Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Cartoons and Chainsaws 1

What are cartoons for? Well I was raised to believe they were funny drawings designed to make you laugh. Of course, I now know I'm completely wrong. Lots of folks have corrected me. They say, "Well John, that's not all cartoons can do...Open your mind to the infinite possibilities!"

So I'm convinced. But I think we should apply that reasoning to all inventions just to be fair.Like, what is the chainsaw designed to do best?
I bet you think it's to cut down trees.
Pshaw. Piffle. Poo Poo on that. How shallow.
Of course they do that very well and better than anything else, but is that ALL we should be doing with them?? The mere fact that it does that better than other inventions is exactly the reason not to do it! This is 21st century thinking now.
No, surely there are other things to do with wood cutting tools.

You don't want to limit the creativity of wood cutters by just having them saw wood. In fact, we should eliminate that purpose altogether. You can think of some things chainsaws aren't really designed for can't you? We are all equally creative now after all.I know! This is something they really aren't good at! Chainsaws, like cartoons could raise your kids right (since parents and church can't) and teach them moral values that the people who run the businesses don't have.

You can also use chainsaws to explore the depth of emotion in little children.
How many animated cartoons have dead Moms in them? The theory is if you make cartoons that make kids cry, that is a much higher purpose than making kids laugh. Killing Moms in cartoons is a very effective and highbrow way to make kids cry. I suppose these animated producers beat their kids regularly, knowing how much they all enjoy crying. I wonder if they also charge them 10 bucks for it?

So now chainsaws are not meant to cut wood, because that would be a low and foul misuse of what the chainsaw was invented for. It's cheating to use a tool just to do what it does really well.
Moral of the story: Chainsaws should be good for you and never do what they do best, just like cartoons.

I have more of these analogies, should you want to see them


jrhalfo said...

Brilliant post. Do more sequential posts like these, this is great.

nktoons said...

Had a good laugh:) Great drawings to get your point across!

Tim DeMoor said...

"...explore the depth of emotion in little children" made me belly-laugh so hysterically that I was asked to pipe down, for I read it in the cafe of a Barnes and Noble, and apparently we're not allowed to enjoy things here.

Oliver_A said...

What are cartoons for? Well I was raised to believe they were funny drawings designed to make you laugh. Of course, I now know I'm completely wrong. Lots of folks have corrected me. They say, "Well John, that's not all cartoons can do...Open your mind to the infinite possibilities!"

The problem is actually quite easy: why bother doing something in animation which can be done much more efficient and better using life action? Why not concentrate on the strengths of the medium: exploring the imagination and creativity of artistically skilled people? It's a visual medium after all, which can be made to suceed life action in appeal and emotional complexity. What it needs however is people in charge with control and skill.

Trevor Thompson said...

This reminds me of an argument an animation student at Ringling and I were engaged in.

He was all, "the computer's a tool, man. It's how you use it..." and I said, "true, but a hammer is a tool as well... but you wouldn't use it to make muffins, would you?"

I think that's what this chainsaw cartoon is about... right?

Besides, speaking as someone who lost his mom and thinks about her a lot, I'd like to see a cartoon character who was constantly consulting his dead mother... sort of a Norman Bates but without the whole killing people thing.

Parents groups would love it! Parenting from beyond the grave. Just cuz she's dead is no reason to give her back talk!

Oliver_A said...

The "deepness of emotions" for me lies exactly in the opposite direction of tired clichés. The loss of a parent probably became a full trend in the 80's, when the rate of divorces started to grow.

Steven Spielberg for example, is almost the opposite of the "lost mother" cliché. Almost all of his films deal with men, who regain their fathership by saving their neglected children. Always the same cliché over and over.

By the way, John, I have heard you had a personal encounter with Spielberg?

ArtF said...

haha! awesome, John!

Oliver_A said...

Oh, and of course great post! The way you can tell a story with static drawings alone almost makes it unfold completely in my mind.

Anonymous said...

Hilarious. This would make a great George Liqour short. Yes cartoons ARE suppose to be funny.

mike f. said...

That's a good question - what do hippies and babyboomers use chainsaws for?

When I was growing up in the '70s and '80s, they were mostly used to make nauseatingly graphic 'splatter' movies (formerly known as horror movies, back when they were still stylish and the villains were played by great actors, not anonymous extras in masks).
They were immediately labeled "classics", by people who seriously need to buy a dictionary.

Guy said...

I hope you don't take these guys seriously, John. Especially when they don't actually draw or anything.

All they are are people who really, really don't want to accept that the cartoons they grew up with aren't good. So they have no problem with saying things that are completely nonsensical, like that it's OK for a cartoon to be badly drawn and badly made. (Though there's always that mystical nugget they call "Good Writing" that's supposed to be hiding somewhere. Even though they know so little about writing they don't even notice that the stories are the same as every other cartoon with the names changed.) It's OK for a cartoon to only have a couple drawings. It's OK for all the designs in a cartoon to be the same design with different clothes. It's OK for every cartoon on television to look exactly the same. It's OK for the "cartoonist" they put in charge of a cartoon to draw worse than a little kid. I remember watching cartoons where I didn't laugh or be entertained or anything, but I DID cry when the mom died, so moms dying is a really good thing. Cartoonists should be slaves to people who have no idea what they are doing, because I really will say anything to validate this crap. Cartoons don't have to be funny, because... well, the only time I remember laughing at a cartoon as a kid was when a Bugs Bunny cartoon happened to come on, so how can being funny be important?

All that really matters to them is that they are allowed to keep believing that the stuff they wasted and waste so much time on is good. Not what makes sense!

Jay said...

Is there a difference between "animation" and "animated cartoons?" Because animation was used for all kinds of things before funny cartoons came along, most of them not so funny.

Toole said...

Do you think animation is best at cartoons?

JohnK said...

"Because animation was used for all kinds of things before funny cartoons came along, most of them not so funny."

It was? Not so popular, I'll bet.

JohnK said...


Whit said...

The PBS logo in the lower right corner of the final panel makes this lesson an especially worthy one.

Anonymous said...

This is awesome!

Brandon Waltman said...

I dunno, as I was reading I thought this post was going somewhere totally different. I do agree that the chainsaw is made for cutting down trees and should continue to do so but at the same time, why can't it cut other stuff as well? I also agree that a lot of people have forgotten what it was made for in the first place. But like in your drawing, why can't it be used to engrave messages? I think it's exciting to experiment and see what all you can make the chainsaw do.

Vincent Waller said...

OK that made my morning thank you John.

Guy said...

Brandon: Well, for one thing, how about if there isn't anybody who uses the chainsaw for its intended purpose? Not a single person? Well, as long as you don't go hunting through obscure forests.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I liked when you asked me this in the car the other day, your tone was very serious.

Attention everyone, THIS IS VERY SERIOUS. Not to be taken lightly.

Peggy said...

Awright, that made me laugh out loud.

I do think that there are a lot of other things cartoons can do, if they're made by people who care. They can instill a lot of emotions; the one they've got a history of being best-used for is laughter, but… I've cried at cartoons, too.

And, well, I've seen some pretty interesting sculptures that were made with a chainsaw.

(On the other hand, you are like a force of nature when it comes to Funny Drawings; it is a sin against mankind when the complications of production get in your way.)

John said...

Okay, this is my favourite post on this blog!

But I do disagree with one thing: a chainsaw is a GREAT teaching tool - it holds the attention real good.

coolhand said...

thats really great. i can just see this as a short... bring on more!

Anonymous said...

Great post, John! The analogy totally works. What's funny is that people insist that cartoons that make you cry are "quality." It's the age old debate about high art vs. low art. What's funny is that the kind of animated drama people seem to respect would seem way too sentimental, obvious, cloying and cliche in live action. People accept a lower quality of drama in animation for some reason.

SoleilSmile said...

Aw, that poor crying tree! And No Sir, you didn't like that, Mr. Horse!

Roberto González said...

I don't know, John. As much as I would really like to see more funny cartoons and more 2d cartoony animation in general it's still debatable if comedy is what animation or animated drawings do best.

Take "Ghost World" (the comic book, bot the movie), for example. It is not a comedy and it's still a really good comic book. I don't think it should be a novel instead of a comic book when I read it. This uses "underture" more than "caricature" but it's well drawn, and even though it has some humor it's a "dramedy", definitely not a pure comedy.

Why does this change if the drawings are in motion?

If your point is that CARTOONS are designed to be funny, then you're right, of course. But I'm not sure if you can apply that to all animation.

One thing I'd say, though, is that even "dramatic" animation should take some advantage of the medium. Both "Persepolis" and "Waltz" with Bashir" use some caricature (in the former) or surreal elements (in the latter) that justify the use of animation.

Pixar/Disney movies make animals, toys or other things talk but other than that they really are too much like life-action movies, the kind of shots they use, the backgrounds and the colours are generally too similar to a life-action film, which is boring.

The post is really funny, though.

Taco Wiz said...

Hilarious! I don't even completely agree with this, and I think it's awesome!

I think you should have two donation thingies. I want to donate to your drawings/story blog entires, instead of the drawing analyzing theories that a 13 year old boy like me wont really be interested in.

John said...

Wow, add a little more bitterness why don't you?

David Germain said...

You're absolutely right, John. Chainsaws can be used for many other things besides cutting wood. Here's a group of people who used a chainsaw to make music for example. Just think about what other possibilities this wonderful device could have. When my first kid is born, he/she is getting a chainsaw teething ring. Thanks for showing me the light, sir.

Sean said...

Oh man, best post since Cool Camp. I love these drawings and the analogy you use is perfect. So perfect it makes me want to quote it in a comment!

Katy said...

I really loved this post! I for one would love to see some good animation which is actually FUN, and for once not filled with terror or sober preachings. I saw "Wall-E" the other night, and I could hardly believe my eyes at the part where it looks like he has a stroke...(near the end). Maybe it only did so well because that probably went over the heads of the 'target audience'.
That movie left me feeling weird because it was so bloody depressing in places... god I hope you get to do a movie somewhen.

Bob Lilly said...

This thing that is happening is a whole new dimension in the cartoon art form.
Jack Kirby said first there was one picture and it was a cartoon. Then there were four pictures and it was a comic strip. Then there were twenty pages and it became a comic book. Who knows what is next? (No quotation marks because I am paraphrasing from memory)

I think what John K is doing right here right now is the answer to Jack's question of what next.
Klik and see me!

El Siglo del Ruido said...

Amen, im waiting for the day cartoons go back to funny (with a couple of exceptions).
You know, the problem is that a lot of the new cartoonists try to be pretentious without having the right tools or mythologizing stuff that was simply funny (and im not saying funny in a derogatory way of course)
Animators from the 40s didnt have these insecurities, and looked at their jobs in a completely different way.
I dont wanna put all the blame on artists, i know the structure is different and the guys who run the show are jerks, but i think they've always been jerks, but the great classic animators all worked after the great depression and through a world war, you had to be tough in those times.
I've always wondered why we dont get to have another Tex Avery, Ed Love, Carlo Vinci, Mel Blanc and i think its because there are no MEN like that anymore.

Guy said...

The biggest thing is how totally dumb it is complaining about diversity when there isn't a single genuinely cartoony cartoon on television. (Not something that reminds you of Ren & Stimpy.)

I mean, maybe if John K. and friends somehow take over the industry, then yeah, maybe it'd make sense.

If you want diversity, then let's see some CARTOONS.

bergsten said...

Hey Kids!

Despite the name, don't try to cut chains with chainsaws.

It won't be pretty.

(p.s. the expression on the horse's face is priceless!)

RAKninja said...

This series of drawings, and the narration accompanying them made me laugh harder than i have at a lot of things recently.

I especially like the image of George standing in front of the classroom with the blackboard.

Ollie said...

That was an awesome post John, very clever. I've never thought about it like that before.

DarkRoar said...

Very funny!

The lesson goes for people too...

At my work it's discrimination to say that someone who has no technology background shouldn't manage technology departments.

We should encourage them. When they do something incredibly stupid without consulting their educated staff that means they need a new non-technology staff to go with the new manager.

I'm sure the same thing happens with the people producing cartoons.

gerant said...

Hilarious!!! Torturing trees, Mr. Horse in halves (how does he balance like that!?) and killing parents!? I loved this. Please, more analogies using that wonderfully sarcastic wit of yours. Brilliant.

Will said...

More analogies, please.

Also, John, maybe you've touched on it before, but I'd love to hear what you have to say on the subject of self-discipline and the arts.

vhpayes said...

That was insightful and hilarious. That last panel is destined to be a classic, but I loved the poor tree's expressions.

She-Thing said...

Wow, this is a very difficult question, John. Next time I'll just look at the images :p

Two days ago I knew that mexicans (and almost all south/central america) they call cartoons "caricaturas" (caricatures in spanish)
For some reason it was something key to me in that moment I knew. I'd even say they hit the nail there.
Cartoons I think it's the most "correct" to define them as caricatures of life. )
Caricatures usually make you laugh, and make you say "hahaha it's funny because it's true" or even if you don't know the person that is been caricaturized, you like it/laugh/cry etc.
Even in Krüger- you laugh your ass out and others you look at them with admiration, because they have a majesty which makes you blow your eyes out.

Well and as for I see animation today and yesterday...
thanks to my parents I've been gobbling up all kinds of animation, making ofs whatever since I could hold a pencil. And I have this good memory of me and my mother laughing our asses out with bugs and wolf from red hot riding hood. Now I've been watching that stuff today in Youtube and I still laugh my ass off.

Now, my doubt(s) is... am I being conservative and putting an etiquette of a cartoon because I have this good memory? Am I putting a stereotype to a cartoon because this new stuff is not with what I'm familiarized with?
Are cartoons changing for the better but the problem is that I grew up with something different?

Zachary H. said...

Love it!

The Artist Aficionado said...

Here are some odd ideas involving George Liquor and a chainsaw.

1.Was George Liquor the inspiration for several horror movie characters? Can you imagine him as the lead for an animated farce on Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

2.Did George Liquor kill Bambi's mother with that chainsaw?

3.Elmer Fudd gives up easily when hunting for Bugs. Though I bet Bugs Bunny would have more trouble for survival if he had a saw wielding maniac like George Liquor chasing him that doesn't give up for anything.

4.Is George Liquor going to draft himself into a war to chase down the American enemy with that thing.

Jake Thomas said...

I love it, it makes so much sense. We shouldn't drive cars because that isn't creative, we should have our cars pulled by horses!

Zach Bellissimo said...

More analogies! More analogies!

Michael said...

People are little more than talking cows, talking horses, talking pigs and talking sheep. Neuroscience and advanced imaging is proving this more so each day. The black box of the brain is opening.

When you cram too many chickens into a pen you have to cut their beaks off to keep them from pecking each other to death. Now standard practice to get McNuggets in your mouth on time and on budget. Homogenized cartoons are the same thing. It's the cutting of the beaks to keep too many children who have no business being here from inflicting animal injury to one another.

chrisallison said...

hahahahaha, awesome. dig your doodles, john. they really illustrate your rants well and they're pretty funny. love that horse drawing, and the african children

aalong64 said...

I think this is one of my favourite posts you've ever made. I can't stop laughing at how perfect your analogy is.

I'd love to read more of these.

Pedro Vargas said...

Yes, more analogies, John! This is hilarious! Especially the dead moms thing.

Corax said...

This kind of reminds me of the folks out there who use chainsaws to make sculptures out of tree stumps and whatnot. Which also reminds me of artists who force themselves to use MSPaint for all their art, and then talk down to people who use anything else, because not deliberately making it harder on yourself is "cheating".

But, most important of all, this is proof that even George will go out of his way to feed starving pygmies if he can use a power tool to do it. D'aww...

Zoran Taylor said...

And what do you know, there's Aaron! (aalong64)

The timing of this is so ironic 'cause we just watched a whole bunch of Looney Tunes & Tex Avery followed directly by Oskar Fischinger in a History of Animation class....and everyone was totally into all of it. In fact, that first one (Hey Aaron, remember the name for me? I was out getting a sandwich at the beginning!) was really loose and crazy-looking, to the point where I swore that Rod Scribner must have seen it somewhere.

Okay, I agree with this for the most part, except that frankly, although I'm sure I'm in the minority here, I think that along with funny, animation also does creepiness, melodrama and shock better than any other medium. I'm not really into so-called "art" animation for the most part, but "The Tell-Tale Heart" makes me feel SICK. In the best way possible. The first time I saw Gerald Scarfe's animation, I felt like I was watching holocaust footage on acid. Again, IN THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE. There seems to be a general consensus among cartoonists that animation is always a distant representation of a superficial reality and that it's pointless to try to make it "real". This is Grade-A bullshit. The only reason no one can do it is because those who could don't want to and those who want to can't. Chris Landreth kinda gets it, but John K. gets closer. Apocalypse Now is among my favorite films and I still think it's only AS creepy as one scene in "Stimpy's Fan Club". I have never laughed at that scene even once and I couldn't care less. Of course, it's a good thing the REST of the cartoon is funny. That's what makes it work. There again, cartoons accept comedy in any context. Same can't be said of drama. So which is more "lifelike"?

Maximum Awesome said...

That blackboard panel is amazing.

Amanda H. said...

Hey! I did a study (like...the very first one >_>) Tell me what you think

Carmine said...

Great post. I love the drawings.

And while I agree with you, dont you think cartoons can do other things well too? Like good storytelling, or sentimental stuff, animation and music, etc? Does the objective always have to be laughs?

JohnK said...

It can do all those things, sure.

What it isn't allowed to do is be funny, which is what it does better than anything else.

ted said...


David Omar said...

Good to have the blog back. I missed how entertaining the comments are when they're not malicious.

-David O.

3awashi thani said...

uugh you should see how it is where i live, i live in dubai apparently HERE the porpuse of a cartoon character is to teach kids about their culture!
everytime someone looks at my characters they ask me why their foreiners! no one under 20 asks me that.
there was a cartoon here that had potential (bad animation, but at least intresting characters and funny accents) but nowadays (thank to their sponsors) the episodes are just one elightening municipality add after the other >_< our cartoon industry hasn't even got off the ground and their spoiling it for us

Bryce Johansen said...

Now that's creative thinking, none of this "Cartoons MUST be funny drawings" or "MUST have a serious plot" or "Must this"... or "MUST something else"

I like it. Range is what I liked about your cartoons, John...nothing had to be in your cartoons...nothing but the natural enjoyment of the cartoon. I don't know if that made any sense but it did to me.

Kaiser Fate said...

Okay, so...


I really want to be an animator. I believe it's my life's purpose to make animations. But I don't necessarily want to make "funny cartoons". What does that make me, a soccer mum? An executive? A retard?

What if I aim my animations at adults? Am I allowed to make adults cry, is that okay? Or is it pretty much the same as making kids cry, i.e. cruel and unusual?

Looking through the comments, there seems to be this overwhelming consensus of "if you make animations that aren't funny cartoons, you're in the wrong business".

So does that mean I should make the shift to live action? Or what?

JohnK said...

No, there are a hundred studios who will want you.

There just aren't any for the rest of us.

Jizz Wad said...

Very funny!

Why is this not on my Television set?

href="">Animating Dennis & Gnasher

Here's how The Beano says cartoons are made.

Kaiser Fate said...

Eh, fair deuce.

I keep forgetting you are so pro-studio... I was honestly thinking more of independent animators / animations. There are some brilliant ones out there, even if they aren't 'funny'.

But I guess if you're referring to studios then I see your point, it's looking bleak.

384Sprites said...

Nice! I loved the chalkboard saying!!!!

SpumcoFan#1 said...

he killed mr horseeeee!!!!!!!!!! :,(

Oliver_A said...

Some people don't understand that these articles here reflect John's personal opinions on cartoons.

Most readers coming here like and want funny, appealing cartoons, because they simply do not exist anymore. They come here, because John is one of the few people still living who actually managed to revive funny, visually appealing cartoons. His first-hand knowledge about this process is gold. So why should time be wasted here to defend unfunny cartoons? I call them just unfunny, because making people sad or depressed has nothing to do with "deepness".

There are thousands of places around the internet to find like-minded people who appreciate the richness in dystopian visions. This blog here is about the dying art of cartoony cartoons.

Fata Morgana said...

Very funny cartoons! Mr K, if you have more analogies of this ilk, I look forward to seeing them!

(Though I must confess, I like cartoons that make me cry, and chainsaws that are used for sculpture. Don't hate me!)

Chris said...

OMG John, that was hilarious! I'm pretty sure you just proved what cartoons are best for! I'd love to see more of your analogies.

Elana Pritchard said...

"anyone can make 'em cry- only a genius can make 'em laugh"

-charlie chaplin

Meenx said...

The PBS logo was a nice touch.

The Doodlibop said...

Not to say any non-funny (or un-funny; you pick) animations aren't worth producing, but to place intentionally humourous toons as dregs from the barrel is erroneous at best.

IMHO, all is good. It's a medium to get a message across. I don't think one is preferred over the other; that's like saying an opinion is more 'righter' than another.

I LOL'd at the pbs symbol, and I've grown up on it. Way to shake some childhood memories ;)

Matt said...

Despite the fact that the analogy is clever, and the artwork is amusing, I have to disagree with you, John.

I like humourous cartoons as much as the next animation enthusiast, but to say that all cartoons should be is humourous is ignoring both the potential of the medium, and the many examples of non-comedy animation, which in fact, are quite popular.

However, I do agree with what you said in earlier posts, about how comedy cartoons these days aren't that funny.

Either way, it is your opinion, and you're free to have it.

JohnK said...

"but to say that all cartoons should be is humourous is ignoring both the potential of the medium, and the many examples of non-comedy animation, which in fact, are quite popular."

That's not exactly what I said.
A "cartoon" is by definition a funny drawing. If it's a drawing and not funny, it's not a cartoon. It's just a drawing.

If it's a simplified or poor drawing (which is what we call cartoons today) - as opposed to an illustration, then it's just an ineffective drawing that can't do well what other mediums do better.

It's not against the law to use simplified images of characters to try to evoke pathos and other dumb stuff, but it's a poor use of the medium and other mediums do it much better.

But no medium is better than cartoons at doing certain things - like impossible magical humor and believable illogic.

Yet hardly anyone is allowed to take advantage of what cartoons are capable of inherently. We can only imitate other mediums and do it poorly.

Is it popular? A small handful of it is. But Rap is popular too. Some of it. Depends on who has the best marketing.

When you only offer one type of thing to the audience, they have to choose some of it - but they would rather choose something pleasant and expertly done that the medium is made for. If it existed.

Email me at: said...

In total agreement with you last statement.

Its not great when your choice is crap or poop.

There are too many shows that are out there now where I might find one thing here or one thing there that I like.

Not like the old shorts that I used to watch, where I loved the whole thing.

There just are not enough total packages out there today.

P.S. I love the story telling and acting in your post, very easy to read.