Author Thad Komorowski is currently writing a book called Sick Little Monkeys: The Unauthorized Ren & Stimpy Story which features the story of how one of the most influential cartoons of all time came to be. Interviewing over 60 people including writers, animators, producers, and voice actors behind the cartoon. Sit back, relax, grab your Happy Helmets and Powdered Toast, and enjoy our interview with Thad Komorowski.
Patricia- What made you decide to write a book about The Ren & Stimpy Show?
Thad- In some ways, it's the TV cartoon that will never die. It was an extremely important part of animation history, one that single-handedly changed industry and audience standards. The story of its rise and fall has been direly needed for years. When I was younger, I'd been corresponding with Bob Jaques about the styles of various Golden Age animators. I didn't realize he was the same Bob Jaques who worked on Ren & Stimpy until he started telling me random anecdotes about the series. Some of his stories about directing the animation for the show were absolutely insane - the tribulation of actually animating R&S is one aspect of the saga that's never been given proper coverage. Bob is the one who suggested I use my energy and skill to research the show and write about it.
Patricia- What made Ren & Stimpy a standout compared to the cartoons that were coming out in the 80's and early 90's?
Thad- There's a certain timelessness to it that the others don't have. I hate that word, given the saccharine attached to it, but that's really what it is in a nutshell. Ren & Stimpy embodies all of the aesthetics of classic animation, however different it is in writing and drawing. There's nothing dated about energy or solid character acting, drawing and animation, which is why the best episodes hold up as well as they do.
The Disney feature people (THE LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ALADDIN) did a great job of capturing past standards, but, being Disney, they couldn't really transcend what had been done before.
The new Warner shows (Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs!) tried too hard to be trendy; those are definitely top-drawer shows on their best days, but this huge wave of nostalgia for animation of that era keeps them alive more than their merit does.
By comparison, Ren & Stimpy not only transcended creative standards, but the concept of "target audience." The Disney movies were aimed at families and the Warner shows at kids. The Simpsons made the leap from adults to tweens, but that's typical of any popular sitcom (Seinfeld, etc.). Since the show's creators basically did the cartoons for their eclectic selves, here was a studio product that was able to appeal to an unbelievably broad audience: children, teens, stoner college students, and hardcore animation geeks. Nickelodeon hated the show for that reason, as it caused all kinds of problems finding the right advertisers.
Patricia- What were some of the most shocking stories you've heard when working on this book?
Thad- There really isn't anything shocking in the story of Ren & Stimpy if you understand the kinds of personalities involved. What I found most intriguing was the naivety of it all - both on the part of the network and creators. Things happened in the production that any seasoned pro would see as danger signs, but they let them happen anyway. Naivety played a huge role in the existence of Ren & Stimpy.
Patricia- Besides John K., who else should be credited for how the show turned out?
Thad- This is hard to keep brief, and I'm sure some people will be mad at me, but I'll cover myself by saying that everyone's job on that show was important. The cartoons were simply too hard to make to allow anyone to give any less than 110%.You can't understate John Kricfalusi's role in making the show what it is. Without him, Ren & Stimpy wouldn't exist. He's the one who rallied everyone together and captured that lightning in a bottle at Spumco for a brief period of time. Whatever you think of him personally, the fact that John K. changed animation for the better is undeniable.
Lynne Naylor was probably the other most important artist. She fleshed out the characters' personalities with Kricfalusi (along with Jim Gomez and Felix Forte), as well as the design work. Stimpy was actually based in part on one of Lynne's cats. I daresay her influence on the TV animation industry is as big as John K.'s.
Jim Smith and Bob Camp were also very much involved with the characterizations, stories, designs - really, everything. There's an awful lot of Jim and Bob's sweat and blood in those shows. I know when Jim left the series it was as big a blow as John K.'s departure was, since his drawing and example could solve just about anything. Bob's sense of comedic writing, drawing and timing were inseparable from the show's flavor. His absence really affected how those later Adult Party shows came out just the same as John K.'s absence affected the ones at Games.
Chris Reccardi is a vastly underrated artist and was a shining light throughout the entire run of the Nickelodeon series. Vincent Waller was another brilliant draftsman and writer; the episode BIG BABY SCAM is basically all him. Mike Kim did layout on some of the best Spumco scenes and really came into his own directing at Games. Tom McGrath didn't work at Spumco, but he really gave a lot of vigor to the episodes at Games. His sole directorial effort, I WAS A TEENAGE STIMPY, is easily one of the best R&S cartoons ever done. Bill Wray is almost singlehandedly responsible for the profusion of good color styling and painting in modern animation. Billy West's voice acting was, and is, the gold standard for the entire voiceover industry. Other R&S greats were Don Shank, Mike Fontanelli, Carey Yost, Charlie Bean, Rich Pursel, Elinor Blake, Glenn Barr, and Scott Wills.
Bob Jaques, Kelly Armstrong, and their crew at Carbunkle Cartoons are also unsung heroes of the series. They're the reason why any of the animation hangs together. There are great cartoons without their involvement, absolutely. But all of the ones that are tour de forces (STIMPY'S INVENTION, SPACE MADNESS, MAN'S BEST FRIEND, SVËN HÖEK) are so largely because they animated them.
And Vanessa Coffey. She's the one who believed in John K., let him make the show that he wanted, and gave him as much rope as she could possibly give him. Her green-lighting of not just R&S but the entire Nicktoons lineup has had more of a positive influence on animation than any other single act I can think of.
Patricia- What was the hardest thing to accomplish when writing this book?
Thad- Other than actually writing it, probably dealing with my own maturity - or lack thereof. As everyone knows, John Kricfalusi wasn't involved with this book, due in part to my own immaturity and online brickbats with the man. In retrospect, I wish I'd have learned that keeping your mouth shut is often the best response, but I highly doubt John K. would approve of any history of the show that wasn't under his direct control. He had his own art book coming out, which would have been a welcome addition to any animation library (my book has very few illustrations), but that exploded for the same reasons his show did.
There was also the fact that a lot of the R&S history isn't very pleasant and people are often reluctant to talk about it in the first place. But I was able to find a sizable assortment of people involved with it (over sixty), and saw that there was great corroboration to their recollections. Some people will obviously argue otherwise, but this is a far more balanced account of what happened than anything else has been.
Patricia- How do you feel about Mathew Klickstein's upcoming book Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon's Golden Age talking about the early years of Nickelodeon?
Thad- I think it's a great idea for a book, and I'm looking forward to reading it. That period of the network was unlike any other in television history and an account of how everything came to be could be utterly fascinating.
Patricia- What are your favorite episodes and characters?
Thad- Characters: Ren and Stimpy, first and foremost, of course. George Liquor was brilliant in MAN'S BEST FRIEND and DOG SHOW, but unfortunately, he hasn't really gotten the opportunity to shine since (though I hope CANS WITHOUT LABELS changes that). I also have a soft spot for Ren's cousin Svën, Kowalski the seven-year old convict, and Wilbur Cobb too. And the Salesman!
Episodes: STIMPY'S INVENTION is easily one of the best cartoons ever made, period. It's so compelling I needed to give it its own chapter. SVËN HÖEK, MAN'S BEST FRIEND, and SPACE MADNESS would be next. Spumco-wise, I also love OUT WEST, MAD DOG HÖEK, BIG BABY SCAM and SON OF STIMPY.
From the Games era, my favorites are STIMPY'S CARTOON SHOW, HARD TIMES FOR HAGGIS, REN'S BITTER HALF, DOUBLE HEADER, REN'S BRAIN, I WAS A TEENAGE STIMPY and REVEREND JACK. From the Adult Party series, REN SEEKS HELP has some of the finest moments in the whole R&S canon.
Patricia- Looking back on Ren & Stimpy, do you think that the show has held up well 22 years later?
Thad- Absolutely. As I stated earlier, it's "timeless" (ugh). It's kind of a shame, though, that the history is the Shakespearean tragic story it is. Ren & Stimpy really deserved the opportunity to evolve for an extended run like The Simpsons, SpongeBob Squarepants, South Park and even Rugrats did. But better a show to have been short-lived and mostly awesome than long-lasting, briefly brilliant and suck for more than half its run.
Patricia- Besides Ren & Stimpy, what are your favorite Nickelodeon shows?
Thad- Rocko's Modern Life had some truly brilliant moments (Heffer the cow's trip to hell, Rocko's nudity being the subject of an avant-garde film, Wacky Delly, doorbell ditch) and voice acting. SpongeBob Squarepants, the show Nickelodeon always wanted Ren & Stimpy to be, was very funny in its early years. I liked and watched most of the 90s Nickelodeon lineup as a kid, but I can't say I've had any desire to revisit the others.
Patricia- What do you hope to accomplish with this book?
Thad- To give balance and perspective to one of the most important stories of twentieth century animation. To inspire others to write about animation of the early 1990s, because there are still tons of untold stories out there, and those involved deserve to have their recollections recorded and put to good use. And to get opportunities to write even more on animation! I should also hasten to add there's an extensive episode guide in this book, which includes credits, air dates, plot descriptions and notes on censorship. Since the current R&S DVDs are the biggest con job on the market ("UNCUT", with edits!), I hope whoever assembles the next R&S video release uses my notes carefully to ensure that kind of vandalism (not just censorship, but time-compression and fake fade-outs/fade-ins) is never perpetrated again.
Patricia- What are your upcoming projects?
Thad- I just started seriously working on another animation history book, but it's far too early to reveal what it's about. It involves almost entirely dead people, so the animation community can rest easy that this writer is not going to feast any further upon their livelihoods.
For more information about Sick Little Monkeys: The Unauthorized Ren & Stimpy Story, check out Thad's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SickLittleMonkeys.
Are you looking forward to Sick Little Monkeys: The Unauthorized Ren & Stimpy Story? Did you liked The Ren & Stimpy Show when you were a kid in the 90's? What were your favorite episodes? Post it in the comments below! Hope to see you around Old School Lane soon. Take care!