It’s Not All That Bad

Posted: December 5, 2010 by chdr in Animation, Animation Editorials, chdr

Note: Originally posted on toonzone animation blog.

Despite what others think, the sky is not falling, the world is not turning upside down, cats are not chasing dogs, and the fabric of reality is not in tatters. Someone somewhere got paid by some company to produce a cartoon about some product. That company would be Hasbro, and that cartoon would be the majority of new cable channel the Hub’s original animation output. I can understand why some feathers would be ruffled by this new channel. People who grew up in the 1980’s are familiar with the idea of making shows based off of licensed properties, back when such shows consisted of most of the Saturday morning animated landscape. The big bulk of the 80’s licensed shows were thinly veiled attempts to sell products to impressionable children; the equivalent of sugar-coated infomercials. Just like infomercials, most of them were creatively dead and incredibly bland. Even the memorable and popular shows from that era like the Transformers and G.I. Joe (which both coincidentally air in syndication on the Hub), don’t hold up all too well outside of nostalgic value. The fact that most of the Hub’s original content is blatantly based off of existing products does worry me a bit and is one of the channel’s big flaws.

Where this situation differs though, is that all of television is not the Hub, and we are in a far different environment from the 80’s where all animation was broadcast on a handful of outlets to a very small demographic. There are so many different alternatives in this day and age, that you don’t even need the backing of a television network or big-name studio to get your creative vision out there and profit off of it. The creation and popularity of inexpensive and easy animation tools like ToonBoom or Flash has also created an explosion of smaller studios that don’t answer to the whims of larger parent companies that want to push product. The diversity of who exactly the audience is has changed, too. Animation isn’t just for a small demographic of kids anymore, and “adult animation” isn’t just something you could only find at arthouse theaters or obscure (and sometimes imported) VHS tapes either. With the advent of FOX, [adult swim], Comedy Central, and the like, animation for adults has entered into the mainstream, entertaining a smarter audience that knows when the network is trying to sell them something.

Like everything in life, the industry could still be improved. While there are a few studios like World Leaders and Augenblick that hire outside the fray, the animation industry has way too big of a focus on the Los Angeles region, resulting in a bit of homogenization of art styles (like that “dreaded CalArts style” that tends to get reviled every now and then in pockets of the animation community). The anime industry in America is neutered from its early-00’s heyday, and isn’t doing as hot as it used to in Japan, either.

But the idea that you could complain and find faults in things like Family Guy, Naruto, Nicktoons Network, and smaller independent shows in the first place is proof that the industry is much better off than it was twenty or even ten years ago. Similar to how the yearly simulcasts of anime seem lackluster as compared to the days where the best anime of the decade were selected and sold exclusively, the lessening of quality is simply an illusion of having much more choice (and with that choice, a lot less quality control). There are an equal amount of good shows on the air as there were back then, and in a perfect world, there would be even more due to the increased amount of output on the market. Realistically though, opening up animation to anyone and everyone just means that everyone can make cartoons, and not just the talented people. If the environment was the same in the 90’s, you would get the same results. Simply being able to have that huge amount of uncontrolled output in the first place is a huge improvement from previous eras.

It seems to me that Amid’s real problem is the lack of “creator-driven cartoons”. And by “creator-driven cartoons”, he means “artist-driven cartoons”. And by “artist-driven cartoons”, he means “artist-driven cartoons by artists he likes”. Being creator-driven simply means the show’s creator has his vision on air, and nothing more. That vision can either be good or bad, and it can be by an artist or a writer. South Park is a creator-driven cartoon. After all, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are very heavily involved in all facets of production. Family Guy would also fit that description, considering the show uses Seth McFarlane oversees the show’s production with little interference from the executives at Fox. Even the new My Little Pony cartoon seen in the article takes a lot of influences from series creator Lauren Faust. On the other hand, a highly artist-driven show like the Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack could be considered a cartoon-by-committee, due to how the individual storyboarders tend to skew the show more to their likings than the vision of creator Thurop van Orman. Sure, it’s a committee of highly creative artists, but it’s a committee nonetheless. Heck, sometimes executive interference can be a good thing. No notes from outside critics means getting a creator’s untampered vision. If the vision is good, interference by “suits” can tamper and dilute a good product. If that vision isn’t so great, it just means the creator’s shortcomings aren’t checked. John Kricfalusi’s Ren and Stimpy is an example of executive interference saving the creator from himself.

There are no absolutes in anything. Not all shows made today are better or worse than what came before. Not all artistically bankrupt cartoons are made by committee. Not all quality cartoons are creator-driven. What is true is that the industry is a lot more creator-friendly than before, which is a very good thing, quality control aside. Yeah, it’s not all that good. But then again, it’s not all that bad.


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