Monday, October 26, 2009

The Joys Of Working With Vincent

It's hard to imagine 2 cartoonists with such different styles as Vincent Waller and I - and that's one reason why I like working with him.
Vincent draws much better than me on a technical level, and his influences are probably a somewhat different group than mine. I suspect he's a big Robert Crumb fan- I'll let him tell you who inspired him. But his style is totally unique to him and he gave animated cartoons a big kick in the ass -which it needed.
What I like about collaborative animation, as opposed to independent animation, is that you get to combine the best of a bunch of artists' talents - in theory.

For example the comic book cover above is drawn by Vincent, probably inked by Shane and beautifully rendered by Rick Altergott of Doofus fame.


Like I said, I always liked the idea of working with artists who have different styles and abilities, but there was no studio I ever worked at that encouraged it. Instead, they always encouraged everyone to draw exactly the same and to always use the same colors. The only way I could ever even get my own style into a cartoon was to build a studio that not only allowed it, but actively encouraged it. I had to redesign the whole production system of TV animation just so I could have a fun place to work, and others with strong styles could actually see their input in the finished product.

Vincent was one of the main cartoonists on Ren and Stimpy and quickly worked his way up to director. It was because he has a really strong style and original point of view, he works super hard, and he makes it really easy for people to work with him. He believes in collaboration too.

These comic pages are nice examples of collaboration between different cartoonists.

Before we ever started drawing a finished cartoon or comic, we would "write" it. We'd start with a gag session between a few cartoonists, write a structured outline to keep the story in order, then I'd assign someone to draw the story in rough sketches like these. Along the way the story sketch artist would add lots of extra gags and do the continuity.I would sometimes scribble on top of Vincent's drawings if I wanted to use a different staging or expression. Once the roughs were completed, the final artist- Vincent here, would draw tighter more detailed drawings. Then I'd get an inker (I think this is Shane) to make the final art look super polished. A good inker is a Godsend. Shane preserves the guts of which ever artist he inks, but also brings his own style into the work - without changing the art underneath.
If you wanna see how much influence an inker has over the finished look, go and find some Jack Kirby comics from the 60s. Every inker made the stuff look different - and some of them actually hurt the art underneath. Joe Sinnot was my favorite because he preserved Kirby's style and dynamism and made it feel even more solid - like Shane does.

Sometimes I would throw a post it on top of a panel if I wanted a completely different staging as in the lower right panel on page 28.I would like to make a pot about the difference between "individual style" and "group style". Vincent, Jim Smith, Katie Rice, Bob Camp, Gabe Swarr, Nick Cross, Helder Mendonca and many of the top Spumco artists (I could name a ton more, so don't feel left out) of the past have very strong individual styles. I of course, blended my own and other artists' styles in the cartoons and that's what you see in the final work. It's usually pretty easy to see when one artist leaves off and another picks up a scene. I, being a cartoon and comic nerd and huge fan of cartoonists love to see different styles within the same worlds. That's one of the reasons I love Clampett, 60s Marvel comics and Terrytoons.

It's also why I hate model sheets - or at least the way they are usually used.

Besides the few really strong individual styles that exist, there are also the "group styles" - the Disney style, the Spumco style (which is really the "Games style"), the Anime style, The Canadian style. I discourage that in my cartoons. I've hired many talented Cal Arts graduates and had to encourage them to stop relying on stock expressions and poses and to just train their pencils to put their own personalities on paper. Some learn to. Others are forever trapped in whatever group style they have absorbed.

One Cal Arts kid who started at Spumco is now making the most cartoony cartoon on television. He is super talented and worked extra hard at Spumco.
I've known many cartoonists who personally have a ton of individual quirks-funny facial ticks and expressions, unique gestures and are great storytellers. Some of them have been so conditioned by a group style that they don't translate their natural personality traits through their pencils no matter how much I beg them to. It's because the other studios they've worked at actively frown upon it and they have made a habit of suppressing themselves at work.

Anyway, Vincent has no qualms at all about getting his personality into his drawings, in fact he can't help it - and also no qualms about mixing them with other quirky artists to try to get the best possible results through collaboration.

This is not to denigrate Independent animation. Some artists are so unique, they just want to say what they have to say and the only way they can do it is to completely make their own films. Bill Plympton is a super talented and unique and funny guy that has made whole feature length cartoons by himself!

I always wondered how he did that and then I did a show with him in Chicago and witnessed his secret for myself . But that story is for another day.

Today, let us honor Vincent for kicking our animation butts.



akira said...

is there a good new cartoony cartoon i don't know about?? or is it spongebob (with episodes directed by aaron springer??)

Toole said...

Did he graduate in the past 10 years or what?

R.A. MacNeil said...

Vincent is an amazing talent.

Glad to see the blog is public again.

Shawn Dickinson said...

What a co-incidence...I was just looking at this comic book yesterday. It's great to see the original pencil sketches here. Vincent is the man!

kungfukoi said...

John K!!! Yay the feed is public again!!!

That was a dark, dark, dark time in my life when I was locked out of your blog!

Happiness and cartoons are abundant again!! Life is good! Cartoons! Cartoons! It's Saturday morning all over again!

I'm your fan John!! I will beat the debbie-downers with a blunt object if they should annoy you again!!

Viva la public blog option!!

mike f. said...

And in addition, Vincent is damn near indestructible; he can withstand a direct hit from a Buick. Or a Saturn, at least.

Cristian AvendaƱo said...

Heheheh, John, I always love it when you drop hints like these! Now my homework will be watching every cartoon on the air and finding out wich one is the cartooniest.

My money goes to "The Mighty B!".

You know, everytime you tell us about how you guys at Spumco used to work, it makes me feel like it was the Most Awesome Place on Earth. Like the old Warner Bros. Animation Studios, all over again.

Now you see why so many of us want to enter your cartoon college and work with you guys someday! ;)

Allyn said...

if i need a pick up i take a quick look at mr waller's blog and see one of amazing doodles that'll make me laugh until i get dizzy. can't wait to see who you discover next!

Kali Fontecchio said...

I love ♥♥♥Vincent!!!♥♥♥

Those roughs are wonderful, thanks for sharing!

thomas said...

I always go check out Vincent's blog... great drawings!
Great to see the working drawings. Thanks for posting.

Matt said...

Yeah, Mr. Waller is a cool guy. Or so he seems. I've been eyeballin' his brushpen work lately and it's pretty effin' sweet.

One thing that I've been curious about, ever since you posted the credits entry, is how do you go about doing your lettering? Really fun stuff you have there, I'd love to get some insight behind that, 'cause it seems like it would be hard to do.

drawingtherightway said...

Great drawings! Just curious when you guys worked on the comics, did you have any executives telling you to tone things down or that you couldn't put something in the comic?

JohnK said...

Hi Matt

if you're asking about the fine lettering in the comics, that was done by Patrick Owsley another talented cartoonist.

Zoran Taylor said...

Three cheers for Eric Weise! And, while we're at it, Amy Poehler too - I don't KNOW what her input has been for a fact, but I do know that she's a co-creator and maybe executive producer who is otherwise outside the animation system, and she's a comedian, which all adds up to a very strong probability that she loves cartooniness, won't have it any other way and has enough clout to keep the network at arm's length at all times. A hunch, if you will.

Vincent Waller said...

Awe Shucks John Thanks.
Though that Monkey drawing is unfinished. I'd of preferred if you used the dancing Monkey or wacky Elephant in striped pajamas. Best foot forward and all that.
For me Collaboration is easy. Especially when you can see the person you're collaborating with is plussing your stuff.

Bob Lilly said...

John K,
I think collaborative toon creation could be meaningful. How can I send you a gif file? I'm new at this.

ArtF said...

yes! Vincent is an awesome cartoonist and a swell dude. he's another of my cartoon heroes.

and like Mike said, he's nigh indestructible. Saturns beware!

Matt said...

I was referring to the end-credit screens you did on Ren and Stimpy, back in the day. You said you hand-painted some of them yourself. I've always thought of lettering as an art unto its own, with it's own set of challenges, and not an easy thing to do.

I really liked what you did here and here. Also, the type of lettering on the Drawing above "Onward and Upward" (That drawing is fantastic, btw.) I know photoshop has replaced most of this type of work, but it can never duplicate the spontaneity of hand-painted letters.

Anonymous said...

Vincent is great. Glad a studio like Spumco came along to nurture his talent.

And I have a feeling the Cal Arts grad is Aaron Springer who now does storyboards on Spongebob.

Hans Flagon said...

Vinnie is so awesome- the last independent work I saw from him was a Hansel and Gretel retelling with Tim Biskup backgrounds maybe?

Also liked seeing Nick Cross Yellow Cake come to fruition.

I think I am watching more cartoons on the web than on television these days.

Zoran Taylor said...

Yeah, it's possible John is referring to Aaron. But to paraphrase Cristian, my money is on Eric. The Mighty B is vastly more cartoony than Spongebob at this point. Katie Rice boarded (or layed out?) a recent episode. It's on her blog and it rocks. And isn't Nick Cross working on that show too?

Vincent Waller said...

Sorry I'm going to alter the line of conversation for just second.

I do know the difference between the words "Have" and "of"and their uses. But, some times my inner retard wins.
Okay, Carry on.

Ian Andersen said...

His blog has been a non-stop parade of awesome recently.
I'm amazed that anyone can make a funny cartoon on their own. I like independent animation, but most of the self-made stuff I've enjoyed seems to be more about the concept than being funny.

Anonymous said...

Man, Vincent looks like a rockstar of sorts, what with the cowboy boots, his junco beard, and rockin' long hair.

But his body of work speeks for itself; I remember the ASIFA Animation Archive did a post on Vincent's sketchbook, and I was floored with what was shown.

From an aspiring animator/ cartoonist

Ryan G. said...

Aw nice! That is by far my favorite comic and its awesome to see the rough sketches! Thanks much for posting!

P.S. (got tickets to see Fedor live in action in November)

lastangelman said...

1.)Thank goodness the blog-site is back! I was wondering why it was "locked out" over the weekend. No matter.
2.)Plympton is an amazing artist and insanely funny cartoonist I've been following since discovering his work in Rolling Stone and on MTV. Talk about DIY animated cartooning. Much love for giving him props in middle of this great piece about the fantastic Vincent Waller.
3.)The comic book example is exemplary - one can almost feel the images leaping off the pages and moving in one's mind. I never thought how important an inker's job was until I read this blog - always thought it was a thankless position - now I think more positively about it.

Trevor Thompson said...

One thing that needs to be said about Vincent is that he is generous with his talent.

He's taken a lot of time with me to help improve my drawings and was able to make it easier to understand by his notes.

He didn't have to do that, and I truly appreciate it. Thanks Vince!

- trevor.

Davi Calil said...


this is really good stuff.

amazing drawings..

Bitter Animator said...

Now I so want to know what Bill Plympton's secret is.

Jeremiah said...


I just want to join the rest in saying how much I appreciate this blog and everything you're doing. I too was panic-stricken when it was briefly available. You've been very generous over the years and I just want to thank you.


Pablo Andres said...

definitely, you have a diferent and personal, way to understand the animation, and thats is your cartoon show.
the respect and freedom with which you have with the another artist who work with you, make the difference in the final result.

ArtF said...

i feel i need to echo what Trevor said earlier.

every one of the old Spumco crew that i've had the pleasure to meet and hang out with,(especially John, Jim, and Vincent)have amazed me with how generous and forthcoming they are with their knowledge and talent. i have to say that in the last 3 years i've learned more about cartoons and cartooning than i could ever have dreamed possible and am a better artist for it.

Mike L said...


J C Roberts said...

Vincent Waller was definitely one of your top discoveries.

You mention R Crumb as being a probable influence, but the illustration of the elephant reminds me more of another one of the original Zap artists, Robert Williams. That's closer to his style of panel composition and inking.

Ollie said...

Hey John, have you ever thought about getting these comics reprinted in a collection?

Maybe you could approach someone like Darkhorse comics about it. I'd love to have them all collected in one big book. I missed them the first time around and I'd love to see them without having to search ebay.

The artwork looks amazing!

MrGoodson2 said...

Vincent has that stroke to stroke confidence that is pretty rarefied when it comes to straight ink to paper. Great.
Thank you for bringing the Blog back because I am going to dig deep for the next couple of weeks going through the old posts. I was a very intermittent visitor and when you went away it was anguish that I missed my chance to read all you offered.

smackmonkey said...

Love, love, LOVE, the smoking baby huffin' a big butt. I kept a screen grab of the colored version off the Spumco site back in the nineties.

I have only met Mr. Waller briefly a time or two but, on each occasion, he made me feel like an old friend. Very charming. He showed me his thumbs!

Daven Evan Xaviour said...

I want to hear the Bill Plympton story!

I saw a screening of Idiots and Angels when I was going to school in Chicago. I really didn't like it, but not because of the art and animation.

Jared Fiorino said...

John, I just found out about your blog! So nostalgic! I grew up on Ren & Stimpy. Really good to see the other things that spew out of your head. Great work as always!

Chip Butty said...

Hey John,

Thanks for making this blog public again. If you decide to close it up for good, that's your prerogative. If you decide to retire that's your call too, but not yet I hope. Thanks for creating a blog that gives cartoonists guidance and cartoon fans the vocabulary to discuss animation intelligently. I've learned a ton about the Spumco crew through this blog - Uncle Eddie, Jim Smith, now Vincent Waller - and I'm really looking forward to more history and great art in the book about "the studio that will live in infamy"...just hope the last chapter isn't written yet.

John_Fountain said...

I couldn't live with myself if I didn't step forward to publicly agree that Vince is a powerhouse of epic proportions.
I've never worked WITH him, but I've worked NEAR him back at Nickelodeon and not only is he an inspirational talent, he's a solid citizen and all-around swell fellah.
I've always held the opinion that animation is - at it's core - a collaborative art form (well, 'commercial' animation anyway as opposed to independent art films).
If you EMBRACE its collaborative nature and go with that flow it becomes bombastically fun. When you fight against it, animation can instantly turn sour in execution and results.
Viva collaboration!

384Sprites said...

Very cool. I feel like I just got schooled. I wish you'd put these thoughts into a book. Great stuff, they don't deserve being lost in blog-land.

Ryan Kramer said...

hooray for Vincent!! grade A cartoonist and super nice guy.