The best animation read of the week is Vanity Fair’s look back at the production of the Nickelodeon series Rocko’s Modern Life.

It’s packed with stories about the production of the classic Nick series from a handful of the people who worked on it, including creator Joe Murray, and writers Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, Dan Povenmire, and Martin Olson, among others. They talk about the freewheeling atmosphere of the production — “controlled anarchy” in the words of Olson — and Murray’s efforts to keep management away from the production (he had it written into his contract that no Nickelodeon executive could visit their office unannounced).

There are also plenty of wacky behind-the-scenes tales:

When an episode ran too long, the writer Dan Povenmire, who’d learned knife-throwing growing up in Alabama, would make edits by flinging a letter opener over his back at the storyboard. (The impaled scene would get the cut.) Another member of the team set up his office like a late-night talk-show set. “If you came in, he would play canned applause and motion you to sit in one of the seats, and he would interview you for an imaginary camera,” said Povenmire. “If you said something vaguely funny, he had another tape with canned laughter on it. If someone else came in, he would make you move down one seat so that the next guest could be interviewed.”

But the piece also takes a somber turn when Murray reveals a story that I don’t believe he’s told publicly about how his first wife, Diane, took her life just a couple months before production began in 1992.

“It’s hard to not look at Rocko and think about that whole thing in my head,” he tells Vanity Fair. “It was like part of me wanted to do the show and part of me didn’t. I kind of blamed Rocko for it. Even though it was a suicide. In retrospect, I don’t think that — but at the time I thought, maybe if I hadn’t done Rocko she wouldn’t have done that. And there were times I would think, if this happened because of that then, well, Rocko better kick ass. This has to be good.”

The article goes on to offer details on Murray’s upcoming one-hour Rocko special for Nickelodeon and his new PBS Kids social studies-oriented educational series Let’s Go Luna!, aimed at kids aged 4-7.

There’s new non-Rocko related information in the piece too, like Murray’s personal opinion on why Cartoon Network cancelled his series Camp Lazlo. He says they dropped the show shortly after he refused a request from the network to appear in a McDonald’s commercial, adding, “There were a few times I didn’t play the game and they didn’t like it.”

We would be remiss not to mention that this excellent history is written by Darryn King, a former contributor to Cartoon Brew.

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