because of his cool. In the 70s, Elvis' popularity wane despite his talent and because of his "cool" since his version of it became corny. Cool must be subtle and mixed with a little dorky to work right, like Elvis Costello or Bugs Bunny (though even Bugs is sometimes too much - Wile E. Coyote is much funnier).

Here's where cool is good - when the art gives viewers/listeners something that they can feel is their own and that they feel as reacting against all the things they hate - destructive cool. This works well in music (the cool of Industrial and Punk in the late 70s..), but it'd also be nice to have a punk-ass cartoon that kicks musical penguins' and attitude-having chimps' asses to outer space... just make sure he(/she) can still be at the butt of the joke, too!

pappy d said...

Marketing is looking for a snapshot, a single image of a character that will make kids want to identify with him enough to watch the show & buy the related merchandise. That's why they present him as cool, confident & sexy & shoot him from a low camera angle. It always makes me think of presentation artwork & I can't see it without feeling the cold dead hand of Formula giving me a reach-around.

A lot of the time the attitude doesn't fit the actual character in the show at all, which is natural enough. Since he has to "learn an important lesson" with every episode, he can't be constantly self-satisfied.

It's worse in features where he's supposed to have a character arc. There's no way change can improve him if he's already so hip (the "perfect" Disney prince/ss syndrome). When he does become a better person, it seems like a bizarre character twist instead of being inwardly motivated.

I see a lot of portfolios from kids right out of school where there's an obvious attempt to "brand" themselves. If they invent a distinctive graphic style they may get to lead a big national ad campaign. I'm not saying it's necessarily wrong, but it's a pose.

If you want to get out of your folk's basement, you need to adapt your style to the subject matter.

Family Guy would be yanked off the air if someone had the bad taste to animate it like a Disney feature. The humor is too gross to be that explicit. The crappy draftmsanship gives the writers the licence they need to include nudity, corpses, gay babies, etc.

You'll develop a style by thinking, doing art & being perceptive. You won't be able to NOT develop a style. Strange as it may seem, style is ultimately about your what you don't perceive as much as what you do perceive.


Many cartoonists think being able to draw well is corny, in the same way that music with melodies or happy melodies is corny.

I guess it's not "ironic" enough.

Jay said...

BTW, how do you define a melody? Just out of curiousity…

Pete Emslie said...

I tried to be cool once, but all I could manage was bland... :)

Kali Fontecchio said...

I'll have a piece of that.

Ben Forbes said...

I think "cool" characters aren't as interesting as the character with some character.

I wish there was more posts on construction. Is there a possibility for some?

JohnK said...

Hi Ben

there are a ton of posts on construction.

Find one and then click the label at the bottom of the post that says "construction" and they will all load up for you

Ben Forbes said...

Okay, I will check them out.

It's one of the things I find hard to do, yet it seems so simple. I manage to try and do the head construction but I dont know if its great or if I'm doing it wrong.

Brad said...

I've thought all day about 'cool' and I don't think it exists today at all because everything is a photocopy of a fax of cool.

Every dog has its day and "cool" had its day about 4 decades ago. It ended when the Beatles grew their hair out, just ask George Liquor's barber.

Kelly Toon said...

darn it!!!

John, the post by Kelly imploring you to look at her humble cartoon offerings was from me :(

here is a handy link:

The Art of Kelly Toon

Sorry for not making it so simple before.

Many Thanks!!

Operation GutterBall said...

Here's some cool!: nobody in america can even think like this, now that's good cool!

gabriel said...

this post remember me Poochie from Itchy & Scratchy

Thunderrobot(aka Chet) said...


Don't you have to know the rules before you can bend them?

I don't think being an animator or a cartoonist is an excuse to ignore basic art principles.

- im not ignoring basic art principals, my post was explaning that i want to learn all of the drawing concepts that the great cartoon master used. look at my dev art page or the bosko animation i posted, every drawing uses construction.

The "cool" artists that John is talking about dont care about what he is saying, in fact they probobley dont even read this blog. All im saying is that john is wasting his breath talking about how bad the state of modern animation is.

What i and many other people want are posts about construction, and classic drawing principals, so that we can improve our drawings.

Matt Blasi said...

John, you wrote:

"I have a theory that everyone who followed Elvis, up until this day wanted to be cool,so bad, that they gave up all other pursuits, just to cultivate an instant image and quick reward.

That's how we have music with no melody that has only one emotion-anger. Or we have dark, ugly movies that are way too serious."

While I like your momentum of ideas, the above is a gross oversimplification of the origin of modern 'angry' music. To describe the birth, history, and evolution of such 'angry' music (metal, hardocre, punk, etc) as being derived from a need or desire to be 'cool' is to deny the rich tapestry of influences that make modern 'angry' music what it is.

Simply put, you're dismissing the various socio-political influences on modern rock music, not to mention the socialization of viewpoints that created the rap and hip-hop genres. I believe your above statement was made innocently enough; it would be hard to substantiate such a claim.


pinkboi said...

Cool is good when the kid can partly relate to the cool character and in that way borrow strength. Music can do this well (it can do other things too, but you'd never know these days). So the important element, once again, is believability.

Tom Dougherty said...

For some reason I'm happy that you like that Gorillaz stuff.

You're right about the 'tude shit. I've had art directors point to shit like Tiny Toons as examples of 'how it's done right' and it immediately kills any respect I would have developed for them.

JohnK said...

>>Simply put, you're dismissing the various socio-political influences on modern rock music, <

That's another bad thing that happened to art-it got all socio-political, rather than artistic.

Rock and Rap Stars preach to us about stuff, instead of learning to play their instruments and sing properly.

Thanks for bringing that up!

Matt Blasi said...

John wrote:

"That's another bad thing that happened to art-it got all socio-political, rather than artisitic."

Your comment implies that art is something outside the sphere of other external medias and influences. Thus, political art, art with a message, art that is mixed media, etc, is not really 'art'. You're making generalizations here that simply have no base.

Why should we think of art as something that exists in a pure form only if untouched by other elements? Was Faulkner not an artist because Intruder in the Dust deals with race and socialization in the South? That certainly had a sociological implication. Is Picasso's Guernica not art because it represents an experiences of war? Warfare is most certainly a political entity. In the same line of thinking, we might dismiss any art that is influenced by politics, warfare - in fact, any art that is not simply art for the sake of itself - as not really being 'art.' And this line of thinking is a dangerous oversimplification; it's a rash generalization about the nature of art.

"Rock Stars preach to us about stuff, instead of learning to play their instruments and sing properly."

This may be your opinion, but it doesn't hold up under close examination. Were the Beatles political and did they make art? What about Lenon? What about many of the most famous and treasured rock, folk, and country acts of the 1960s and 1970s?

What about something more modern, such as the band Rage Against the Machine. Their guitarist (not to mention the entire band) is an incredibly accomplished musician who has made a career on innovative, original guitar playing - not to mention his band's aggressive political messages. It's as if you're saying that a band, artist, or artisan of any kind isn't making art if there's a message, political or otherwise, behind the art. So in an effort to remove the taint of propaganda from your art, you've thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

I think I understand what you're trying to get at: you don't want something shoved down your throat when you're trying to enjoy something of aesthetic value (art). And that's fine if that's your prerogative. But using that as a method of judging whether something is art or not is unreliable at best. You might like art to be pure according to your line of thinking, but when begin to apply your ideas across a spectrum of art and make accusations about how various mediums have failed, you're over-reaching.

I'm not trying to be argumentative for the sake of conflict. I'm trying to say, Hold on. Let's be a little more cautious about this idea you've thrown out there, because it doesn't really hold up for art. It doesn't even really hold up for cartooning - including your own cartooning.

You've done numerous cartoons which sell products. Sure, there are cartoon roots there; cartoons have long been used to advertise. But the very act of using art - in this case, cartoons - to push the capitalist interest of a company or coporation - is a political act. It's a statement. By endorsing and selling a product, you're allowing your artistic imagery to be put to use for a distinct capitalist, free-market interest. Of course, you have to sell your art to survive. I'mnot arguing that. But let's not pretend that such an act is not sometimes a political act itself.

That might not be a bad thing. You're certainly not endorsing selling organs on the black market with your Racketu design, but not everyone has the same scruples. Disney will put Mickey Mouse on a t-shirt made by children in a foreign sweatshop and sell it for three times the manufacturing cost. Is that not a political act? Where then do we draw the line between acceptable political acts and unacceptable?

In summary, I'm cautioning your above lines of reasoning because I feel that they're riddled with generalizations and gaps of logic. I think you were on a roll - you were making excellent points about blandness and the failure of innovation in studios, the duplicity of 'cool' in our media societies - but then you made a leap of logic that simply doesn't hold up.

JohnK said...

I talk about tangible stuff. You can have the mysticism.

PCUnfunny said...

"Rock and Rap Stars preach to us about stuff, instead of learning to play their instruments and sing properly.

Thanks for bringing that up!"

Well I wouldn't say that for rappers like Mos Def Kanye West but for the most part, you're rignt.Also, the same goes for cartoons such as South Park and Family Guy. They want to push there political agendas but they can't draw or write.

kate yarberry said...

When i was a little kid and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up invariably i said, "cool". I'm an art student instead.

cemenTIMental said...

I talk about tangible stuff. You can have the mysticism.
That seems quite unfair, he has good points and what he's saying is far from being "mysticism." In fact, he's talking about far more tangible stuff than your vague implication that all modern music you don't personally like is rubbish only done to look "cool".

Having said that, I totally agree that "cool" is indeed one of the main problems with cartoons these days. It's an even worse problem in video games in the west...

cemenTIMental said...

"Rock and Rap Stars preach to us about stuff, instead of learning to play their instruments and sing properly.
Last time I checked, learning to play an instrument and preaching an opinion are not mutually exclusive. Likewise preaching about stuff on blogs while learning to draw and animate properly. :)

Gochris said...

I think one of the reasons "cool" is still so prevalent is that the girls dig it.

That's a gross generalization of course - but how else do you explain why ugly rock stars get so many girls and the nice guys who aren't jerks don't?

(It's because the rock stars are putting themselves out there, and nice guys aren't, I guess.)

Anyway, cool is popular because it attracts women. If suddenly being smart attracted women, you'd see guys throwing away the hair gel and hitting the books.

Also, "cool" implies no emotion, no heat. No activity. And who wants to see a cartoon character who is not active? Yet we see them all the time on TV. They just talk and talk and talk...

Which is soooo ironic, since it is actually more difficult to do lip synch animation than animation with no dialogue.

So all of the animators who read this - avoid dialogue, give us action, and your characters won't be cool.

But of course, they'll be enjoyable, and make people happy, and you will become a success and get the girls!

Tyler said...

I think I sort of threw "cool" out the window when I had a comic published featuring two flies arguing over a piece of crap, which you can see on deviantART if you so choose.

For me, it's so much more fun to create characters who look like they've totally lost their grip on a situation... the opposite of cool.

AtroxChobatsu said...

Hrmmm.... Poochie ffrom Itchy and Scratchy seems to come to mind when I read this post.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

I agree 1,000 percent! People try too hard to be cool and it hurts their work!

Well... said...

My whole blog is about things I think are cool. but what's funny about that, is that my version of cool is totally nerdy to most people, and I like it that way. For a short time I was attempting to draw what i figured was 'cool' to other people, and it just ended up looking like everything else, but worse because it was just another fraud. But now I've completely forgotten those lame highschool bounderies, and venture into the wilderness of what I think is cool, not what they think is cool.
Thanks for the thoughtful post, it is right on the track of where my head is at right now. Focusing on what I think is cool. Not tude' cool, just Gubba cool. And I think hah.

Brad Reid said...

I've thought a lot about just the sort of thing you're talking about, and I agree with a lot of what you're saying. One of these days I intend to write my ideas out in full.

In the meantime, perhaps I could touch on something of what I see happening:

All successful art and entertainment -- and there's been a glut of both for the past 50+ years or so -- needs to do two things. First, it needs to catch an audience's attention. 'Nuff said; this much is obvious. And second, once it has caught an audience's attention, it needs to get past their critical faculties, i.e. that accumulated mass of criteria that guides a person's decisions on what is worthy to continue to hold their attention.

At this stage, a variety of human expressions are unable to run the gauntlet. All varieties of sentimentality, for instance, are the first to fall. It just can't take the heat.

And what are we left with?

More than "cool", I think that the prevailing attitude that most creative people these days want to exude is edginess. It's as if the critical attitude has become its own aesthetic and then can't see beyond its own shortcomings.

When I listen to Sinatra I almost get the impression that he was scared to use a little more expression, lest someone think he was less of a man. Similarly, I think that today's culture has reached a point in which no one wants to show themself as soft.

Basically, what it comes down to is that for the creative person who accepts the edgy attitude, "edgy" in itself becomes self-perpetuating.

Boy, this really is too much of a mouthful, but I''l publish it anyway.

Thanks for a great blog!

JohnK said...

>>Last time I checked, learning to play an instrument and preaching an opinion are not mutually exclusive. <<

What "instrument" do rappers play? The sampler?

Brad said...

>>Last time I checked, learning to play an instrument and preaching an opinion are not mutually exclusive. <<

With the state of the music industry and all the dung they are pumping out, maybe the two SHOULD be mutually exclusive until they have the chops to back it up.

Jose said...

"What "instrument" do rappers play? The sampler?"

Yah, Sam Kinison said they don't play instruments, it's why they grab onto their dicks on stage.

And damn some of these wordy argument-posts. Dudes like Matt should try and argue in comic strip form or something. Be fun.

cemenTIMental said...

What "instrument" do rappers play? The sampler?
Uh.... is this a trick question? What are you on about?

I probably shouldn't bother arguing since you keep moving the goalposts... my point is that the old "pop stars shouldn't preach their opinions" is rubbish; no one complains when the opinions being preached match their own. All you're really saying is "I disagree with this famous person and wish they'd shut up"

Also most terrible mainstream pop/rap/rock acts are made up of people who CAN play instruments perfectly well, but just don't have any particular desire or need to make good music using their skills.

Singing is a different matter... nearly every pop/r&b track out there these days is layered with horrible autotune FX to disguise total lack of talent, sounds like robots singing.

cemenTIMental said...

With the state of the music industry and all the dung they are pumping out, maybe the two SHOULD be mutually exclusive until they have the chops to back it up.
The problem with the music industry is NOT the lack of instrument-playing ability! It's pretty much every other aspect of music that's lacking.

Pete Emslie said...

Brad said: "When I listen to Sinatra I almost get the impression that he was scared to use a little more expression, lest someone think he was less of a man. Similarly, I think that today's culture has reached a point in which no one wants to show themself as soft."

I'd have to respectfully argue that point. Sinatra was the kind of guy who wore his heart on his sleeve when he sang. Though we usually think of his swinging, breezy material like "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Witchcraft", Frank recorded numerous songs that spoke of great loneliness and heartbreak. And in his performing of these songs, he always invested huge emotion, both on record and also live on stage. To hear him perform his classic, "One For My Baby" is to hear a man who knew heartbreak firsthand and was not afraid to let all that emotion out for all to hear. Likewise with "Angel Eyes", "In the Wee Small Hours", etc. etc.

Yet I really can't say that I hear great sadness, or for that matter, great joy in anything on today's music scene. Yes, there is plenty of anger, but is that something that we're supposed to enjoy ad nauseum? As a guy in my 40's, I too have a low opinion of rap, having heard nothing there that could possibly speak to me emotionally, let alone appeal to me esthetically, due to its total absence of that most basic component of music: melody. Besides, the lyric content is usually unintelligible gobbledegook to these old ears. In contrast, I never have any trouble understanding what Frank is saying...

Pete said...

I thought Billie Holiday invented cool

Jay said...

I think what John's saying is that he wants to be entertained!

Why can't art just be art? Why does it HAVE to be something that makes a statement, or makes you think? Why can't it be just a beautiful painting, or a pretty/fun/happy song? An entertaining movie?

Why does everything have to make you think? I want my entertainment to take me OUT of reality. I don't want to think about all the crap going on in the world. There's enough time for that elsewhere.

I honestly think "cool" has to do with the whole "make me think" crap. It's not cool to be happy, and enjoy yourself. You've got to be "deep" and have a sort of inner pain. Which incidently is what 99% of all art is about today.

b. Touch said...

Virtually all of Elvis' "coolness" - and some of his music - was lifted from African-American performers.

So I wouldn't be too sure that Elvis is the inventor of "cool". Maybe Billie Holliday as someone suggested, but certainly some early jazz or rhythm and blues artist.

Raff said...

>> The crappy draftmsanship gives the writers the licence they need to include nudity, corpses, gay babies, etc. <<

And that's the norm today - the shock value of wild crudeness and the use of poor draftsmanship as a distancing device to make it palatable.

What a clever combination - you don't have to discipline your humor, you don't have to learn to draw...AND since it's all so theoretically disgusting, it can be marketed as "edgy" to rich teens who need filth to counterbalance their sterile suburban lives.

Brilliant! We're gonna be rich!

Oh, wait, here comes Youtube with video from an era when subtlety and impressive use of skill to express the subtlety were the norm.

RIP television.

pappy d said...

"Edgy" means it's as far as you can go without thinking outside the box.

Mellanumi said...

Dude, this conversation is far from over...

Matt Blah-si, you seriously need to chill, man. Your writing sounds like Shakespeare cum Yoda. Puh-leaze tell me you aren't a cartoonist.

In terms of cool, cool is the unexpected. In a sea of clones, it's the one thing that sticks out. A person smiling in a crowd of frowners is cool. Then everyone starts to frown and that one person who refuses to do so is now cool. And so everyone smiles again...

It's the difference between formula and formulaic. Something can adhere to a formula and still be spontaneous, inventive, original, and groundbreaking without being derivative and formulaic. But that's because the artist knows how to work the genre.

Working in the film industry, I am constantly assaulted by MBAs who have suddenly grown a creative imperative and think: "Geeze, if it worked for Usual Suspects, it must work for us. If 300 did it so well, then we can do the same."

These clones have no idea what film is. Their knowledge ends circa 1990 with the emergence of Reservoir Dogs -- now that's cool.

Or if they want to seem urbane, 1942 with the release of Casablanca. Now Bogart, he's freakin' cool.

Or if they want to seem slightly exotic, they have a poster in their office of Fellini's "8 1/2." Surrealism -- totally cool.

They don't even really know what surrealism really is: "It's a bunch of crazy dreamlike stuff, like a dream, man, right. That's trippy, man. Like a dream."

Because these people don't have the balls to be themselves, to take a chance. They don't know enough to take a chance. If they had more knowledge, if they actually respected the medium enough to care about it, they might not try to make clones. They might actually give the public something they didn't even know they wanted.

But that was the old days of America. When you got these bright bulbs all over the place challenging the status quo. Thinking big. Living for their art. They were called innovators.

But people don't want to think big -- it hurts too much. It costs too much time. You might have to devote a whole lifetime to it before you see the rewards.

They want immediate. They want easy. They want Saw 15.

One of these days I'll write my book on John, and I'll point out that one of the things you see in his artwork like all the great animators of Termite Terrace is respect for his craft. How many times have you heard Chuck Jones describing Bugs Bunny in terms of Buster Keaton's mannerisms? If you haven't, you shouldn't be a cartoonist.

John does the same. He looks at the same inspiration, and he works damn hard to make sure his characters are INNOVATIVE. While everyone else is copying Cal Arts, John's telling people to watch the silents comedies. Who else in the animation community required that no two drawings look alike?

The problem with some of your responses to John is that you don't understand aesthetic principles are like colors on a spectrum -- you won't know what green is until you see it in relation to yellow, or blue, or anything else. In the same way, there're people out there who think the artwork on "Boondocks" is the most mindblowing thing. That the actors in 300 were some of the best ever. Sure the work on Disney's Tarzan is pretty, and polished, but it doesn't have the same innovation as the Fleischers cartoons. Nor was it so different from what was already out on the market. You can't deny that by comparison to our earlier art forms, we've lost something.

Your average vaudevillian could outperform some of today's best actors. They are more expressive and more alive because they had to be-- the camera didn't get too close.

So when you make comments like "John's wasting his time complaining about the state of the animation industry," you're dead wrong. Because that's what led John to do something like Ren and Stimpy. His resistance to all that commerce that was being crammed down his gullet.

And I don't know anyone who doesn't think Ren and Stimpy is cool.

Mick said...

I reckon that the use of 'the art of...' books is over used. It isn't just cool that is too apparent, everything is over used. It doesn't take much to be yourself but it does take a lot to bust out of the bullshit that surrounds us. I guess this is straying from the point a bit but I'm not really bothered. I've never been cool in my life and I'm a tip top fella

glamaFez said...

Miles Davis' "Birth Of The Cool" is pretty cool.

Jeremy said...

leave it to someone to trot out the "Elvis robbed black musicians" horse.


it was a great post to read John, and it really highlights the death of a real genuine nature to a lot of things done today. i think that loss of "genuine" comes as we further disconnect from the things we do in our daily lives. lord knows i am in no rush to churn my own butter, but damn if i don't wish it was easier to just connect with something without a hundred layers of intellectual garbage.

i feel like all this irony and socio political stuff just keeps us from really seeing how people really aren't putting something behind the things they do and the people they are.

looking forward to more posts.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting John, not so many artist I know talk about this problem. I used to try so bad to draw "cool" characters... and I know what you mean about some DeviantArtists. Now I don't try anything anymore, I'd rather feel, express and only strive to be more clear in what I say in a drawing... still, I think one needs a lot of courage in order to draw "honestly". The idea of having a style is so strong nowadays, that the essence is very often overlooked.
Thanks for the lesson!

Adam said...

I guess I'm a little late on this but I'll throw my opinion in, which I think may clarify John's post a bit too.

There's 'genuine cool' which I think is having a skill that allows you to do things others can't but want to do.

And there's 'fake cool' which is wanting the respect 'genuine cool' gets you but not having the skill to get it.

So 'genuine cool' people are driven by something outside of seeking other's respect and as a result they get respect because their focus is on something more tangible than other people's opinions which is what allows them to develop their respectable skills.

and 'fake cool' people are either copying 'genuine cool' people to get a taste of 'genuine cool' respect ( of course the only respect they'll receive is by the people who can't see through their posturing ). Even worse than that are the 'fake cool' people who don't display any personality or skill at all for fear of people labeling them 'uncool'.

So I guess the lesson is don't try to be 'cool' because you'll end up in the pathetic 'fake cool' category.

So to put it in context with art. The path to being a 'genuine cool' artist is to just keep focused on creating your art. Learn from others ( don't just imitate! ) people you respect. Observe and record the immediate world around you. Don't be afraid to fail and be considered 'uncool'. Share what you have learned so far by showing others your work and your techniques. Graciously accept criticism from people who want to see you improve and dismiss the rest. If you do this you will become 'genuinely cool' with no additional effort. You'll have both amazing artistic skill and real respect for the price of one!

And as a bonus you won't have to endure the stress of wanting to constantly impress everybody you meet which will make you happier. And as a bonus bonus you'll get laid more too.

Rafa said...

Thanks for your advices, they are pure gold !!!


el_lang said...

I think that a character doesnot need to be cool to nçbe ibteresting , because if someone puts much effor in "inventing" a "cool" character the result is fake ,or a overacting character, I think the public desides if a character is cool or not , I rather not to develop a character from the begining thinking if it is cool or not,because I am not cool ,and I dont know how to be.
I don`t feel construction is something someone could get to "master" with just studing a metod,I studied construccion for several years , using the books authored by Andrew loomis ,and ,even while it was ment for learning "realistic drawing" not for animation ,the basics seems almost the same,but I think that the most important part ,is the prosses of learning something for onself. after all the study I can not say I am the artist I would like to be but, I agree with you , the ideal would be to be able to use the whole range of characteristic that exist in the nature to produce something that is unic , and not repeat everytime a variation of the same phenotype.I really dont know why all the young people want to learn to draw a "predefined" style as anime , marvel , disney,or even what is called "cartoon" nowdays,when I was a kid I use to read comic magazines with ten or more different stories frome any genre , and you could recognize the style of each artist , not because they drew allways the same face(except one ore two artist)but because of the way of modeling the characters , the way they used the ink,"the mood" they inflicted to the stories. the reason why I desided to learn this principles was the desire,of being able to draw anything in any way I wanted, I can`t forget when I watched walter lantz teaching how to draw "woody" ,I used that system when I was a kid to draw any other cartoon I wanted.I studied because I tryed to learn something that would alow myself to draw exactly what there was in my mind. I understand very well what you say about deviant art , in someway I see that most of the ones who draw animals ,a 90 percent draw that kind of bluth /disney mix,maybe this is because is easier to copy from a drawing than designin from the real thing.I learned from the begining not to copy from other artist ,(unless of course it were generic drawings made with teaching purpose) .I wonder if someone would read,if the one who might read this is courious about how I draw here is my link .It is quite complicated to "invent" unique characteristics for the design of an animal character, because ,obviously the animals don´t have much diferences in the traits as human does.after all... I would say that the thing I do the best is "painting" more than designin a character or constructing ,but what more can I say ...

Alleycat said...

You forgot James Dean :)
If he isn't cool I don't know who is!

Peter F. Bernard, Jr. said...

Way way back in the 90s I got hired by a client-who-shall-remain-nameless to draw a storyboard for a proposed live-action kids show. It was going to feature a man in a dog suit-- but not just ANY dog suit! A dog suit with TUDE, yo!!! He used all these words like "edgy" and "in-your-face" and so forth to describe him. He wanted EVERY single cliche of a teenager from that era used-- the dog would wear a backwards baseball cap, sunglasses, a t-shirt with a lumberjack shirt over it, baggy shorts, high-top converse all-stars and he carried a skateboard! In the middle of the project, I deliberately said something to his secretary to get myself fired, I couldn't do it anymore. I'm too sensitive to be a cartoonist, it seems. So anyway, years later, I was watching the Simpsons (sorry, I watch the Simpsons) and that dog character was in one of their episodes!! My jaw was on the floor. They were making fun of TV executives in that one, and the execs had decided that what Itchy and Scratchy needed was a dog with tude! They said the exact same things I had been told when I was told how to draw him. I figure my client must have made his pitch to one of the producers or writers or SOMEbody on the Simpsons because this WAS that character, and in the story Homer plays his voice-- and EVERYONE HATES HIM! I was laughing SO HARD, I was so grateful to them for making me feel better about getting myself fired off that gig, hahaha. Here's a script excerpt--

We at the network want a dog with attitude. He's edgy, he's "in your face." You've heard the expression "let's get busy"? Well, this is a dog who gets "biz-zay!" Consistently and thoroughly.

So he's proactive, huh?

Oh, God, yes. We're talking about a totally outrageous paradigm.

Excuse me, but "proactive" and "paradigm"? Aren't these just buzzwords that dumb people use to sound important? Not that I'm accusing you of anything like that. I'm fired, aren't I?

Oh, yes.

Peter F. Bernard, Jr. said...

Ha ha, Elvis admitted he copied his look from Captain Marvel Junior, so I guess that means the "inventor of cool" was Mac Raboy, hahaha.

Michael said...

Hi, I ve just recently found this Blog and although this might be too late a want to add my view of Coolness: Somebody is Cool, if the majority of his actions is aimed for "comforting": 1.Other people, 2.Himself....

1.Man who looks at a woman like "ohh, she would look even more beautiful, if i gave her an orgasm."
---the woman notices it and will like the man, because he is sincerely wishing, that both of them feel comfortable

2.Cartooncharakter is liked, when he exaggerates things or is unpredictable, because its funny for watcher,,, in the same time the character is liked because he has all the faults of humans, like lazyness, greed, rage...

3.A musician/actor is liked, when he performs very good to please his viewers but in the same time shows his own beliefs through his acting, because he would feel bad, if he betrays himself, betrays his style.... for example, DeNiro would never "overact" because he thinks, less is better,,, on the opposite side Kirk Douglas would always show energy, its his style.

People, who try to imitate "cool" persons often only please only one side,,, like a bulimic actress who perhaps looks good on screen, but acts bad, because she has no energy for acting itself.... or the Rapper with a 'tude which only pleases his ego, but doesn't much for the pleasure for the ears of his listeners...

i hope my bad english didn't destroy my point completely, bye

Isaak said...

Speaking of executive Elvis,

Ricky Nelson's career was an attempt by Ozzie to replicate Elvis.

This and more information is in David Halberstam's "The Fifties." I think you would like it, since it features people who shaped the decade by using remarkable effort and insight.