Tuesday, October 25, 2016

North Korea Propaganda Paintings..

Rare find.  I don't know about you but I'm obsessed with North Korea.. it's all so insane!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Signe Baumane's Thoughts on "The Red Turtle"

Signe Baumane used to work for me, as art supervisor on "I Married a Strange Person" and "Mutant Aliens", and now she's a wonderful filmmaker in her own right.  Her animated feature "Rocks in My Pockets" was released last year, and is still playing at festivals and colleges.  I recently read her review of Michael Dudok De Wit's new animated feature "The Red Turtle", a film I haven't seen yet - and review is so perceptive and well-written, I wanted to share it with my followers.  So, with her permission, here it is:

Comprehending Metaphors of "The Red Turtle"

I watch most animated films, shorts or features, from the point of view of an animator who works with 2-D images and deeply roots for the revival of the mainstream public's respect and love for drawn animation. The question that has been asked since around 2000 – "Is 2-D animation dead?” irritates me. Children will always draw because the act of drawing is an active act of comprehending the world and they will always want to see their drawings move. As an adult one draws because it is an immediate, direct translation of a thought. To put those drawings in an animated movement is to share with other people the inner life of one's mind. To make a 3D image, on the other hand, one has to plan and plot ahead, so it is not as direct and immediate as drawing, but it is satisfying for an audience as it realistically represents an imaginary world.

SPOILER ALERT!  See "The Red Turtle" before continuing to read!

It was hard for me to not view "The Red Turtle" in the context of 2-D animators' struggles, as it brought to the surface this pressing question – "What is 2-D animation the most effective at doing?"  The film simultaneously fails and succeeds at making a case for why 2-D animation is great.

Let's start with its premise.  In a storm, a man gets thrown on the beach of a faraway island.  He tries to get away from the island on a flimsy raft, but each time, the raft is destroyed by some unseen living force from below. On his third try, he sees that it’s a huge red turtle.

Back on the island, he is still seething when he sees the turtle climb on the beach. In a fury, the man grabs a bamboo stick and bangs the turtle on its head, turns it over on its back and lets it die. Once the turtle is dead, it turns into a beautiful sleeping woman, who eventually wakes up to have sex with the man and bears him a child.

At this point in the film, you understand that this semi-realistic depiction of the man and the island is actually an aspiring metaphor for coupledom. One thing you should know about me – I love metaphors.  They are short-cuts to a deeper meaning of life events, and they can be understood on the intuitive level, bypassing the rationale of a logical mind.

The director's (Michael Dudok de Wit) Oscar-winning short, "Father and Daughter" is one of the finest examples of such an approach – the story about a daughter's life-long waiting for her father touched my deepest emotions without me understanding how it got there. "The Red Turtle", on the other hand, left me emotionally uninvolved. Maybe because putting most of the story weight on a metaphor doesn't work in a feature length format?  A 90 minute film requires some connection between its audience and the film's characters. Watching "The Red Turtle", I was given no slightest idea about the psychology or motivations of the main character. I couldn’t feel for the man, because I didn't know who he was, nor where he was coming from, so I was unsympathetic to his attempts to get away from the island. Him hitting the turtle turned me off completely. When the metaphor finally revealed itself I was cold to its charms.

On the other hand I noted a tension between the film being a fairy-tale metaphor with surreal elements (a dead turtle turns into a woman) and its aspirations being realistic. The tension became obvious to me when the man and the turtle-woman started to live together and had only one child. One would realistically expect that a man and a woman living on a deserted island without contraceptives would have at least 12 - 16 offspring. "Did they have sex only once?" - I couldn't help but ponder. "Or he is pulling out?" But that thought was a distraction, caused by the film's desire to ground the metaphor in physical reality.

It was obvious that the artists did a thorough visual research on plants and animals, but I wished for more surreal images, characters and environments. The attempts to realistically translate the beauty of an exotic island into 2D images fell flat on me. 2-D animation will never be as good as amazing National Geographic documentary footage, or the animated 3-D depiction of the Amazon rain forest in "Rio".  To try to achieve that in 2-D is, in my opinion, futile and ridiculous. It also distracted from what the film really was - a metaphor. 2-D is better at something else. Early in the film, the man had three short dreams – each of them surreal, imaginative, symbolic, moody and powerful. It charged me with the hope of what the film could be, but the man always woke up and we were back on the island that was trying to imitate 3-D.

Effectively, "The Red Turtle" uses no dialogue, it is one of the film's strengths. I love when ideas can be communicated without language. I also found using shadows very effective.

After the man couples up with the turtle-woman, the film slides into a cliché. They get a child. The child grows up. He wants to discover the world and leaves the island. His parents drift into old age and eventually the man peacefully dies from being too old to live. Now we get a twist in this coupledom metaphor: after the man dies, the old woman turns into a red turtle and goes back into the water of the Ocean. This is a comment on womanhood: womanhood is eternal, mysterious force that outlives men.

The film seems to say: Women are mythical creatures - animals that are able to briefly become human. I am sorry to say that in 2016 such views/metaphors don't do any good to us, women trying to achieve equal place in society. Women are human 24 hours every day of our lives, and, just like men, we feel pain and can die and be killed. Idolizing womanhood is just as belittling as judging women on their looks.

The more fitting metaphor of 2016 is a female protagonist who, after navigating challenges in a maze, finds herself facing the blood thirsty Minotaur.

You can read other reviews and updates about Signe and the film she's making now at:

--Bill Plympton

Friday, October 21, 2016

Trip to Oregon, October 14-15

For some bizarre reason, Oregon, specifically the Portland area, spawns a lot of cartoonists and animators, and it's for that reason that I re-visited the Beaver State to attend three cartoon-related events.

The first one was a wonderful exhibition at the Oregon Historical Society, called Comic City USA, where they had wonderful displays and descriptions of cartoon luminaries as Homer Davenport (19th century political cartoonist superstar), Carl Barks (creator of Donald Duck comic books), Basil Wolverton (MAD cartoonist and R.Crumb influence), Joe Sacco, John Callahan (paraplegic cartoonist), Matt Groening, Mike Richardson (Dark Horse Comics) and myself.

                                              Basil Wolverton's desk on display

It's a beautiful exhibition and you can even create your own cartoon in the space. The "Comic City, USA" exhibit runs until January 31, 2017 at the OHS, 1200 SW Park Ave, in Portland, so please go check it out!  For more information, please visit:

The second event was Anne Richardson's "Underground USA" symposium at the White Stag Auditorium, an exploration of the early years of Portland's alternative comics culture.  Some of the artists involved were David Chelsea ("David Chelsea in Love"), Matt Groening, and of course, myself.  Since at the time covered I was spending more time in New York City than in Oregon, it was a real education for me to find out the roots of cartoon culture in Portland.

The early publications "Willamette Bridge", "The Scribe" and "Willamette Week" were my first outlets for getting my political cartoons published.  At the symposium, I told the story about a big-time editor at the Oregonian, asking me to illustrate his article about how great nuclear energy was (and this was right after the incident at Three Mile Island) and when I politely declined to do the illustration, he freaked out and had me blacklisted for years from that powerful newspaper.

                                Maurice Isserman shows examples of the Willamette Bridge

                                   David Chelsea recounts his career on the Portland Scribe

                                                    Matt Groening and Walt Curtis

                                                  Portland's legendary Voodoo Doughnuts

                         From left to right: Monte Wolverton, Patrick Rosenkranz, David Chelsea,
                               Maurice Isserman, Bill Plympton, Matt Groening, Richard Gehr,
                                     Norman Solomon with Walt Curtis kneeling in front.

And the third event was a Bill Plympton extravaganza at McMennamin's Mission Theater.  I did my usual showcase talk about indie animation to a large crowd.  But the cool thing was, they put me up in the McMennamin's Crystal Hotel, a refurbished pioneer-style hotel.  In the basement they created a huge communal co-ed hot tub/jacuzzi/spa-like pool that seemed to be very popular with the guests. 

I want to thank all the people who helped put these events together, especially Anne Richardson, Dennis Nyback and Tim Hills, and I hope we can do it again sometime.

--Bill Plympton

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sitges International Festival of Fantastic Film

After the great World Premiere of "Revengeance" at the Festival L'Etrange in Paris, the next screening took place in a tiny seaside town, just south of Barcelona, called Sitges. 

I've been attending the Sitges Festival for many years, and a lot of my films have won prizes there, plus the wonderful Sitges Melia Hotel is situated right above a beautiful Mediterranean beach that I take advantage of, every morning while I'm there. However, this year the weather truly sucked, so I only went swimming once. 

The director of the festival, Angel Sala, brought in a great collection of films and celebrities: Max von Sydow, Christopher Walken, Bruce Campbell (who I shared the press room with), Paul Schrader, Dolph Lundgren, and Rob Zombie (who I rode back to the airport with, a very nice guy).

                                                  With Angel Sala, director of the festival

I was able to watch a few programs, including the animation shorts program.  "In the Valley of Violence" by Ti West, starring Ethan Hawke and John Travolta as a bad guy and "The Handmaiden" by Chan-Wook Park, of "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" and "Old Boy" fame.  Both films were wonderful experiences and truly reflected the philosophy of the festival.

Also, this festival has a wonderful line-up of animated films, of which, of course, "Revengeance" was one. We played in two of the medium cinemas, so it was great to see such a packed house of enthusiastic fans and animation lovers. They all loved the film, even though it was full of L.A. biker dialogue. 

                         I couldn't believe the long line of people waiting for "Revengeance"!

The next step will be to get "Revengeance" into a primo U.S. festival - I'll be letting you all know when it premieres in the U.S.

--Bill Plympton

Animation 101: 5 Reasons to stop whining about being offered jobs with no pay...

It's endlessly annoying to read artists complaining that someone contacted them to do work for free. Artists quickly use this situation to belittle, burn a bridge, and then bore us to death with self righteous pontification in the hope of looking ethical in the eyes of other artists. Artists get so emotional about it, they've even created bodies of work based on the concept (ironically probably didn't get paid for, or, perhaps got a lot of "exposure" from these drawings). 
Or, as cartoon brew illustrates one of the most self righteous and demeaning ways to handle the situation of being offered to work for free.  Another great example, which I confess, is very entertaining, is the famous Saissbury super market ad that is looking for "ambitious artist to voluntarily refurbish our canteen." and in turn garnered a hilarious response. I have to wonder how much time the artists spent writing that witty reply, or drawing. This attitude is summed up nicely in the following cartoon brew comment:

"Requests for free work come from people who literally don't value your work. Why humor these requests at all? It's blatantly insulting." -animator Marc Hendry

These examples show how Artists are systematically encouraged to act entitled, unprofessional, un-resourceful, and all around miserable.  The way people react to being offered a job with no pay says a lot more about that artist than it does the client. These days, if you are an un-resourceful artist with a bad attitude, you will have a very challenging career in front of you, to say the least.  Here are Five things to keep in mind when offered little to no money for your artwork or animation:

1. Someone is interested in your work, this is never a bad thing.
Stop and think about who you are upset with.  This is a person who not only found your work interesting, but liked it enough to contact you. It's a big mistake to assume other people are at the same moral standard as yourself, cut people some slack. Most people who offer artists work for no pay have simply never worked with artists, or are ignorant about how much work goes into the art. At the worst, they're just trying to get something for free.. but they like your work. Use this as a opportunity to educate someone about you and your art, instead of getting on your ethical high horse and start shouting.

2. People can find money.
Some of my best long term clients originated from an paltry amount of money, or no money at all.  But instead of whining and quickly burning a bridge, I suggested that they try to find some money. I like to use the phrase "scrape up some cash to cover my expenses." Often times this will jolt the client into the reality that artists make a living doing this, and require payment. If they valued your work enough to contact you, they will most likely find some money for you, but the artist has to ask and not dismiss. A favorite technique I use is to suggest a crowdfunding campaign, and tell them you are willing to contribute your name and art to the effort. I did this once and it resulted in getting a rate higher than I would have normally charged. Again, it's not a time to get insulted or upset. It's a time to get creative and flex your people skills.. or at the very least, politely decline.

3. Alternative payment options.
There are a lot of ways to get paid. I was offered to do a music video for free.. it was a great song, and the band had other really good songs.  But they really had no money. zero. Instead of getting insulted, I told them I couldn't do it, but I also said I loved their music, and I have an independent film in mind that could really use a score. We kept in touch.  Eventually, in exchange for them giving me a free score, I agreed to make a video for them. We also planned on collaborating on a few other projects.  In the end, I made a solid connection and a good friend.  In addition, often times you can barter things like unconditional creative control and distribution rights.  Another music video I did years ago was very very low budget, but the band agreed that I could submit the video to festivals and competitions, and it ended up winning a boat load of cash, which I never had to share with the band. The video played on MTV and other media, and led to many other jobs.

4. Always have a technique that can be offered for cheap.
My preferred technique is very expensive. So I have about four other techniques that look cool, but don't take me a load of time.  When a client offers me little or no money, I can always suggest one of these techniques.  It's good advice for every artist to have a quick low budget method at the ready. More often than not, clients end up finding more money as you get deeper into the project, because they see the potential and value (see above #2).

5. Exposure is not a dirty word.
As much as artists love to bitch about clients suggesting the job will offer "exposure".. sometimes a job will do just that, and you would be foolish not to consider this element.  I will admit that being offered a job for no money  but a lot of "exposure" is a cheap ploy clients pull on artists, but it's your attitude after this ploy that will either help or hinder you.  So before you get your panties in a twist, consider if there actually is a lot of "exposure" to this job, and use the above #1-4.  Don't condemn people for trying to get work for free, people do what they do, lighten up.

There is one example that I can share that quintessentially shows what I'm talking about above:  A colleague of mine with a similar style as my own was offered a job for a very small amount of money, he was insulted and replied to the client with a very indignant attitude.  Around the same time I was offered a similar job, but for even less money. I took a different approach, I was flattered that the client contacted me, but declined until they can "scrape up a bit more cash", I managed to get a little more money out of them (still very little), and also had the client agree that I have complete creative control.  Also, I really believed in the project and thought it would be successful.. So I had the client agree that any future work, would be given to me exclusively.  I did the job.. and for the next 5 years I got consistent and good budget work from this client, made some good connections, learned a lot about my own technique.  This single job lead to almost every other job I got for the next decade.  Years later, the client confided in me that the reason he kept coming back to me was my attitude early on.  Clients don't like difficult artists, and we really can be difficult, especially if we don't modify our attitudes about low or no pay.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

New York Comic Con wrap-up

Once again, my crew and I attended the ever-growing New York Comic-Con at the HUGE Jacob Javits Convention Center.  This year, we were presenting a brand-new BluRay featuring my newest short "The Loneliest Stoplight" plus a cool collection of my newly remastered greatest hits, like "Your Face" and "Guard Dog".

Another big success was my offer to do caricatures of fans for $50 each - since I started my professional career as a political caricature artist, I've always loved drawing people's faces.  To me, it's the ultimate artistic subject.  If I see an artist who can draw the human face well, I know they've got talent. 

It's great sometimes when I have a continuous line of subjects - I get into a comfortable Zen-like mindset, where the drawings just flow out of my hand and the art becomes subconscious, so the drawings become exceptionally exaggerated. 

For me, one of the highlights was the panel headed by the creator and wunderkind genius, Rebecca Sugar.  I met her a few years ago, when she was at SVA and I greatly admired her short film.  She had a terrific style and sense of humor.

And now, a few years later, she's a superstar.  She's got a book on the best seller list.  She had a standing room only rapturous audience at Comic-Con, plus she writes and sings her own music!  Whew! Here I am, struggling to get my films out in the cinemas, just barely making it from paycheck to paycheck, and Rebecca Sugar is a superstar at 25 - where did I go wrong?

Whenever I got a break from drawing, I was able to cruise around the floor and check out the other artists.  Artists Alley is especially cool, that's where most of my friends were.  The great Peter DeSeve had a table there but never showed up (at least, not while I was there).  The same with the wonderful Bobby Chiu and Kei.  I was able to visit Bob Camp, one of the creators of "Ren & Stimpy" and also the terrific Geoff Darrow of "Matrix" fame. 

It seemed like all of the fans who really loved true artists, and not just collections of samurai swords and t-shirts all hung out in Artists Alley.  I'm considering getting a table there next year, I think that's where I belong. 

All in all, the New York  Comic-Con is a great experience.  Attendance was rumored to be over 160,000 this year, that's bigger than the San Diego Con!   So, I hope to see you all next year at the New York Comic Con. 

Enjoy the photos of costumed people below, taken by my booth manager, John Holderried.



Monday, October 10, 2016

Academy Reception

One of my favorite annual events is the Oscar party for new members - because I always get to see my friends from the Academy, plus a lot of new inductees. 

Not to mention an occasional celebrity or two.  It's always a great opportunity to corner a famous actor to see if he or she would like to do a voice-over for one of my films.  That way, with the help of copious alcoholic beverages, it's possible to get the participation of a major star without having to deal with their agent or manager.

The Academy always lays out a great feast for its members and it's always at a fancy restaurant - this year it was at the Lincoln Ristorante on October 4.  So being a struggling artist, it's a rare treat for me to live high on the hog.

Now you know where all the money from the Oscars TV broadcast goes...

                                       With Steve Martino, director of "The Peanuts Movie"

                            with Mark Osborne, director of "Kung Fu Panda" and "The Little Prince"
                                      and John Canemaker, director of "The Moon and the Son"

                                     with Mark Osborne, Sturgis Warner and Signe Baumane,
                                                    director of "Rocks in My Pockets"

--Bill Plympton

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

I was contacted about a year ago to do an exhibition of my art for the illustration and animation department at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth.  Then they cancelled the event (shortage of funds) and then six months later they got back to me and said they had a sponsor for my show, yeah!

I assumed at first it was for Dartmouth College, way up in New Hampshire (where a bunch of National Lampoon writers went to school, and which was the inspiration for the film "Animal House") but instead it was for a different college, near New Bedford.  "Great," I said, "let's book it for the early fall so I can maybe go to the beach one more time." I love places near bodies of water.

Anyway, I just returned from my weekend in Dartmouth, Mass, and I had a wonderful time.  I did two workshops with about 100 people and of course there was the gallery opening, where they not only lined up my work with all the drawings in proper sequence, but they also had a small screening room where they showed my film CHEATIN' on a continuous loop.  But the coolest part was the entrance, that looked like an old movie marquee, with a red carpet too.

The show was organized by James Edwards, with assistance from Jean-Francois Allaux.  I met Jean-Francois long ago, when I was a budding young illustrator in NY.  He was part of a group of young illustrators who hung out together and plied their artwork to all the newspapers and magazines in the Big Apple. 

You can see his work online - you should definitely check it out.  Also, another claim to fame for Jean-Francois is that he was married for a few years to the most beautiful woman in the world, Christie Brinkley.  Who said illustrators aren't sexy? 

After all the classes and openings, I was able to explore the seaside and fishing villages in the New Bedford area, which is also close to Westport and Providence, R.I.  It's such a wonderful, picturesque area, and even though the weather totally sucked, my family and I really had a ball.  So if you get a chance are are in the area, please check out the exhibition at Dartmouth College. 

Also, we are looking to move the show to other universities or schools after the end of October, so if you know any artistic spaces, please let me know.

Once again, I want to thank Jean-Francois and James and Monica for a fabulous weekend. 

Speaking of illustration, this week I'll be appearing at the New York Comic Con, held at the Javits Convention Center, October 6-9.  One of the special offerings at my booth (#2944) is that I will draw caricatures of my fans (for a price, of course...).  In the early days of my illustration career, I was quite successful as a caricature artist, drawing famous people for a lot of newspapers and magazines.
You can check out some of them on my Instagram account here:


Now, as an animator, there's not as much call for my caricatures.  But they're my favorite thing to draw, and it's nice to keep my hand involved in caricature work.  So if you ever wondered what YOU would look like as one of my cartoons, please come to my NYCC table.

--Bill Plympton