Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What makes Funny Puppets

I love vintage puppets. They are totally different than post-muppet puppets. The muppets were great, but they ruined puppetry by making everyone else think that they had to copy them. Sort of like how Peanuts ruined comics, even though it was wonderful itself.

Here are the traits that I think make puppets the most fun.

You can't have too many strings.
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Off-balance poses add precarious excitement.

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The Jaw has to be obviously separate from the face.
If there is a human host, it's good if she never makes eye contact with the puppets and even better if she looks positively creeped out the whole time.
Having wall-eyes is a great puppet attribute.
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Here's Howdy Doody's gay twin brother.
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A seam down the middle of the face adds realism and believability.
If a puppet is gonna wear clothes, it is essential that they be lumpy and bunched up at the crotch. This contrasts nicely if the face is totally smooth shiny and wooden.

Here are some fun puppets.

The burn-victim effect can be mesmerizing to children.

Here are some severely happy looking prosceniums.
from Mark Poulton
The whole atmosphere of puppets should be so evilly happy that it hurts.$PD$
These puppets are crappy, but I like the proscenium.


Happy To Be Alive said...

What the heck? Why did you leave out Thunderbolt the Wonder Colt, Dishonest John, Cecil or even Beany? It never hurts to have a puppet look like a male dinger.

Kali Fontecchio said...

You probably won't like this, but I think it's cool, yo:

Piece of me, Piece of you

JohnK said...

Goth puppets rule

Ryan G. said...

I wonder why they didnt make the seam down the middle of the face to the side of the head.

Paul B said...


KoolAidMan said...

HIlarious post John, love it.

Zack said...

Take a look at my studio's puppets:

Crumpled Up John! said...

I believe that Howdy's gay brother was named Handy Dandy.

Jake the Animator said...

John! Have you seen Jim Henson's old puppets from the 50's TV show he did called Sam and Friends? Weird stuff

Captain Napalm said...

Hey John,

MAHNAMAHNA!!! doo-doo-doo-doo-doo
MAHNAMAHNA!!! doo-doo-doo-doo
MAHNAMAHNA!!! doo-doo-doo-doo-doo

That is all.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Is that Jack King's King Aroo next to the chipmunks in the eight photo?

JohnK said...

Hey, I think you're right!

Have you put up any King Aroo on your site? That was a good looking strip.

Frank Macchia said...

"A seam down the middle of the face adds realism and believability"

hahaha...that one gave me a good laugh john.

hilarious post

Tim said...

what about Mr Squiggle!

Gabriele_Gabba said...

I have never been so terrified in all my life! Seriously i've seen horror movies less scary! And.. and and and that SEAM LINE makes me crazy, i'm gonna toss and turn tonight, thanks!

mike f. said...

Wow - crank key hidden inside Popeye's mouth, with convenient key reservoir in lower jaw! Why didn't anyone else think of that?

I wish I had more Sandy Becker and Chuck McCann TV shows from the sixties. They both used Baird's puppets. That Oliver Hardy puppet with McCann is mesmerizing. Wish there was a scan of the Laurel one, too. I remember it from 40 years ago!

Bil Baird sure was a genius puppet designer. Why isn't his name a household word?

trevor said...

What a coincidence! I'm building puppets this weekend! Although, they're your more average muppet-style puppet.

Hey John, what did you think of 'Team America'?

- trevor.

Andrew said...

A lot of the Muppets' best work was done pre Muppet Show & Sesame Street when they experimented a lot and did wild stuff.

Some of my faves:

perspex said...

good grief, what about Waylon and Madam!?

Kevin W. Martinez said...

So, basically, The Muppets "ruined" puppetry because they weren't the old-timey wooden marionettes of yesteryear kiddie shows?

How on earth is that even possible? The Muppets pioneered plush/fabric/what-have-you over wood and plastic, but how did they force everyone else in puppetry, a highly diverse field, to copy them?

Sure, the Howdy Doody puppets are more grotesque and I guess more dynamically designed, but that kind of puppet would've become archaic and disappeared from TV anyway.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Didn't Jim Hanson also do a Kermit introduces puppatry from the world series after the Mupets? Even while the `Muppets were on their own show, he would always look for ways to show other forms of puppatry. I don't think the blame for people imitating his stuff and turning it into bland nothingness can be laid at his feet.

John, I have so many King Aroo Sundays, I am lookin for a way to show more of them. Maybe do a longer run at some point. Did you know Jack Kent designed covers for Mad in the sixties?

Whit said...

You are missing the original Howdy Doody puppet, a thing so frightening it could make Ghandi crap his sheet.

Nate said...

goes to show you how cute needs some ugly to be funny.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

An unbelievably good post! We need to bring puppets back, especially the evil-looking ones like the Baird puppets and Foodini. Kukla seems calculated to give kids nightmares, which is a noble endeavor for a pupet designer.

crazyharmke said...

Puppets are scary!
Especially the ones like Chucky
Brrrrrrrr :(

Luke Farookhi said...

Punch and Judy was always the best. Mr. Punch would kill his friends and family in various different ways (normally beating), would then destroy the authorities who tried to punishment him, and as a final triumph, kills the devil who comes for him at the end of the play. Yet somehow there is an inherent appeal about the whole thing, and the children watching are always on Punch's side. The puppets have the best designs, too.

diego cumplido said...

have you seen Svankmajer's Punch and Judy ??

it's good stuff.

JohnK said...

Hey Sean

I read a comment from you about how I shouldn't use the word "gay".

I don't know where the comment went...

But anyway, I thought "gay" was the approved word.

Is it wrong to even acknowledge alternative lifestyles now?

Adam T said...

What is going on with the Popeye puppets? The first one looks like it's a salt shaker or a mason jar. Anybody know what the deal is with the last Popeye? Why is there an eyehook coming out of his palate?

MLP said...

"The Muppets pioneered plush/fabric/what-have-you over wood and plastic, but how did they force everyone else in puppetry, a highly diverse field, to copy them?"

By becoming so successful that people who hired puppeteers tended to accept only acts that in some way resembled (that is, copied) the Muppets. And as John has pointed out repeatedly, copyists can copy correctly the superficial parts of an act/artwork, but not the talented part that made it worth copying.

Taco Wiz said...

I haven't seen any puppet acts other than Sesame Street and Mr. Meaty [which is horrible], due to living in an age where puppets are unpopular. However, the puppets in this post look awesome. I wonder if the drawings of George puppets that you've posted will be made into REAL puppets...

Caleb Bowen said...

Great craftsmanship! Those Popeye's are amazing.

I did an ink here.
Please let me know what you think.

trevor said...


Take a look at Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

- trevor.

Mitch L said...

A cheap Howdy Doody horror would be cool!

Jack Ruttan said...

Glorious post. I loved it. Totally creeped out.

John_Fountain said...

I used to be a puppeteer and although cartooning will always be my first love, I do miss puppeteering a lot - especially because I also designed the puppets for our 'troupe' so it was like having puppets of my cartoon characters.

The syndrome of 'Muppet-copying' is the same disease as the throngs of cartoonists who just copy one style and never try anything original.

"Innovation" is a dying artform in and of itself.

Andrew said...

For those like Taco Wiz who commented about puppetry being unpopular, there is actually an incredible revival of interest in puppetry going on these days and a lot of it is happening on the net. I've write about puppetry in film, video and the web on my blog at (check it out for a decent overview of the good, the bad and the ugly in puppetry these days) and it's amazing the amount of stuff that's being done.

Sure, a lot of it looks like bad Muppet rip-offs and some of it is awful, but I think you'll see the next puppetry genius like Bill Baird or Jim Henson emerge via the web.

I especially like the work of Puppet Heap, which makes stuff like this and this.

I'd love to hear your take on the puppetry stuff folks are cooking up in their basements John.

Hryma said...

Yeah as Tim said, 'Mr Squiggle' he was a much loved aussie puppet (with strings) who could draw with his pencil nose!
And his voice was, well, kinda gay in a happy scary way.

The show ran from 1959-1999, but the love for Mr Squiggle will live on, where ever there is a bored a Australian, they will more than likely choose to play "Mr Squiggle" to pass the time (works best if there's two of ya:)

Whit said...

Ever notice how Kukla is just Ollie, fresh out of the closet?

Jim Rockford said...

Hey John,

I was wondering what your opinon Gerry Anderson's work is?

Supercar,Fireball XL-5,thunderbirds,etc


The puppets were very advanced for the times,and I really dug the futuristic settings,gadgets,cool spacey backgrounds and sets.

And what about Venus's wild space age pad on that island!

Zoonie was obnoxious though and I probably would have jettisoned him into space after he spoke for the third time!

Bwanasonic said...

For one thing, I felt Fred Rogers conspicuous in his absence while reading this post, although I did get a primordial thrill from the Kukla Fran & Ollie content.

As for the Muppet copying thing, I often got the impression while watching Crank Yankers, that many of the puppeteers were trying to subvert the Muppet thing so they could finally move onto something else.

owen said...

I wanted to let you know that I'm in a figure drawing class taught by George Cannata Jr at the art students league. I'm aware that you worked in storyboard with him in the past, and just wanted to let you know he teaches an incredible course. I've never learned more skills in my life. He has helped me with both fine art and cartooning advice. Do you remember George?


mike f. said...

[But anyway, I thought "gay" was the approved word.]

I think the correct term is "pickle smoker".
BTW, where's Pookie?

Diggy said...

Pylon puppets Rule!

Sarcastro said...

Take a look at Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

The nature of puppets and their symbiotic relationship to man. [1:30-4:00]

Tommy said...

That Bil Baird hobby horse puppet is on exhibit at the Great Arizona Puppet Theater.

And, yes, Baird should be a household name.

I'm Jon, just a guy. I try to smell good. said...

"The muppets were great, but they ruined puppetry by making everyone else think that they had to copy them"

Johnny... That's not fairto all puppets! I'm a puppeteer and cartoonist. Heavily infulenced by both Jim Henson and Bil Baird. But i don't copy them. Yes, what you see on TV is totally a rip off of the Muppets (they even rip themselves off alot!) But ge out there and dig a little like you do with animation and you find wonders of great puppetry, look for a film like "Srtings" or "The Lady From Sockholm" or even my "Steve The Vampire" stuff...
Loved the pics you used, as a toy puppet collector, I have a few of those and it's great to see even more!

Dan C said...

I like wall-eyes in any context. I once met a guy with such widely-spaced eyes that he had panoramic vision. He failed his bus-driving test several times because he didn't have to turn his head to look left and right at a junction and the examiner thought he wasn't paying attention.

Cesar said...

I´m remember that when I was child (far -far away) a Tree Stooges TV film were the cowboy puppet (not his gay twin brother)maked to me a bizarre nightmare in the night.
Chucky is a pretty baby.

Devlin Thompson said...

For those who are asking: the Popeyes aren't actually puppets. The first one is a lantern (I think), and the second one is a mechanical bubble blower.

Eric Crooks said...

Hey John, I just read your comment about The Muppets there.

"The muppets were great, but they ruined puppetry by ""making everyone else think that they had to copy them.""

This Mr. Kricfalusi is historically innacurate. Jim Henson DID NOT want ANYONE Copying him! What Jim did was he made cartoons link to puppetry making puppets and cartoons and television Ever Closer.

By the way, I'm just curious John. Do you have Asperger's Syndrome like I do? I notice some characteristics. I noticed how you are very obsessed with Vintage animation like how I'm obsessed with TV Muppet Puppets and Cartoon Satire.

John if you seriously Have Asperger's Syndrome, all I can say to you is Thank you for creating Ren & Stimpy. Ren's outbursts are SO Aspie like. No wonder I can relate to him. LOL

Eddie Fitzgerold was talking about Asperger's Syndrome from what I've noticed, that's pretty cool.

But yeah John, I've noticed that you have some characteristics of an Aspie.

If you need someone to chat with about it or just classic animation, feel free to email me at or join Wrong Planet .net

P.S. I'm also a big fan of Spitting Image and I love building celebrity puppets so I made of you awhile back. I used fake hair, felt, a sock for mouthplate support, etc. (Kind of Muppet style; can't help it; huge Jim Henson fan) LOL I hope you don't mind. I'm a fan of your early work. _Eric ;)

Salomon Fenix said...

you're ultra nostalgic Mr. Kricfalusi

fandumb said...

I love the sort that you can control with rods, because they're solid, they're almost believable; As someone said: 'Take a look at Mystery Science Theatre 3000.' The puppets are cute as hell, very specific designs, and their actors are very skilled.