Thursday, October 04, 2007

What's Not To Love About Insanity?

What is it about insanity that so delights our every pore and follicle?

Insanity works great in entertainment.

Whether we are talking about actual clinical forms of insanity like schizophrenia, solipsism, amnesia or made up ones, they all make for great fun on the screen.

But then there are the common every day forms of insanity we all experience: when we argue about politics, deal with executive logic, fall in love, get jealous, have road rage, practice religion, try to discipline the kids and expect them to obey us. The kind of normal common sense we apply when we use tools to fix a faucet or solve simple problems goes right out the window and we become irrational chemically controlled lunatics.
This is considered offensive today. Insane or what?

Everyone can identify with the crazy intense emotions these normal everyday human experiences grip us with.

Modern cartoons don't tend to exploit intense emotions or insanity, but I always thought the animated cartoon was the perfect medium for it.
Mike Lazzo (CARTOON NETWORK GURU) called some of my cartoons "Psychodrama" about 12 years ago and that was the first time I heard that label, but I liked it when I heard it. (I'm not sure whether it was a criticism or a compliment!)

My own life has been filled with psychodrama and I have taken real events that I've witnessesd (or caused!), and adapted them in my cartoons. Whenever someone goes nuts in front of me, instead of being scared, I usually zone out instead and go into intense study mode, so I can use the material later.

This scene in Sven Hoek was inspired by a real life event. Ren's line delivery is an imitation of someone who had an episode in the original Spumco studio - in my office. After it happened I ran to get my Sven Hoek storyboard and changed a whole scene to make it more intense and real. That's what real life events are for! Many of them are much crazier than anything you can imagine in a cartoon, so I take advantage of them when they happen.

One complaint I get from many executives is that my cartoons are too unrealistic. They don't know how wrong they are.

Here are some great movies to go insane with if you ever get the chance:
Beware My Lovely
Beast With 5 Fingers


TOMORROW'S MIGHTY MOUSE PISS-SHIVER-PACKED EVENT: Go Insane with cartoon psychos John K., Ralph Bakshi and Tom Minton!


Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Woooow!!!! A great post! Insanity in real life is scary but on cartoon characters it's great!

Emmett said...

In my thesis, I am doing a character whose a borderline psychotic with Munchausen Syndrome. Do you know what MUNCHAUSEN SYNDROME is Mr. K? You could probably do something with that.

Psychosis is pretty fun to watch in a cartoon. I totally agree. I would love to see more "Psychodramas" in animation. If anything, independent animators can go crazy with them.

Unfortunately, I don't have too many real-life events to inspire pychotic episodes.

Dan! said...

I love seeing extreme rage and insanity in cartoons, they're probably my favorite emotions to draw. You're definitely the master at it John. I love Ren's insane moments, they're just amazing.

NextGen (Hector) said...

Great post. It's true that today's cartoons don't really show much emotion. It's a shame. Cartoons are supposed to be fun and expressive, not stiff, emotionless, unfunny drawings only done to create toys, shirts, lunch boxes,etc...

Kali Fontecchio said...

Witnessing "crazy" episodes is frightening, not sure I could ever sit back and take notes. I hope no one ever takes note of my episodes!

By the way everyone out there...


Try and watch him, or think of him while falling on your face, or propose to your favorite person and throw him/her over your shoulder and drive into the lake with a priest that you swiped on the highway while being chased by cops!

Josh said...

It seems to me that that kind of insanity only feels realistic and natural when there's a strong, emotional reason for it - a reason that feels natural itself. It's cool to see the prisoners flip out at the end of Paths of Glory - they're under extreme stress, and going crazy is a natural reaction. But if they had lost it at the beginning of the movie, the response wouldn't be justified, and it just would have felt "out there" - the opposite of real emotion!

After all, some of the most powerful expressions of passion come from the measures we take to deny that passion.

The rule is that extraordinary actions require extraordinary reason.

pinkboi said...

How could you talk about good old insanity movies without mentioning "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Tony C. said...

Ren's delivery seems so much more insane because it's so calm. A great approach!

To Paraphrase George Costanza, "Insanity NOW!"

lastangelman said...

Etched forever into my skull are the tirades and performances of my MOM - talk about madness.
OTOH,I have been known to throw a tantrum this side of rabid wolverine.

Tony said...

You forgot Psycho!

Spencer said...

I am in awe of ren's acting in that clip...insanity is one of my favorite things to develop in characters. Layers of insanity mixed with layers of stupidity lead to some pretty amazing results.

Gregg said...


Everyone's stress valve.....

Everyone gets pissed off....

Everyone needs to release.....

Everyone can relate.

(that first picture reminds me, oh so much of George Liquor(those eyes))

Great post John.

Looney Moon Cartoons said...

I agree that cartoon animation is the perfect medium for insanity. There are no limits to how insane you can get.

KoolAidMan said...

Who had the insane episode in your office? That is hilarious.

Clinton said...

I dig that kyle baker cartoon, it reminds me of home....sadly.

Marty said...

Did the crazy guy in your office have to stop and go take a whizz?

C. A. M. Thompson said...

Beast With Five Fingers is great! I hope they make a DVD of it because I'd like to see it again. It would probably be a corny movie without Lorre, but you just can't look away when he's on the screen. It's too bad a lot of modern entertainment has lost that theatrical quality where you actually get to watch the character's mental state change.

YULFO! said...

The Best Movies I can think of that shows a Great example of insanity is Full metal jacket the scene where Gomer Pyle finally lost it and just begins to talk to himself in the rest room Then blows his head of,Very creepy seen.Reminds me of Stimpy's Fan club.

Ren: I... I was nice today. NICE to all of those insipid little monkeys, answering thier STUPID letters. My hands... DIRTY!
(Scrapes his hands.)THE DIRT WON'T COME OFF!
Ren: President! What a joke. President! President of what? HIS fan club! How they love him! Look at him, lying there asleep. The idol of millions... (whipering)is a FOOL!
Ren(sing-song) Lying silly little fool.
Ren: How easily I end the force... with these hands! These DIRTY HANDS! AND WITH THESE HANDS I HOLD THE FATE OF MILLIONS! They think he's a god, but he's as mortal as we. I KNOW! Just one quick TWIST... then it's over. Just one!
(moving toward Stimpy)
Ren: Just... AAAAH! IT'S HAPPENING AGAIN! MY BRAIN! MY HOT, STINGING BRAIN! That scene scared the shit out of me as a kid.To tell you the true It's still god damn scary.The thought that Ren was thinking about Killing was just shocking.But I loved how you didn't Try to comfort your viewer's.Another Great one is the Movie "FALLING DOWN"With Michael Douglas That burger joint scene was fucking Insanity at it's Best.

glamaFez said...

Is it just me, or is the new "black on red" color scheme in your blog VERY hard to read?

Brian said...

What about Jack Nicholson in The Shining? That's about as nuts as you can get.

He also acts like he's deranged in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest just to put a bug up Nurse Ratched's butt.

Kirk Douglas played the McMurphy role in a stage production and bought the film rights wanting to play the part in the movie. Then he passed the production rights to his son Michael, who decided his dad was "too old" for the role. Can you believe it?

Aggie said...

... no Hitchcock films? And I'm not just talking about Psycho.

Scott said...

"... no Hitchcock films? And I'm not just talking about Psycho."

Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train... Joesph Cotton in Shadow of a Doubt all instantly come to mind as some of the great insane roles.

paul etcheverry said...

You can now see a remastered DVD of Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street, a corrosive film noir with Edward G. Robinson losing what's left of his mind.

I had a great time last week screening obscure Terrytoons, Fleischers and Columbias - most of which dealt with insanity and dark, raving emotions in a sublime way - at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive.

And John, the next time you're at the archive, don't leave without seeing the 1930 Oswald Rabbit opus Mars, it's pure cartoony genius.

Trevour said...

My grandma has the wildest, most out-of-control temper out of anyone I know (should I be sharing this online?). She used to throw things and scream at the top of her lungs. I think she still does but I haven't witnessed one of her 'episodes' since I was a little kid. And look out if she's been drinking!

My dad would come in a solid #2 after my grandma. Oh, you wouldn't want to be within a mile radius of my dad if he found out you did something bad. Tightened lips, bulging eyes, wild indecipherable ranting... I was scared silly as a child... and that was even before the REAL punishment! My brothers and I would all cry and cower in the corner... much like Stimpy & Sven in the clip!!!

Of course I must've acquired more of my mom's behavioral genes, because I never flip out and get all insane. I guess I'm too laid back. My grandpa on my mom's side was a kind a gentle man, and he saw terrible things during WWII.

In any case I hope that as I continue to master my cartoon-making, that I'll be able to really demonstrate some of that terrifying insanity displayed by my dad and grandma. Scary back then, but I laugh at it now.

JohnK said...

Yeah, Hitchcock is great of course, but he's well known.

These movies I listed are extra intense and not as well known.

If you like Ren, you'll love the movies that inspired him!

Taber said...

It's going to be piss-shiver-terrific!

Robert said...

Not crazy about the new black color scheme for the blog. It makes the pictures look nice, but it makes the long text harder to wade thru.

Dan Jackson said...

Anyone remember "J. Frank Parnell", the one-eyed mad scientist driving the Chevy Malibu from the movie "Repo Man"?

That was a classic nutso-insane character... driven mad by decaying radioactive aliens in his trunk, which could also possibly be a neutron bomb he developed (they never show what's in the trunk, although anyone who looks into it is vaporized).

"BLAMMO... Eyes melt, skin explodes, EVERYbody DEAD!"

R. Banuelos said...

I couldn't imagine some one seeing Sven Hoek wouldn't believe that's more real than most cartoons. I can't think of any cartoons that strike such a nerve as some of the Ren and Stimpy's. Watching Ren Seeks Help creates a real reaction to it, it's a cartoon that really involves you.

There are some other cartoons that really bring you in, but Ren and Stimpy was very consistent with it. Anger, Jealousy, Insanity, Survival, Sacrifice, Forgiveness; that's a lot of themes for a fart and booger cartoon.

Yep, I'm dumb.

Hammerson said...

Wow, what a fantastic and observational post! Heightened emotional states are an limitless source of inspiration for cartoonists, but even during the golden age only a small number of directors and artists were willing to explore this beyond the most superficial aspects.

And that was a fantastic advice - to detach yourself from any emotional response and simply observe and study the insanity in front of you, unless your life is directly threatened. I wish I heard about this couple of days ago, when I witnessed an lenghty and extremely ugly moment of insanity at work (my boss is a 100% madman). I simply packed my things and left the place in the middle of his rant, but perhaps I should have stayed for an hour or more, to get the inspiration.

Great selection of insane classics. You forgot to mention Uncle Eddie's favorite Peter Lorre movie "Stranger on the third floor". That's an obscure but quite terrific film, with one of Lorre's creepiest and sickest appearances. There's also an incredible 10-minute surreal dream sequence that looks like a live-action directed by Bob Clampett. Amazing stuff!

Jose said...

yah, i'm so glad to say i've seen most of those awesome recommendations. though, i don't think i've ever heard of beast w/ 5 fingers.


"hush hush sweet charlotte"

is another good one. more of that cruddy lookin crazy old woman Bette Davis.

also: psychosis and insanity is interesting from a detached point of view. great when putting into some medium - art, film, books, cartoons (Ren was so great for that, hats off, John)
But not great to experience yourself. That's what not love about it. I'm talking actual mental illness, not crazy-guy-in-LA-traffic.

Chris said...

Its hard to believe that you got away with that Sven Hoek scene there. Your stuff fascinated me as a kid. On the surface, I think I liked lighter cartoons like Doug and such (well, not light, but not crazy either. a lot of cartoons and shows i liked had this melancholy, lightly satirical view of what its like to be a kid. i think it was a side effect of Generation X or something. to slackerish to even be bothered with jokes or edginess.)

But something about Ren and Stimpy was just so... different. Anytime I watched it, I felt like I was getting away with something. Something that made you think, "I shouldn't be seeing this." I loved that feeling.

Parents dissaproved of the fart and vomit jokes but thats all they saw before becoming disinterested with it. Granted, R&S was THE gross out cartoon (playground legendary even), but there was a lot of other cartoons that did it too (possibly because of the success of R&S).

No, it was the insanity themes that really made me uncomfortable as a young kid watching this show. But at the same time, it was what kept me watching too. And the plots were not simple. I had to focus on what was going on, and really I don't caught everything. I need to buy the dvd's and watch them again.

Fco. de Borja said...

With no doubt, the insanity scenes in R&S are my favourite bits. I remember a great scene where a jack goes mad after listening over and over again the royal ancient of the kilted jacksman.
Great post John

Adam said...

You really get to see the core of a person during their insane episodes. It's scary sometimes but it's the real raw truth. When somebody loses their ability to put up the front of who they want to be, and they go on autopilot for a little while. Nothing is more interesting to watch. The lies that people tell themselves just fall apart... 'No I'm not upset over you denting my car.' 'No I'm not upset you forgot my birthday.' All that comes crashing down in one instant. Oh man I could go for some of that right now.

Barbara said...

Peter Lorre is such a badass. And I agree: insanity is humanity.

Those are some great facial expressions.

Karswell said...

I'm so glad you mention (or show) William Shatner, people always rag on him for being so "over the top" or "ham and cheese" or whatever, but the truth is the guy can definitely act, and unlike Ben Affleck or Justin Whoever he's actually ENTERTAINING--- and unique goddamnit!

Ian M said...

Holy shit! That clip from Ren and Stimpy definitely seems like someone in the animation industry breaking down. It's actually kind of creepy, as I've seen things like this happen to people. Especially in the frustrating, soul souring experience that is 3D animation. I don't know I'm actually surprised you got away with that, as someone really going crazy is much harder to stomach than someone going Hollywood crazy.

Matt Blasi said...

John K wrote: "This is considered offensive today. Insane or what?"

This statement was made in relation to the "Injun Orange" image found here:

I'm not completely sure what you meant, John. Did you mean to say that it's an insane image and is ridiculous, or were you questioning how such an image could be offensive?

Because it IS offensive. It depicts a parody image of stereotypical Native Americans used to sell a ridiculous product in a humiliating context. What is NOT offensive about it?

Think: if you had an old-timey "black-faced" image on the wrapper and sold it as "Negro Nectar," people wouldn't hesitate to call it offensive. If you had a white face on it and called it "Cracker Cranberry," it would also be offensive.

Why (if I'm reading your question right) is Injun Orange NOT offensive? Have you asked any Native Americans if they find this offensive and why or why not? I did, here at the University of Florida, and the answers I received were pretty clear: it is offensive because it degrades Native Americans and their culture into a marketing ploy for Pillsbury products.

There's a fine line between comedy and racism, and it requires more care and study than simple opinion.

Anonymous said...

>Because it IS offensive. It depicts a parody image of stereotypical Native Americans used to sell a ridiculous product in a humiliating context. What is NOT offensive about it?

Are you an idiot? I'm part indian and don't find it offensive in the least. Many indians prefer the term "indian" and anyone who thinks that image is racist should really reconsider.

Isaak said...

I noticed my comment appeared and then disappeared. Did I write something untoward, because if so it was unintentional?

Thank you