A Melancholy Chef
'Fuzz & Pluck' in Zero Zero #11.

Ted Stearn was a New York cartoonist and animation storyboard artist, best known for his work on alternative animated series for MTV, Comedy Central, Fox and Cartoon Network. As a side project, he wrote and drew the alternative comic series 'Fuzz and Pluck' (1993-2017), published through Fantagraphics Books. Another notable series by his hand was 'The Forgotten Dream of a Melancholy Chef' (1995-1996). Both in his animation and comics work, Stearn took it to himself to steer clear of clichés and narrative conventions, making him especially popular among his professional peers.

Early life
He was born in 1961 in Weymouth, Massachusetts as Robert Theodore Stearn, and grew up in several small towns in the states of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. As a boy, he developed an interest in comics by reading the books lying around in the waiting room of his dentist grandfather. Stearn instantly had a preference for humor comics, most notably those starring the characters of Walt Disney and Harvey Comics. Later on, he also underwent influence from Winsor McCay, Art Spiegelman's RAW magazine and Peter Bagge. He attended the Rhode Island School of Design, where he earned a Painting Bachelor of Arts degree in 1983. Stearn then went to the Manhattan's School of Visual Arts, where he graduated in 1992 as Master of Fine Arts. He began his professional career as a graphic designer and art director in New York, while making a series of kinetic sculptures in his spare time.

Animation career
Stearn was a productive storyboard artist for many animated TV series and their feature film spin-offs. Between 1995 and 2001 got a job at MTV Studios though a friend who worked there. During the mid-1990s MTV's major production was the cult series 'Beavis and Butt-head' (1992-1997) by Mike Judge. In an interview with Animation Insider, posted on 16 January 2016, Stearn said: "I probably could not have gotten hired if it had been a more sophisticated show!". He created storyboards for both the TV show and their feature film 'Beavis and Butt-head Do America' (1996). Looking back in the aforementioned interview, Stearn said he enjoyed directing the two snickering teenagers, because they are actually funny, which doubled when he could have them experience physical slapstick. After the show ended, a spin-off was launched, 'Daria' (1997- ), created by Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis Lynn. Stearn once again created storyboards for this series and directed a few episodes. While 'Daria' had a different satirical tone than 'Beavis and Butt-head' and was not quite the same media phenomenon, it did receive a TV film adaptation, also storyboarded by Stearn.

Stearn lent his talents to Chris Prynoski's 'Downtown' (MTV, 1999), Dave Jeser and Matt Silverstein's 'Drawn Together' (Comedy Central, 2004-2007), Mike Judge and Greg Daniels' 'King of the Hill' (Fox, 1997-2010), Everett Peck's 'Squirrel Boy' (Cartoon Network, 2006-2007), Matt Groening's 'Futurama' (Fox, 1999-2003, 2008-2013) and their animated feature 'Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder' (2009), Skyler Page's 'Clarence' (Cartoon Network, 2014-2018), Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland's 'Rick and Morty' (Cartoon Network, 2015), Dan Harmon and Spencer Crittenden's 'HarmonQuest' (2016) and Mike Judge's 'Tales from the Tour Bus' (Cinemax, 2017). When 'Beavis and Butt-head' made a comeback in 2011, Stearn returned to the show too. He directed the episode 'Crying', in which Beavis starts shedding tears after having eaten an onion, much to Butt-head's ridicule.

'Fuzz & Pluck' in Zero Zero #9.

Fuzz & Pluck
From the 1990s onwards, Stearn made occasional appearances on the indie comic book market, where he established himself as a "cartoonist's cartoonist". His first published story appeared in the second volume of David Mazzucchelli's anthology series 'Rubber Blanket' (1992). The following year's 'Rubber Blanket' marked the debut of his signature comic characters, 'Fuzz & Pluck' (1993-2017). Fuzz is a gullable teddy bear with self-doubt and Pluck a brash rooster who narrowly escaped from a poultry processing plant and thus has to spend the rest of his days featherless. The comic reveals its creator's cynical streak, and provides a dark counterweight against the generally joyful funny animal comics. Through the naïve Fuzz and the over-confident Pluck, Stearn delivered wry yet humorous commentary on the human condition. The two try to make a living in a world inhabited by both humans and a wide range of anthropomorphic animals, toys, plants and fruit creatures, but encounter all sorts of setbacks. Added to the mix are offbeat humor, a healthy dose of sadism and a succession of surreal events.

Fuzz & Pluck: 'Splitville'.

Stearn would draw Fuzz & Pluck throughout his career, in addition to his teaching and animation daytime jobs. The feature ran in the Fantagraphics anthology title 'Zero Zero' between 1995 and 1998, before the Seattle-based publisher released the first graphic novel collection in 1999. The characters returned in the five-issue limited comic book series 'Fuzz & Pluck in Splitsville' (2001), which Fantagraphics collected in the graphic novel 'Fuzz & Pluck: Splitsville' (2008). It took until 2017 before they made their final appearance in the graphic novel 'The Moolah Tree' (2017). 'Fuzz & Pluck' gained a notable following in France, where their adventures and misfortunes were published in book format by Éditions Cornélius.

'The Moolah Tree'.

Other comics
In addition to 'Fuzz & Pluck', Stearn was also the creator of the more obscure feature 'The Forgotten Dream of a Melancholy Chef' (1995-1996), which ran in two issues of 'Zero Zero'. The comic strip features the wild and highly psychedelic dreams of a melancholic cook. It's strongly inspired by Winsor McCay's classic comic strips 'Dream of the Rarebit Fiend' and 'Little Nemo in Slumberland', but with a more trippy atmosphere, 'The Forgotten Dream' was also featured in the 'Expo 2000' anthology, which was released on the occasion of the 2000 Small Press Expo. Stearn contributed a story called 'Lost and Found' to the French anthology of avant-garde comic art, 'Comix 2000', by L'Association. 

Final years and death
Between 2001 and 2004, Stearn left animation to teach in the Sequential Arts Department of the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. He was also the Resident Artist for La Maison des Auteurs in Angoulême, France, in 2012-13. Suffering from complications caused by AIDS, Ted Stearn passed away on 1 February 2018 at the age of 57. 

'The Forgotten Dream of a Melancholy Chef' in Zero Zero #4.

Obituary by The Comics Journal

Series and books by Ted Stearn you can order today:


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