By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
MAN IS THE ANIMAL THAT UNDERSTANDS cartoons, that can resolve lines on a flat surface into a three-dimensional world — one of those little miracles we all take for granted, but which is miraculous nonetheless. "I was just totally drawn toward graphic images," says McCracken, remembering his young self. "I could not look away from them." He was just 3 years old when he started drawing pictures of the superheroes he saw on TV. "I would have an image in my head of, like, Underdog and Superman hanging out," he recalls, "and I would look through the comics or watch TV and would never see an image of them together, and I would want to have it, so I could see it, and I would try to draw it and it was never satisfactory, and so I would ask my dad to draw it for me. And then I’d have it, and could look at it. It was almost like my brain was already processing images and inventing things, but my hand wasn’t skilled enough to do it myself.
"I was pretty obsessive growing up and would have phases where I would be into a certain character, and I would only be into that character. The first character I was into was probably Mickey Mouse, just visually, and then I discovered Batman and Superman, and then I discovered Underdog, and each character kind of ruled my life at that point, I was totally into them, and drew them all the time." He also liked live-action Japanese imports like Ultraman and Spectreman, whose evil Dr. Gori, "a guy in a monkey suit" with a silvery-green face and long blond hair, "so he looked like this cross between a monkey and Edgar Winter," partially inspired Mojo Jojo. And The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics "was like my bible for years. I would thumb through that every day."
The death of his father, when Craig was 7, and the move of his family from a small town near Pittsburgh to Whittier, California, intensified his picture making. "He was a very outgoing, very positive kid," recalls his mother, Eva McCracken, "and then after his dad died he became a little more withdrawn and started to draw more. Because of course he had to start all over again, because we all came out here and he had to make new friends and things."
In art as in evolution, phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny: The human race and the individual scribbler alike make their way from simple symbols toward an ever more exact and shaded reproduction of reality. But that’s only a sort of progress: Citizens of the 20th century learned to see (from cartoons as much as from Real Art) the beauty of abstraction, of regressive simplification, of suggesting a lot with a little, of rendering the world in signs and symbols. The less realistic, more childish, more essential image might be the less technically impressive, but it’s also the less fixed, the more flexible, the more suggestive, and so often the more powerful.
"Mickey Mouse doesn’t look like a mouse, but he represents a mouse," says McCracken. "I’ve always liked that type of symbolic design." The first drawing he ever made of what would become the Powerpuff Girls was very small, "just the essence of a character," and so he left out details — like fingers. He tried later to give them fingers, but it never looked right. "I tried to define all the characters as iconic images," he says, and because they don’t look like anything in the real world, they look more like what they’re supposed to be, and more like themselves. The more like an actual real monkey Mojo Jojo looked, the less he’d look like Mojo Jojo. The Mayor, with his sash and monocle and top hat floating a few inches above his head, is, says McCracken, "the visual representation of a mayor — [McDonaldland’s] Mayor McCheese is the same kind of turn-of-the-century mayor." Professor Utonium — partly inspired by Church of the Subgenius avatar Bob Dobbs, whose bland, smiling image McCracken used to see stenciled in spray paint around town — "is supposed to be superstraight, and so he’s all straight lines; he’s not colorful at all, he’s real black and white." Miss Sarah Bellum, the Mayor’s curvaceous, hypercompetent aide, whose face is never seen, is "the typical hot assistant, though her best feature’s her brain — but we only represent her by what supposedly everybody cares about."
Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup are identical — they’re triplets, after all — except for the color of their eyes and dresses, and the color and character-appropriate style of their hair: redheaded Blossom’s bow-crowned ponytail, which functions visually as a superheroic cape; blond Bubbles’ Cindy Brady pigtails; brunette Buttercup’s severe, helmetlike bobbed flip. Model sheets instruct animators in the girls’ streamlined physiology: "Think of head as a solid ball. Features are ‘painted’ on, they should wrap around contour of head." "Keep body and legs short and cute." "Hand ends in slight point (like a butter knife)." "The girls’ arms are muscle. They’re solid, not flat." It’s the very lack of detail that makes them look substantial and strong.