Archive for March, 2008

Comic Strips and Shrinkage….

March 27, 2008

It’s that time again for another comic strip syndication submission! Family Pants started as a comic strip, then evolved into an animated short series (technically an animated comic strip) then eventually grew into a full blown DVD! Now, after the incredible amount of work of making the DVD, I’m back to my first love, comic strips.

This go around, I’m combining what I learned making longer animated content, the continuing story line, with the small venue of the comic strip.

Traditionally, comic strips were part of a long continuing story line. It promoted reader loyalty. for if you wanted to know what happened to Flash Gordon, you’d better buy and read the newspaper publishing him! Comics long ago had a depth and complexity to them that readers could sink their teeth into. Big glorious artwork and deep rich story lines… even for the ridiculously silly strips!

Working at King Features, I was lucky to raid their “morgue” files during my lunch hours and pour over Popeye strips from the thirties. I only knew Popeye from Famous Studios’ cartoons, which I admired for nice animation, but was bored stiff by the story lines. E. C. Segar’s work, which the cartoons were based on, was amazing! Funny, exciting and even adventurous! Even more amazing was the fact that this really old stuff, aside from the occasional politically incorrect gag, seemed so contemporary!

I’ve submitted Family Pants a few times to the syndicates but never as a continuity strip. This is my next experiment.

But what happened to comic strip continuity?

It seems to me that the comic strip pages shrunk, not only in size but also importance. Most people I know joke, “Does anyone even READ those things anymore?” upon hearing my love for comic strips. Why did they shrink anyway? It’s like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did they shrink, then lose importance? Were they losing popularity and shrunk by newspaper editors as a result?

Working at King Features, hearing things in the hallway, and just simply thinking about it, I’ve come up with two possibilities:

1) The most popular conspiracy theory is that newspaper editors looking for extra revenue, shrank the comics page to make room for extra space they could sell to advertisers. Why spend money on comics, when they could make money on ad space?

2) A less aggressive idea is that simply newspaper editors cannot cut any strip without a mountain of letters from readers. Think of it, you can’t have just “Garfield” and “Doonesbury”, without “Beetle Bailey” and “Blondie”. You need ALL of them. The only way to get all of it in there is to half their size.

With less space to work, artists and writers cannot create engaging stories. There’s no room for detailed artwork or even interesting dialog. You’ll be lucky to have enough room for a one liner and stick figure artwork. With THAT kind of material, it’s no wonder people stopped reading comic strips. Not to mention the plethora of sexier media out there to paw at our attention.

So in a few weeks I’ll re-vamp my website at my attempt at a continuity strip, with lots of silly humorous stuff like man-nibbles, man fighting bears and general pandemonium.


Ensuing Complications in the Pants

March 27, 2008


In writing Family Pants stories, I’m deeply inspired by Seinfeld and Wylie E. Coyote.

Watching Seinfeld one night I had an epiphany. While most people babble Seinfeld is the show about “nothing” I’ve found it to be in fact, about something. It could have been called “Little New York” or the “Small Big Apple”, where 4 characters depart on seemingly totally different ventures and somehow collide and entangle with each other. (Even Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm also deftly links completely different happenings.)

These ensuing complications is not as much of a Seinfeld characteristic as much as comedy 101. I believe Seinfeld’s success was not the gimmick “show about nothing”, the backwards episode or the one about the masturbation contest, but because it simply created basic comedy better than most. As it happens, ensuing complications combined with outrageous silliness is the formula of Road Runner and Wylie E. Coyote cartoons!

So in the latest Family Pants comic strip submission, “The Masked Moo-Moo Menace or the Recycling Reprobates” I tried as skillfully as I could, to connect white noise experiments, bears, rotting meat, COP reality shows and gangland violence to hopefully an interesting and funny outcome.

Hope you dig it when I post it.

Plot Complexity vs Character Complexity

March 27, 2008

PlotVsCharacterWriting Family Pants stories, I studied lots of TV, as well as comic strips and comic books. Taking a closer look at TV, you’ll find comedies that are character driven. Ordinary everyday situations we can identify with being ridiculously blown apart by the antics of extraordinary characters. Or you’ll find procedural shows, where identifiable everyday characters are solving extraordinary situations, such as a bizarre Las Vegas crime scene. In the procedural show, a fantasy element is the exciting situation. In the comedy the fantasy is being glad you’re not married to the bumbling husband!

In both cases the characters must be interesting, but not necessarily likable. No one would want George Costanza, Archie Bunker, Jack Benny or W.C. Fields as a close friend, but put them in a story and we’re interested to see how it comes out.

Balancing plot and character, you’ll find the more complex one is, the simpler the other. In a popular gangster show, “The Sopranos”, Tony Soprano can spend an entire episode eating prosciutto, and almost nothing happens, yet we intensely watch, wondering what he’s thinking and speculating what he’ll do next. A simple plot, but a complex character. Contrasted to a gangster story from the 1940’s and you’ll find one dimensional cartoonish characters involved in a spider web plot. He’s sleeping with the boss’s lover, who’s angling the boss to save her thief brother, who’s stealing from the boss’s top henchman, who’s angry at the Boss for not permitting the brother’s death because he’s protecting his lover’s sibling and our hero is caught in the middle! Whew!

So you have interesting everyday characters doing the extraordinary in a procedural show or interesting extraordinary characters doing the ordinary in a character driven show. Sometimes the plot is thicker than the characters and sometimes visa versa. But always the characters are interesting.

Although comedy is mostly character driven, you’ll find watching classic Tex Avery, Tom and Jerry or Road Runner cartoons, gags are procedural in nature. Just as you start from a grisly murder and work backward to determine how your team solves the case, you start with a crazy ending “snapshot” with your hero glued to the ceiling in a chicken outfit and work your way backward as to how he got there in the first place.

So I’ve concluded that Family Pants is a procedural comedy where characters fumble over each other in a comedy of errors to a climatic knot. The plots are thick and the characters are interesting yet could be summed up in a word (which in this case happens to start with the letter “a”):

What Makes a Good Producer? or What Do Producers Produce?

March 27, 2008

animator and producer
There seems to be lots of animation blogs out there vent frustrations about producers who make the lives of animators intolerable. But you’ll hear the same complaints from designers and other artists. In fact, I’ve heard similar complaints from construction workers about architects! Whether animation, design or website producer, it’s an eternal conflict between the producer and talent.

What is a producer anyway? If they don’t actually draw or do the work, how can they rightly be called “producers”? Well a producer’s job is not to make something, but to sell the artist’s work and allocate time for the artist to produce more work. They work with the artist. Together they are team mates for the company they work for.

In some cases, the artist’s work is so good that, as they say, the work sells itself. Here the producer takes the work into a client meeting and presto, the client is instantly happy. In this case the producer gets the Super Bowl ring just for showing up to practice.

But in other cases, the artist may create work that is not up to snuff. It could be that the artist is simply not talented enough to tackle the task at hand or that pressing deadlines distracted the artist from doing a perfect job. In this case, teamwork comes in, as when the artist drops the ball, the producer picks it up and runs it in for the touchdown. Imagine a meeting where the client says, “Well, this is not what I really wanted.” A good producer bounces back with, “Really? I kind of like it this way. In fact I think it’s much better than the original idea we talked about.” His purpose is to sell the artist’s work.

Too often producers mistakenly believe they work for the clients. They’ll side with the client in such cases. “It’s not really a nice color” says the client. “Yes, I agree. And this area needs to change as well. In fact, this whole second half needs to be redone,” says the producer. It may seem like the producer has the client’s best interests, but it’ll only mean disaster for the company, because at the end of the week, when the beans are counted they’ll find the artist doing 80 hours of work, but only getting paid for 10. The client doesn’t care if the company it employed goes bankrupt so long as they get their “product”. But If the company fails, the artist and the producer both get canned. (Which goes first depends on how many artists versus producers the company is currently employing. If you have 10 producers and 2 artists, you can bet a couple of producers will get the boot. And visa versa. (Why you’d need 10 producers for only 2 artists I’m not sure… but I have seen it. I’d imagine those artists would have a red cape and a big S on their chest.)

In addition to selling the artist’s work, producers allocate time for the artist to produce more work. Here honesty is the best policy. Again, that’s teamwork. “The client needs this by Friday,” says the producer. “I can’t finish it until next Tuesday,” says the artist. “Well, I’ll have to either push the meeting to Tuesday, change the client’s mind as to what he wants to see on Friday, or get you the resources you need, if possible, to make that deadline” the producer should say.

Often producers make the mistake of being under the impression that they are above the artist. They’ll tell the artist what to do and expect the artist to jump. That’s not teamwork or working together. Sometimes they’ll belittle the artist by requesting work before the deadline. “If I tell the artist I need it on Friday, I won’t get it until next Tuesday. So instead I’ll lie and tell him I need it by Wednesday, so I’ll get it by Friday!” That’s not only dishonest but also disrespectful by putting undue pressure on the the artist. It not only ruins the art itself, the very function of the company, but also ruins the notion of teamwork. Eventually this will hurt the company by creating a workplace filled with mistrust, dishonestly and selfishness. That’s not a good environment for a companies’ prosperity.

I’ve been pretty lucky in working with great producers who work with artists and trust them. I don’t know if those producers played high school football, but I believe school athletics could help in teaching people how to work together. I played high school football, and frankly sucked at it. About the only thing I could do was run full speed into a guy. I can say with pride that I gave a kid on the other team a concussion. But I lacked skills of actually playing the game. I did, however, learn about teamwork. There were lots of guys on the team I didn’t like and perhaps didn’t like me, but we trusted each other on the field. We were a team. Because, if I did well, the whole team took credit and if I did poorly, the other guys shared my shame. There’s comfort in that. There’s security and teamwork. That’s what I’d imagine a company that makes animation or web design or rolls of toilet paper to be.

So I say, some producers should be required to play football with the artists to learn basic trust, respect, teamwork and how to cover each other when one drops the ball. And that way, even in the worst scenario, an artist could vent his frustrations by running full speed into his pain in the ass producer, giving them a concussion at least!