For a second spin, Dr. Toon profiles some comic strips he thinks would make great animated properties.
Read Dr. Toons original picks for making the leap from comic strip to animation in Strip Tease.
Being on the money half the time certainly trumps missing the money completely. Hitting .500 (without the help of Stanolozol, of course) will win the American League batting title every time. Picking winners in half of ones stock portfolio puts one on a par with the best in the field. I am therefore happy to see that half of the comic strips I selected several years ago for possible adaptation to animation actually made the cut. To the amazement of many who felt the strip to be too politically charged, Aaron McGruders Boondocks is on its way to a Nov. 6, 2005, premiere on Cartoon Networks adult block. The animation rights to Jerry Scott and Jim Borgmans syndicated strip Zits are, to the best of my knowledge, still in negotiation. Patrick McDonnells Mutts has still not been optioned as an animated property and Alison Bechdels alternative strip Dykes to Watch Out For likely never will be, mores the pity.
My intrepid editor has requested an encore performance, and I like nothing better than putting my butt on the line for the sake of my readership. Thus, I now present Strip Tease II, a semi-educated shot at selecting four top-quality comic strips that could (and perhaps should) merit serious consideration for animated glory on the small screen. I am presenting the strips in descending order from least to most conventional, so that a wide range of audience tastes is represented.
Lalo Alacaraz is a Los Angeles comedian and writer whose other talents include political cartooning. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Times, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He is also the cartoonist behind La Cucaracha, one of todays most controversial comic strips. Alcaraz subject is Latino life and culture, and his timing could not be better. Latinos are well on their way to becoming the nations largest and fastest-growing minority. Alcaraz is not universally popular among Chicanos, however, as he takes slaps at Hispanic pop culture, national politics and the difficulties encountered by a minority that has increasingly captured the public eye.
Alcaraz most vocal critics are what the author calls Chuppies (his term for Chicano yuppies) who charge Alcaraz with stereotyping. In an interview with the Washington Post, Alcaraz stated, Latinos dont ingest enough irony. His strip, syndicated in November of 2002, is out to change that.
La Cucaracha has actually been running in alternative newspapers since 1992, but it was not until six years ago that Universal Syndicate picked it up for development. By 2002, Alcaraz had fleshed out his strip with a core cast of characters. Cuco Racha may best represent Alacaraz himself. Cuco is far to the political left and none too quiet about it. His best friend, Eddie, is a bit more centrist but mostly wants to enjoy life. The main cast also includes Eddies kid brother Neto, and Eddies girlfriend Vero. Neto is capable of many high-tech tricks (like so many comic and cartoon kids these days) and some sassy speech to boot. Vero is sometimes the conscience of the strip and is probably much brighter than either Cuco or Eddie. Through these characters are filtered the conundrums of racism, political power and the influence of an emerging culture. The process uses heavy doses of humor, sarcasm and, at times, pathos.
Alcaraz also uses, at times, stand-alone strips where he lets his sharpest barbs fly. One such strip depicts Vincente Fox, the president of Mexico, proudly standing in front of a post office boasting of how he has made Memin Pinguin stamps available to collectors; standing in line at the door is a row of hooded Klansmen. In another strip, How to Spot a Mexican Dad, the titular subject is revealed to be a slovenly couch potato. The deliberate stereotyping appears to be a parody of common prejudices. Alcaraz is somewhat comparable to Boondocks cartoonist McGruder, but Alcaraz insists that both he and La Cucaracha are actually much tamer. My number one goal is to show Latinos as normal people everyday people. says Alcaraz.
Note to animators: Alcaraz is a competent cartoonist but his poses are a bit stiff and there is a very two-dimensional feel to the strip. Animators will need to limber the characters up a bit and model sheets may be needed in order to get the proper turnaround on them. Apart from this, La Cucaracha should be easy and fun to animate. Watching the show could be even more fun; this would be a good strip for either a one-time special or a series.
Who might buy: Cartoon Networks Adult Swim, MTV.
Brewster Rockit: Space Guy!
Everyone loves a good, well-written sci-fi spoof, which is why cartoonist Tim Rickard once wrote a Star Wars send-up. This experience was so enjoyable that Rickard developed his own comic space saga. Brewster Rockit: Space Guy made the funny pages in July of 2004 and quickly gained a popular following among fans of Futurama and other sci-fi comedies. Brewster Rockit is somewhat reminiscent of the old Icebox toon, Starship Regulars. In that series, the enlisted help a bunch of ill-tempered slackers who are barely competent as people (let alone able crewmembers) constantly undermine the commanders of a starship similar to the USS Enterprise. In Brewster Rockit its hard to believe that even the commander knows what hes doing.
Rickard is enamored of puns, and uses them copiously throughout the strip. Brewsters ship is the R.U. Sirius; his crew consists of waspish second-in-command Pamela Mae Snap, Dr. Mel Practice, the sinister Science Officer, inefficient Chief Engineer Cliff Clewless, Oldbot, an antiquated, leaky robot of no great use, and a designated Cute Kid named Winky. The latter appears to be Rickards take on the despised Wesley Crusher of Star Trek: The Next Generation infamy. Winky often demonstrates Rickards maxim that A space station isnt really a safe place for a child. More conflict comes from Agent X, a government operative with an obsessive interest in denying the truth about alien life forms.
Every member of the crew has some major personality flaw, phobia or quirk that Rickard plays for fun. No alien is as dangerous to the R.U. Sirius as its own crew, whose bickering and silliness barely stop long enough to allow the saving of Earth.
The strip runs in serial form, with storylines sometimes stretched out over a week or two. This suggests that Rickard could adapt some of them for animated episodes. Whether spiced up for a more adult audience or run as a conventional space comedy, Brewster Rockit: Space Guy! just might be a universal hit in cartoon form.
Note to animators: Rickards style pays homage to the science fiction pulp novels and comicbooks of the 1950s and 1960s. In some panels, there are hints of Wally Wood, Steve Ditko or Carmine Infantino present. Rickard is very good with poses and expressions. This exceedingly funny strip could be easily animated without changing its graphic style. Every animator I have ever met is already an inveterate comicbook freak, and Brewster Rockit fits most of the stylistic conventions already. Blast off and have fun.
Who might buy: The WB, Fox, TNT
Eight years before Steve Hillenburg brought us SpongeBob SquarePants and long before Kenny the Shark, cartoonist Jim Toomey was helming an undersea comic strip filled with amusing characters cavorting in the tropical seas. Toomey mixes humor with subtle pro-environmental messages as we make a daily visit to the domicile of one Sherman Shark. Sherm is a sort of Everyshark married to an upscale, man-eating spouse named Megan; recently they have added baby Herman to the fold. Sherman hangs out with best bud Filmore, a studious sea turtle who is unhappily leading the single life.
Other colorful cast members include Hawthorne, a hermit crab who likes to make a fast buck and whose visible parts protrude from an old beer can. Ernest the fish is a computer hacker (seems that every strip has a techno geek these days). Slacker polar bear Thornton has drifted in on a loose iceberg and is now on permanent vacation. The habitat is occasionally disrupted by human sea captain Quigley who long ago lost a leg to Sherman (hey, sharks gotta eat), but his attempts at revenge make Wile E. Coyotes schemes look successful.
Shermans Lagoon runs in more than 200 newspapers and there are several printed anthologies available. Although Toomeys background is in mechanical engineering, his strip finds praise from environmentalists and professors of marine biology. The latter sometimes use the strip as a lighthearted adjunct to class work. In other words, this strip is a pre-sold product with a wide range of appeal and a solid fan base. Steve Hillenburg once noted, children love sea life (especially the creatures found in tidal pools), but SpongeBob SquarePants became a major hit with adults as well. Shermans Lagoon is a bit more conventional than the first two strips proposed in this column, but it would make a wonderful animated series and would certainly be better than Jabberjaw.
Note to animators: Toomey is very accomplished but does not draw with considerable detail. His bug-eyed, loony marine creatures will not put a strain on any good animator. Note that with the exception of a string of pearls, Megan and Sherman are nearly identical. Megan is a shade lighter in coloration, and the crew in digital ink-and-paint may want to pronounce this difference a bit more in scenes where the two are together. The strip features a crab, a vitriolic sea captain, and a bookish sea turtle; there is some danger in coming up with stock voices for these roles. My advice to voice casting and voice artists is to mix it up a little and go against type; that may lend a more offbeat note to the series/special.
Who might buy: Any of the Big Three
Finally, something oriented more toward the family. My last pick is Edge City by the husband-and-wife team Terry and Patty LaBan. Although this domestic comedy is several levels below the weirdness found in The Simpsons or Family Guy, there may be room on television for a series or special a bit closer to home. The hectic pace of modern family life is lovingly lampooned through the adventures of the Arden family. Len, a harried husband and dad, runs Leadfoot Couriers along with business partner Ragiv. When not buried in the business or rushing his kids around to sundry activities, Len authors a deliberately provocative blog and plays lead guitar for a band of fogeys called Midlife Crisis.
Lens wife, Abby, is a therapist in group practice trying to balance self-care with patient care, family crises, her own nutty parents and the unrelenting mayhem of daily existence. Son Colin and daughter Carly are seemingly involved in every activity ever devised to occupy a child, and even Harry, the family cat, contributes to the whirlwind occupied by the Ardins. Nothing controversial or unusual here, simply a solid family comedy that reads better than Baby Blues (a similar strip that got an animated shot at primetime). Terrys wife Patty helps to write the strip; she is a licensed social worker, and undoubtedly brings a slice-of-life approach to the situations that Terry draws.
Terry LaBan has experience drawing underground comix and has been working for years as an illustrator and cartoonist. At last glance, LaBan was developing his own animated series and pitching it to Nickelodeon, so its a good bet that he is aware of how to put together and pitch a cartoon show. That alone would bode well for having his comic strip make the jump to animated form.
Note to animators: Its not surprising that LaBan, who did illustrations for Nickelodeon magazine, wants to get into animation. His appealing characters already look as if they were designed for a cartoon series, and there is nary a stiff pose among them. The strip has a smooth, graphic feel that ought to make a breezy transition to the animated medium, and there wont be anything more difficult to do than come up with walk cycles.
Who might buy: Any of the Big Three.
And there you have it. Doubtless there will be comments from the readership suggesting many more strips ranging from the popular to the virtually obscure, and this is well and good. Many animated shows on television are beginning to look and sound distressingly similar, and a new infusion of style would certainly do no harm. That being said, here are four primetime worthy candidates that could more than fill the bill. See you in the funny papers.
This column marks my sixth year with Animation World Magazine. My thanks to Darlene Chan, Dan Sarto, Sarah Baisley and Rick DeMott for bringing my views on animation to you, my beloved readership.
Martin Dr. Toon Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.