Wednesday, May 12, 2010

John K

While I don't dislike John K as a person, as an artist he just turns me off, to tell you the truth. What he does is really just what underground comics did twenty years before Ren and Stimpy, and probably better...

See, my real problem with his art is that he can somehow make the music video for Weird Al's "Close But No Cigar" more violent and disturbing than "Weasel Stomping Day".

I've seen his blog and his comments on Looney Tunes, Preston Blair, and classic cartoons of many eras and mediums, and I must say that he has incredibly good taste when it comes to cartoons. He knows exactly how and why they work and what makes them good, different, and entertaining. I actually agree with the things he says! But from what I've observed, he doesn't apply these methods and philosophies to his own work- it's like the creative side of his brain refuses to listen to the logical side of his brain- what comes out of his pencil doesn't seem to reflect his knowledge and appreciation. He could draw well if he wanted to, but instead he just does everything squishy and distorted and lacking in basic construction.

Instead, in my opinion, he just rips off Bob Clampett and makes what he did as ugly and gross as possible, and makes the gags as disgusting and perverse as possible. Throw in some Basil Wolverton (never one of my favorites), Harvey Kurtzman and Robert Crumb, and you've basically got John K.

Here's the thing: while Clampett did some really insane, weird, and totally whacked-out drawings and gags, none of them fell into the category of gross-out humor. Clampett didn't refer to all the bodily functions and twist once innocent aspects of pop culture into something dark and sick- satire teases culture, it doesn't twist it to its own desires. Clampett just threw out rules of logic and Disney-style refinement and appeal.
And before you say anything, my opinion has nothing to do with a "safe and sanitized upbringing" or anything like that... Even as a small child I found Ren and Stimpy gross and barely watchable, simply because it was... well, gross. I only watched it when nothing else was on. Unlike other children, I didn't find any humor in poop and huge zits and farts- I just found it gross. It makes me wonder if most children try to soften the grossness of bodily functions by laughing at it...

(It's my theory that gross-out humor stems from nervous laughter in reaction to discomfort caused by a fart or a Garbage Pail Kids card, which is then falsely interpreted as genuine laughter. Over time, it becomes a conditioned response.)

I don't think John K's work is very original, either. I go by the philosophy of "there's nothing new under the sun", so it bugs me when they treat him like a pioneer or something, when, like I said, it's just a combination of childish potty humor and Clampett-ish animation. It gets worse when so many other artists copy him down to the last detail, which I doubt is what he ever wanted.
(I admit, though, that I liked his parodies of 1950s advertising and his use of vintage stock music.)

I prefer to go back to the original and actually try to capture some of its essence- I think it's a bad idea to only refer to the art and music of the past five or ten years (to use hyperbole), or even less than that.

Because of this, I find his criticisms of Tiny Toon Adventures to be rather ironic. According to Wikipedia (I wish they would include links to their citations in this case), he dislikes it mainly because the characters are directly based on Looney Tunes characters. Okay, so maybe they're essentially younger versions of them (no one ever said Tiny Toons was a masterpiece), but I personally find them distinguishable enough to not confuse them... it's not like they're the same thing as Baby Looney Tunes. But just because his characters are less specific- Ren is the angry straight man with a Peter Lorre voice, and Stimpy is your typical childish idiot with a Larry Fine voice- doesn't mean he's any less derivative.
He also has a problem with the fact that so many episodes were parodies of popular films. What, and Looney Tunes didn't do that? Parody is one of the staples of Looney Tunes humor. And can John K claim that he never parodied anything? I don't think so...

Myself, I never color myself as a pioneer when it comes to art- more of a "revivalist" than anything. I use art from the past as a springboard for my own ideas. I honestly think that artists should be more honest about themselves and admit that they take inspiration from other people...

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