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5/20/2 Q+A: Subconscious questions with Bill Plympton

A scene from "Mutant Aliens."

ASUNDER PRESS recently had the opportunity to interview phenomenal animator Bill Plympton.

LV: Why do you think animation as an art form appeals to the masses? BP: I think the sense of fantasy, the sense of escapism, the sense of humor that is part of the art form of animation. I think those three things are really why people go to see cartoons. There are no limits, no borders of the use of a person's imagination with animation. In live action, there are a lot more limits and borders. And also I think, and I'm talking about my own work here, there is a lot more you can do with sex and violence with animation. If you did (these things) with live action the censors would be a lot more strict. I feel I can get a lot crazier and a lot more twisted and sick with animation than I can with real actors.

LV: Cartoons and animation seem to have a close relation to people's dream states. People's nocturnal fantasy's often closely resemble an animated state. Do you feel there is some sort of subconscious desire or appeal to cartoons?

BP: Oh yea, absolutely. I think that is another large part of it. In fact, I have a sketch pad by my bed and if I wake up in the morning and I have these weird dreams I will jot them down and sometimes I will use them in my films.

LV: Your work in particular seems to focus on people's heads, things sprouting out of them and such. What exactly is your fixation with people's noggins?

BP: Well, as an illustrator, I was always drawing people's faces. I was a political cartoonist and a political caricature artist. So I was always drawing charactures, people's faces. I am fascinated by by the human face and the human body. I think people want to see themselves. They want to see the human image in cartoons. That's why I do it. Also, in a lot of the classic animation, they use animals and I think it's a shame to neglect the human form when you can get a lot more emotion out of the human form than you can out of an animal's face.

LV: I wanted to talk just a second about the framework of your animation. It doesn't appear as if there is a lot of tweening going on. The drawing looks authentic, it's as if the viewer is flipping the pages of a book. How is that effect achieved?

BP: Well, Disney as you know uses an individual drawing for every frame of film, sometimes two or three drawings for every frame. I can't afford that. I don't have the time. Quite frankly, I like the look of doing a drawing for every four or five frames of film. Fours and fives is what we call them. It has sort of become my trademark. And that is the way I am able to produce an animated feature film every two or three years. Where as if I had to do it on ones, It would take me ten years. I just can't afford that.

LV: Why do you think that animation that is perverse in nature is developing such a strong following?

BP: That's a great question because I think it's a somewhat unique phenomenon. I have sort of made an amateur study of that subject and where this dark humor came from, where humor based on people's pain started. I think one of my early influences was Charles Adams, the Adams Family, which made fun of people being eaten by snakes and boiled in boiling water. Which, in the past, hasn't been good fodder for humor. I think then it picked up again in the '70s with National Lampoon and a guy by the name of Michael O'Donahue. National Lampoon really cued in on that dark, perverse humor of making fun of invalids or death. Death is always a great source of humor. And sex. I worked for National Lampoon and I think that's where I got a lot of my dark humor.

LV: This next one is a standard. What have been some of your favorite cartoons both contemporary and classic?

BP: Well, I think "Luppo the Butcher" is a classic. I think "Bambi Meets Godzilla" was a classic. I like the old Fleischer Brothers cartoons. There is one particular one, "Ha Ha Ha," where this little doggie goes to the dentist and gets stoned and the whole city becomes psychedelic. The Tex Avery stuff of course. Earlier Bob Clampit cartoons were a big influence. I like some of Peter Chung's stuff. Live action directors Quentin Tarantino and Peter Jackson. Some of Jackson's earlier stuff is really outrageous. John Dilworth I think is really brilliant, "Dirty Birdy" stuff like that.

LV: Talk a little bit about your Oscar-nominated film, "Your Face" and "Mutant Aliens," your upcoming full-length feature.

BP: "Your face" was inspired by some drawings I did of a guy whose face twisted like a piece of clay. And I thought, 'Gee that would fun to do a whole film of taking the guy's face and doing really weird things with it.' Ummmm, so I just started improvising in a stream of consciousness style. I just started drawing and it went from weird drawing to weird drawing. Then I decided to put a funny song on with it. But it couldn't be too funny. It had to be corny because it wouldn't work if it was a joke song. So I had him sing this campy vaudeville song and it worked really well. To my surprise, it was nominated for an Oscar. And that was really the film that got me started in animation. It was bought by so many companies that I realized I could make a living doing animation and I wouldn't have to worry about doing illustration anymore. I could just become a full-time animator. Now, "Mutant Aliens" was a labor of about 2 and 1/2 years. Animated by myself. It's done the festival circuit and won numerous awards. In fact, it was a big success in France. The inspiration for that was a picture of Lika the Russian cosmonaut dog I saw in a magazine. And I thought, "Is that poor dog still up in space?" There must be a lot of experimental animals trapped up there and I bet they are pissed as hell and they want to come back. They want to come home. Their homesick. So I drew them coming back and killing all these rocket scientists who left them up there. That's the concept behind "Mutant Aliens."

LV: I actually have one more thing before I let you go. I rented a documentary about you from a local video store called "Mondo Plympton." There is a brief scene in there where they show some drawings you did of what the last thing some famous people saw. There was the sight of Mary Joe Kepechne seeing Teddy Kennedy swimming away from a sinking car and Sylvia Plath sticking her head in an oven. Where can I find a copy of that series of drawings?

BP: "Famous Last Sights" are in a book called "Sleazy Cartoons of Bill Plympton." You can get it at It has all of my sex cartoons that were in magazines and newspapers and stuff. "Famous Last Sights" is one of my most popular cartoons.

5/16/2 Poe + Pro: '71 mercury marquis

71 mercury marquis
sam stonebraker