Discovering Cartoon Network

Australian cartoonist Elliot Cowan recently discovered that he could receive Cartoon Network on his digital cable. After watching it, he created a visual document (posted below) of his virgin CN viewing experience. It’s a brilliant piece of editorial illustration that perfectly sums up the vast majority of children’s TV animation being produced nowadays. Elliot’s brief comments accompanying this piece can be read on his blog.

Illustration by Elliot Cowan
(click for larger version)

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  • Behonkiss

    I’d like to see his take on Nickelodeon. I think shows like Spongebob and Fairly Odd Parents are funny, but wow, some of the voices are really loud and obnoxious.

  • http://sandwichbag.blogspot.com Elliot Cowan

    Thanks for the link Amid.
    It makes sense that if the Brew was ever going to link me it was going to be about bitching and moaning and not about cute drawings…

    If anyone cares, the matter was discussed further over at drawingboard.org. Although the majority of the responses was silly cartoonist banter, there are some worthy comments made on the subject by some very talented people, including actual positive comments (some even from me!). You can find the thread here:
    http://www.drawingboard.org/viewtopic.php?t=55328

  • http://sandwichbag.blogspot.com Elliot Cowan

    Behonkiss – I’ll tell you exactly what my take on both of those programs is! Fairly Odd Parents is equally as noisy as everything else (although no worse). Spongebob has a lot to like even though I’m not especially drawn to it. I very much like the live action segments they occasionally include – moreso than the show.

    And yes, unfortunately Bob himself does have a particularly irritating voice. However – Spongebob is a massive, huge show that is clearly beloved of many, so minor critisisms from me are really a bit irrelevant. I enjoyed movie.

  • bobservo

    The network would be more tolerable if it wasn’t comprised entirely 90% shrill Tom Kenny voices.

  • http://www.travisgentry.com Travis Gentry

    I don’t think he’s commenting on the loud and obnoxious voices specifically, but rather the sheer quantity of loud, obnoxious, cheaply produced, too cool for school, disposable crud that comes out of the Cartoon Network. At least that’s my take on it.

  • DanO

    I’d like to offer up that “disposable crud” is the most succinct and accurate description of Cartoon Network’s programing that I have ever heard.
    I’m clapping.

  • http://sandwichbag.blogspot.com Elliot Cowan

    Travis – Although I was suggesting an across the board migraine inducer, the use of shrill and constantly shouting voices is a big contributor.

    There are some shows that could instantly be improved by firstly throwing away half the dialogue and secondly directing actors in such a way as that they understand they do not have to shriek every line of dialogue, or give a smug, smarty pants performance. I think there is a lot to like about Fosters, and I’m genuinely sad that it’s undone by shrieking and screaming.

  • Hulk

    One of my favorite movies ever is “Aladdin” and it seems to me that ever since that wonderful movie came out, every animated feature produced has felt the need to have a “Genie” character in it. That is: at least one character that is constantly in a hyper-active state, zipping and bouncing all over the screen. AND Usually screaming in a very shrill way. Case in point: EVERY character in “Madascar”. They seem to have forgotten that understated characters can be just as funny if not funnier. For example: remember the Hillblly wolf in that Tex Avery Cartoon who kept trying to get rid of the baby goat that ate everything? (Come on toonheads you know what I mean)What they seemed to be missing is the fact that that particular style of Hyper-active comedy is authentic to Robin Williams and for that matter Eric Goldberg (the genie’s chief animator) and therefore worked really well. Every time it’s been done since then including every show on Nickelodeon, it hasn’t worked because I don’t think it came from a sincere place in the artists creating it. That’s my take on all of this anyway.

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com/gerstein David Gerstein

    Nothing says “kiddie”—in every condescending way one might interpret that—like everybody and his dog mimicking Bobcat Goldthwait as Pain or Jason Alexander as Abis Mal.
    Ironically, I think many of the shows that feature this kind of voicework don’t actually mean to be condescending; they’re just following the trend (maybe not always by choice?). But from what I can gather, these voices are generally a major turnoff to all but children and certain already-committed cartoon fans: in other words, they work to some degree against breakout hits.
    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Ren and Stimpy, Family Guy, Beavis and Butt-head, Animaniacs, and the Simpsons—all of them successful across varying age groups, regardless of how I myself might dislike them—feature relatively controlled voice performances, even among the zanier characters.
    One can go even further back, to the 1980s, and find DuckTales as a breakout hit and Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers less so; DuckTales with relatively nuanced voicework, and Rescue Rangers with aggressively squeaky, more exaggerated voices.

  • http://www.grotto11.com/blog Brian Tiemann

    I so loved Cartoon Network back in the 90s, back when I first discovered it. Back when about half their material was classic WB or Hanna-Barbera stuff—Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny, you know, the good stuff. Even when they filled afternoons with Scooby-Doo and Yogi Bear, somehow I found that the novelty of it all, with freshly-produced commercial-break bumps that played off the material and had what fun could be had with it, made it enrapturing.

    Then they came up with the What A Cartoon! show, which gave us Dexter’s Lab, the Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo, and a bunch of other stuff that made things even more of a joy: look! New cartoons! GOOD new cartoons! Stuff that’s funny! Stuff with real writing that doesn’t insult the audience, full of injokes and sidelong grins, and with a designy visual style that we can all get excited about!

    Then along came Space Ghost Coast to Coast, and with it came the revolution of really adult-oriented cartoons, awash in ironic pastiches of the past, and it was unbelievable. I remember it being 1997—the Mars Pathfinder had just landed, and Space Ghost was jealously mocking the TV coverage of it—and thinking, you know, this is the Golden Age.

    And then… and then they killed it.

    They swept up all the classic cartoons and put them on Boomerang. They beat the adult stuff with a broom until it retreated to its Adult Swim corner, there happily to thrive and never again to fix its eyes on prime time. And now it’s an unbroken, hot desert plain of kids’ cartoons—Ed, Edd, & Eddy, My Gym Partner’s a Monkey, Naruto, and all the rest of the anime-wannabe, Ren & Stimpy-wannabe ADD material being hucked in the direction of 12-year-olds everywhere. Not to mention the “new” Dexter’s Lab and Johnny Bravo—sanitized and defanged for your protection.

    And nowadays Cartoon Network is something I stay away from until 10:30 PM. It never used to be that way. But I guess they surely know best.

  • Daniel Mata

    I like “My Gym Partner is a Monkey.” I especially like the cartooning and overall slapstick driven comedy. And besides, it seems to be the only cartoon on that can do gross gags well.

  • http://amymebberson.blogspot.com Amy Mebberson

    Elliot, did you ever catch any of CN’s Adult Swim?

    For that one, you may as well draw the same picture, but with lots of toilet-coloured “HUUUURRRR!!!!”s coming out of it.

    Foster’s Home is the only thing I watch on CN because for all the freneticity(if that’s even a word), it does have a lot of heart and funny writing…even though Bloo is a complete arsehole and Frankie will have her first stroke by 25 ;)

  • http://sandwichbag.blogspot.com Elliot Cowan

    Hulk – I think your point about understated characters is correct to a point.
    I think a lot of the whacky, whacky, whacky characters would benefit greatly from trimming dialogue.
    As has been discussed many times before, animated characters do a lot of talking these days and not that much “doing”.
    There’s been a trend in recent years to move away from an “acted” vo performance to something a little more casual and chatty.
    If you’ve ever seen Twice Upon A Time you’ll know what I mean.
    They did it 30 odd years ago and it was great.
    Futurama does it a bit and I think it’s often successfull there.
    But in the hands of Bloo from Fosters, it’s endless, irritating and unruly.
    Perhaps it has stemmed from the Genie in Aladdin, but I’m no expert on animation history.
    I only know what I like (or don’t like as the case may be).

  • http://sandwichbag.blogspot.com Elliot Cowan

    David – I am a little biased when it comes to VO work as I’ve been doing it myself for many years now, but I agree with you wholeheartedly. Fact is, kids often love silliness and screaming, and if we dish it up to them then they’re going to watch it (unfortunately). But surely the people making these things don’t want to sit through all that racket. The director and the editor at the very least must have to sit through these things a million times a piece, you’d think they’d make an effort to tone it down just to make their jobs nicer.

    Brian – I personally am not even longing for classic cartoons especially. I would like to see something new that I am excited about.

    Daniel – As far as I can tell Foster’s and Gym Monkey are almost the same show with different designs. As for gross humor, I don’t really care what kind of humor it is as long as it’s funny. There was a very funny kaka gag on Fosters, where Eduardo has a puppy and it takes a plop on the floor and he wearily takes the blame. I thought that was exceptionally funny.

    Amy – Hello again! I have seen a bit of Adult Swim and while I think there are some funny things there (I saw Harvey Birdman a bit and laughed a lot) it’s not something I’m really interested in. Foster’s is the most dissapointing of the lot in a way. It gets so many things right: It mostly looks good, it’s well designed (mostly), it has a mostly great voice cast and I think Mr Herriman, Wilt and Eduardo are VERY endearing characters, but as I’ve mentioned before it’s all undone by being overwritten and shrill.

  • Rick2Tails

    I dislike the fact that in many cartoons it is all based on kid characters. Kid characters specificly rebelling against adults. It strikes me as pandering to kids and not entertaining to anyone else. But sometimes some of the critical comments in this thread come across as old men on lawns yelling at the noisy kids next door ;)

  • http://www.bishopanimation.com Floyd Bishop

    For it to be an accurate representation of Cartoon Network, you should have included at least a few photographs of real people, as more and more of Cartoon Network’s programming is live action (as reported on in the past here on Cartoon Brew).

  • http://sandwichbag.blogspot.com Elliot Cowan

    Rick – I have been accused of being a grumpy old man when discussing this subject elsewhere. I am not an old man but I am quite grumpy about the state of animated content for children. And regarding all the characters being kids: They may all be 10 or 12 year olds but they all talk like they are 25.

  • DanO

    there was a time when grumpy old men created the finest cartoons in the world.

  • http://www.lakupo.com/grblitz ManekiNeko

    I think there was an excellent commentary about the frenetic nature of today’s cartoons in an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. The show’s sinister little girl and her idiot friend were watching an episode of “Fister’s Home For Crazy Made-Up People,” which was three seconds of brightly-colored characters bouncing around wildly to obnoxious music, followed immediately by an explosion wiping them all out. Seems even those in the animation industry are getting a little sick of the trend toward cracked out cartoons.

  • Andre

    Funny how one person mentioned “Naruto”. I like that series but the voice actor/actress who does the title character REALLY needs to tone that shrill voice down! The original Japanese voice actors were never that shrill!