Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Kansas City Film Festival

The last time I was in Kansas City was about 35 years ago, when I had just signed up to do my political cartoon strip "Plympton" for Universal Press Syndicate.

Now that I've abandoned print cartoons for animation, the city has welcomed me back for the Kansas City Film Festival to show my film "CHEATIN'" and receive their Independent Pioneer award.  I thought it would also be a great opportunity for me to experience historic Kansas City, so here are some of the highlights...

1. I had some great barbecue at Arthur Bryant, a 50-year old ribs restaurant - delicious!  A+

2. I received a personal tour of the famed Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, where I saw a large collection of representational art: Grant Wood, Andrew Wy

eth, James Whistler, Frederic Remington, Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper.  I was in heaven! 

But the topper was their wonderful selections of Thomas Hart Benton.  They had some of his most magnificent paintings - and just recently I've become very influenced by his work.  If you'll notice, in some of my recent films I've started to distort perspective and really distort the human anatomy - two ideas I've stolen from Mr. Benton. 

What really bugged me was that I couldn't find an art book with his collected works.  What's going on?  Is there such a prejudice against representational art in this country that there's no coffee table book about the great Thomas Hart Benton?  It's a shame, a travesty, it's criminal - please, someone make a Thomas Hart Benton book!

3. And my final tourist stop was the old Laugh-O-Gram building.  Back in the early 1920's, when Walt Disney was just starting to create animation, he and Ub Iwerks set up a studio in Kansas City to make their films.  For a number of reasons the venture was not a success and they moved the studio to L.A.

However, this historic building is still standing (barely) and local artists and cartoonists are raising money to salvage the 2-story building and recreate the famous beginnings of my hero, Walter Elias Disney. 

Accordingly, one great thing about the Kansas City Film Festival is their love of animation - they showed one of the largest selections of animation I've ever witnessed at a film festival - PLUS, they had a wonderful retrospective on the Godfather of adult animation, Ralph Bakshi.  And after the screening of the notorious "Coonskin", he did an interview via Skype.  I was in heaven! 

I give the Kansas City Film Festival a B+

--Bill Plympton

Monday, April 28, 2014

Upcoming Society of Illustrators Exhibit

As a youth, I was crazy about cartoons and animation, and now that I'm a successful filmmaker, I wanted to celebrate some of the people who are my heroes.  I call them "The Icons of Animation".

Peter de Seve, William Joyce and Carlos Nine are, to my mind, the greatest artists living today, and it's especially cool that their artistry is all over the film screen. 

Animation today is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Four of the top ten box-office hits last year were animated films.  And these artists are like the kings of animation. 

So, I felt it was about time we honored the greats of character design and animation artistry with a collection of their amazing work at the mecca of illustration art, The Society of Illustrators.

The exhibit is called "The Art of the Movies: William Joyce, Peter de Seve, Carlos Nine, and Bill Plympton" and it will run from June 4 to August 16, 2014 at the Society of Illustrators, 128 East 63rd St., in New York City.  So be sure to check this out!

For more details:,-Peter-de-Seve,-Carlos-Nine,-and-Bill-Plympton.aspx

--Bill Plympton

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

I just returned from the wonderful Florida Film Festival, where I showed "Cheatin'", and one afternoon when I had a few spare hours, I decided to catch up on my film screenings.  "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" was playing at the local multiplex, and I felt compelled to see it.

Of course, like most people of my generation, I loved the "Rocky & Bullwinkle Show", which the Mr. Peabody cartoons were a part of.  So I was curious to see how Dreamworks was able to expand that show into an animated feature. 

As I walked into the cinema, I saw I was the only one in the theater.  That alone kind of reflects the failure of this film to connect with the audience.  This meant I could talk on my phone or smoke a joint, and no one would complain - but of course, I'd never do that.

The film was directed by Rob Minkoff, and I thought that it was pretty successful  - it's got great visuals (computer animation, of course).  The only problem for me was that the film seemed more concerned with including as many historical figures and events as it could fit into 90 minutes, and less concerned with story and relationships.   I would have preferred fewer famous characters and more personality development.

I give this film a "B".

--Bill Plympton

Johnny Cash Lost Interview Animated..

Another episode of Blank on Blank for PBS. Johnny Cash is one of my all time favorites, so it was fun to animate to his voice.. He is very humble and sincere.. and says things like "I just hope I die with my boots on, because I've been in hospitals." Enjoy this most recent episode:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

MoCCA Arts Festival

Sometime last year, the wonderful Society of Illustrators purchased the floundering MoCCA (Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art).  This is a good thing, because MoCCA always had problems keeping afloat financially, and the Society of Illustrators has deeper pockets and the expertise needed to run a museum (they've been doing it for over 100 years). 

So, this year they were the backers of the MoCCA Arts Fest (April 5-6), and they really did a fantastic job.  First of all, it was superbly organized.  They had a ton of motivated and eager interns, who were always asking me how I was doing, and if I needed anything. 

                                            Hanging out with an incognito John Leguizamo
                                                        at the MoCCA Arts Festival

Secondly, they had a real star-studded cast of great artists doing signings, like Art Spiegelman, Joost Swarte (look him up on the net) and the great Robert Williams.  Mr. Williams is one of my favorite painters - besides publishing the great magazine "Juxtapose", he single-handedly brought back representational painting. 

One of the things I hate about most modern art is the fact that it's usually so obscure and intellectual that my brain has a hard time getting involved.   However, Mr. Williams' paintings tell stories with humor.  They're like the pulp comics from the 1950's, the graphics just suck you into their plots and characters - I love them!

                                        Chris Stein, co-founder of the band Blondie, visiting
                                                     Bill's table at MoCCA Arts Festival

And finally, one of the coolest things about the MoCCA Art Fest was hanging from the ceiling of the historic Lexington Ave. Armory - a giant Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloon of Charlie Brown.  And he was looking right down on my table as I drew sketches for the fans!  It was like Charles Schulz ("Sparky") was judging every drawing I was creating - talk about pressure!

I want to thank everyone at the Society of Illustrators, especially Annelle Miller, for doing such a fantastic job - I give the MoCCA Arts Festival an A+!

And if you're around next year, you should definitely attend, and bring all of your friends.  I'll see you there!

--Bill Plympton

Monday, April 14, 2014

Atlanta Film Festival

The last time I was at the Atlanta Film Festival was a dozen years ago, when my good friend Ann Hubble was the artistic director.  CHEATIN' got into this year's festival and I thought it would be fun to return to that wonderful Southern city in the Peach State. 

They kindly set up an entire day devoted to animation.  The first event was my Master Class, attended by a lot of members from ASIFA's Atlanta chapter and artists from the Atlanta-based Cartoon Network.

Then, the next event was the screening of the animated shorts program.  Among my favorites were:

"The Scarecrow" by Moonbot Studios' Limbert Fabian and Brandon Oldenburg, a wonderful visit to the farm, sponsored by Chipotle

"Crime" by Alix Lambert and Sam Chou, a funny, profane story of a guy trying to retrieve his stolen car

and "Monkey Rag", a delightful music video by Joanna Davidovich to the song by Asylum Street Spankers. 

And the third and crowning event of the day was the screening of CHEATIN' - we had a great audience with a partial standing ovation.  There's that famous Southern hospitality for you.

The day was capped off by a visit to the famous Cleremont Hotel Strip Club.  Now, this was not some fancy-schmancy platinum gentleman's club like you find in Manhattan.  No, this was a real lowdown, sleazy place where everyone knows the strippers on a first-name basis.  One was called Blondie and her specialty was crushing beer cans with her ample breasts.  Sorry, I have no pictures of that display, because no photography was allowed. 

On my film festival scale, I give the Atlanta Film Festival an A-.

--Bill Plympton

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hendrix stills..

So the PBS Blank on Blank episode featuring Jimi Hendrix was pulled due to some legal stuff, the producer David Gerlach says it will be back up, but until then I thought I would share some stills from the piece before it's been completely forgotten.  Enjoy.
 Hendrix went through so many changes over the years, illustrated here.
 We used a lot of vintage gig posters in the backgrounds, matter of fact the entire palette of purples and blacks was inspired by one of these posters.
 Jimi had a great laugh, a crazy laugh.

 A lot of the imagery was based on his dialogue discussing his ability to be everything from songwriter, to guitarist to vocalist.. jimi of all trades.
 He also discussed bringing people of different types together with music.
 colorful guitar solos.. all the chords were just made up because I have no idea how to play the guitar.. I did however stay true to his left handed playing.

Friday, April 4, 2014


Something's been bugging the hell out of me these last few months.  People who know me look at me as a quiet, happy-go-lucky, non-alpha male kind of guy - so for me to go on a rant is a rare experience.  But I just can't be silent any more. 

There's a huge prejudice in Hollywood, and also indie film circles, against animated films. The film executives, agents, crews, distributors all seem to be against animation.

Take, for example, my recent experience in Park City this January.  Out of all of the 100's of feature films playing in town, only one film, "Cheatin'", was animated.  There were about 400-500 features and only one was animation? There are lots of great indie animated features, why can't they accept a few more?

It's my theory that everyone in the film business grew up accustomed to the traditional Hollywood routine: a producer finds a script, he attaches a director and some movie stars to it.  The director and producers find the editors, cameramen, musicians, etc. etc. 

And that's the tried and true fashion to make it in Hollywood.  Then along came Pixar, who did everything different.  They let the artists run the show, and movie stars aren't so important any more.  The animators are the ones who create the characters.  Who ever heard of such a thing?  That's not the way it's been done for the last 100 years. 

And this fear of animation is very curious to me, because if you look at the top 10 grossing films from last year, you'll find that 3 of the top 10 were animated: "Frozen", "Despicable Me 2" and "Monsters University".  Plus a 4th film, "Gravity", was about 90% animated.

And it's not just last year - check out the box office numbers for the previous 4 or 5 years, you'll find the same domination of animation.  But when I court distributors about my own animated feature films, it's the same old thing.  They don't understand animation, or even care for it because that wasn't in their training. 

The ask me about who the audience for my film will be, and how are they going to market an indie animated feature.  It's just outside of their comfort zone.  This drives me crazy - because I know the audience loves animation and fantasy.  They want to see something different and fresh, yet the old Hollywood culture wants to do a safe drama starring Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep.

Hey, come on guys, get with it, expand your horizons, try something different - animation!!!

Bill P.

Animation 101: Tissa David Lecture with John Canemaker..

Wonderful lecture with the late master Tissa David. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Norman Rockwell's "Rookie"..

Maybe it's because I grew up in Boston, but this painting has always been a favorite Rockwell of mine. The painting shows pitcher Frank Sullivan, right fielder Jackie Jensen, catcher Sammy White, second baseman Billy Goodman and the legendary Ted Williams... and it is rumored that it may fetch up to 30 million dollars at auction this week. Solid.
Last year Rockwell's "saying grace" was sold for over $45 million. Here it is below. These are just such amazing works of art and character based storytelling. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Paris, Cheatin', and Gustave Doré..

After the Anima festival in Belgium, I took a train to Paris to help promote my new animated feature "CHEATIN'" (over there, it's called "Les Amants Electrique", or "The Electric Lovers")  It opens in France on April 23, so I was there in the City of Lights to do press.  And press I did!

I started the interviews at 9 am, and went straight through to 6 or 7 pm.  Some nights I would hope screenings of my earlier features "Hair High" or "Les Mutantes de L'Espace", or I would hold Master Classes at various institutions like Gobelins or Atelier de Sevres, which is based in the old historic Gaumont Film Studios.

E.D. Distribution, who have been handling my films in France for over a decade, put together a great campaign to promote the film.  I met with all of the big press organizations, and they all seemed to like the film.  So we have high hopes for the French success of "Les Amants Electriques" - I've got my fingers crossed.

Sunday was my only free day in France, so I decided to check out the Gustave Doré exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay.  I got there early so I could avoid the crowds - no such luck.  Everyone else had the same idea.  I'd never been much of a fan of this genius illustrator before, because all I saw were his religious prints, and I found them very formal and boring.

Then, I found an old book of his, "The Amazing Adventures of Baron Munchausen", and I discovered his humorous illustrations - very lively and fantastic!  (By the way, I discovered that this was where the great caricature artist David Levine got his inspiration.)

The exhibition was terrific, because it showed his early work (he was, naturally, a child prodigy), his humorous caricatures, religious prints, huge paintings, his art of London and Spain, his brilliant sculptures and finally his sumptuous Irish and Scottish landscapes.  The guy could do anything and he did it brilliantly!

One of the most interesting sections of the show was where they showed how his fantasy prints and paintings had an influence on Hollywood films.  So many great directors found their inspirations in his creations - Stanley Kubrick, D.W. Griffith, Terry Gilliam, David Lean and many others.

Another very interesting fact that I was not aware of before was that the critics could never accept his art as serious - they preferred the more avant-garde painters, like Renoir, Manet, etc.  His work was too illustrative to be taken seriously, which of course is absurd, because he was tremendously popular with the public, and was a master draftsman.

Also, he was so damn prolific - he created 100,000 works of art by the time he was 30 - Whew!

So, I feel a real kinship to his work and career, and I encourage you to check out this great artist.

--Bill Plympton

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Classic Tuesday.. Edgar Degas

I've always thought it was a shame that Degas is known primarily for his dancers.. There's just so many other great contexts. His portraits have always been a great source of inspiration, my favorite being his profile portrait of beggar 1857. Enjoy.