A Lesson In How To Write Cartoons From John Kricfalusi

If you happen to be Bernie Hogya, resident of Sayreville, NJ (or at least, that’s where you had your mail sent to back in ’95) then you’ll know all of this already. If not, then prepare for a lesson in how to write cartoons, according to Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi.

Over at Letters of Note they’ve got a letter for John K in which his big advice on how to write cartoons is… to not write cartoons. Nope. You should storyboard them.

When I was a kid, I really liked Rocky and Bullwinkle. I loved the way the characters looked, and I still like their voices. Today, I find the cartoons pretty boring, mainly because of the writing. The writing style is somewhat based on radio comedy from the ’40s and ’50s. As radio comedy, the Jay Ward cartoons aren’t as funny as the best of their inspirations. As animation comedy, it’s not as good as the best of cartoons.

The funniest “written” cartoon I’ve ever seen is Roger Ramjet. Its scripts were written and performed by radio people, then the soundtracks were handed over to Fred Crippen and Bob Kurtz, two very funny animators who took the scripts and made the material even funnier by drawing hilarious-looking characters and using a very clever cutting style to draw attention to the jokes and ironies.

Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Simpsons, Roger Ramjet and Beavis and Butthead are the most successful “written” cartoons, and they’re minute exceptions. The vast majority of script-written cartoons are horrible. While there are certainly horrible storyboard-written cartoons too, I think you would find a higher percentage of good storyboard-written cartoons compared to bad, than good script-written cartoons compared to bad. And, as I said earlier, the best of the script-written can’t touch the best of the storyboard-written. Script-written cartoons are missing a vital element of the cartoon art form — the cartoon part. They’re sort of like rap music. Rap music is music without the music. It’s rhythm only. Some of it’s very appealing. But does the best of it compare to real music — music written by musicians? Would you compare Ice Cube to Tchaikowski?

He’s not wrong. Except maybe the part about rap music not having any music.

It’s well worth checking out the full text, a scan of the letter and John K’s accompanying sketch. The great image at the head of the post came from Wired, via a Google image search.