Sunday, April 25, 2010

You Bastards

I'm sure by now, most folks have heard about the big hullabaloo over at Comedy Central, wherein another episode of "South Park" got a couple of crazies on the Internet all in a dither. Only this time, the crazies were a bunch of Islamic extremists who wished death upon Trey Parker and Matt Stone for daring to depict Muhammad on the show. So naturally, Trey and Matt did what they do best - they made an episode making fun of the incident. And Comedy Central censored the everloving hell out of it, including bleeping out a minute-long monologue at the end about censorship vs. free speech. (Irony? What's that?)

I can kinda understand why they'd censor the Muhammad stuff (these are terrorists, after all, and they have a history of overreacting), but censoring Trey and Matt's opinion on censorship just goes way too far. Will "201" ever be broadcast again, or even made available on DVD? Probably not. And now Comedy Central has even tightened security at their studio, no doubt in an effort to make sure no brown people sneak in and try to blow the place to smithereens. All because some people have no sense of humor. Once again, the terrorists win.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

New Character Day

Aside from Michelle, I really don't have much experience drawing non-white characters, but you know me, I'm always looking to broaden my horizons. So I sketched out this African-American girl recently, and I'm so satisfied with how she looks that I want to make her a recurring character in "Forever 16".

I decided to name her Kendra Williams, but I'm still ironing out her role. I'm against the idea of tokenism, so I know I don't want to have an African-American character just for the sake of having one - I want to give her a personality, and something to do with the other characters. At first, I wanted to make her Aaron's girlfriend, but then I realized that I'd have to get rid of one of Aaron's funniest character traits - lusting after celebrities that his friends know he'll never get to meet (he used to have a crush on Britney Spears until she shaved her head; now he's got a thing for Megan Fox, and he's eagerly waiting for Miley Cyrus to turn 18). So now I'm thinking she might work better as Michelle's friend, someone who can give her romantic advice. And since I've gone this long without Joel or Michelle or anyone else ever realizing that Abby has an unrequited crush on Joel, maybe Kendra should finally be the one to see the light there...that could open up some intriguing story possibilities.

Monday, April 5, 2010

All This Time You Were Pretending...

Music has a weird effect on me - every time I hear a song, doesn't matter what song it is, my mind starts going to work on a visual accompaniment, like a music video. To that end, I guess you could say I share a lot in common with the classic Warner Bros. directors like Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones, who used music as a jumping-off point for so many of their cartoons. Freleng in particular did a lot of cartoons paired to music ("Rhapsody in Rivets", "Holiday for Shoestrings", "The Three Little Bops", etc.), and his sense of timing couldn't have been more impeccable - the images on the screen match up perfectly with the tune on the soundtrack.

I think music videos should be the same way, but it's hard to sync up live action to a prerecorded song with such precision. So a lot of the videos I play in my head lean towards an animated influence, and I come up with a lot of really precise gag ideas based on the song and the artist and whatever concept I gravitate towards. And one song that seems to have the strongest connection to that Warner way of connecting audio and visuals is Avril Lavigne's "My Happy Ending".

No, it's not a great song, but it spawned a concept that I love. The first time I heard it (back in 2004, when it was new), I thought about the line "So much for my happy ending", and I was reminded of Tex Avery's 1941 Merrie Melodie "The Heckling Hare", in which the ending gag was excised by the studio brass and the resulting fit that Avery pitched to Leon Schlesinger ended up costing the Texas-born director his job. So I thought "Wouldn't it be clever to do a video for a song about a relationship that didn't end the way it was supposed to with a shot-for-shot tribute to the Bugs Bunny cartoon that also doesn't have its intended ending?"

So now, every time I hear the song, I picture Avril Lavigne and her desperate ex-boyfriend clashing in a battle of wits that plays out the same way it does in "The Heckling Hare", only with a number of obvious spoofs here and there. For instance, the famous gag where Bugs bashes the dog in the head with a club - I changed that to Avril bashing her boyfriend with her electric guitar, and the moment of impact occurs right at the crashing guitar note immediately after the first "So much for my happy ending" in the first chorus.

Or the gag where Bugs squishes a tomato in the dog's hand, making him think he crushed the little bunny rabbit - in my version, Avril grabs a pen from her songwriter Butch Walker (who pops up solely for the sake of this gag and then disappears) and squirts ink in her boyfriend's hand, who then tries to wipe it off on his pant legs...and while he's distracted, Avril bashes him with the guitar again.

The infamous ending gag, where Bugs and the dog fall off the cliff, is reproduced fairly faithfully - boyfriend falls, and Avril observes and walks away while singing the quiet "It was everything, everything that I wanted" immediately after the bridge...then as the guitar and drums thunder back up on the next line, she falls down the hole and off the cliff too. But I made one big change at the end - Avril skids to a stop in mid-air while the instrumentation briefly cuts out on the third-to-last "So much for my happy ending", while her boyfriend crashes into the ground, after which she hops down to pull him out of the crater his body just made, and proceeds to beat the snot out of him for the last couple of lines of the song. Iris out on Avril beaning the poor dope with the guitar one last time, and over the Merrie Melodies rings, we get the parting scrawl "That's Avril, Folks!"

Avril Lavigne is not a great musical artist by any stretch of the imagination. But I figure if you've got a bad song, the least you can do is try to make it look fun. With this and other animated music video concepts I've devised, I can enjoy a song even when it wouldn't be entertaining otherwise. If I ever go to one of those fancy animation colleges like CalArts, I'd sure like to turn this into my year-end project.

Stay tuned, 'cause as my sense of celebrity caricature improves, I'll be sharing other music video concepts I've devised. Sometimes, I even take the opportunity to heckle the artist whose song I'm depicting - wait till you see what I did to Amy Winehouse.

Friday, April 2, 2010

You Said a Mouthful

I know I've been underwater a lot this week, but I can't seem to help it - all my inspiration seems to be coming from under the sea right now. Case in point: in the course of my regular browsing, I recently came across a music video on YouTube from Swedish pop singer Nilla Nielsen. The song is called "Just Dance" (and thankfully, no, it's not a Lady Gaga cover), and she "sings" the whole thing underwater. What really caught my eye was the way there always seems to be a big bubble at the roof of her mouth while she's lip-syncing (it's especially evident at 1:42 into the video), and I thought "That'd be cool to draw." Somehow it seemed to fit that Jocelyn should be the one to emulate it - she's the musically inclined female in my cast of characters, and as I've established in the past, she does have a singer's voice.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

So Fresh, So Clean

Ever since I became an "American Dad" fan, people have been telling me that I've got to put Hayley underwater. It took me a while to decide on what she should be doing there, but then I remembered Fresh2o, a British non-profit organization dedicated to purifying the world's dirty fresh water sources. They drum up celebrity support by photographing big-name contributors like Keira Knightley and Kelly Brook underwater (which kinda sends a mixed message, if you think about it - I wouldn't want to drink water that people have been swimming in), and Hayley seems like she'd fit right in. Klaus, on the other hand, is a little more apathetic.