AN ANIMATION REBEL: CARTOONIST JOE MURRAY SHARES HIS TIME AND THOUGHTS by Brian Blackmon

26 Feb

[The following interview was originally published in the March 31st, 2010 issue of Monmouth University’s The Outlook].

One of the major visionaries to dominate the MTV/Nickelodeon animation rebellion of the early 90’s, Joe Murray has been able to populate both airwaves and imaginations with some of the most bizarre and hilarious characters ever dreamed of in his hit television shows Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo.

This past February, Mr. Murray took time out from running his own animation studio to reflect on his career and inspirations.

Brian Blackmon: What are your sources of inspiration? Who are the artists that you would define as your heroes?

Joe Murray: All of the French Impressionists are my heroes because they stuck to their guns with a new style that everyone rejected. In animation, I would say Chuck Jones, Bruno Bozetto, Richard Condie, and as far as independents, I’m in awe of what Bill Plympton and Don Herzfeldt have been able to do.

Blackmon: How were you able to take that step from dreaming about a career in animation to making it into a reality? How did you get your start?

Murray: I started out doing independent films, more as a hobby. My main business was illustration. Linda Simensky from Nickelodeon saw my work and asked me if I would do a series for television. I initially said no, but came around when they assured me I could make it cool. That was my start in television animation.

Blackmon: Your work on Rocko’s Modern Life in the 1990’s helped create (along with John Kricfalusi’s Ren & Stimpy Show; Jim Jinkins’ Doug; and Klasky-Csupo’s Rugrats) the whole concept of the Nicktoon for Nickelodeon. What was the creative climate like at Nickelodeon during this period?

Murray: It was crazy, wild west stuff. We were making up the rules as we went along. Nickelodeon wanted to be different, and so did we. I finally had to close off the floor where we did Rocko to keep the executives out because they were “mucking with the magic”. We had a fun time.

Blackmon: One of the biggest hurtles for many artists to overcome is rejection. How have you dealt with this issue in your career, and how would you suggest that beginning artists should address it in their own artistic endeavors?

Murray: Rejection is part of the learning process. ( and artists who never get rejected, in my opinion, never grow.) I initially was trying to get a comic strip syndicated. I had a whole file drawer full of rejection letters from pitching about 6 different comic strips. But each one got better over time, and I firmly believe that it gave me the know how to create characters that work by the time Nickelodeon asked me to do a series. You always look back as rejections as stepping stones. The only failure is to quit trying.

Blackmon: After creating the hilarious and memorable worlds of Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo, what projects are currently on the horizon for you?

Murray: I have an independent film I’m working on, a new series that I’m developing for a web model distribution, and a new book coming out on my experience with my two shows through Random House. It’s due out this summer!

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