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John Kricfalusi: Creator of Ren & Stimpy

From the Examiner, January 28, 1997

Photo: Donya Fiorentino

By Barry Walters

Cartoons at one time were meant to be funny," John Kricfalusi says.

"That's what they do best and that's what I want to do."

Only "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening has done more to make cartoons funny again and not even Groening can boast Kricfalusi's degree of influence or intensely graphic style.

Best known as the creator of "The Ren & Stimpy Show" for Nickelodeon, Kricfalusi has a sense of humor that is both outrageously daring and thoroughly universal. With its surreal settings, domestic chaos, social commentary, bodily function humor and sick stories, "The Ren & Stimpy Show" quickly became the most popular made-for-cable series in TV history.

Kricfalusi has also endured his share of loss, particularly when he parted in the early '90s with Nickelodeon, which retained all rights to the show and has continued to generate a pale imitation of the program's glorious first two years that pains its creator.

Nevertheless, the L.A.-based cartoonist and his company, Spumc ("The Danes Call It Quality"), have moved on. Kricfalusi and top Spumc animators Jim Smith and Vincent Waller recently came to town to promote a new comic book ingeniously called "Comic Book."

While they greeted fans at the Virgin Megastore, Spumc's super-cute toys -- including talking dolls of their new characters, George Liquor and Jimmy the Idiot Boy -- sat beside them as a reel of Spumc's TV projects graced video monitors throughout the store with some of his company's designs: one of NBC's peacock logo, commercials for Nike and Barq's Root Beer, and a brand-new video for Icelandic pop singer Bjork, "I Miss You," that's easily the most creative clip MTV has shown in ages.

Although Kricfalusi and his crew have a reputation as being bad guys who don't play by the Hollywood rules (that is, they don't strive to make everything as intelligence-insulting and as executive-pleasing as possible), they're generous with their fans. Their scheduled two-hour appearance grew twice as long, not merely because these guys are so well-loved, but also because they each created full-page cartoons for every autograph hound.

Even after the exhausting drawing session, Kricfalusi devoted himself to an interview with a kind of intensity that befits a Looney Toon. He gave long -- one might say animated -- answers to every question except an inquiry regarding his age, which he flatly refused to supply. When recounting particular plots of his old show, he often acted them out, oblivious to the surrounding shoppers.

It was a hoot to hear him do Ren. (Kricfalusi supplied the original voice of the hot-tempered Chihuahua.) But it was even funnier to hear him get angry, when he would sound and look a bit like Ren, even when it wasn't his intention. With his extra-full head of hair, horn-rimmed glasses and boundless energy, Kricfalusi is a human cartoon. And like Ren, his crankiness is both intimidating and hard not to admire.

"There's a conspiracy to protect humans from humanity," he said of the current climate of political correctness. "It's Barbra Streisand's fault and Bill Clinton's for hanging out with her."

Kricfalusi loathes right-wing moral guardians even more. Years before "Ren & Stimpy," his animation became the target of the Rev. Donald Wildman, who attacked a "Mighty Mouse" episode Kricfalusi drew for the rodent's '80s comeback. In one episode, a villain crushes the rose of a poor flower girl into a powder, which Mighty Mouse saves as a reminder of the world's injustice. When confronted by her memory, the rodent sniffs the powder as a romantic would sniff a rose. This the reverend interpreted as cocaine advocacy.

"I don't take drugs, so it wasn't some kind of in-joke," Kricfalusi snorted. "The episode had nothing to do with drugs. But there was a lot of intentional stuff in the show that they could have gone after."

He cites a "Mighty Mouse" episode in which 1940s cartoon stars Gandy Goose and Sourpuss were resurrected with the homosexual overtones of their original models brought to the fore. It was this relationship, Kricfalusi confines, that went on to become the template for his famous characters.

Does this mean the rumors are true? Are Ren and Stimpy lovers?

"Totally," said their dad proudly. "In Ren's case, it's not completely by choice. He'd rather have a beautiful human woman if he could get away with it. Since he can't, Stimpy's easy. Stimpy's madly in love with Ren."

Like all great artists, Kricfalusi draws from his own experience. In "Stimpy's Fan Club," an episode he wrote with girlfriend Eleanor Blake, Ren recoils from the letter of a Stimpy admirer who confesses he wets the bed. While telling the story, the animator re-enacted much of the dialogue loudly and with much enthusiasm, only to confess that he was a child bed-wetter. But more than the show's notorious use of bathroom -- or should we say cat box -- humor, Kricfalusi is most proud of the complexity of his creations.

"Cartoon characters generally have one personality trait or two," he pointed out. "Mickey Mouse doesn't even have one. The most complex cartoon characters I've ever seen are Bob Clampett's Looney Toons characters from the 1940s -- Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck. Clampett was my biggest inspiration. And I like film noir because they suggested all sorts of things."

Kricfalusi doesn't want to be remembered simply as the guy who paved the way for Beavis & Butt-head, although, as he put it, "You've got to be diggin,' pokin' and sniffin' around if you're gonna have any fun in life." Instead, he yearns for a greater immortality.

"I hope I'm remembered as much as Elvis was, but for cartoons."

Spumc's Web address is For information about Spumc's mail-order service, call (213) 462-2943.