Bob Camp is an intensely talented artist who has made his mark in both animation and comics. He is best known for his work on the seminal series Ren and Stimpy. He now lives in Connecticut.
1. What are some of your earliest memories of drawing?
I don't really remember not drawing. When I was about 6 or 7 my Aunt Pauline had 5 small hand-painted plates of a hillbilly taking a swig from a jug and burping. The drawings were really funny and it told a little story. She got them down and got me some paper and I copied them. When she passed away about 10 or so years ago she left them to me and I still have them.
I always loved cartoons especially 1940's Warners shorts. I loved all cartoons but I never thought about doing it for a living. I animated a title sequence for my student film, but again, it wasn't anything I was thinking about doing for a living. I always wanted to be an artist and I just fell into most jobs as I moved through life. I never wanted to be a comic book artist, but I got work at Marvel I just kind of started doing it. My first job in animation was at Rankin-Bass in 1985, and it was because a roommate who was doing character designs for Thundercats quit and put in a good word for me.
2. Got any good Rankin-Bass stories?
Once the animators from the studio in Japan came to NYC for a visit. We had to kind of walk on eggs with them, like when they made cultural errors in the cartoons that ruined the jokes or something because they just didn't get it. We could never say, "Hey you did this wrong because you didn't get it, so do it over. Never." We had to say that American children were so slow that we needed them to change it so compensate, or something like that.
So it wasn't warm and cuddly when they were around.
The studio ordered lots of Sushi for them to eat. They sat stiffly looking kind of disgusted at the sushi. I told the production person that they shouldn't give them crappy American sushi. They should have gotten good steak and some quality Scotch!
I decided to take measures into my own hands. I rented out the basement of the Racoon Lodge bar on Warren Street in Tribeca for a party, with them as guests of honor. I invited all of my coolest friends and lots of cute girls and made sure they flirted with these middle aged animators. The party was a huge hit, everybody got shit-faced. Afterward, the animators followed us over to our loft across the street and wouldn't leave. I had made some friends! Things went very well after that.
A sad Rankin Bass story:
I worked at Rankin Bass on Thundercats, Silverhawks, Tigersharks, Streetfrogs and Minimonsters.
It was a very small studio on, I believe, 53rd Street where the Stork Club once stood. Most of the time I was the only artist on staff doing all the designs for as many as 4 series at once. I often took my lunch into the conference room to eat. It was a large, somewhat fancy room with a grand piano and original Hirschfelds on the walls.
Above the table where I ate were glass shelves, on which stood many of the animation models from the numerous Holiday specials they produced in Japan. They were usually designed by Paul Coker or Jack Davis. They were beautifully made and lots of fun to mess with so I'd play with them while I ate. There was Frosty the Snowman, Santa and his sled with the reindeer, and the Little Drummer Boy. There was even Pinnochio, who had been carved from a single piece of wood and a really tiny Jimminy Cricket.
One day, workmen came to paint the room and took everything down packed it in boxes . The next day, they had put everything back where it belonged except the animation models. I asked the receptionist where they were. She told me that Jules (Bass) had told her to throw them out - and so she did!
I got so upset I started yelling at her, telling her she was stupid and how much those puppets were worth and on and on until she started getting very upset and was about to cry.
It still gets me mad when I think about it.
3. Who or what most influences your drawing style?
Everybody and everything. I've always been a sponge soaking up everything I see. I'm a chamelion always adapting to whatever style a job requires.
Warners cartoons, Jones, Clampett, Avery, Hanna-Barbara stuff. National Lampoon, Mad Magazine and everybody in it. Harvey Kurtzman is a big one - one of the greatest cartoonists ever. I think he's right up there with Tex Avery in terms of major influences.
I was John Buscema's inker for some years. I learned a lot from that! I was lucky enough to work in the Marvel Bullpen as the art corrections crew. I had to learn how to draw like all the artists on staff.
I learned a lot from John K. Good and bad stuff.
4. What's your ideal work environment?
The ideal work environment I guess would be a place where the creatives have the freedom and power to experiment and grow ideas, a place where the leadership is as creative as the crew. I think Pixar is that way. I know it's not perfect for everybody but I think the cartoonist is still king there.
I would like to see the artists have more say in how a film is made. I'd like to see the creative decisions being made by creative people. I'd like to see a move back to more traditional animation. More adult themed animation. I'd like to see an artist's creative passion rewarded instead of it showing up on bad report card at the end of the year.
My dream job would be running a development department, creating concepts for films. I love developing big ideas and creating characters and bringing them to life.
5. What five animation artists of the past (retired or deceased) would you have liked to have worked with?
Tex for sure. He was the funniest. He could have the same gag over and over in the same cartoon and they still make me piss myself. Deputy Droopy is a great example of that.
Ub Iwerks. I like Ub because he was a one man cartoon making machine and his gags were reall funny to me when I was a kid. I believe he gave us cow teat jokes.
Jones. He could draw and layout so well.
Mr. Disney for sure. Walt made what we do an industry and we owe him a lot. I think it would have been a challenge for sure to work with him, but when I look at Dumbo and Pinnochio, I wonder what it would have been like to work on a movie like that with those guys. Funny enough, I'm working for Disney TV now for the first time in my life.
+1. What five currently working (and living!) animation artists you'd like to work with today?
That's tough. I've already worked with some of the greatest in the business.
Brad Bird. He's a master.
John Lasseter. I like the way he thinks. I've always regretted that I didn't get a chance to work with the guys at Pixar. I have friends that work there. When, at MOMA in NYC, I saw art on the walls by my pals Teddy Newton and Mark Andrews, I was deeply moved - almost to tears. In my opinion, cartooning is a high art form.
I think I want to work with everybody. On almost every project, there's a point where I look around at the swarm of talented people around me and am completely blown away. I feed off that. I like to think that I'm fun to work with. If you can't have a good time drawing stupid cartoons then what's the point?
+2. What is the common element that you bring to the projects you've been on? On what project do you think that element is most evident?
My sense of humor I guess. I'm way into comedy that is based on character dynamics. Good comedy is always about the character.
Invention and experimentation. It's almost impossible for me to draw a sequence the way it is written. I always think, "What would be funnier?"
I suppose Ren and Stimpy is where my work is most evident. I hope some day to give a different answer for that one. Ren and Stimpy was a pivotal experience for me and my career. I am happy and proud of the cartoons that we made and proud of the people I worked with and the huge influence they are all making every day in this business.
There was bad blood and worse politics on the show. I would just like to have another milestone in my career that I'm just as proud of without any of the other crap that went along with Ren and Stimpy.
All artwork in this article is the property of Bob Camp.
c.2009 Moore Studios, Inc