Wednesday, March 08, 2006


This particular comic story was very hard to structure. I had this idea to tell 2 stories at once:

1) A mood piece about the wonders of getting a barber haircut for the first time. This was to be done visually, almost in pantomime-completely through the drawings and focusing on Jimmy's POV.

2) A social statement about the pre and post Beatles world. Many smart people who lived through the 60s noticed that the whole western world reversed its basic philosophy. We went from the lofty western ideals of progress, logic and common sense to a world bathed and blinded by eastern mysticism - which is why everything sucks so bad now.

This story is told allegorically and is represented by George's and Harvey's complaints about the modern generation and what makes a decent haircut.

I knew that the world was ruined by 1970 but wasn't exactly sure what caused it. 25 years later it was explained perfectly to me by Spumco's producer, Kevin Kolde. He said it so plainly and it all fell into place for me: "It's the Beatles fault. They ruined the world." And I knew in an instant that he was right. Even though I love the Beatles' music, I have to admit they sure as Hell ruined the world. You hear that, Dad? (He predicted it the day he first saw men with girl hair on Ed Sullivan in 1964.)

Here comes the setup for story 2 about how the world has changed. Setup 1 about Jimmy getting a haircut misleads the audience into thinking that it's the main story, but this next page prepares us to think about larger issues.

I'm a firm believer in clear storytelling and you need "structure" as a tool to guide the audience through the emotions and thoughts you want them to experience. All of my writers will tell you horror stories of me rewriting their material to make the ideas clearer and more to the point.

I don't believe in that crap they teach you in highschool that every story has a hidden significance and that the writers themselves don't know what it is.
To me, everything has a purpose.

You know who is a great stickler for story structure? Tex Avery. People think of him as being wild and out of control, but he is completely in control of his material.
He is actually very conservative in his approach.

In almost every cartoon, he spends the first 2 minutes blatantly setting the audience up for what the cartoon is about.
In Deputy Droopy for example, the first couple of minutes is almost pure exposition with the sherrif explaining to Droopy to guard the jailhouse and if any trouble happens, just "make a sound, any sound, and I'll come a runnin'!"
And then the rest of the cartoon is just about 2 outlaws causing trouble and Droopy making louder and louder noises to wake the sherrif.

Tex uses this same structure for almost every one of his cartoons.
His main objective once he's sure the audience knows what the cartoon is about, is to build the gags and make them bigger and crazier and faster.
Uncontrolled random craziness wouldn't be as funny if he wasn't so careful in setting up his premise in the first place.
This is also a formula well executed by Monty Python-think of the "I'd like to register a complaint." bit.

The other important point in story structure is to have the purpose build as the story develops.

In The Barber shop, since there are 2 stories happening simultaneously, this task was really daunting. Ask Richard Pursel (who co-wrote it) and Mike (who drew it)!!
The haircutting jokes had to get funnier and George's and Harvey's conclusions about how vile young people are today had to get angrier and more preposterous.
It was a monstrous logistical problem to have both these stories build at the same time without tripping over each other and I did it just to see if it was possible and whether my artists would live through it. They did, but flinch whenever they see me in the hallway now.

I produced a cartoon that really suffered from poor structure: Black Hole. The premise of the story was simple. Ren and Stimpy get sucked through a black hole into another dimension where the physical laws are different than ours. Thus, they begin to mutate into weirder and weirder forms. Or...they should have. Instead they morph randomly and not in a building progression. The funniest morphs are early on, and then later they are less weird, so I considered that cartoon quite a failure. I've made other crap too, but my goal is always to have good solid structure and momentum.

This comic, I think achieved it while making a funny and sad social statement but maybe you'll disagree-especially if you are manually holding up your pants right now and reading your horoscope.