Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mike Judge and Humanity


I've used the words "humanity", "sincerity", and others to describe a quality in entertainment that I can't find the perfect word for. If you've got a better one, let me know!

It's a quality I find in The Honeymooners, All In The Family, The Three Stooges, Bob McKimson cartoons, Kirk Douglas movies, Johnny Winter music, early Beatles and many other entertainments and entertainers. It's not the artistic finesse or skill - although that comes with many of my favorite entertainers...it's more a quality of truthfulness, an open, no-bullshit view of the world, a way of communicating universal and real human emotions and sensory feelings that cuts through current trends and styles.

You won't find this quality in blockbuster animated features, Cirque Du Soleil, but maybe sometimes in the odd TV show.

Mike Judge has this mysterious quality of sincere, open minded truthfulness and he sees what's really funny about actual humanity versus phony popular trends- he makes fun of when humans lie to us about who we are. He speaks to real people.


When so much modern entertainment is polished insincerity, it's refreshing to watch something and laugh out loud.

When I watch King of The hill, I'm pretty sure I can tell which scenes are Mike unfiltered and which are teams of writers trying to evoke fake pathos. I'm caught off guard by Mike's jokes and laugh really loud, then it quickly switches to someone trying to manipulate me to cry over some writer's contrivance. It's a weird combination of elements.


Buy This Cartoon and many more here:

THE ANIMATION SHOW

***CHUCK JONES had humanity supplied to him for awhile by Mike Maltese. Tex Avery, The Fleischers and Clampett had it in abundance.

UPA went out of their way to excise it from their cartoons- so much so that even Jones saw it.What kind of humans are entertained by this? Send pictures.

NOW'S HERE'S THE REAL TRUTH ABOUT HUMANITY!

WATCH UFC TONIGHT ON PAY PER VIEW!

THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY!

CHUCK VS WANDERLEI

82 comments:

Ryan G. said...

I dont know, but maybe the word for it is realism. Not in the "photorealistic" sense, but the way things really are.

Like Millet: click here
He would paint peasant people working in the fields which was not considered art in those times.

Frank Macchia said...

haha i love that mike judge short
"a message from the vigilant activists against everything"

PS...i recieved the nicktoons book with the slime all over the cover for christmas...really liked your blurb on ren and stimpy john...the boards for stimpys invention were pretty fun to look at too...good stuff

Adam said...

Mike Judge is really good at portraying ignorant people as they really are. He exaggerates things a bit but he doesn't lie. Everybody I know has one or two of his characters in their extended family.

Sometimes I can laugh at his stuff but other times it just depresses me.

Parker said...

Happy New year, John!

Emmett said...

I love Mike Judge's early stuff, and I go on and off King of the Hill. But I am never able to recognize this, maybe because I have such a dim view of the world.
If I wanted to improve my perception of humanity in culture, what should I be looking at?

Barbara said...

For some reason I'm surprised to see Mike Judge up here against Jones and Clampett, but I agree wholeheartedly. He actually makes characters that are totally different from eachother and still hilarious, unlike something like South Park which whitewashes its characters with an 'everyone's an idiotic american' sameness.

Plus he creates characters that everybody knows in real life, like the reprimanding hippie, the Milton or the "film" guy.

cartoonretro said...

"Humanity" is a good description. Peter Bagge's comics have a similar quality.
S.

Emmett said...

Mr. K, I'd like to take back my previous comment.

Yes, I do like Mike Judge. But Humanity and Truthfullness are things I probably take for granted in stories. It seems like to better understand these things, you need to have a fully formed view of the world from many different directions. My view of the world is barely half formed; all I can say is that I see the world as a dish that is not totally clean (just a few nice spots).
Mr. K, can you tell us what has shaped your view of humanity and truthfullness?

Ryan said...

yessS!!!
Mike Judges' Idiocracy! Although it was obviously watered down by the corporate film studio, it's still his best view of our stupid humanity, and how we're all going to destroy our values and intelligence with mindless entertainment resulting in our ultimate de-evolution and extinction.

Mullet said...

I've never seen Cirque du Soleil but I've seen clips and both they and these pictures show clowns who are poised, polished and prissy. There's too much circus in them and circus clowns are the shittiest clowns. There's nothing REAL about them. They're rehearsed to the point of routine. And for some clowns, being real or really in the moment is more important than anything, including the audience. Maybe that's along the same lines as this humanity you're describing?

PCUnfunny said...

"The Honeymooners, All In The Family, The Three Stooges, Bob McKimson cartoons, Kirk Douglas movies, Johnny Winter music"

I would also add early Mel Brooks movies. Anyway, that's another thing that lacks in today's entertainment. Today's entertainment only as a broad generalization of what people are like.

James N. said...

What's wrong with Cirque du Soleil?

I've seen the show here in Florida several times and it was pretty dang amazing.

JoJo said...

I stood up for hours last night thinking about this. I was thinking about who was truly being sincere throughout animation's history, because there probably aren't that many. It also led me to think about all the people I know who want to imitate stuff instead of actually go out and do something that's an observation of life.

It's nice to see a post about this today.

Rodrigo said...

I'm glad you can appreciate Mike Judge. I'd assume you'd resent him for not adhering to your preferred aesthetics when it comes to cartooning, but it looks like you appreciate him on a different level.

Will Finn said...

When I was in high school there was a kid named Brian Cole who was just naturally funny. He wasn't a "class clown" or a showoff, but he was easy going and super smart; he could point out things in a very offhanded manner that would make you hurt with laughter. Even just sitting doing nothing, he was funny because you knew he was thinking funny thoughts.

Mike Judge reminds me of that kid because literally everything he has done has made me helpless with laughter. His characters aren't forced, never too broad or too vague, and they always hit at something genuine. In fact "genuine" is the word I would use to sum up his approach to comedy.

His dialog sounds like real conversation (instead of constructed jokes) and the behavior of his characters is natural, yet sublimely foolish. He seems to be a phenomenally smart guy who can see through pretense and reflect things as they really are.

PCUnfunny said...

I don't think you would agree John but I find some humanity in the Dilbert comic strip.

JohnK said...

Yikes!!!!

Ambassador MAGMA said...

Mike Judge went to my high school!

This is quite unrelated, but his movie Idiocracy is brilliant... really filtered and hacked up but at its core is a really disturbing and poignant look at where our culture is headed.

It got no promotion and was tucked under a rock until it was released on DVD with no fanfare. It isn't a great movie, but I couldn't stop talking about it after I saw it!

LeoBro said...

It's tough to find a word to describe something that ought to be understood as natural and intrinsic to the thing itself.

Like what do you call water that isn't polluted or flouridated, like water always was until the industrial age? What do you call tomatoes that are flavorful and nutritious instead of being bred to allow for shipping long distances?

In this case, "raw," and "direct" come to mind. But it's clearer to say what it is not: forced, formulaic, contrived, derivative, artificial, or superficial.

PCUnfunny said...

John:

Well I admit Dilbert is not visually pleasing I think it cleverly assaults all the stupidity of people. And how smarter people exploit them.

Mr. Semaj said...

I got into King of the Hill, partially because of their double-sided approach to real-life situations. One of my most favorite episodes is when Luanne's mom comes to Arlen. It has an unusual resolution where it's not the fairytale ending Lu had hoped for; Leanne's goodbye threat was kinda funny, but at the same time, heartbreaking.

What I came to hate about the show, however, was when most of the characters lost their appeal. Many episodes from Seasons 5-7 and 9-10 involve either Peggy being a egotistical psycho, Bobby being a hopeless fag, or Hank being a party-pooping wimp. Many other characters, at the same time, were being phased out. Both factors led to many episodes being boring or just hard to watch.

Concerning Judge's other stuff, I loved Office Space, and am still trying to find Idiocracy.

PCUnfunny said...

"It got no promotion and was tucked under a rock until it was released on DVD with no fanfare"


I am surprised it was really screwed over. Office Space was a hit so why did the studios treat Idiocracy like crap ?

Timefishblue said...

I thought Office Space was only a hit on video, not in theatres.

Still not much of a hit either way, though.

Why would Fox want to give extra support a movie that makes fun of their audience? They're actually selling a Brawndo drink, though, which makes too much sense.

YULFO! said...

This is a Great Blog John.I Always hated the Fact that Beavis and Butthead was always just known for it's Crude humor and no one ever talked about how innocent those two kids were.And how funny it was that they Lived such a crappy life yet they were always giggling at the world.Maybe I might be looking to deep into it,but it seemed that there was much more then dick jokes to it.
looking at Mike judges work,Is like hes telling you a personal story of his each Time.You can't find that in Family guy.how do you feel about South Park? That is Another cartoon I feel go's way beyond Fart jokes as well.It can be a bit silly but and Rude but they always seem to Bring sense and logic to It's Madness.

YULFO! said...
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YULFO! said...
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Laura said...

I think one thing that seperates cartoons (and movies, and television) from, say, good books or good music, or good standup comedy--is that you aren't getting the same dialoge continually from the same person.
In all these forms there exists moments where you can feel a real empathatic connection to "someone" somewhere, because--wow, someone else has felt that way too.
I love those moments. We as people hunt those moments down I think. Searching for someone else to indentify these fucked up mechanisms with and feel slightly less alien.
Others, maybe, they become the creators. They haven't found someone who indentifies with their outlook on the world, so they stake their claim out and let the world see what it makes of the outcome.
The tricky thing about cartoons is that the ball gets passed around a lot. You have to cut through a lot of bullshit to find those good moments, and if it can hit you a few times in the same program you're really lucky. There are so many places to get it wrong. If your voice actor hasn't got his shit on right for example...
I think that's why I always preferred the kind of comic books where the writer and the artist are the same person, as opposed to those with different writers and artists on every book.
Also while I prefer cartoons where the director does the voice and designs the characters and layouts as well. Know of any like that?
It's about maintaining the same idea throughout, which cannot be easy to do, I'm guessing.

CartoonSteve said...

> What's wrong with Cirque du Soleil?

To me, it's merely a reminder of my first and only visit to Disney World in the 90s.

My only interest was to tour the soon to be closed animation department. Meanwhile, the park seemed to be going nuts promoting this European Circus-thing. The overabundance of posters and promos made it feel like some kind of Euro-disney.

I think the humanity John is seeking is the down to earth kind we recognize in everyday life - not in extravagant psychedelic freakshows.

Pete Emslie said...

I remember seeing Mike Judge's "Frog Baseball" back in a Spike and Mike Animation Festival in the early 90's. I found it ugly, crude, and totally inane at the time. Of course, it turned out to be the debut of "Beavis and Butthead", who would get their own regular series shortly thereafter, which after viewing several episodes, I also dismissed as being ugly and inane, drawn in a very unappealing and amateurish style. When Mike Judge came back with "King of the Hill" a bit later, I honestly wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and tried watching a couple episodes. Alas, I found that, despite it seeming to be smarter in content than "Beavis and Butthead", I just couldn't get past the character designs that still struck me as being as amateurish as the drawing level of an average high school kid. Sorry, John, but even though it may very well have some "humanity" as you say, for me the aesthetic value counts for a lot, and "King of the Hill" just doesn't cut it.

So please forgive me then for playing devil's advocate here, but do you really believe that this show benefits from being animated? Personally, I'm of the opinion that it might be stronger if it was a live-action show, given that the writing has been acknowledged by many as being quite good, but there seems to be no discernible reason for it to be animated at all, as there doesn't seem to be anything of a fantastic, whimsical nature that warrants it. I'm actually rather surprised that you're praising it here, so I am curious as to why this show makes the grade in your book, knowing what your general tastes in animation seem to be.

cemenTIMental said...

Wait... so are you comparing Mike Judge or Ultimate Fighting to Cirque du Soleil!?!?

Either way around that gives a whole new meaning to chalk and cheese. :-S

Raff said...

>> It's a quality I find in The Honeymooners, All In The Family, The Three Stooges, Bob McKimson cartoons, Kirk Douglas movies, Johnny Winter music <<

Pshht. That's nothing. You want truthful and believable? Listen to Richard Pryor talking about the Mafia on Live on the Sunset Strip. It's just him at the microphone but his performance makes you feel as if it all happened to you, and you're still afraid today.

JohnK said...

Hi Pete

I had the same attitude towards Beavis and Butthead when I first heard about it. Then I watched it and nearly fell off my chair laughing.

I understand your point about animation quality, of course, but i make exceptions to every rule and Mike's work is so funny and so true and observant of life that I like it - in the same I like a good stand up comedian like Bill Cosby or Rodney Dangerfield. Are those guys animation? No, they're just funny and observant and they understand human nature. They build their comedy around human nature.

These are all qualities that are conspicuously absent from many "quality" cartoons.

What prompted this post was my researching old Disney cartoons to find stuff to post about. I was watching Mickey and Donald cartoons and being bored to tears. The cartoons are skilled and elaborately planned but have no discernable humanity to them. They aren't funny, yet they pretend to be.

Mike's cartoons were a good supplement to my McKimson post, because you can isolate the humanity and humor without being distracted by highly polished slick animation formulas.

The reason I like WB cartoons so much is they combine the great animation that guys like you and I love with truer observations of human nature. And real comedy...

CartoonSteve said...

Ha, I remembered correctly - Homer called it a "freakshow".

http://www.videosift.com/video/The-Cirque-de-Pure-comes-to-Springfield

and since blogger doesn't always do links well:
http://www.videosift.com/video/
The-Cirque-de-Pure-comes-to-
Springfield

Chip Butty said...

I'd always wondered what you'd thought of Mike Judge! The drawings are funny, but not skilled, and almost never move in funny ways, but yeah, at least that sense of honest humanity has always been there.

Maybe he's better off doing live action, like the modern classics "Office Space" and "Idiocracy," which are just as funny and humane as any "King of the Hill" or "Beavis and Butthead," respectively.

Ever see the B&B when they take an animation class, and create a loop of two guys dying multiple horrible deaths? Butt-Head complains that you have to draw thousands of dead dudes just to end up with two...so "amination sucks."

Roberto González said...

I don't know about King Of The Hill. It really bores me to tears. While I believe Donald and Mickey have some humanity (especially Donald) and some shorts are funny. I agree that there are a lot of them that aren't just funny enough. I collect Disney Treasures DVDs and I'm always excited about them when I bought them. Then I start to watch and there are only five or six cartoons in each set I find REALLY amusing.The others, like you said, are skilled but quite boring.

I do enjoy Beavis and Butthead, sometimes. Other times I don't found their gags too special. Mostly I like the characters and I think Beavis and Butthead Do America was superb. In fact one of the things I really like about the movie is that it doesn't have moments of pathos, yet again it's not totally inane and you do care about the characters. Even though they're stupid and shitty human-beings, they are likeable.

I don't know if that's what you are talking about but I kinda agree with your statements on this, how some pathos feels really contrived and Hollywood-fake and it's often seen in many tv shows and movies. It's kind of unavoidable though once you have proof of what things "work" better in television history, writers and creators would include them even if they don't believe in them. It's what happens to Disney, I don't know so much about Walt himself, but I think his personality was more related to the kind of morals they used in the films, while now they just include that cause that's "Disney legacy".

However, I'd like you to extend about this concept and maybe put examples about what you don't like in other shows. I believe South Park is sincere sometimes too, while Family Guy or Shrek are mostly pure cynicism. You may not like it, but I think SP characters seem to say what their creators want to say all the time while FG or Shrek seem to be mere vehicles for forced gags. They don't say anything, the characters seem rather soul-less.

The Simpsons have a combination of contrived pathos and humanity and I do like them a lot as you know. In their best period I think they seem pretty sincere for the most part. I'd find interesting to read if you can provide a criticism about the lack of humanity in this show, forgetting about any aesthetic aspect.

Also I think you've pointed out some examples before, but I'd like to read more about instances in which you would find pathos is justified or not contrived.

I'm actually quite obsessed by these things. When I watch an animated movie especially, one of the things I really look for is how they pull this thing off. When they manage to do it in a kinda natural way I find the movie and its characters more interesting. When all of the sudden characters get serious or a conflict is introduced out of nowhere I don't like it. There is always a moment in which the main characters discuss. It happened both in Bee Movie and Ratatouille, also in Monsters Inc...and it's always pretty forced. It seems like a Hollywood trick to include a conflict.

Lilo and Stitch and some of the Simpsons episodes I find them more natural in their pathos. They are not overly sappy and the conflict seems to come from the characters for the most part. Same thing in shows like My Name Is Earl and The Office...though I think U.K. version is quite better than american one in that department.

PCUnfunny said...

"Pshht. That's nothing. You want truthful and believable? Listen to Richard Pryor talking about the Mafia on Live on the Sunset Strip. It's just him at the microphone but his performance makes you feel as if it all happened to you, and you're still afraid today."


ARGH ! How can I forget the great Richard Pryor ! The man was a genius and died too young. :(

PCUnfunny said...

"I like a good stand up comedian like Bill Cosby or Rodney Dangerfield"

This is OT but Bill Cosby's speech at the 50th Anniversary commemoration of the Brown vs Topeka Board of Education was the smartest damn thing any black man has said decades. God bless him for telling the truth and anyone who disagrees is either a black person in denial or a extremely dumb white liberal. And this is coming from someone who is no were near the right. I don't care if you post this or not John but dammit, it's how I feel.

Norman Bates said...

Well, I don't know about anyone else but Mike Judge's cartoons certainly make me scream "Oh the humanity!"

Raff said...

>> So please forgive me then for playing devil's advocate here, but do you really believe that this show benefits from being animated? <<

With all due respect, that's like asking if Johnny Cash's songs benefitted from being sung. He sang flat and didn't have much of a range or classy tone, right?

Within those crude drawings are personal, specific and clear statements that do benefit having come from a drawing hand. The shapes, proportions and line qualities in "Huh" communicate the situation to the audience effectively, regardless of what level of mastery one would argue Mike Judge had over his pencil.

But do I want to see drawings this crude become a standard? Hell no! One guy doing it is plenty. All right, two if you include Don Hertzfeldt. What the hell, let's throw in R.O. Blechman, though he's a bit dull, three. That's it.

Martyn Drake said...

I've never been a terribly big fan of Beavis and Butthead, but I did like their movie - Beavis and Butthead Do America which I thought had some wonderful moments.

King of the Hill I quite like as well - but it can be a bit of a hit and miss for me at times. Overall it gets my thumbs up.

I DO love Office Space, though. And I will continue to look out for more Mike Judge live action films as I think, as a writer and director, he works well in any medium.

I.D.R.C. said...

I've tried in vain 3 times to write a post that is not over-long and rambling. "Humanity" is a difficult topic to articulate accurately. It would be great if there were an objective meter we could use so that we could all come to the same conclusions about what has it and what does not.

I use the word "insightfulness," and because the only reason I look at drawings in the first place is to be stimulated, any show or comic strip without strimulating drawings can't really have insightfulness or humanity, because that's the source of the specificity that is required.

So, regardless of how biting the social satire may be, or how irreverent the tone, or how crisp the banter, or any other reasons that can be doctored up to justify them, these shows all fail miserably:

SIMPSONS
DILBERT
FAMILY GUY
AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE
PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING ON CARTOON NETWORK

They fail for me because they are visually blunt, and because nobody in charge of making them has the insighfulness or humanity to care about that seemingly trivial aspect of production. Compared to classic cartoons and comics they seem more to illustrate a theoretical opposite. I may recieve some benefit from listening to them, but I recieve very little benefit from actually watching them.

Other than to remind myself what the characters always look like, or to see the occasional mechanically rendered sight-gag, there is no real imperative to look.

On the visual plane, they are all ultimately gutless, regardless of the typical viewer's apathy or inattentiveness about it.

MIKE JUDGE's works is at least one rung above that on the visual scale. It's not beautiful, but it's not visually pointless, either.

It's okay to like these shows, there is some likeable aspect to all of them. It would just be nice if everyone could agree that most of them are not real cartoons. I don't need to eliminate non-cartoons, I just wnat real cartoons to coexist peacefully instead of getting stamped out.

I beleive for that to happen, cartoon fans have to comprehend that what they now watch are not cartoons, they are colored wrappers with almost no candy inside.

A.M.Bush said...

When I was 12, I lived for only two shows. Bevis & Butthead and Ren & Stimpy.

Sparrman said...

I like Cirque du Soleil AND Mike Judge! Does that make me broad-minded...or easy to please? Please answer, as I want to be able to sleep tonight.

PCUnfunny said...

IDRC: I agree with you on the DILBERT TV show. It had none of the good satire. Also I think the early Simpsons was pretty good.

I.D.R.C. said...

I like CIRQUE, too, but because of great acrobats. I'm not all that into what they wear. I can tolerate the trappings.

For the record, the most watchable Simpsons for me was these:

http://www.simpsoncrazy.com/downloads/shorts.shtml

The thing about DILBERT, even the strip, is that like DOONESBURY, all you get is commentary. There is nothing really to see. It can't count as "humanity" unless you actually use your art to express it, as only your art can. Having a character with a big nose make a speech about it ain't what it's all about.

You only have to go back a few decades in any medium to discover how much skill and fun are usually missing.

There, in my view, lies the fundamental difference between cartoons and comics, and non-cartoons and non-comics. In the former, nobody would ever defend them by saying that it's not the drawings that are important, it's some other quality. I like stuff where I can see that the drawings were important, where the content is inextricable from the execution, where the way it's drawn says as much about it as what it depicts.

This might be a little broad for the humanity John is talking about but I don't see how you can get to humanity if you don't first get past boredom.

Happy New Year. Everybody go get some!

EIBass said...

Happy new year!!!

Here's a couple new years fights for ya.
Chris Horodecki Vs Ryan Shultz

Fedor vs Giant

Jeff Pidgeon said...

So please forgive me then for playing devil's advocate here, but do you really believe that this show benefits from being animated? Personally, I'm of the opinion that it might be stronger if it was a live-action show, given that the writing has been acknowledged by many as being quite good, but there seems to be no discernible reason for it to be animated at all, as there doesn't seem to be anything of a fantastic, whimsical nature that warrants it.

I'm not going to be objective here, because I'm a big King of the Hill fan. I like the show a lot, and have liked it through most of its run (though I do tend to watch DVD sets, rather than broadcast).

I do think the show is better off as an animated program.

A while back, I saw a rejected pilot for a live-action Dilbert TV show. It wasn't very good, but I don't think it was because the jokes were bad - in fact, I think that they were pretty faithful in duplicating the dialogue of the strip.

In my mind, what didn't work was changing the context of the dialogue from comic-strip characters to real people. In the new context, what could be snarky and funny became horribly mean-spirited.

So I think the characterizations of King of the Hill might not work as well in a live-action show. When the medium providing the distance for exaggeration changes, the characters might appear simplistic (or worse) speaking through 'real' actors' mouths.

Another thing that I like about the show is, even if the satire is pointed, it's still well-observed and affectionate. Southern conservatives are usually portrayed flatly, with little dimension or appeal. It's clear Judge has lived near (or with) folks like the Hills, and appreciates a lot about them. That's rare.

william wray said...

Honest?

A.M.Bush said...

Hey, since you guys are on the subject of "what has humanity". You know what I like, that old Jim Reardon Cal-Arts Charlie Brown cartoon http://youtube.com/watch?v=A15v4tTab0Y

I like it because you can really tell that it's just a kid trying to tell his joke.

Frank Macchia said...

ive had this sortta debate with so many people...frustrates me every time
yeah, mike judge's style isnt the prettiest...but look at the most successful "cartoons"...specifically prime time cartoons

the simpsons
the flintstones
south park
king of the hill
and so on

theyre all ugly and or EXTREMELY simple...we know better because were artists...we can appreciate cartoons as an art form...but at the end of the day...cartoons are made for the genral public..a general audience that knows little to nothing about animation as an art form.
so if the success of a cartoon isnt decided by how pretty it is...then why?...because of their humanity and entertainment value...people can relate to those shows and those characters...which makes them a success

im not discrediting any element of artistic skill...i agree mike judge has a sloppy style, and we can whine about how ugly it is all we want...but obviously he's doing something right, hes had two enormously successful animated shows

i WISH there was a cartoon that was as clever as south park or the simpsons with an animation style from the golden era of cartoons or a WB style...that would be incredible...best of both worlds...i dont know why anyone hasnt realised that or allowed something like that to be put into production...john himself said:

"I was watching Mickey and Donald cartoons and being bored to tears. The cartoons are skilled and elaborately planned but have no discernable humanity to them. They aren't funny, yet they pretend to be."

so true...someone could create the most brilliant cartoon from an artistic stand point...but if its not entertaining...no one will watch it, no one will care.

i love animation as an art form...but its naive to think the success of a cartoon can rely solely on how well its drawn...it has to have entertainment value and humanity...if it has those elements, even if its ugly, chances are people will love it...thats why ugly/simple cartoons like the simpsons, south park, the flintstones, and king of the hill are some of the longest running and most influencial

sorry...thats my rant
im passionate about this crap

oh PS...for anyone who thinks i left family guy out of my list...that was no accident
family guy is just a mystery to me...
its ugly and has no humanity to it...pretty much any idiot with a pencil and a bong and make an episode of family guy...then again...its successful...haha...ohhh the mysteries of life

Jeff Pidgeon said...

There, in my view, lies the fundamental difference between cartoons and comics, and non-cartoons and non-comics. In the former, nobody would ever defend them by saying that it's not the drawings that are important, it's some other quality. I like stuff where I can see that the drawings were important, where the content is inextricable from the execution, where the way it's drawn says as much about it as what it depicts.

I understand what you're saying. Bill Watterson has a great quote about that - it goes something along the lines of, "A great drawing takes a great idea around the moon and back."

Still, I think there's another quality that can support an idea other than technical finesse. I guess I'd call it, "Appropriate-ness".

I'm not a huge fan of Dilbert's artwork, but in some ways, it's appropriate for the content - like it was drawn on a post-it and passed over the wall of a cubicle.

I think the style of King of the Hill fits the bill, too - it looks stiff and reserved, like Hank himself, or the way someone in Arlen would draw it.

Ditto South Park and Peanuts: the only way that they may be similar is that they use children to say things about adults. Because the characters sometimes behave nothing like kids, (in my mind) the childlike styles of both help pull the material back into that world.

I'm sure (to some degree) that this conversation has been going on for a long time - the cartoonists of the '20s and '30s probably bemoaned the lack of craft in the simpler styles of the '50s and '60s, and so on, and so on.

I think the best approach is to make a comic strip or film in your own way, and work hard to get your point across. If it's honest, then it's got a good chance that it'll connect with an audience. I wouldn't spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not you've done it 'right'.

(Said the cartoonist who just wrote paragraphs about 'right'-ness)

Ross Irving said...

Ha! Nice shot at Spielberg.

Yeah, I like Mike Judge's stuff too, sometimes King of the Hill, but mainly Beavis and Butthead.

Their voices are specific, their walk cycles and other movements are solely theirs, both of their mannerisms fall into a general type but still are strong enough characters to create a hilarious chemistry.

All of this sounds so difficult, and then Mike Judge gives us something unbelievably outrageous and funny. It never has to get too raunchy or edgy, the humor feels like it's coming from them, especially the music video commentaries.

I was kind of afraid to admit I liked this show, so I'm very surprised that you would like it.

Good!

I.D.R.C. said...

...but at the end of the day...cartoons are made for the genral public..a general audience that knows little to nothing about animation as an art form.

They know that Chuck Jones is better than Matt Groening even if they never thought about it.

What people will SETTLE for is different than what they prefer, if given a real choice.

...its naive to think the success of a cartoon can rely solely on how well its drawn...it has to have entertainment value and humanity.

What I would say is that it's naive to think a cartoon can be a success as a cartoon merely because it's popular. If I were an investor that would be a great definition of success, but instead I am a fan of the medium, so it's not.

Far be it from me to say a cartoon should only be drawn well.

What I said, put differently, is that a cartoon cannot really aspire to "humanity" --or even "cartoon" --if it is completely lacking visual insightfulness --no matter how well it reinforces your views about society, or how much you can identify with whatever point of view it represents.

For me, that is the truth as best I can express it. I wish I could spread it. I think it's really important.

I wish people were generally disappointed by current trends in cartoons, no matter how much they appreciate the fact that some of them can now say things Yogi Bear couldn't say. it's time to put the visual component back on top. John K has already proven that we can afford it.

I would like to spread the feeling of malaise that I have. I'm not the only one who has it. From what I hear the people who have to draw them also have it.

I would like to see the artists --who would love to make great drawings for you --gain the support and understanding of the community that claims to love cartoons.

Find a way to stand up for what all those great artists would love to give you.

*burp*

gudnait

PCUnfunny said...

"For the record, the most watchable Simpsons for me was these:

http://www.simpsoncrazy.com/downloads/shorts.shtml"

I agree. Funny animation and brillant dialogue. This was before every single character just became empty shells that spout random catchphrases. And the animation became boring as hell. Seriously, I can understand why this show is still gooing on. No character has had a personality since at least season 5 or probably sooner. The show is controlled by a bunch of writers who are college grads and just want to spew their political agendas, not entertain. My friend is a Simpsons fan and we watched the movie together. I just wondered what the hell is so funny. "Homer is choking Bart ! LOL !" Yes ? And ? That gag has beeen animated the same exact wat for like twenty years. People laugh I am just in awe. Have we become this dull ? I don't know. I really just don't know

PCUnfunny said...

Oh and Happy New Year Mistah K ! I Hope that hangover isn't too bad !

Pat Cashin said...

http://clownalley.blogspot.com/2007/12/happy-holidays-from-alley-2007.html

Watch this video of the Ringling clowns of the 1960s (a little past their prime as the average age of their clowns was 55-65 by that time) trying to emulate the zany comedy and frantic energy of the cartoons of Bob Clampett and Tex Avery and compare that against even the best of Cirque's prissy emo-clowns.

Just as in animation, there was once a time when circus clowns were allowed to be circus clowns and do outrageous things and make audiences laugh.

Just as in animation, those days are largely over.

Happy New Year,
~P

Roberto González said...

I agree that Matt Groening's Simpson shorts in the Tracey Ullman shows had more humanity, in the way they really seemed to be, well, mainly controlled by one person. While the new show seems a lot more like a group effort that sometimes tries a little too hard to include jokey dialogues and puns instead of more natural dialogue. However, I strongly disagree about the characters having no personality or being vehicles for catchphrase. The behaviour of the characters was perhaps more natural in the shorts but in the show they evolved, Homer showed a more complex and twisted logic, for example, and Lisa showed more feelings. And I actually think most of the feelings are more sincere than the Disney stuff. I like the emotional stuff in The Simpsons for the most part and I think it adds to the entertainment. Maybe they got increasingly less natural and more sappy over the years, but in seasons 2-9 they weren't bad in that aspect. The pathos was not really contrived. When Homer acted in an emotional sequence, he was in character. A dumb father trying to do something right, he didn't become a perfect guy out of the sudden as in so many sitcoms.

Also the feeling I get in seasons 2-9 is the one about a group of people, the writers, really having fun with the characters. So I don't know if that makes it a cartoon, since the people who were having fun with the characters were the writers, not the cartoonist...but I guess it could count as humanity to some extent...even if it's in a group effort, and not as direct as something created by one individual cartoonist with a satiric opinion about the world, like we see in Groening or Judge "solo" cartoons. Current Simpsons actually seem to be done more on autopilot, still the characters have more personality than those in Family Guy.

PCUnfunny said...

I want to ask you a question John. Why is it these shows have little or no episodes made by the creators themselves but instead, an army of writers ? Is is the network strangle hold or what ?

Frank Macchia said...

"What people will SETTLE for is different than what they prefer, if given a real choice."

i agree with you 100% man...i wasnt attacking animation as an art form at all...i think you misunderstood what i was saying and took it out of context...everyone seems to be thinking about this topic so ideally...at some point you have to look at it realistically

yes, of course what people will settle for is different than what they prefer...but is theyre given is crap, howr they gonna know any better?...and thats just it, the general audience DOESNT know any better because no one has offered audiences a show thats as entertaining and intelligent as the simpsons, while as visually well done as the old looney tunes...i wish audiences were given the choice and werent force fed the same thing over and over...cause of course they would rather something thats visually more pleasing. i wasnt defending ugly animation at all, rather, i was tryin to express the fact that its here, and its doing well because for some reason ugly animation is always coupled with brilliant writing
but thats why i love this debate...if a new generation of animators can learn the lessons john and others who contribute to this blog has to offer, maybe one day we can break the current trends on mediocrity...im passionate as hell about this stuff...why pic one or the other? why not have the best of both worlds...brilliant writing and beautiful animation.

"They know that Chuck Jones is better than Matt Groening even if they never thought about it."

haha its nice that youre giving the general audience the benefit of the doubt. i used to think that too. I still think its naive though. WE know better cause were active and passionate about animation. the sad reality is that i know a lot of people outside of animation who dont even know who chuck jones or matt groening are. and i think if you gave someone who knows NOTHING about animation a choice to watch an old mickey mouse cartoon or the simpsons...im willing to bet the farm they would pick the simpsons. why? because an audience can relate to the humanity and entertainment value of that kind of show, regarless of their knowledge of animation as an art form.

sad but true.

good post. even better debate weve got goin.

JohnK said...

Hi Frank

>>and its doing well because for some reason ugly animation is always coupled with brilliant writing><

that's about the craziest thing I've ever seen anyone say in the comments.

I've yet to see even semi-professional writing in the prime time cartoons.

PCUnfunny said...

Unfortunately today good writing is called, "How many crappy random catch phrases can we cram into each character in twenty minutes ?".

Mr. Semaj said...

I want to ask you a question John. Why is it these shows have little or no episodes made by the creators themselves but instead, an army of writers ? Is is the network strangle hold or what ?

I sometimes wonder the same thing.

Married...with Children and The Boondocks are the only shows I can think of, live-action or animated, where the actual creators (not co-developers) had regular participation in story writing.

Mr. Semaj said...

I've yet to see even semi-professional writing in the prime time cartoons.

Try watching the Simpsons' Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein era episodes. They're the best episodes there ever will be.

Roberto González said...

John, what's unprofessional about the writing in The Simpsons, for example?

The fact that it doesn't take advantage of the medium?

Can't we consider it professional as sitcom writing, at least? Cause there are really very few modern sitcoms-if any- I'd consider better than The Simpsons at its best.

I know you've made some points about writing before but I still don't see what makes "animated sitcoms" "bad" tv writing, at least the ones that actually tell stories and have characters. So you may find it unsincere or it doesn't take advantage of the medium or they provoke problems to animators like having too many crowd scenes. It's not enough to call it unprofessional at least if you think about it as you think of a script in a movie or life action show. Maybe it's unprofessional as a cartoon, but not as a tv script that tells a story.

Anyway ugly looking shows is the only thing we get in animated cartoons for adults, so ugly animation is sometimes coupled with good writing and other times is coupled with bad writing...cause ugly looking shows is more or less the ONLY type of adult show now, so there has to be all types of them.

However I agree with Frank about one thing. The trend started mostly cause people found the writing of The Simpsons especially quite brilliant. They should be doing something right cause a lot of people liked them. The trend makes no sense and there is no reason why both things couldn't be coupled, but that's the reason why it started.

Cartoons for kids look better and sometimes have some really good writing too. Sometimes they are more entertaining for open-minded adults than the so called adult shows.

JohnK said...

>>
Can't we consider it professional as sitcom writing, at least? <<

No

I've covered all this already.

Roberto González said...

"No

I've covered all this already."

I admit posts about writing have been especially difficult to understand for me because of my english level. Still I don't remember too many specific criticisms about writing exclusively. Maybe I should read between lines a little more, it would be easier in a spanish blog.

Also I'd be interested to know if there's some modern movie or sitcom that you'd consider professional writing to compare it with the best "animated sitcoms" and discuss why they are better. I say modern not cause I refuse to see classic movies or sitcoms, more cause it's easier that I have watched them. After all I'm not even sure if The Hooneymooners has been aired ever in spanish tv. I've watched more classic movies (especially those by Billy Wilder or Howard Hawks) but not so many film noir ones.

I.D.R.C. said...

...i think if you gave someone who knows NOTHING about animation a choice to watch an old mickey mouse cartoon or the simpsons...im willing to bet the farm they would pick the simpsons.

I ain't mad at ya, Frank. I take your point.

It's still an unfair choice. What they would be responding to in the Simpsons is non-existant in old Disney.

You can say it's the comparitive "humanity" and that the Simpsons has more of it than old Disney, but it still ain't got much, and it's perhaps a way of looking at it that cheapens the "humanity" idea.

I don't think people respond to the humanity of the Simpsons. I think they respond to much more tangible things like irreverence, modern culture, characters that relate in some way to the real world, sight gags, and one-liners --all of which could be easily extracted and put into another, better-made show that also DOES have humanity and also something to look at, and is more difficult to replicate.

If you change your comparison to the Simpsons vs. the Warner's aesthetic, with the same modern culture hook, would Bart and Homer stand a chance? --With anybody? Look how many more kinds of visual humor and interest those old Warner's guys could produce.

The Simpsons producers, whether they know it or not, are capitalizing on the poverty mentality of cartoon fans. A starving man can even salivate over a soda cracker.

Now let's compare sissypants to sissypants: Would Strawberry Shortcake or My Little Pony or Dora the Explorer come out on top vs. Mickey Mouse?

Simpsons fans may think they are responding to a cartoon but they are mostly responding to everything BUT the cartoon. I know this because the cartoon part is barely even there. Yes, it's realistic to acknowlege that they like it, anyway.

--But that's not the place to stop, nor should it be the focus of anybody who wants good cartoons back in the world.

Roberto González said...

Also, of course characters are a lot more than catchphrases, but some comments seem to go a little too far about it. After all catchphrases are kinda indicative of some kind of character. And it's not that they are always created before the cartoons or put out of context. They can get a little annoying where they force them as it happened often in Tiny Toons, also maybe with Freleng's Tweety, and in some comic strips like Garfield (it's not so much the catchphrases but the abuse of the same situations over and over). Other than that I don't think they are that much of a problem in the "animated sitcoms", not even in the really bad ones. I won't consider that as a big problem in recent productions. I'd even like characters in recent movie features to have some sort of catchphrase, that would mean some of the stuff they say is somewhat peculiar or memorable to begin with.

JohnK said...

I think they are responding to their friends who think it's cool to like it.

It's just a habit. Not like the 3 Stooges which would play to anybody even if they weren't trained to watch it to begin with.

PCUnfunny said...

"After all catchphrases are kinda indicative of some kind of character."

Yah know what the key difference is between the catch phrases used in flat shows and the ones used in actual cartoons ? ACTING ! You need to act good to say "Eh, What's up Doc ?" or "YOU EEEEEDIOT !" correctly and convincingly. Phrases like thoses are signs of a characters' personalities, it's all in the delivery and timing. Stupid crap like "Respect my athoritah" or "D'oh !" dose not require any acting at all. This is just gibberish anyone can spout. And I just like to add that the best Looney Tunes cartoons have always had extremely clever dialogue. I dare you to not laugh at the hilarous exchange of words between Wile E. Coyote and Bugs Bunny in the beginning OPERATION RABBIT. Funnier then any Simpsons dialogue.

Frank Macchia said...

"that's about the craziest thing I've ever seen anyone say in the comments."

awwww....haha...shot down by one of my idols

i lose
haha

in my defense the 5th and 6th seasons of the simpsons are what i think of when i talk about the show...once they hit season 10...it wasnt even the same show any more...although i know its all up to personal taste. and even though the simpsons does rely on a lot of cultural references. a lot of them from those earlier seasons are pretty intelligent. haha maybe "brilliant" was a bit of an over statement...and maybe im back tracking cause john shot me down haha...whatever the case...im just trying to share my opinion...even if it is young and ill informed...haha and for that im sorry

Frank Macchia said...

PS john

do i get some sort of a trophy for "the craziest thing ever said by anyone in the comments."?

haha i didnt think it was THAT crazy...at least i didnt say family guy has brilliant writing.

i know its a totally different genre on its own...prime time cartoons...and def has a lower standard...but i donno, within that genre i def think its at least fair to say that the simpsons is the lesser of all the prime time evils.

haha dont hate me john

Mad Taylor said...

Those were good fights that night! I'm glad Chuck won. I saw Fedor arm bar that Giant too!

LÜKEjaywalker said...

It's just a habit. Not like the 3 Stooges which would play to anybody even if they weren't trained to watch it to begin with.

Off topic here but...I wonder if anyone can help me remember the name of the 3 Stooges episode where they're building something and one of them accidently shoots Moe in the butt with about a hundred tacks? I've never laughed as hard at anything the 3 Stooges did as that. Especially the part where Moe yells, I'm losing my mind!

So funny!

Roberto González said...

"Yah know what the key difference is between the catch phrases used in flat shows and the ones used in actual cartoons ? ACTING ! You need to act good to say "Eh, What's up Doc ?" or "YOU EEEEEDIOT !" correctly and convincingly."

That's true for those two catchphrases. However Bugs does a very similar routine each time he says "What's Up Doc?". In Peanuts or E.C. Segar's Popeye strips characters use their catchphrases and they are funny because of the context, not because the characters are drawn differently each time. "D'oh!" is a good catchphrase in my opinion that really defines the character of Homer, men of his age usually have tics and expressions similar to that one and the fact that is always drawn similarly doesn't make it bad, cause it's really more about the context. Maybe it would be more fun if it was animated differently but that doesn't make it a bad catchphrase. And I don't even think it would affect that much. I'd prefer different animation in visual gags like Simpsons screaming or maybe Homer choking Bart, but the fun in the catchphrase is not related to the visuals THAT MUCH in my opinion.

"Respect my authoritah" or "Don't have a cow, man" or even "Eat my shorts" I'd agree they're more forced. Instead of being created naturally they seem to be the sort of stuff they come up with to intentionally include a catchphrase.

"And I just like to add that the best Looney Tunes cartoons have always had extremely clever dialogue. I dare you to not laugh at the hilarous exchange of words between Wile E. Coyote and Bugs Bunny in the beginning OPERATION RABBIT. Funnier then any Simpsons dialogue."

I don't know if that was aimed to me but I never said the opossite. Looney Tunes are my favourite cartoons and characters ever. I don't know if I'd use that same example, but of course there is brilliant dialogue in Looney Tunes that is better and funnier than anything in The Simpsons. But The Simpsons still had some of the best dialogue in an animated production since The Flinstones and that's why people responded to it, not because of the catchprhases or because it was "cool". There was not Ren and Stimpy on the air yet when they started and in fact they kinda prepared the audience for more adult content in cartoons, and I'm using adult in a good way here, not just irreverent shit that doesn't mean anything. Season 2 of The Simpsons especially includes very good dialogue and shows many sides of the characters. Try "Lisa's Substitute" for example, there's nothing "cool" about that episode, it's just a very good story with great characterizations of the main characters, especially Lisa and Homer. If that's not professional writing at least for a TV sitcom then I must have missed all the good sitcoms in history.

boootooons ltd. said...

some of the best humanity AND drawing technique on the comic page came from cartoonist bill watterson and his wonderful CALVIN AND HOBBES.

- trevor.

PCUnfunny said...

"but the fun in the catchphrase is not related to the visuals THAT MUCH in my opinion.
"

You've missed my point Robert. I am only talking about the acting and "D'oh !" dose not really define a character. It dose not sum up the personality of a character. It's just a knee jerk reaction to fusteration that anyone can express with out really acting. "What's Up Doc" and "You Ediot" you can nail down to certain personalities.

JohnK said...

How did this degrade into a discussion about The Simpsons?

It's supposed to be about Mike Judge who is actually really funny.

I.D.R.C. said...

Anderson is really funny to me.

Jay Decro said...

I was wondering why you have not wrote anything about Mike Judge, because I remember there being an interview between you both. I always figured that you liked his style because the message he sends out about the "rawness" of human nature. Thanks for putting up the video, I looked up a bunch of his "Milton" cartoons after that, the very root of his movie Office Space.

Roberto González said...

Sorry if I write too much, but I just remembered one specific criticism John made once about The Simpsons, the expository dialogue. He used that sample of Homer saying that thing about the meteorite turning into the side of a chihuahua's head.

That's the type of criticism that I think it's specific and I'd like to read more of.

I am not sure if I agree about that example, mostly cause some of that type of lines are almost unavoidable to carry the story, but I do agree that there is too many explanatory dialogue not only in The Simpsons but in a lot of recent shows. There are several moments in which the animation would do the work without including written comments. I'd agee Mike Judge's stuff doesn't have too much of that. Or maybe it's cause in the characters of Beavis and Butthead it sounds more natural for them to explain things to each other, but they usually let the visual aspects do their job if there is eventually something based on visuals, like some character, like Beavis for example, suffering pain, while TS would add some comments coming from the character or something. I do remember there was a recent mountage of Moe trying to commite sucide to the nutcracker music and they added too many dialogue to the sequence instead of using merely the animation and the music.

Again, it's not only about The Simpsons but also other shows, what are they're flaws, why Mike Judge or others work are better and what makes a character or writing work and not only in a cartoon but what kind of things are good on paper if you read a script or a character description. Yes, I know John has written post about how to write a script or how to define a character, yet it would be good to read proper comparison showing specific problems or virtues-if there are any-in modern cartoons.

I.D.R.C. said...

Roberto:

My advice would be this. Watch a bunch of old cartoons. I mean hundreds of them. Nothing after 1960. Don't watch anything newer than that for at least 6 months.

Try and find some old newspaper comics, too. You'll know you have found the right ones when looking at the pictures gets you excited just because it's fun. It might even make you want to draw.

After you have suitably pretended that nothing has been created since 1960, you may wake to find that in actuality, almost nothing has been.

My theory is that, for cartoon fans who actually existed in the world before the onslaught of dreck, dreck really needs no explanation. it's self-explanatory. That's why John spends most of his time getting you excited about and analyzing the techniques found in old stuff. There's not as much point in explaining how this stuff isn't in the Simpsons. You can see that for yourself.

As for your implied question, "what makes Mike Judge better than Matt Groening, if there is an objective answer, maybe it's that Mike Judge is more specific. The Simpsons are generalities. They are general principles that represent people. We don't even know where Springfield is. We know where Arlen TX is.

If you like the Simpsons better than King of the Hill that may not mean much to you, --but you can actually make some kind of emotional investment in Hank Hill and his son. You really can't in Homer and Bart. --But if you enjoy all the writer-y satire, you may never notice you are not getting much else.

You could counter that we don't know where Babbit and Catstello live, either, but that's not the point. Babbit and Catstello have life and energy and shitloads of interest. They live in an alley, and they want to eat a bird. It's not a general bird, it's a specific one, that you want to believe in.

I don't want to believe in Simpson's characters. They are more like computer avatars. They are placeholders for a concept.

Hopefully this brings us back to humanity and sincerity.