Holiday drawing by John K
Holiday drawing from John K's blog, published on 7 December 2015

John Kricfalusi, often shortened to "John K." because of his complicated name, is a Canadian animation director. He is most famous as the creator of 'The Ren & Stimpy Show' (1991-1995). Kricfalusi is one of the most influential and experimental animators of all time. As a nostalgic fan of the Golden Age of Animation (1930-1960) his own style is very retro. He mimicks the look of classic theatrical shorts and early animated TV shows with a strong focus on physically impossible gags and overall cartoonyness. At the same time he also subverts the innocence with absurd plot lines, disgusting gross-out comedy and mentally unstable characters. Unfortunately Kricfalusi has always been a perfectionist, which made him miss his deadlines. After being fired from his own show he has worked on various modest projects, none which ever matched the success of 'Ren & Stimpy'. Most were cancelled or discontinued prematurely. But his style and particularly his vision about cartoony animation still inspire young animators.

Early life
John Kricfalusi was born in 1955 in Chicoutimi in the Canadian province Quebec. His father was from Ukranian descent and a strict disciplinarian. He forced John to become a "real man" by making him do chores. His macho attitude was such that he once hid a stack of Hugh Hefner's Playboys in John's bedroom out of fear "he'd become a sissy." John was never told where these magazines came from until years later and thus lived in constant fear as a teenager that these nudie mags would be discovered by his dad. John's father was also highly unsupportive of his son's artistic aspirations. One time John had spent the entire summer working on a self-made comic book for his father. When he gave it to him his father shouted: "You worked the whole summer on this?!" and threw it in the fire! To him John wasted his time reading comics and cartoons, except for one which both of them enjoyed: Bob McKimson's 'Foghorn Leghorn'. Naturally this upbringing had a strong effect on John's personality. Many authoritarian characters in his work, like George Liquor, are inspired by his father. The dad in the 'Ren and Stimpy' episode 'Anthony's Dad' (1993) is even completely based on him. While many of Kricfalusi's colleagues acknowledge John's daddy issues some have wondered whether he possibly exaggarated some of the past events? Whatever the case, John doesn't dislike his father and actually had him voice Ren's dad in 'Ren Seeks Help' (2003).

Jimmy the Turtle Food Collector
Jimmy, the Turtle Food Collector, from the first Spumco Comic Book (Marvel Comics, 1995). Art credited to Jim Smith and John K.

Influences
John Kricfalusi's main graphic influences are comics artists like Milt Gross, Milt Stein, George Lichty, Dick Shaw, Gene Colan, Gene Hazelton, Jack Kirby, Marie Severin, Chester Gould, Al Capp, Jimmy Hatlo, Jack Cole, Walt Kelly, Johnny Hart, Brant Parker, Bud Blake, Charles M. Schulz, E.C. Segar, Virgil Partch, George Baker, Floyd Gottfredson, Carl Barks, Dale Messick, Howard Post, Dan Gordon, Gus Jekel, Billy DeBeck, Harvey Eisenberg, Mel Crawford and Mad Magazine (particularly Harvey Kurtzman, Basil Wolverton, Paul Coker, Mort Drucker and Don Martin). In the field of animation he admires Looney Tunes directors like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Bob McKimson, Frank Tashlin and especially Bob Clampett, who is his personal hero. He admires his wackyness and experimental spirit. Clampett allowed his animators to draw scenes in their own styles, rather than slavishly stay on model, something that Kricfalusi tries to do in his own work as well. Kricfalusi is even largely responsible for making Clampett's cartoons more generally known among modern-day audiences. He furthermore admires Pat Sullivan & Otto Messmer ('Felix the Cat'), Max Fleischer ('Betty Boop', 'Popeye') and Jay Ward ('Rocky & Bullwinkle'), but has defended less critically lauded animators too, like Ub Iwerks, Walter Lantz, early Hanna-Barbera, Paul Terry and the aforementioned Bob McKimson. Kricfalusi has also praised animators who worked for some of these directors, like Rod Scribner, Preston Blair, Bob Cannon, Grim Natwick, Ed Love and Ed Benedict. To him all these pioneers used impressive technical draftmanship to create funny "cartoony" pictures. Kricfalusi feels that cartoons should concentrate on doing things which can't be duplicated in live-action. He prefers caricature, exaggeration, physically impossible gags and overall goofiness. Therefore he also likes less technically elaborate animators like Terry Gilliam's 'Monty Python' cartoons and Gene Moss and Jim Thurman's 'Roger Ramjet' for their pure simple fun.

The man is less enthusiastic about Friz Freleng and Walt Disney, whose cartoons he considers to be too generic. Kricfalusi once named Disney a very conservative man who was ashamed of being a cartoonist. As a result Uncle Walt made all his cartoons more realistic and downplayed the cartooniness. Other studios copied this style and soon it spread to most of the industry. But Kricfalusi still considers all cartoons from the Golden Age of Animation to be miles ahead anything made today. To him even Freleng has his moments and he still respects Disney from a technical standpoint. Not only is the animation beautiful, dynamic and impressive, but Uncle Walt was also skilled in organizing his ideas in a hierarchical pattern to make everything read clearly. He also admires his talent for haunting moods and atmosphere, or as John put it: "No one could touch Disney for those kind of scenes, then or now."

Kricfalusi has always stressed the importance of looking beyond cartoons and comics for inspiration. He has equal admiration for illustrators like Al Hirschfeld, Frank Frazetta, Norm McCary, Hawley Pratt, Al White, Mel Crawford and Gustaf Tenggren. He also loves Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa (who once voiced the Pope in the 'Ren & Stimpy' cartoon 'Powdered Toast Man', 1992), Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Ella Fitzgerald, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Burl Ives, Johnny Winter, 'The Honeymooners', 'All In The Family', The Three Stooges, Jerry Lewis, Monty Python, Pier Angeli, Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan and Peter Lorre (on whom the voice of Ren was based). Most of his passions lie in the past, though. He is very fond of old cartoons, comics, movies, music, illustrations, toys but feels that most of it went downhill halfway the 1960s. He dislikes most modern-day cartoonists except for Peter Bagge, Bill Watterson, Jamie Hewlett and Berkeley Breathed. In terms of post-1960s animation he respects Ralph Bakshi, Terry Gilliam, Bill Plympton, Mike Judge ('Beavis and Butt-head', 'King of the Hill'), Genndy Tartakovsky ('Dexter's Laboratory', 'Samurai Jack'), Jamie Hewlett (Gorillaz), Stephen Hillenburg ('SpongeBob Squarepants'), Brad Caslor's animated short 'Get a Job' (1985), some Pixar films and even some anime for their use of colour and giving audiences occasional "cute girls" fan service.

Weirdo comic page
Comic page drawn anonymously by Kricfalusi during his Hanna-Barbera days, and published in Weirdo #9

Early career
Kricfalusi studied at Sheridan College in Ontario, but dropped out after a year. In his opinion the teachers focused too much on free experimentation, rather than learning pupils any practical graphical skills. He therefore had to rely on self study. Unfortunately this wasn't the only disadvantage of becoming an animator after the Golden Age was over. Since 1960 most cartoons were made cheaply as throwaway children's entertainment on TV. Many studios, even Disney, started recycling the same clichés over and over again. The artwork became stiff, bland, amateuristic and devoid of any fun or innovation. John experienced these horrors personally, as he worked for Filmation, Hanna-Barbera and DIC Entertainment throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Since commercial interests were put before entertainment value or experimentation Kricfalusi called it the most depressing period of his life. At Hanna-Barbera he once drew a one-page comic named 'Cave Nudes' starring The Flintstones. It featured the familiar running gag where the mail boy throws a stone newspaper at Fred, knocking him down. Here, however, Fred falls K.O. while the paper boy has sex with Wilma, much to her delight. Kricfalusi signed the work with a pseudonym, "Billy Bunting" and hung a copy on every wall of the studio's producer's wing as a way of rebellion. According to legend all copies were collected by his colleagues in less than an hour.

Together with Bill Wray he made one animated short, 'Ted Bakes One' (1979), which was sold for cable but failed to make an impact. Kricfalusi found other kindred spirits when he met his idols Milt Gross and Bob Clampett, who'd both become his mentors. But the cartoonist who launched his career was Ralph Bakshi, whom he met in 1981. In the previous decade Bakshi has revolutionized animation with animated feature films strictly for adults. Now he returned to TV animation to get his own movie projects. Kricfalusi and Bakshi worked together on the film 'Bobby's Girl', which was eventually cancelled. Their first succesful mutual project was 'Harlem Shuffle' (1986), an animated music video for the Rolling Stones. Bakshi then produced a reboot of Paul Terry's classic character Mighty Mouse for CBS titled 'Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures' (1987-1988). The show started out as a basic adaptation, but quickly evolved into something wildly different.

Bakshi allowed Kricfalusi to reorganize the studio as was customary during the Golden Age of Animation. Several directors worked on different episodes, rather than just one person overseeing everything. The artists thought up all the characters, gags and stories and freely experimented with expressive drawings, absurd adventures and gags breaking the fourth wall. The creators also included various references to stuff the target audience probably wouldn't understand, like TV reporter Ed Murrow, Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Ayn Rand's novel 'The Fountainhead'. One episode, 'Don't Touch That Dial' (1988), was a big attack at meddling executives and featured specific parodies of uninspired TV cartoons such as 'The Flintstones', 'The Jetsons', 'Scooby-Doo' and 'The Real Gostbusters'. Mighty Mouse's original stinger line, "But enough lies and hypocrisy - now a word from our sponsor!" had to be altered to "Here's what television is all about... a word from our sponsor!" While 'Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures' may look somewhat underwhelming and hit-and-miss today, it still received good reviews at the time. Kricfalusi's style and vision had the chance to grow and evolve. Together with Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons', which had debuted half a year earlier as 15 second animated shorts on the 'Tracey Ullman Show', it looked vastly different than any other cartoon series on TV at the time. Unfortunately the show was cancelled after moral guardian Donald Wildmon objected to a scene in which Mighty Mouse appeared to be sniffing cocain. In reality it were just some flower buds, but his media campaign effectively got the show off the air.

Meanwhile Kricfalusi had already found another classic cartoon show to reboot, namely Bob Clampett's 'Beany and Cecil' for DIC. 'The New Adventures of Beany and Cecil' (1988) ran on ABC, but was cancelled after six episodes because executives tried to keep everything child-friendly while Kricfalusi wanted to take a more offensive route. Even Clampett's relatives weren't too pleased with the end result, but kept supporting it. The best thing about the experience was that it left Kricfalusi with a team of animators he could work with on many of his next projects, such as Jim Smith, Bob Camp, Gabe Swarr, Bill Wray, Scott Wills, Vicky Jensen, Bruce Timm, Jim Gomez, Bill White and Lynne Naylor. Together they created the studio Spümcø, which - despite its slogan - really isn't the "Danish word for quality". With a dedicated team at his support Kricfalusi could finally bring his vision to the screen in the best possible way.

Ren & Stimpy
In 1991 they pitched a new animated series which aired on the fresh new children's channel Nickelodeon: 'The Ren and Stimpy Show' (1991-1996). It featured a grouchy chihuahua, Ren, and his dim-witted friend, the Manx cat Stimpy. Together they have all kinds of bizarre adventures alongside colourful side characters like Mr. Horse, Powdered Toast Man, Muddy Mudskipper and the ultraconservative neighbour George Liquor. 'Ren and Stimpy' was a stylistic parody of a typical 1950s-1960s cartoon show, complete with two seven-minute episodes within its half-hour run and fictious commercials in between. Just like classic cartoons the soundtrack consisted of classical compositions and happy instrumental melodies. Ren and Stimpy even saluted their young viewers at the end of each episode, just like Rocky and Bullwinkle did in Jay Ward's eponymous series. Yet the rest of the show was far more demented and subversive. The fictious commercials were clever parodies of typical child-oriented adverts from that era. Despite its child-friendly look characters often yelled at one another or went through nervous breakdowns. The animation was equally weird and disturbing. Characters moved in strange ways, distorting their faces in extreme expressions. Sometimes backgrounds suddenly received odd, spotty colours, an idea Kricfalusi borrowed from Bob Clampett's 'Baby Bottleneck' (1946). Actions were often interrupted by gruesome painted close-ups. The storylines were equally bizarre. Stimpy erases history in 'Space Madness' (1991), while he breaks wind in 'Son Of Stimpy' (1992) and believes this stinky cloud to be his lost son. In 'Ren's Toothache' (1992) Ren pulls out the nerve endings of his teeth with pliers. In 'Stimpy's Fan Club' (1993) Ren contemplates murdering Stimpy while lying awake a night, while Stimpy climbs inside his own bellybutton in 'Jerry the Bellybutton Elf' (1994), where he meets a psychotic elf.

Ren & Stimpy
Still from the Ren & Stimpy episode 'Sven Hoëk' (1993)

'Ren and Stimpy' effortlessly became a cult show and many celebrities starred as special guest voice, such as Phil Hartman, Rosie O'Donnell, Dom DeLuise and Frank Zappa. Zappa later also named one of his compositions 'Ask Dr. Stupid', after a segment from the show. Kurt Cobain also loved the show. According to Billy West (voice of Stimpy) the Nirvana lead singer once wrote a song for 'Ren & Stimpy', but this was rejected. Another huge fan was Björk, for whom Kricfalusi animated the music video to her song 'I Miss You' (1995). Matt Groening also loved 'Ren and Stimpy' and hired the animators of the show to create a parody of it in The Simpsons episode 'Brother From The Same Planet' (1993). Kricfalusi, however, was not involved since he had already been fired from his own show at that point. A notorious perfectionist, he spent many hours trying to get his cartoons right, from the voices over the colour to the opening credits. He often had to convince executives, producers and censors to put in some of his more absurd and insane ideas. Many felt certain episodes were too weird and frightening for young viewers. Two episodes were even refused airing, namely 'Man's Best Friend', in which Ren beats George Liquor with an oar, and 'Sammy and Me', where Stimpy gouges out his own eye to put a fake one in the empty socket. All these behind-the-scenes complexities often caused episodes to miss their deadlines. This eventually resulted in him being fired on 25 September 1992. 'The Ren & Stimpy Show' continued without Kricfalusi, but many episodes were just weird for weird's sake and lacked his overall genius. The worst part was that he lost the rights to Ren and Stimpy, but still kept George Liquor and Jimmy the Idiot Boy for his own future projects. Kricfalusi has always been his own most vocal critic. Out of all the episodes he co-wrote, directed or animated there's always something he wishes could've done better. The only cartoon he finds near perfect happens to be all fans' favorite as well: 'Stimpy's Invention' (1992), in which Stimpy make a helmet for Ren which forces him to be happy forever. This leads to a crazy dance set to the Burl Ives parody 'Happy, Happy, Joy Joy'.

Later career
Since then, Kricfalusi made several attempts to launch new cartoon shows. He was among the first people to make Internet cartoons, namely 'The Goddamn George Liquor Program' (1997) and 'Weekend Pussy Hunt' (1999). Both lacked enough interest and crowdfunding to continue their storylines after the first few episodes. Though one episode, 'What Pee Boners Are For', attracted a remarkable celebrity fan: Michael Jackson. According to Kricfalusi the "King of Pop" found it quite hilarious. In 2001 a new show by Kricfalusi premiered on Fox Kids: 'The Ripping Friends: The World's Most Manly Men!' (2001-2002), which was a superhero parody. Despite having his name attached to it Kricfalusi only got involved half-way production and therefore lost creative control over it. Once again it was cancelled after only one season. Another disappointing event was 'The Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon' (2003-2004) on Spike TV, which brought back Kricfalusi's most well known characters with his direct involvement. However, the tone was more adult with characters who openly smoked and explicit sexual references and nudity. Kricfalusi claimed the network pushed him in this direction, others questioned this, but either way it got cancelled after only three episodes.

The best received work of his later career were his extreme parodies of the Hanna-Barbera shows 'Yogi Bear' ('Boo Boo Runs Wild' (1999), 'A Day in the Life of Ranger Smith' (1999) and 'Boo Boo and the Man' (2000)) and 'The Jetsons' ('Father and Son Day', 2001, and 'The Best Son', 2002). Surprisingly enough Hanna-Barbera allowed him to use their trademark characters and reimagine them in his own style. The shorts premiered on Cartoon Network's sister channel Adult Swim and have often been repeated since. The most infamous of these is 'Boo Boo Runs Wild', in which Boo Boo Bear is so fed up with the Ranger's strict rules that he returns to his natural instincts as a drooling, wild bear. In a similar vein Kricfalusi animated two couch gags for Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons', namely 'Bart Stops To Smell the Roosvelts' (2012) and 'Treehouse of Horror XXVI' (2015), where the yellow family also got remodelled in a Kricfalusi-esque style. He directed various cartoon commercials for Comcast, Raketu, Pontiac Vibe, Stüssy, F'Real, Old Navy Flare Jeans and Nike. He also animated the music videos for 'I Miss You' (1995) by Björk, 'Fuck Her Gently' (2001) and 'Classico' (2001) by Tenacious D and 'Close But No Cigar' (2006) by "Weird Al" Yankovic, while also producing artwork for Miley Cyrus 2014 Bangerz Tour. Kricfalusi also won two Annie Awards in his career, in 1992 and the special Winsor McCay Annie Award in 2008.

Between 1993 and 1994 Kricfalusi wrote several articles for the magazines Film Threat and Wild Cartoon Kingdom under pseudonyms. These later got criticized for mostly being sockpuppet writing to promote his own cartoons. Kricfalusi provided audio commentary for DVD releases of classic 'Popeye', 'Betty Boop' and 'Looney Tunes' cartoons, though he refused to do more of them out of anger over the modern recolorisation of some of the shorts. In 2006 he launched his own blog, 'John K. Stuff', which features interesting advice for young animators on various principles and skills. They are illustrated with pictures, frame grabs and screen shots from specific illustrated books, comics and animated cartoons. He also pays tribute to many of his influences. While highly subjective and occasionally somewhat tedious ranting about modern times the blog provides great insight in Kricfalusi's background, vision and how to interpret his own work. In 2012 he wrote the foreword to Robert McKimson's book 'I Say, I Say... Son!' (2012), a triple biography about his father Bob McKimson and uncles Chuck McKimson and Tom McKimson.

Spumco comic bookSpumco comic book

Comic books
In addition, John K and his team published four comic books under the title 'Spümcø Comic Book' with Marvel and Dark Horse between 1995 and 1997. The comics showcased the same zany humor as the original 'Ren & Stimpy' shows. Artists and writers involved were Jim Smith, Vincent Waller, Mike Fontanelli, Shane Glines, Rich Pursel, Mike Kazaleh, Gabe Swarr, veteran artist Fred Fredericks and Kricfalusi himself. A hardcover collection edited by Craig Yoe was released in 2013 by IDW. Not present in the book was Bill Wray, one of Kricfalusi's main animators on 'Ren & Stimpy', who later did become a succesful cartoonist in his own right.

Controversy
Kricfalusi's career after 1992 has never achieved the same success as before. Most of his fans still prefer the original 'Ren & Stimpy' show as his best work. Everything he tried since has always met with bad reviews and/or executive meddling. In 2005 Spümcø was shut down for 11 years. Kricfalusi often ventilated his frustrations on his blog and in interviews. He suffered from alcoholism and in 2008 doctors diagnosed serious psychological issues. Since then the animator has found more stability in his personal life and even reopened his animation studio as Spümtwø in 2016. Unfortunately bad press caught up with him on 29 March 2018 when he became the second animation legend after Pat Sullivan to be accused of indecent acts against underage girls. Two former animators, Robin Byrd and Katie Rice, were both teenagers when they became victim of sexual harrassment. Byrd was only 15 years old when she was employed at Spümcø. At age 16 she had a relationship with John, who was already 39 years old at the time. According to an article on BuzzFeed News, one time he allegedly took photos of them having sex and showed these to other people. Rice never had an affair with John, but was victim of sexual harrassment. She was 14 to 15 years old when they started communicating by phone and e-mail, while he made sexually suggestive comments to her. At the time she thought nothing of it and she still went to work for him when she was 18. There he continued making lewd advances to her, though she claimed he never did anything physical to her. But she believes to have seen what seemed to be child pornography on his computer. Kricfalusi's attorney has denied most of the allegations, except for the relationship with Byrd. Meanwhile Nickelodeon has already removed John's portrait from their business hall. On 11 May 2018 Kricfalusi issued a personal public apology, 11 pages in length. He acknowledged that there is some "general truth" about his "inappropriate behavior in the late 1990s and early 2000s", though he stressed that he remembered some things "somewhat differently, some not all. The writer exaggerated and presented some things out of context for tabloid consumption." He revealed that he too was victim of a public harrasser for about 4 years which "helped me to understand how these girls I admired might have felt." Kricfalusi stated that he didn't expect forgiveness, but did want to explain his "obsessive and possessive behaviour" in the past which "drove the people I loved best away." A medical examination in 2008 revealed he suffered from bipolar disorder and ADHD, for which he underwent treatment which help him get his mental problems under control. He concluded his text by apologizing to Robin and Katie and his family and loved ones.

While John Kricfalusi may be a polarizing artist and a questionable person in his private life he remains influential. His work inspired the look and the style of several other TV cartoon shows (often because many of his former animators worked on it), like '2 Stupid Dogs' (1993-1995), 'The Shnookums and Meat Funny Cartoon Show' (1995), 'Dexter's Laboratory' (1996-1999, 2001-2003), 'Cow and Chicken' (1997-1999), 'The Powerpuff Girls' (1998-2005), 'SpongeBob Squarepants' (1999-...), 'The Grim Adventures of Bill and Mandy' (2001-2008), 'Invader Zim' (2001-2006) and Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon's 'Rick and Morty' (2013-...). Many other cartoons of the 1990s and 2000s started using simpler graphics, looser animation and an overabundance of gross-out comedy. Famous cartoonists who admire John Kricfalusi's work are Matt Groening, Cal Schenkel, Ralph Bakshi, Mike Judge, Matt Furie and Tom Borremans.

Remote Control Jimmy
Remote Control Jimmy, with art credited by Mike Fontanelli and John K (Spumco Comic Book)

johnkstuff.blogspot.com

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