Big Blown Baby, by Bill Wray
Big Blown Baby #4

William Wray is an American cartoonist and animator who signs his comics and cartoons with "Bill Wray", and his landscape paintings with his full name. He is best known as an animator working for John Kricfalusi's cult series 'Ren and Stimpy' (1991-1995). As a comics artist his signature series was 'Monroe' (1997-2006), written by Tony Barbieri. It starred the world's most unlucky teenager and was published in Mad Magazine for almost an entire decade. Together with Mike Mignola he also made a junior version of the character 'Hellboy' named 'Hellboy Junior' (1997), and he is furthermore co-creator of the hilarious 'Big Blown Baby' (1996) for Dark Horse.

Early life and influences
William York Wray was born in 1956 in Fort Meade, Maryland, as the son of a lieutenant-colonel who worked for army intelligence. Because of his job his father often moved across the globe. Apart from the United States Wray also spent his youth in Germany, Vietnam and Hong Kong before eventually settling in Costa Mesa, California in 1966. Wray often felt lonely, which motivated him to read comics, watch cartoons, collect Monster Gum cards and make drawings. As he did this he had no idea that he was building the foundation of his future career. His mother was an accomplished amateur painter herself and often took him to museums and modern art shows. Among his graphic influences are painters like Frank Brangwyn, Richard Bunkall, Dean Cornwell, Nicolai Fechin, Emil Gruppe, J.C. Leyendecker, Edgar Alwin Payne, Ray Roberts, Edward Seago, Raimonds Strapans and N.C. Weyth. He also admires animators such as Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and Hanna-Barbera and comics artists like Frank Frazetta, Jack Kirby, Hank Ketcham, Harvey Kurtzman, Erich Sokol and Wallace Wood. Wray studied at Orange Coast College, but dropped out because he was never taught any valuable artistic techniques.


Scritch... Scritch... Scritch... (Twisted Tales #5)

Animation career
Wray worked as a professional animator and lay-out artist for the Walt Disney Company, Hanna-Barbera and Filmation during the so-called "Dark Age of Animation" (1960-1989), when most cartoons were made for forgettable, uninspired and low-budget TV series. Among the few memorable shows he animated on were 'Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids' and 'He-Man'. During evenings and weekends he took classes from a former Disney animator, who learned him far more valuable skills than any of the schools he attended. Around the same time he also met John Kricfalusi, who shared the same sentiments about the current animation industry. Both men worked as partners on several animated shorts for TV commercials and cable TV. One of these, 'Ted Bakes One' (1979), actually got sold but failed to make an impact. By 1985 Wray was so fed up with this situation that he left animation and moved for New York City.


Metamorphfloozie (Wasteland #14)

Comics work in the 1980s
There he spent most of his time painting and doing comic book work. He had done his earliest comics work at the East Coast, when he contributed to the anthology comic 'Twisted Tales' by Pacific Comics (and later Eclipse) in 1983-1984. By 1985, Wray had a story published in issue #146 of Creepy by Harris Comics, and he subsequently contributed to 'Alien Encounters' (1985-1986) and 'Doc Stearn... Mr. Monster' (1987) of Eclipse Comics. In 1989 he illustrated the true story of author Ramsey Campbell's relationship with his mother and her dementia called 'At The Back Of My Mind' for Eclipse's horror anthology 'Saturday Mourning: Fly In My Eye'. He furthermore did work on 'Star Trek' (1987), 'The Outsiders' (1987) and John Ostrander's horror anthology series 'Wasteland' (1988) for DC Comics. He most notably worked on DC's comic books and anthology with Steve Ditko's 'The Question' (1989). Together with Keith Giffen he made a comic book for DC based on Lobo's dog, but the project remained shelved because of its bad taste in humor. He additionally contributed to Marvel's 'Video Jack' (1988), 'Open Space' (1989), 'Clive Barker's Hellraiser' (1991) and 'What The--?!' series (1991). He also moved to humor and regularly contributed illustrations and short stories to Cracked magazine (1986-1988).

Ren & Stimpy
He honed his skills by taking courses at the Art Students' League. In 1991 he joined his former colleague John Kricfalusi to work on his animated TV series 'The Ren and Stimpy Show' (1991-1995), produced by their own company Spümcø. Wray was one of the head animators and together with Kricfalusi and writer Bob Camp the creative triumvirate. He provided many of the backgrounds. One of his specialities were the gruesome painted close-ups which often appeared during dramatic scenes.

Big Blown Baby by Bill WrayBig Blown Baby by Bill Wray

Big Blown Baby and Hellboy Jr.
Wray also continued to do comic book work. With Robert Loren Fleming he created the comic book series 'Big Blown Baby' (1996) for Dark Horse Comics. The comic book had the same vile and hilarious humor as the 'Ren & Stimpy' series. It featured a disgusting extraterrestrial babylike creature who crashlands on Earth. Dark Horse published a trial issue in its 'Dark Horse Presents' series (#106) in 1996, and then released four independent comic books later that year. In October 1997 Wray illustrated Mike Mignola's two-issue mini-series 'Hellboy Junior', a humoristic junior version of Mignola's own 'Hellboy'. The series won Mignola the Eisner Award for Best Writer/Artist: Drama (1998). Apart from drawing the series Wray also wrote narratives and was assisted by Stephen DeStefano, Hilary Barta, Dave Cooper, Pat McEown, Glenn Barr and Kevin Nowlan.


Sparky Bear (Hellboy Jr. #2)

Animation work in the 1990s and 2000s
Further comic book work was related to animated TV series from Cartoon Network. This included stories with Hanna-Barbera's 'The Jetsons' for DC's 'The Flintstones and the Jetsons' (1997) and 'Cartoon Network' (1998), as well as covers and some interior stories based on Genndy Tartakovsky's 'Dexter's Laboratory' (2000-2004). In 2003 he also wrote two episodes for this series. He was a character designer for 'Space Jam' (1996) and designed backgrounds and lay-outs for the animated TV series 'Samurai Jack' (2001-2004) and 'The Mighty B.' (2008-2001). For the latter show he also acted as a supervising director. With Tartakovsky and co-artists Lynn Naylor and Mike Manley, Wray furthermore made a 55-page comic story for DC's 'Samurai Jack Special' (2002). Wray was a writer and storyboard artist for 'The Woody Woodpecker Show' (1999-2000) based on Walter Lantz' original creation.

Dexter's Lab by Bill WrayDexter's Lab by Bill Wray

Mad Magazine
Between 1996 and 2006 Wray was part of the "usual gang of idiots" at Mad Magazine. He drew a few satires of popular TV series for them, such as 'Single House' (written by Mike Snider, issue #350, October 1996), 'The Antiques Freakshow' (written by Charlie Richards, issue #381, May 1999), 'Survivor' (written by Dick DeBartolo, issue #398, October 2000) and 'The Weakest Link' (written by Dick DeBartolo, issue #409, September 2001). Naturally he also tackled films, like 'Patch Adams' (written by Stan Hart, issue #383, July 1999) and 'The Blair Witch Project' (written by Desmond Devlin, issue #387, November 1999). One of his funniest one-shot comics in Mad was the article 'If Walt Disney Visited His Studio Today' (issue #357, May 1997), which was witten by Chris Hart. The story follows Disney being unfrozen after 31 years and welcomed by Mike Eisner, who was head of the Disney company at the time. He shows Uncle Walt around and explains all the major changes that happened since his death in 1966. The comic is a brilliant satire of the Disney corporation, from the animation studio over the merchandising industry to the theme parks. It provided Wray with a chance to draw depraved versions of all the familiar Disney characters.

If Walt Disney Visited His Studio Today' (issue #357, May 1997)
If Walt Disney Visited His Studio Today (issue #357, May 1997)

Monroe
Yet Wray's most significant contribution to Mad was a long-running comic strip named 'Monroe', written by Anthony Barbieri. It debuted in April 1997 in its 356th issue. Monroe is a teenager with two antennae-like hairs on his bald head. His parents are divorced and he lives with his chain smoking mother who is seen with a different partner in every episode. She is not even above prostitution or online cam recorder porn to earn some extra money. Yet she at least gets some enjoyment out of her life. Monroe is a pure loser. Nobody respects him at school. A group of bullies headed by a jerk named Dylan often mock or beat him up. Monroe always tries to accomplish a certain goal. He wants to earn some money or come across as "cool". Most of his plans are motivated by his love for classmate Jolynda who doesn't like him one inch. Even worse: she is often seen together with Dylan. Needless to say: Monroe rarely achieves anything. Most episodes take place at his high school, but the scrawny teen has also been at summer camp and other vacations, from Las Vegas, Disney World to Europe.


Monroe (Mad #378)

At the time 'Monroe' was a quite unusual comic strip, even for Mad. It featured pitch black comedy, ugly caricatures and near-explicit allusions to sex, drugs and painful violence. Most comics in the magazine had been more subtle depicting these matters. Barbieri and Wray's view of the world was rather dark and cynical. The artwork looked more like an underground comic for actual adults. 'Monroe' was also different in the sense that each episode was a self-contained story. Most short stories in Mad had always been one-shot parodies, except for Antonio Prohias' 'Spy vs. Spy' series and Don Martin's 'Captain Klutz'. Another major difference was that 'Monroe' actually centered around someone who had the same age as the target audience. As such many young readers enjoyed the comic strip and it quickly gained a cult following. While 'Monroe' may have been a bit too mature and disturbing for teenagers it still fit right in Mad's pages. All the familiar satirical hallmarks of the magazine were there. 'Monroe' viciously spoofed teenage angst and American high school life. Other episodes directly mocked phenomena like Playstation, 'Jackass', 'The Matrix', Marilyn Manson and 'Star Wars'. In the spring of 2006 Wray left 'Mad' and this seemed the end of 'Monroe' as well. But six months later the unlucky teen returned, albeit drawn by a new artist: Tom Fowler. From issue #470 (October 2006) on Barbieri and Fowler continued his unlucky adventures. In the 481th issue (September 2007) Fowler received assistance from a new artist: Ryan Flanders, followed by Carl Peterson in the 484th issue (December 2007). 'Monroe' ran for four more years until it ended in issue #502 (January 2010).

Painting
Since the mid 2000s Wray mostly focuses on creating landscape paintings, trying to evoke the skills of the classic old masters.

Series and books by Bill Wray in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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