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Sick Little Monkeys: The Unauthorized Ren & Stimpy Story Paperback – February 1, 2013
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"Thad Komorowski's Sick Little Monkeys is perhaps the most thoroughly researched and extensive attempt to shed real light and clarity on the matter. From the outset his approach is candid and, most refreshingly, without allegiance to any party in particular. Ultimately, The Ren & Stimpy Show comes across as a radical gamble that was doomed from the outset by its own audacity. Its flaws, multitudinous though they may be, contribute to its charm and its place as contemporary animation's biggest anomaly and, simultaneously, it's most important saviour." - Ben Mitchell, Skwigly
"If you are not a fan of the show, this book is still worth reading for the light it sheds on the workings of the TV animation business. There is always tension between artists and business people over resources and content. People working in TV animation and those with ambitions to create shows need to understand the pressures and the pitfalls that shape the business. Sick Little Monkeys is a cautionary tale about walking the fine line between artistic ambition and the reality of the marketplace." - Mark Mayerson, Animation Professor and Proprietor of Mayerson on Animation
"The most remarkable take-away from the book is just how intense the animation world is, considering how small the field, and how difficult it is was to create an animated show that wasn't beholden to marketing campaigns and the canned laughter approach of the cartoon world from the 50s through the 80s. If you were/still are a fan of Ren & Stimpy, the book will definitely give you a real perspective that you didn't have before. Truly a must-read." - Elizabeth Weitz, Forces of Geek
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Top Customer Reviews
I call John K. the "Buddy Rich of cartoons" because so much of this story reminds me of what I heard on those infamous Buddy Rich bus tapes from the early 1980s, where Rich chewed out and vulgarly cursed young, inexperienced band members for disrespecting him or playing a tune in a way that didn't meet the professionalism and standards that Buddy had set for his big band. A lot of the bandleaders of the Swing Era had a similar attitude, but were not quite as vocal about it as Buddy was during those tapes. I recall a passage in Thad's book where he describes how John would soften his criticisms of his artist's drawings with something like "your pal, John" at the end of a brutally honest and possibly harsh evisceration of what the artist had drawn. I suspect that was one of the reasons why certain artists felt alienated and crushed when they worked on Ren and Stimpy and Bob Camp himself described his experience as being "the best of times and the worst of times." A more modern example I can think of the image of John that I am attempting to convey would be the British chef and television personality Gordon Ramsay, whose quick-temper and perfectionism quickly earned him his reputation as being a highly vulgar and aggressive chef who could produce high quality food nonetheless. Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, Hell's Kitchen, and even the American versions of the programs demonstrate the no holds barred criticism and attacks that Ramsay launched on his fellow chefs and inept owners of the culinary disasters that he was trying to save, even though many of those restaurants ended up closing and much of the owners ended up making bitter claims about the hypocrisy of Gordon Ramsay and the production system that he used at his own restaurants, among claims that their businesses did worse with Ramsay's help by making them look absurd and ridiculous. Other people that really came to my mind when I read about John in this book were libertarian icons and figureheads like Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard (the latter influenced former U.S. Congressman Ron Paul the most and the Mises Institute, which got plenty of flack for past racism. Same with Ron Paul and the infamous newsletters), and how they were criticized for their ideology and dogmatism, but that's another story.
John took this sort of perfectionism even further and attempted to apply this to the world of producing animation for television even prior to R&S with the productions of Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures and The New Adventures of Beany and Cecil in the late 1980s. From what I can understand, John was trying to get animation out of the doldrums it had been in for decades and certainly had a grand vision of what he wanted to accomplish, even when the budgets for the shows that he worked on limited this vision to a certain degree, which was part of the reason why Ren and Stimpy often went overbudget, even during the Games Animation era. It was like he was trying to deliver a sort of theatrical cartoon like product but for the small screen and not truly understanding the limitations and budget that Nickelodeon had established. The reality is that the original home for animation was in the movie theaters and especially before block booking was outlawed during the 1948 United States vs. Paramount Pictures. One could argue that during this time period, animation grew and innovated more than any other time in its history. John certainly tried to bring that sort of innovation back in animation, even if that meant breaking Nickelodeon's budget and going to whatever lengths necessary to achieve this. He even had a session between the first and second seasons of R&S where he tried to get the skills of potential artists up to speed so that the second season would be much better drawn and less prone to flaws as the season prior. Thad writes that this was more about having control over the artists rather than trying to educate them, but I sort of see the situation in a different light. The mistake that John made here was trying to sandwich an education session and deadlines for a show that was exploding in popularity. It was very poor timing on his part, but understandable when you acknowledge that the kind of funny drawing and acting that set the show apart from the rest of the competition at the time. It seems to me that Kricfalusi was trying way too hard to balance getting the most out of his artists and meeting the demands of executives over at Nickelodeon, while not realizing how limited Nickelodeon's budget was towards making these sorts of cartoons. John would also make this same mistake during the production of the Adult Party Cartoon, which reportedly caused Spumco to go bankrupt and tanked the budget that Spike TV had established for these new shorts. Ironically, the crew at Games Animation had made several of the same mistakes that John and others had made at Spumco and at the same time, had much unneeded pressure.
At the end of the day, I can't really defend or attack John based on what I've read in a third person account of what happened, but I wanted to offer some thoughts and interpretations of what likely happened based on what I've read over the years. What is far more important is not the feuds developed between the egos of various cartoonists, but how the medium of animation can progress and simultaneously inspire people with skill, energy and talent to breath new life into animation itself, especially with all this new technology has been created and developed over the years, the many DVDs of older animation and other kinds of films from the 1920s-1960s that have been released, how far more accessible this kind of animation is with a simple Google, Dailymotion, or YouTube search and the plethora of blogs dedicated to providing cartoonists with immense resources and tools. Will there be someone from the cream of the crop of the new generation of cartoonists and animators who can bring out the very best in all these talented artists like John K., Bob Camp, Chris Reccardi, and others arguably accomplished? Only time will tell.
Favorite parts of the book: The animator breakdowns for two famous episodes; the party story about setting meats on John K.'s head that would later be used in the episode "Reverend Jack Cheese"; the episode guide (which provides accurate info on airdates, something which has been sorely needed on the internet for over a decade, and also provides a good idea of which episodes were laid out in the U.S. and which were laid out overseas); and the chapter on Spumco's firing, which is worth buying for that alone.
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