Crimes Against the Internets: Cartoon Brew

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The biggest problem with the internet is that you’ve got to wade through so much crap to get to the good stuff. With this whole “web-logging” fad, that means to see funny pictures of talking cats, or copyright-violating YouTube videos, you’ve first got to make it through reams of text with the blogger’s “personality.”

And of course, we’re talking about the “personality” of folks who have nothing better to do than write on the internet about cat pictures and YouTube videos. I had to give up Boing Boing because I got tired of hearing how DRM eviscerates babies. I can’t count how many videogame blogs I’ve had to give up. You’ll be reading along and then hit one post that just makes you say, “Aw man, why couldn’t you just have shut up and give me the links already?” Why can’t more blogs be like this one, without content or personality?

I’ve been reading Cartoon Brew for a while, digging through big, steaming mounds of self-satisfied attitude in order to see cool clips of animation I hadn’t seen before, or the occasional rare piece of concept art or model sheet for works I’d never even heard of. Sure, the tone is insufferably pompous, but hey, neat pictures!

What killed it was this post bitching about some admittedly lame-sounding (the description claims they’re looking for “the dopest animator in the business”) animation contest, which will be judged by Loren Bouchard. The problem isn’t the objection to the contest itself, but the obnoxious rant surrounding it.

Instead of just complaining about the nebulous ownership and rights issues involved with submitting original work to a website for a contest, the blogger instead decided to go off on an internet tirade against Bouchard and, by extension, Adult Swim. (Note that “Adult Swim” is surrounded by quotes of disdain; you can almost hear him sneering and spitting out the words as if it pains him to even admit such a thing exists). He says he’d never heard of Bouchard or of his latest show, “Lucy, Daughter of the Devil” — that’s reasonable enough for most folks, but not for anybody who claims to be an authority on animation. Along with claims that Bouchard’s work is an “embarrassment” to the art form, he puts up a still from “Home Movies” for true animation aficionados to shake their heads and go “tsk, tsk.”

Now, finding an arrogant douchebag on the internet is hardly a notable achievement, so why not just leave a nasty comment after the post and then move on? Why bother writing about it? Because it misses the point to such a colossal degree, and it’s a perfect example of the internet’s creepy underbelly. (Well, the other creepy underbelly; there’s not much we can do about the main one).

The blogger spent months using the blog to shill his book, which celebrates 1950s animation styles. The posts would have examples of stills along with sycophantic descriptions of the artists responsible. Now, a lot of this art (including the example used for the cover) stands out to me as a low point in animation history — the 80s were crass and soulless, sure, but at least the character designs, while bland, were usually appealing on some level. Most of the stuff included in this collection was cheaply-produced and just plain ugly.

But to each his own, right? Just because I don’t see the value in it doesn’t mean there’s no value in it. Isn’t that the whole point of animation, even? I never made it far in my classes in college, but I know that I saw more than a lifetime’s worth of sample films and short films, and by far the bulk of them sucked.

That wasn’t the point; the idea was to have an idea, and to make it come alive. The real beauty of animation isn’t the same beauty as other visual art; technically perfect stuff can come across as the most bland. The true soul of animation is this overriding idea that anything can happen, at any time. It’s the one art from that truly rewards experimentation and innovation more than anything else.

And what should be obvious to anybody who’s not dense, and who’ll take a second to get his head out of his ass and pay attention, is that Bouchard’s innovation is in recognizing how to pool together some of the funniest voice actors available, get spontaneous and naturalistic dialogue out of them, and apply that to animation. That’s huge, and nobody else is doing that.

To take a still frame from “Home Movies” and use that as an indicator of the entire work is so incredibly stupid, it’s hard to imagine a cogent thought process behind it. It’s not even a subjective “well that’s just your opinion, man!” Like it or not, failing to recognize the stylistic achievement of these series is just plain objectively wrong.

But the bigger question is: why does this always happen? Reading the posts on “Cartoon Brew” is like listening to a cross between the most obnoxious comic book store clerk and the most self-important indie rock fan — the artists are all sell-outs, and the “fans” are all fools who don’t appreciate what true art is. Why does obsessive fandom always breed such colossal arrogance and douchebaggery?

16 thoughts on “Crimes Against the Internets: Cartoon Brew

  1. I agree and anyway H.Jon Benjamin is a genius. I would love it if he did some work on Sam & Max. Saving up to get the complete Dr Katz DVD as I type this. Did you notice Coach McGirk in the Star Wars Family Guy episode? I’m a fan of Loren’s work. Why does this always happen? The internet is primarily used for people to complain. Those that enjoy something normally don’t jump online to tell everyone how great it is. If someone doesn’t like something they hit the net and go on a rant.

  2. Hey, I would love for H. Jon Benjamin to work on the Sam & Max games; I think he’s hilarious. But I get the impression it’d probably be stifling, since we record all the actors separately.

  3. The main problem of Internet animation blogs and websites like Cartoon Brew is that they’re mostly controlled by shills and ex-employees of John Kricfalusi, a washed-up hasbeen who’s become the L. Ron Hubbard for most of the entire Internet animation community, of which Cartoon Brew is the biggest waste-generator.

    Almost every post is some kind of bitter, acid-tongued condemnation of any cartoon that the administrators do not approve of and the people who make them (hence the post being discussed), as if they’re horrible, atrocious affronts to Walt Disney or Tex Avery or whoever. Hell, Amid airs his manure out in almost every post me makes on Brew, possibly because his resume is even lousier than those whose names he curses in blood.

    And there are the comments, when even more ibtter animators stab each other in the back over these “artless” cartoons, which make even the hottest Political discussions seem rational. The most suprising thing is that they wonder why they have little or no creative input in the shows they work on.

    Sure, the cartoon pictures and videos are good, but those are maybe four, maybe 5% of all the crap posted on Cartoon Brew.

  4. Thanks for putting into words what has been giving me fits all day. Whenever I read Cartoon Brew I can almost smell the Vic’s vaporub and the polygrip. Anything new sucks and everything old or familiar is classic animation. Don’t mention Family Guy over there or you will be crucified. “Leading the animation conversation” Hah!

  5. >>Now, a lot of this art (including the example used for the cover) stands out to me as a low point in animation history — the 80s were crass and soulless, sure, but at least the character designs, while bland, were usually appealing on some level.

    You think this is better than this?!?!?

  6. H. Jon Benjamin is a total dickhead. If you don’t agree with me, go meet the guy. go see his comedy. he’s a cynical prick of such a high order that i’m nearly positive that you’ll agree with me and by that i mean its a sure bet that you’ll be amazed at what a consummate douchebag he is.
    my favorite H.Jon Benjamin experience is when i caught him doing some standup at the Rififi bar in NYC, and one part of his act that he was MOST enthusiastic about was when he picked out a person in the crowd and asked them to get onstage under the pretense that he would interview them from the crowd. every time the poor guy would try to answer his question Mr Benjamin (still holding the mic) would berate, insult and belittle the man until finally it was just a guy walking off the stage to the talentless Mr Benjamin barking onbscenities at him. the crowd was repulsed and the turd got back up and tried to continue his set. then in typical David Cross fashion, he left with a smirk like the crowd didn’t “get” his comedy. that we weren’t hip enough(because the lower east side must have somehow pulled together a bunch of rednecks that night for an alternative comedy show at Rififi Bar.

    you know that guy has been in the industry a long time without doing anything of note. this should be a mystery of sorts if nearly everyone i know who has worked with him has agreed that he’s a nasty little prick that no one wants to deal with.

  7. Well, after calming down a bit, I wish I hadn’t gone straight to calling the writer an ignorant douchebag. I still strongly disagree with the tone of the blog in general and that post in particular, and I think the post itself was asinine. But I should have more class than to attack the writer himself, instead of just what he writes.

    And to his credit, Amid linked to this blog post without comment, just calling it “interesting.” So score one to him for taking the high road.

    Super L:
    Well, I can’t really get on board with saying somebody has no right to judge a work of art unless his own output is good; most of the stuff I write on this blog is criticizing stuff that I’d never be able to make, after all. By that logic, since I failed as an animation major, I’d have no right to analyze or criticize anybody else’s work.

    But yeah, my biggest problem with that site is the overwhelming bitterness, elitism, and complete dismissal of works, instead of acknowledging the creator’s intent and then saying that subjectively, it didn’t work for them. Especially since, as you say, they keep wrapping themselves in the corpses of Tex Avery and Walt Disney and acting as if they’re the last ones holding the torch in the name of True Animation Art.

    I don’t personally like John K’s stuff at all, but I have to at least acknowledge his influences and the intent of what he’s trying to do. There’s an awful lot of vapid, lazy, and purely commercial-driven animation out there, which can be easily dismissed. But there’s also a ton of stuff that I don’t like, but can appreciate the spirit behind it.

    joeP:
    Mention “Family Guy” on here and you’ll get crucified, too. I can’t stand the show. To each his own, though.

    SomeGuy:
    No?!?!? I don’t?!?!? Why not pick a more loaded comparison, next time? I will say that I like that character design for Fonzie a ton better than the image on the Cartoon Modern blog banner. 99% the Ruby/Spears and Filmation and Hanna Barbera stuff from the 80s was completely bland and money-driven, but based solely on the aesthetics of a still frame, I’d prefer that over any of the art in this post, for example.

    Now obviously, the ad spots, while still commercially motivated, were trying to create an perpetuate a style. While the TV series were mostly just trying to crank out product and appeal to some lowest common denominator. But the whole point was to show how dismissing something based on frames taken out of context is a stupid idea.

    robiscus:
    Whether Benjamin’s a dick in real life, or even in his stand-up routine, is kind of irrelevant. He’s consistently funny in every TV show I’ve seen him in, from “Dr. Katz” to “The Venture Brothers,” and he’s part of a group that’s bringing real innovation to animation, in the way voice talent is recorded. Second- and third-hand gossip about a guy isn’t going to change anybody else’s opinion. I’m inclined to dismiss it as the same type of annoying embittered gossip that plagues the Cartoon Brew site.

  8. I hope I’m not the only one who sees the irony here of beginning your opinion piece on how annoying it is to wade through other people’s opinions on the internet. Regardless…

    That’s Amid, though. He cares about the “ART” of animation and he lets everyone know about it, and doesn’t care if he’ll hurt anyone’s feelings along the way. Jerry’s the calm one who will share the general news and information, so perhaps you should look for his posts when reading Cartoon Brew. There you go, your problem solved!

    But in Amid’s defense, the kind of innovation that you describe “Home Movies” has is certainly not the kind of thing Amid, or Cartoon Brew for that matter, is there to promote. Your defense stated that he uses natural dialog and applies it to animation. Is this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jO8CostDAL4 , animation? Seriously think about that question… Because all I see is a couple characters standing still, using a few random mouth shapes (rarely even timed to the words, by the way), and rapid eye movement. Oh, and they also tilt their head randomly, once in a while. Is the dialog funny? Yeah, I do find it funny sometimes. Is it quality animation? If you say yes, I think I’m wasting my time here.

    Basically, when it comes down to it, a show like “Home Movies” presents something very simple to those who have paid attention to animation styles over time: The art and animation quality is a complete afterthought to the writing and dialog. That’s it in a nutshell. And that’s exactly what guys like Amid (and myself, coincidentally), really despise. Animation is an art form that can provide unparalleled creativity and artistic exploration (as you said in your post), and yet the majority of animated shows on television are being treated like sitcoms with crude ‘clicking’ drawings being thrown on top, simply to make it ‘presentable’. Yes or no? You could argue night and day that a lot of thought was gone into the artistic quality of “Home Movies”, but it would be a pretty horrible argument, and I think you know that.

    The animation medium was started with artists. Animation was advanced and explored and pushed in different ways (like in the 50′s, the period you supposedly find ‘ugly’) by artists. Animation is now run by writers. Wait… what? What happened?

    Perhaps my words can at least help you understand the ‘point’ of Amid’s opinion, whether you agree or not.

  9. “is this… animation?” It’s certainly not live action. It’s also not a still image either. It’s something that wouldn’t be as effective if it was just a standard video sitcom or sketch routine, or if it was a series of completely still images.

    The animation in Home Movies obviously hasn’t got anything resembling the same goals as traditional animation — the animation itself in Home Movies is clearly not good by any means — but using animation captures and accentuates the voice performances in a way that no other medium can do. It’s a huge strength of animation as a medium. This show hones in on that one strength of animation very specifically, makes excellent use of it, and a lot of people (normal people, even, not just the tasteless mouth-breathers!) pick up on that and appreciate the show.

    Home Movies might not use the animated medium in the way that everyone agrees with artistically, or aesthetically, but going so far to imply that it’s “not animated” is hilariously pompous.

  10. I think you took one of my points a little too seriously. However, you did manage to help prove the MAIN point of my response: The art and animation quality is a complete afterthought to the writing and dialog.

    THAT is the problem guys like Amid has, and that’s why he’ll post about it the way he does. So he cares about putting some good art into animation, why is that wrong? Some creators like to actually… you know, make some USE of the fact that animation is made with pure art and imagination and chose to actually do something creative and artistic with it, rather than move eyelids and mouth shapes randomly on ugly designs, just to sell some funny dialog to the audience.

    I’d also like to point out that I find some of the situations in Home Movies to be funny. It is an entertaining show – It’s written like a sitcom, after all. And I would completely agree with the fact that “using animation captures and accentuates the voice performances in a way that no other medium can do.” But when Elmer Fudd, or Stimpy, or even Bender on Futurama (a closer comparison to the ‘animated sitcom’) talk and say funny things, they actually do some funny acting too. And they live in a world that has been created and thought of by artists. It’s just a… a nicer way to make entertainment, you know?

    ‘Knocked up’ or ‘There’s something about Mary’ don’t have the production values of 70′s informercials, do they? They could still be funny, but the film going audience wouldn’t accept it, would they? So why should late night cartoon watchers?

    To be perfectly honest, and this has nothing to do with my argument and might just be a reason why I’m biased about the whole thing: The fact that ugly stuff like this is on the air just plain pisses me off… What happened to good taste?

  11. Brandon:
    First off, yes, irony is implied in pretty much everything I write on here. I didn’t think I was being all that subtle with it.

    I’m pretty sure that I understand the point that Amid Amidi, and you, are trying to make. What I’m trying to get across is how I think that point is pompous and undeservedly elitist.

    As Jake said, yes, “Home Movies” is indeed animation. Whether it’s good animation or not is up to viewers to decide. But when somebody suggests that because it emphasizes one thing, it doesn’t even qualify, that’s where the problem starts. It crosses the line from just saying “this works for me, this doesn’t,” and into appointing yourself as the Last True Defenders of the “ART” of Animation.

    You say that animation was started by artists, but now it’s “run by writers,” and apparently, we’re all supposed to be wailing and tearing at our robes at the anguish of this horrible turn of events. I could just as easily say that it’s only when people started paying more attention to writing that animation started to mature, therefore writing is obviously the most important aspect.

    I could say that, but I wouldn’t, because that would be an incredibly stupid thing to say. The best stuff comes from the right combination of art, words, motion, voice talent, sound, music, etc. Of all people, animators and followers of animation should realize that. A still drawing doesn’t become animation until you add motion, and by extension, all of animation is all about combining different art forms to make a composite that’s better than any individual part.

    You seem to have backed off on your “Visual Design is KING!” stand, but that’s exactly the kind of attitude that permeates that website. But would “Gerald Mc Boing Boing” be any good without sound? Or any of the WB cartoons be as good without Mel Blanc’s voice? Does a well-designed character qualify as “high” art if it’s badly animated and doesn’t move well? And take a look at a lot of anime: you’ll see beautifully-designed machines, stunningly rendered with obscene amounts of detail, and they’re often put in service of an insipid or incomprehensible story.

    The visual design of “Home Movies” isn’t the main focus or innovation of the series, obviously, and it’s not anything I’d hang up on my wall. But it’s not an afterthought, either; it does exactly what it needs to do. If you say “Brendan” or “Coach McGuirk,” I get an instant picture in my head, and it’s of those characters. (Even though I know what the voice actors look like in real life.) Simple as they are, the expressions (especially Brendan smacking his forehead) and the small details often sell the joke on that show; it’s more artistic than “Dr. Katz,” for example, because it’s not just a faithful recreation of a comedy routine. It’s actually creating characters and using visuals to drive the comedy routines home.

    The reason I keep bringing up the UPA cartoon stuff isn’t just to pick on Amid, and it isn’t just to say that I don’t like 50′s character designs (even though I don’t, in general). It’s to show how the spirit behind much of that animation isn’t all that different from the Adult Swim and Home Movies you guys love to blame for ruining the art form.

    Much of the stuff from the 50′s used jerky, limited animation because of budgetary constraints. Backgrounds were simple to non-existent. Character designs were loose and simplified. A lot of them tried to get more natural-sounding dialogue than the Disney features or Warner Bros shorts were using (and interestingly, long before mainstream live action made the move towards natural-sounding dialogue).

    I’ve still got to say that it doesn’t sound to me like a bunch of people tirelessly defending the art of animation. It sounds more like a bunch of artists trying to assert their dominance and tirelessly defend their fragile egos.

  12. Well I am a fan of John K. and I generally agree with his point about animation of recent times. Singling out something like Home Movies though, is ridiculous. The first series was in squiggle vision like Dr Katz and then it was created in Flash. There is a commercial reality to these shows. They are animated it that way because its cheap. As Chuck points out the highlight of these shows is the voice acting. I once knew a brilliant hand drawn artist who used to work for Disney. Then she was unemployed and couldn’t get a job. We have lost that art, mainly because its very expensive to produce. I still love the disney and don bluth movies, I still love the animation style of Ren & Stimpy. Criticizing the animation in Home Movies is missing the point however. Small cable show, small budget and not a very large audience. I don’t think they had the power or resources to request money for the best animation techniques. Also Robiscus personal attack on H.Jon Benjamin was rather over the top. I don’t know what kind of a person he is in real life but he has talent. I have been laughing at his work for years, from his exchanges with Jonathan Katz through to Home Movies and beyond.

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