Reader Comment of the Day: John Dorman Remembered

John Dorman

Animation veteran Tom Minton wrote some eloquent words about John Dorman who passed away last week. I met him only once, and after reading Tom’s words, regret not having had the chance to know him better. Here is Tom’s beautiful remembrance:

In addition to being a prolific and experienced creative talent, John Dorman was a near-mythic character with an epic sense of the absurd. He was much more than a storyboard artist or art director, as anyone who worked for him in the early to mid 1980’s can attest. He was especially adept at helping gifted people (even a few legends) once their industry had hung them out to dry. In 1983 he paid a talented young storyboard apprentice named Dan Riba two hundred bucks over weekly union scale just because he knew that beginning wage was not enough to live on.

I witnessed examples of John’s boundless energy, craziness and generosity of spirit over and over while working in his Ruby Spears storyboard/development unit. The recently-publicized 1980’s Jack Kirby development paintings now being hawked by Ruby-Spears and the Kroffts were all done under Joe Ruby’s and John’s supervision. Jim Woodring, Duncan Marjoribanks, Kathy Altieri, James Gallego, Kenny Thompkins, Ted Blackman, Tim Burgard, Rick Hoberg, Steve Swaja, Noreen Beasley, Teresa Birch, Brian Burr Chin, Keith Tucker, David Silverman, Alfredo Alcala, Thom Enriquez, Kurt Conner, Bob Kline, Dan Riba, Doug Wildey, Gil Kane and Jack Kirby and me (please correct if I’ve forgotten anyone) were all staffers in John’s legendary Los Angeles Bastards crew at one point or another.

John defined ‘intense’ and could be tough to please but ultimately took the people he believed in more seriously than he did himself. Through it all, John couldn’t help but speak truth to power, even when it cost him dearly. Those who dealt with John in his decline didn’t experience the real person and judged him harshly. People tended to either love or loathe John but they did not tend to forget him. At his best, he also defined ‘courageous.’


  • http://www.frankforte.com Frank Forte

    I worked with John for a short time at Threshold Animation. He actually got me the job. He was a great person and a super talent. He would come in and blast out these great Toth-like boards, all action, with tones, some ink–like a rough comic book from the 70′s. They were great to look at. I wish there was a site to show off his work. He had piles and piles of art at his apt. I tried to get him to make a website, but he was kind of old school. It would be great for all to see. And the stories–great tales from the trenches of animation–it may seem like a boring job, but not when John told it–it was like listening to some rock star who toured with all the great legends. The Bakshi stories were the best. I’m sad that he’s gone, he was one of the best.

  • Tom Minton

    I neglected to add the names David Silverman and Alfredo Alcala to the above. Thanks for your kind words, Amid, but John is the dude deserving of remembrance here. The industry needs more John Dormans but in its present iteration that seed isn’t allowed to flourish.

    • amid

      Names added. Thanks, Tom.

  • http://www.lifeintheanalogage.com Gabe

    I worked with John at Spumco. He was definitely memorable and a legend, he was also the biggest expert on Jimi Hendrix I have have ever met. He will be missed.

  • http://Bigdaddyanimation.com Big Daddy

    Dear me, another of the greats. I just left services for Boyd Kirkland. Now it’s John…..no doubt one of the most talented artists I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Creative and fearless. All at the same time.

  • Dan Riba

    When I was just starting in the business, after I turned in my third storyboard in my life. John went over it with me. My face sank when I saw the incredible number of notes on the board. John saw how devastated I was and pulled my aside. He told me that I’m not stupid or untalented, but just inexperienced. Then he told me that once I learned these few rules, that I would be a major force in the industry.In my mind the prediction didn’t exactly come true, but I got by okay. The important thing is that he made me feel special, when I was feeling like a failure. He gave me the confidence to continue and learn. The main lesson I learned from John, was to treat artists with compassion. From giants like Jack Kirby, Doug Wildey and Gil kane, to a beginner like me. We were all part of a creative fraternity different from the rest of the world. I believe that I’m a better supervisor, because of him. I will never forget the kindness that he has shown me.
    R.I.P John

  • Tom Minton

    I was so concerned that I’d leave out people I hadn’t seen in a long while and I ended up omitting Ted Blackman, a Dorman unit stalwart and one of the finest background designers to walk this earth. Please add Ted’s name.

    • amid

      Added.

  • KENNY THOMPKINS

    I was also apart of the bastard crew. I came on after Thom Enriguez left. I shared a space with Ted Blackdude( blackman), that’s what I called him. One morning I heard screaming and cursing coming out of John’s office, so I’d ask Ted who John was cursing out, because it lasted about 20 minutes, with a phone slam to punctuate the conversation. I was new there,so I was kinda fearing for my job. Ted would just turn around calmly and say, “Oh, he’s just talking to the boss.” I thought if he talks to the boss like that, I hope I stay on his good side.

    I was in awe of the talent around me but John made me feel right at home. Years later when I was directing a show, John came to me for work. He told me know one would hire him, even my office manager told me to stay away from him. I didn’t listen and hired him because I knew what he could do. I told him when you finish this board, I’ll give you another, it’s due in 4 weeks. A week later John comes back in with the board completed, fully shaded and staged beautifully. He must have gone without sleep to have had it done so quick…and it was great! I gave him plenty more as he could do. We all are a little crazy, that’s what this industry does to us. John just let a little leak out. We love you John, now you can go rock on with Jimi and go tell war stories with Jack. He was something!

  • Gordon Kent

    Someone else that needs to be added to John’s list of crew and friends is Hank Tucker. Hank was there in the early years of John’s reign at Ruby-Spears.

  • Gordon Kent

    And I’d like to add that John was one of those rare people you meet that is bigger than life. The system doesn’t like those people and they beat them down — but John, to my knowledge, never stopped fighting back. I hadn’t heard from him in a few years, but I will miss his occasional call telling me what was happening in his life. I can hear his voice, furious at the injustice and laughing at the insanity. It was an incredible roller coaster ride knowing him, wild and scary and fun and far too short. I really hate that he’s gone.

  • Paul Woodring

    I knew John through my older brother, Jim Woodring. John and I had little in common, and I found him somewhat intimidating. I would never have spotted him for a softy — he seemed much too sarcastic for tenderer emotions. When I was 16 or so (John would have been about 22) I was sick in bed with the flu or something else miserable, and John stopped by to see my brother. He heard I was sick and spent the next half-hour or so sitting on my bed and telling me about a recent trip to the L.A. Natural History museum. His character sketches and descriptions made me laugh until I thought I’d start puking again!! It was one of the nicest and kindest things anyone could have done and changed my feelings about him forever.

  • Ken Boyer

    John was always one of my favorite talents in this business. He could do stuff that just made you wish you had thought of it. He would cleverly figure a multiple of angles/approaches to any assignment. Even to subjects/sequences that others would consider particularly challenging or dull. He understood film like few in animation truly do.
    I will miss him more than he’d probably guess. Truly an immortal talent!

  • Tom Minton

    Add Dick Sebast. It’s a party!

  • http://crotchetycomics.blogspot.com/ Ted Blackman

    Hey Kenny,

    I had forgotten about that day at Bastards Central. That’s funny.
    You know, I was also thrown off by John’s phone conversations in the beginning. I quickly learned though, that John Dorman was a producer that was completely transparent around the artists, and no artist had a better ally than him. I remember feeling for the first time that I was hearing things from his office that I had never heard before, since most producers I’d dealt with previously did their dealings behind closed doors, the artists not being privy to anything that might empower them. I found that both startling and enlightening.
    I will always cherish the memories of working with the great comic artists at that Ruby Spears annex; Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Alfredo Alcala and Doug Wildey. I continue to correspond with Jim Woodring who’s now in Seattle. All of us came together for a brief period of time because of the efforts of John Dorman. Thank you, John.

  • http://frankforte.blogspot.com/ Frank Forte

    John Dorman art
    My friend John Dorman recently passed away. Many in the industry knew him. Everyone had a story. Not much of his work exists online, but he did give me a few pieces that we were going to use in a book called Cartoon Concept Design. The book never came to be. It was going to feature John Dorman as well as a number of very talented artists from the industry. Here are some of John’s temp pages:

    http://frankforte.blogspot.com/

    • the LB

      ** Not much of his work exists online . . . **

      if nothing else, john had a photobucket set up with a handful (14 pages) of his work in it. some very cool stuff.

      http://s153.photobucket.com/albums/s206/REALSplunge/

      john — splunge to us — was a very big part of our small on-line lakers community. flat out, nobody ever told any story as well as splunge. nobody. he’s definitely going to be missed.

  • Spudnuts

    I knew John in the way that so many people “know” each other today, primarily through online community. I came to meet him long about 1997 (Jesus, that seems like a long time ago) when the so-called Lakerboard coalesced out of the (at that time) closed Los Angeles Times “Lakerstalk” message boards. Message boards were a new and puzzling medium for newspapers like the Times. Because of an ocean of “off-topic” and “inappropriate” posts, the Times, not knowing how to deal with “trolls” (a term not in use then), just shut all of the boards down. LA Times: “You nerds won’t talk about the Lakers? Fine. Party’s over.” A few dozen regulars set up their own alternative message board patterned after the Lakerstalk format and the Lakerboard was born. Off-topic and inappropriate posts were much beloved by Dorman (Splunge) and myself (Spudnuts). I guess you were supposed to talk about the Lakers and only the Lakers on the Lakers thread. And the Clippers and only the Clippers on the Clippers thread (yes, all three of you). Dodgers, Angels, and so forth. Dorman and I pushed our luck. Out of boredom, I’m sure. But also out of a sense of just stirring shit up to enliven the day. The kind of crap we yammered on about got us banned from most other places, but the Lakerboard (mostly) let us run our mouths. We regularly, routinely, gleefully violated Wheaton’s Law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wil_Wheaton#Wheaton.27s_Law), but the Lakerboard let it pass or usually joined in.

    That was fun.

    We wanted to talk about everything. There’s really only so much you can say about five men in short pants passing a ball. We loved the Lakers, but life was better than that. There was explosive flatulence, psychotic neighbors, and the eternal allure of lady ass. Dorman talked about the human body and all of its many intimate processes in graphic and hilarious detail. In retrospect, that makes perfect sense. As an artist, particularly an animator, you don’t succeed by merely describing what a character does. You have to visualize every contortion, twitch, and contraction and do so in extraordinary detail. I suppose that was what made Dorman so peerless at his craft. He didn’t miss anything. And he’d create the textual equivalent of these hilarious animations on the Lakerboard. He was, hands down, the best and brightest there and though it may not seem like much compared to his previous accomplishments, he was held in the highest regard by the fifty or so regulars who passed through over the years. And as a side issue, in case it’s not clear from the previous sentences, he was as potent and compelling a writer as he was an animator. I think I recall him telling me that he noodled around with some writing on some sites like Coppola’s Zoetrope All-Story (http://www.all-story.com/), but he didn’t really seem to go full force at that, which is a shame because I would have bought the shit out of anything he wrote.

    John and I spent many hours on the Lakerboard talking, sometimes bickering, often jousting in the way you used to snap on your best friends at the lunch table in sixth grade. To test each other’s mettle. Or to just talk shit. We rarely, if ever, talked about the Lakers. I met him about four times in person (in meatspace, as it were) and the Lakers was pretty much the only thing we didn’t cover. I talked to him many more times than that on the phone. John seemed to really like the phone. He was a bit older than me so more of a phone guy. Like forty somethings are email guys (me). Thirty somethings are text/IM guys. Twenty somethings are Facebook guys. And teenagers are… talking to each other using mind waves and creamed corn. I don’t know what the fuck they are using. Yelp.

    “Talking” to John on the phone mostly involved me listening. Really more like holding a word hose to my head while he went off. About the scandalous injustice of the legal system (he was hounded to the point of exhaustion by endless legal bullshit). About his health. About the artists, television programs, films he admired. He would go and go and go and periodically — about every ten minutes or so — would vaguely become aware that someone was on the other end of the line, and he’d stop dramatically and offer a brief “right?” I said “right” and he was back at it. I didn’t listen to him to condescendingly indulge him. He knew much more than I did — saw more clearly — and it was incumbent upon me to tune my mental processes up to understand what he was trying to communicate. He didn’t slow down or pre-chew his perspective. He was basically saying: “Here it is. Keep up. Or don’t.” I thought it was great.

    When I got to know John early on, he said he would illustrate storyboards to any idea I came up with. Really, I thought? Okay. I didn’t know who this guy was and initially thought he might be a bit off. But that was on me. My failure to perceive, animal ignorance in the face of a superior light. He gave me some phone numbers to people who were important, apparently. I half-assedly fulfilled some obligations to pass on ideas I was casually bandying about. Like anthropomorphic snack foods at a Japanese convenience store. Or a talking vagina that solved crimes. They mostly amused the hell out of me, but I NEVER thought actual humans with power or capital would commit to getting such programs on the air. This was before Adult Swim. Assy McGee. That’s the kind of show I would have written.

    In my mind, Dorman was like Lenny Bruce at his end. Many people regard Bruce’s “performances” regarding his legal troubles as a tragic decline, but I have always regarded them as his finest work. Truly getting to the heart of what ailed him and ails most of us. Beset by the bullshit and petty nattering of a callow clot of knuckledraggers, who like nothing more than to pass their day by sticking their finger in the eye of the Dormans of this world, just to hear them squawk. Jokes are funny, entertaining, and they pay the bills, but Lenny Bruce’s speaking truth in the scathingly hilarious way only he could was cathartic. I didn’t think of Dorman as a crank or malcontent. I just thought he was a regular guy who had had enough. And he wasn’t going to suffer in silence. I didn’t (totally) regard the trials he dealt with as fodder for my own amusement. I just thought he was contending with the same shit that we all deal with. But, he was so good at turning his struggles into entertainment, it was hard to tell when he was just playing up an anecdote for giggles or when he was in serious distress.

    Hollywood could have done a lot worse (and does on a daily basis) than to just give Dorman ten million and let him retire to his mancave for six months to create a masterwork. It would have been a masterwork, and no mistake. Yep, changed the world, and made a boatload of cash. He was better than all of us. Yes, you too, big man.

    I want to think that I could have “done more,” but I have mostly come to believe that not much can be done for others in this life. We can extend small courtesies, offer to shore up emotional barricades, but ultimately we go where we go. (Which is to dirt. On the way to dirt, we should talk about asses and farts. And why not? That’s just my opinion). More so, when a person is willful, determined. I couldn’t have “saved” John, but I could have hung out with him more and offered comradery and commiseration which is the only real currency we have in this world.

    I don’t know what John was like “in his prime” and that’s just not my domain, but every interaction I had with him, he was keen, hilarious, and never backed down. I guess that could also be perceived by some as a self-destructive mission, but I took it as a heroic belligerence to never nod passively at the petty shit that gets cast on us by others. He didn’t suffer in silence. Nor should any of us, I think.

    Dorman was inspirational. The whole broke-the-mold thing and all that… never more true. I had avoided calling him for the past several months, having been in LA, because focused on several projects. That was an epic fuck-up and the sting of that won’t diminish for years, if ever.

    Finally, I’ll say this. I don’t think Dorman’s creativity ever diminished. Not one whit. At least not as I knew him. He really, really chafed in the confines and stricture of a corporate environment that tried to make sausage out of humor. His stories of real-time CCTV-monitored animation slaves bound to their Cintiqs terrified me in its Orwellian implication. For some reason, people being compelled by some totalitarian mechanism to be “funny” horrified me as much or more than the traditional images of torture and interrogation. Dorman was organic and spontaneously creative. In many ways, we are living in a golden age of entertainment and experimentation. But paradoxically, we are living in a realm of conformity and aggressive artistic compression, even suppression. I consider myself very well read in a wide range of artistic mediums, but every time I would bring up some exciting and (I thought) new talent I had encountered, Dorman would “oh, yeah” remark that he too appreciated the work of that person. He had already marked that territory and moved on. His head was a black hole whose gaping maw never stopped sucking down the best and most compelling creative output the monkey people of planet earth had to offer. And then brilliantly reinterpreting and evolving it with his own unique talent.

    It was my privilege to know John.

    Maybe Kobe will stop taking those fucking threes now.

    It could happen.