Sody Pop Rides the Carousel:
A Tale of Two Independents

by Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman

John K. with Sody Pop and some of his other characters. © Spumco.

Animation, in its modern form, has been with us for roughly one hundred years. During that time it has seen rice paper and ink pots give way to particle systems and compositing modules while whistling mice evolved into the likes of Flik and Buzz Lightyear. The years 1900-2000 has been a century of dazzling progress for animation...but that fact did not reduce the chances that history would repeat itself and that the careers of two independent artists from disparate cultural eras would follow eerily parallel paths. Finding such phenomena in the history of animation is a wonderful delight, and half the fun lies in not seeing them in the first place -- until they hit us from above like a perfectly placed Acme anvil. This month’s column is a tribute to two geniuses of the animated art form, both named John, who have a surprising amount in common: John Hubley and John Kricfalusi.

John Hubley, as most of you know, was one of the premiere names in animation in his time. Throughout his career, which spans the years 1935-1977, Hubley, along with his wife Faith, pioneered a new look in animation that ran counter to the ultra-realism of Disney and its imitators. Hubley worked with graphics, pure line and color, and modernist design. His idols more resembled Jackson Pollock than Titian, and he was more likely to incorporate Benny Carter and Oscar Peterson into his soundtracks than Schubert or Ponchielli. John Hubley died in 1977 but left behind a legacy of some of the most sophisticated and visually stunning animated films ever made.

John Kricfalusi belongs to the new millennium. Kricfalusi is notable for reaching into the archetypal conventions of late 1950s/early 1960s cartoons and reinterpreting them through both his own and prevailing cultural filters. Kricfalusi was able to express his vision using a graphic style that was as unique to the 1990s as Hubley’s was to the 1950s. Nearly every recent cartoon series has absorbed Kricfalusi’s "Spumco style" to some degree, and many cartoons have cannibalized it wholesale. To call Kricfalusi’s cartoons "edgy" is to woefully understate the fact; his hyper-kinetic shorts spew emotion like spittle flying from the mouth of a raving maniac (which Kricfalusi could easily become when pitching his ideas to studios). Unrestrained, unrepentant, and unrelenting in his pursuit of animated excellence, Kricfalusi is perfectly poised to reign over the next decade of cartoondom.

Although both men left an indelible mark on American animation, they were born of foreign parents. Hubley came from British stock, and Kricfalusi is Canadian (born in Ontario). From the first, both possessed a desire to enter into an artistic career. Hubley won art contests as a teen, and young Kricfalusi spent many long days drawing his favorite TV characters. Both left home at an early age to pursue their desires; Hubley went to live with an uncle while he attended art school, and Kricfalusi migrated to Hollywood following an unsuccessful stint at Sheridan College. Hubley’s portfolio passed the rigorous standards of Walt Disney himself, while Kricfalusi quickly found employment at various studios, including Hanna-Barbera where he worked on ‘toons such as Heathcliff and The Jetsons (during its 1980s revival).

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