Cartoon by Bill Plympton
Comic strip by Bill Plympton, National Lampoon, 1981. 

Bill Plympton is an American cartoonist and illustrator, best known as an independent animator. He is renowned for making almost all his animated shorts and feature-length films with little to no assistance. His work deliberately aims at mature viewers and often features surreal, sexual, violent and sometimes political content. His most acclaimed films are 'Your Face' (1987), 'The Tune' (1992), 'I Married A Strange Person' (1999), 'Hair High' (2004), 'Cheatin'' (2013), and his 'Guard Dog' animated shorts. Earlier in his career, Plympton was also active as a comic artist. His weekly comic 'Plympton' (1975) ran in The Soho Weekly and 20 other local papers, while his gag comics also ran in the satirical magazine National Lampoon. 

Early life 
Bill Plympton was born in 1946 in Portland, Oregon. His father was a banker, who later owned a farm. Between 1964 and 1968, Plympton studied Graphic Design at Portland State University, following his course at the School of Visual Arts in New York, graduating in 1969. Among his main graphic influences were Walt Disney, Winsor McCayTex Avery, Bob Clampett, Al Capp, Charles Addams, Charles M. Schulz, Robert Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, Don Martin and Harvey Kurtzman

Comics career
After moving to New York City in 1968, Plympton was originally active as an illustrator and cartoonist. His art adorned the pages of cinephile magazines like Cineaste, Filmmakers Newsletter and Film Society Review, while also appearing in Glamour, House Beautiful, The New York Times, Penthouse, Rolling Stone, Screw, Vanity Fair, The Village Voice and Viva. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was most notable as a gag cartoonist for the satirical magazine National Lampoon. From 1975 on, he also made a weekly gag comic, simply titled 'Plympton', and celebrity caricatures for the alternative magazine The Soho Weekly. By 1981, 'Plympton' was syndicated to about 20 newspapers. His early cartoons and comics have been compiled in the books 'Tube Strips' (1976), 'Medium Rare' (1978), 'The Sleazy Cartoons of Bill Plympton' (1996) and 'We Eat Tonight!' (1998). While he later abandoned his comic endeavors in favor of his animation career, Plympton occasionally returned to the medium, usually to finance new projects. An example is his contribution to a 2006 anthology of Innovative Comics by Ballantine Books. 

25 Ways to quit smoking
From: '25 Ways To Quit Smoking' (1989).

Animation career
In 1960, at age 14, Plympton applied at the Walt Disney Studios, but was rejected. Nevertheless, he received an encouraging message that he certainly had talent. Instead of waiting to be hired, Plympton decided to become an independent animator. His first animated cartoon was a two-minute short, 'The Turn On' (1968), which he didn't release but merely made as an experiment. A decade later, he became more professional. Plympton gained notability for making all his animated films with barely any assistance. He designs, draws and colorizes almost everything by himself. Only in terms of voice acting, he  brings in other people. While there have been exclusive solo animators before him, like Winsor McCay and Bob McKimson (who in 1954 made the Looney Tunes cartoons 'The Hole Idea' and 'Dime to Retire' entirely on his own), it's still a rare phenomenon in the industry. Plympton was therefore able to make it one of his trademarks and develop a cult following. His personal motto is: "Make it short, make it cheap, make it funny." Since 2013, his wife, Sandrine Plympton, is his regular art director.

Plympton's first color short, 'Lucas, The Ear of Corn' (1977), stars an anthropomorphic ear of corn who ends up being eaten. The cartoon wasn't completely finished, but it was a start. From the mid-1980s on, Plympton made new animated shorts on an annual basis. 'Boomtown' (1985) delved into political satire, mocking the high increase in military spending by the U.S. Department of Defense. The script was written by veteran cartoonist Jules Feiffer and produced by musician Valeria Wasilewski, from the band The Android Sisters. The experience helped him gain more technical knowledge, culminating in his next short, 'Drawing Lesson #2' (1985). The cartoon combined live-action, stop-motion and traditional animation to tell a story about a simple line with aspirations to become a piece of art. Plympton's breakthrough was 'Your Face' (1987), a surreal cartoon in which a man distorts his face into the strangest shapes. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for 'Best Animated Short Film', but lost to Frédéric Back's 'L'Homme Qui Plantait Des Arbres'. 'Your Face' also marked a change in technique. Plympton now first made pencil-drawn and colored ilustrations, which he cut out and pasted onto the animation cells. This made his artwork look more slick. Soon he received commissions for clients like MTV, Trivial Pursuit, AT&T, Nike, Mercedes-Benz and United Airlines.

Plympton's next short, 'Love in the Fast Lane' (1987), is a funny cartoon about a man buying an exceptionally strong perfume for his wife, with dire consequences. 'How to Kiss' (1988) spoofs instruction videos, with a couple demonstrating the most absurd kissing techniques. Even more bizarre is 'One Of Those Days' (1988), in which a man experiences the most extreme accidents and misfortunes imaginable. '25 Ways to Quit Smoking' (1989) thinks up the strangest methods to stop smoking. Plympton made it to convince his own mother to quit and it worked! In 'The Wiseman' (1991), a man holds an incoherent rant, while strange things happen to his head. 

Around this time, Plympton was approached by the Disney Studios again and offered a contract. However, he declined the offer, since all his ideas would become Disney's intellectual property. Instead, he set up his own professional studio, Plymptoon Presents. Throughout the 1990s, he made several odd animated shorts, like the western parody 'Draw' (1993), the road movie spoof 'Faded Roads' (1994) and the plain odd 'Nose Hair' (1995), in which a nose hair protests against being plucked by crawling back into his "owner" 's nostrils. Plympton returned to educational movie parody with 'How to Make Love to a Woman' (1996), which is brimful with sexual imagery. 'Smell the Flowers' (1996) follows a stressed-out businessman who wants to take some time to sniff flowers. 

Plympton's first full-length animated film, 'The Tune' (1992), revolves around a songwriter trying to think up a song for the secretary of his boss, with whom he is in love. However, several scenes in the film were originally intended as stand-alone shorts, namely 'Tango Schmango' (1990), 'Dig My Do' (1990) and, perhaps the most well-known one, 'Push Comes to Shove' (1991), in which two men calmy hurt and mutilate each other. It explains why these sequences can appear a bit disconnected from the main plotline. 

I Married A Strange Person by Bill Plympton
Still from 'I Married A Strange Person'.

Plympton made several animated shorts over the decades. Some follow gimmicks that can be explained in one sentence. In 'Surprise Cinema' (1999), for instance, a man plays extreme practical jokes on people. But his pranks are quite absurd, ranging from changing somebody's electric razor with a chainsaw to switching someone's bed partner with an octopus. In 'The Exciting Life of a Tree' (1999), the viewer witnesses how a tree grows throughout the centuries. 'The Loneliest Stoplight' (2015) has a similar set-up, where we observe the sad life of an ignored stoplight. 'Eat' (2001) features restaurant-themed gags. 'Waiting For Her Sailor' (2012) is a one-minute cartoon about a woman waiting for her husband returning from sea, 'Summer Bummer' (2012) deals with the paranoid fears of a swimmer, while 'The Gastronomic Shark' (2015) shows what kind of meals humans are, from the point-of-view of a shark. Other cartoons by Plympton are so visually-oriented and strange that they defy easy explanations. 'The Modern Lives' (2018), for instance, follows a man exploring the wildest locations, on the world, in outer space and in the realms of the mind. In some, like 'Your Face' (1987) and 'Lipstick of the Brave' (2022), he animates surreal images set to a song. In 'Drunker Than A Skunk' (2013), a poem by Walt Curtis is adapted. 

Plympton gained a reputation for making uncompromisingly mature animated films. They often feature gruesome violence, lewd nudity and sex scenes. He sometimes poked fun at this public image, with the deliberately risqué, but outrageously funny animated sketch films 'Sex and Violence' (1997), 'More Sex and Violence' (1999) and 'Sex and Violence III' (2019). Still, some of his cartoons are family friendly. An example is 'Parking' (2002), about a parking lot attendant going through great lengths to prevent a piece of grass growing on his property. Plympton also sometimes abandoned comedy in favor for a more serious, atmospheric tone, like 'Shuteye Hotel' (2007), about a murder mystery paying homage to film noir. 'Footprints' (2014) is a horror film about a man discovering footprints to his house, prompting him to find out to whom they belong. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for 'Best Animated Short', but lost to Alan Holly's 'Coda'. Plympton has shown a more socially conscious side as well. With 'No Snow for Christmas' (2018), he warned against global warming, while 'Demi's Panic' (2021), inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, delves into the theme of a global storm.

Another trademark of Plympton is parody. He tackled a F.R.I.E.N.D.S.-like sitcom with 'Helter Shelter' (1998), while portraying Jesus as a drag-racing punk rocker in 'Can't Drag Race with Jesus' (2000). With '12 Tiny Christmas Tales' (2001), he targeted holiday-themed TV specials, here told from the viewpoint of a senile grandmother. An unlikely romance between a fan and a flower forms the plot of 'The Fan and the Flower' (2005). When Plympton attended a screening of Paul Glabicki's experimental animated film 'Film-Wipe-Film', he noticed that viewers became fed up with the film's long running time (27 minutes). He therefore made the short 'Spiral' (2005), as a parody of this pretentious avant-garde film. Not everybody appreciated this vicious spoof, though. Abstract animator Steven Woloshen made 'Rebuttal' as an answer to Plympton's short. 'Santa, the Fascist Years' (2008) is a mockumentary, unmasking Santa Claus as war criminal. 'The Cow Who Wanted To Be A Hamburger' (2010) is a parody of Hollywoodesque "follow your dream" stories, with a cow who actually aspires to be turned into a hamburger, but is devastated when the factory rejects him. A similar film is 'Tiffany: Death on the Runway' (2012), about a whale who wants to become a fashion model.

Dogs are recurring characters in Plympton's cartoons and from 'Boney D.' (1997) on, he made several shorts in which they play a starring role. In 'Guard Dog' (2004), we learn why dogs are always seemingly so aggressive against any animal that crosses their path. The short was nominated for an Academy Award for 'Best Animated Short', but lost to Chris Landreth's 'Ryan' (2004). The sequel, 'Guide Dog' (2006), features the same dog trying to work as a guide to handicapped people. He returns in 'Hot Dog' (2008), helping out as a fire dog, while in 'Horn Dog' (2009) he experiences more random adventures. In 2011, more than 70 artists joined together to create their own stylistically different remake of 'Guard Dog', titled 'Guard Dog Global Jam" (2011). Plympton's unnamed mutt made a comeback in 'Cop Dog' (2017), this time working as a narcotics dog. 

Plympton's first real full-length animated feature without any previously made material was 'I Married a Strange Person!' (1997), in which a man discovers on his wedding night that his hands have supernatural powers, allowing him to transform people and objects into anything he likes. The cartoonist went on a science fiction route with 'Mutant Aliens' (2001), based on a graphic novel he released a year earlier, published by NBM. The plot follows a seemingly lost astronaut who returns to Earth after 20 years, accompanied by extraterrestrial mutant aliens. 

With 'Hair High' (2004), Plympton made a zombie revenge story set in a 1950s high school, during prom night. The film is additionally notable for featuring celebrity guest voices, like David Carradine, Beverly D'Angelo, Sarah Silverman and Matt Groening. 'Idiots and Angels' (2008) follows a misanthrope who becomes a humanitarian after sprouting angelic wings on his back. Much to his annoyance, people keep bothering him, while he desperately tries to get rid of his wings. 'Cheatin'' (2013) was made to prove his critics that he was capable of making a film with more substance. Partially funded by Kickstarter, the story revolves around a couple and a complicated series of events which make the wife believe her husband has an extramarital affair. In reality, this is just a ploy by a jealous woman, but the wife nevertheless sends a hitman behind him. Later she also meets a magician who has a machine that helps her transport her consciousness into the bodies of all the women her husband now has affairs with. 'Revengeance' (2016) revolves around a bounty hunter who follows a commission by U.S. senator who used to be a biker and wrestler. 'Slide' (2023) is a western parody, in which a singing cowboy tries to save a town from a pair of evil twins. 

Live-action film career
While best-known for animation, Plympton also made a live-action comedy film, 'J. Lyle' (1994), about a lawyer who wants to build a toxic waste dump, but first needs to chase the residents of an apartment building away. However, the picture flopped and quickly faded away in obscurity. Another live-action picture by his hand is 'Guns on the Clackamas: A Documentary' (1995), a mockumentary about a film director trying to make a movie. A more serious film is the documentary 'Walt Curtis: The Peckerneck Poet' (1997), in which Plympton interviews Walt Curtis, a local eccentric from Portland, Oregon, whose bawdy recitations and obscene rants frequently get him in trouble with bystanders and the police. The short was also included as a DVD extra on Gus Van Sant's film 'Mala Noche'. With 'Hitler's Folly' (2016), Plympton made a tongue in cheek documentary about Hitler's supposed aspirations to become an animation producer. Despite this premise, most of the film is pure live-action. 

Graphic contributions
Plympton contributed the improvisational cartoon 'Self Portrait' (1988) to David Ehrlich's anthology film 'Animated Self-Portraits' (1989), in which animators from all over the world give audiences a taste of their signature styles. Apart from Plympton, the film also featured contributions by such greats as Jirí Barta, Sally Cruikshank, Jan Svankmajer and Osamu Tezuka, to name a few. Plympton also designed the segment 'Enemies' in the animated TV series 'Animania' (1991) and various animated intermezzos for the TV sketch comedy 'The Edge' (1992). In 1998, he contributed three episodes to the section 'Sex & Violence' of the show 'Cartoon Sushi'. For the documentary 'Fuck' (2005), about the history of this curse word, he created animated segments. His short, Gary Guitar' (2007), was included in the TV show 'Random! Cartoons', while another, 'A True Story', appeared on 'The One-Minute Memoir' (2020). He collaborated on the animated film 'Tokyo Onlypic 2008' (2008) and made the segment 'H is for Head Games' for the horror comedy film 'ABC's of Death 2' (2014). That same year, he also animated the section 'On Eating & Drinking' in Rogers Allers' feature film 'The Prophet' (2014), which also featured contributions by Gaëtan & Paul BrizziNina Paley and Joann Sfar. Plympton also contributed six episodes to the animated series 'Trump Bites' (2018-2020), which ridicule U.S. President Donald Trump by animating images to voice clips of his speeches. 

Plympton livened up the pages of Kathi Paton's 'Polls Apart: How to tell a Democrat From a Republican' (Doubleday, 1984), a satire on the U.S. political two-party system. He satirized the sex scandal regarding U.S. President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky in 'Monica's Untold Story. An Amorality Tale' (Harper Collins, 1999), written by an anonymous poet. Showing his musical side, Plympton visualized lyrics of 12 songs by rapper Kanye West in the book 'Through the Wire' (Atria Books, 2009). He also provided animation for the music video of West's song 'Heard 'Em Say' (2005), Peter Himmelman's '245 Days' (1990), Parson Brown's 'Mexican Standoff' (2008) and two music videos by comedy musician "Weird Al" Yankovic, namely 'Don't Download This Song' (2006) and 'TMZ' (2001).

Plympton was a good friend of amateur documentary maker Homer Groening, nowadays better known as the father of 'Simpsons' creator Matt Groening. In adulthood, Matt voiced the character Dill in Plympton's film 'Hair High' (2004). He returned the favor by animating the couch gags in 8 episodes of 'The Simpsons', namely 'Beware My Cheating Bart' (2012), 'Black Eyed, Please' (2013), 'Married to the Blob' (2014), 'Lisa the Veterinarian' (2016),  '22 for 30' (2017),  '3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage' (2018), the 700th episode 'Manger Things' (2021) and 'One Angry Lisa' (2022). 

Three films by Plympton, 'Your Face' (1987), 'Guard Dog' and 'Footprints' (2014), were nominated for an Academy Award for 'Best Animated Short', but all lost. His short 'Push Comes to Shove' (1991) won the Jury Prize for 'Best Short Film' at the Festival of Cannes. Plympton has additionally received an Inkpot Award (2004), a Winsor McCay Award (2006), Lifetime Achievement Award at the St. Louis International Film Festival (2011), Pioneer in Theatrical Animation Award at the Burbank International Film Festival (2011) and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Action on Film International Film Festival (2011). 

Legacy and influence
Bill Plympton has received admiration from Matt Groening and John Kricfalusi

Books about Bill Plympton
For those interested in Plympton's life and career, his instructional guide 'Make Toons That Sell Without Selling Out' (CRC Press, 2012), explain his working methods. A career overview can be read in David B. Levy's 'Independently Animated: Bill Plympton. The Life and Art of the King of Indie Animation' (Universe, 2011), which has a foreword by Terry Gilliam.

Cartoon for Sketchtravel by Bill Plympton
'The Brief Affair'.

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