INTERVIEW: 25 Years Later, Directors Bob Camp and Bill Wray Remember “The Ren & Stimpy Show” – Animation Scoop

INTERVIEW: 25 Years Later, Directors Bob Camp and Bill Wray Remember “The Ren & Stimpy Show”

The Ren & Stimpy Show still remains the greatest, and most important, animated television show of all-time. No matter how different they may be, every TV cartoon to come after owes it a debt of thanks. While The Simpsons predated it, Ren & Stimpy is the cartoon that transcended its slot in the Nickelodeon Sunday morning line-up and rejuvenated the entire TV animation industry.

Press and adulation may continue to surround John Kricfalusi, the contracted creator of the characters, and he’ll always be the one contracted to revive the characters, be it for the Adult Party Cartoon of 2003 or an upcoming cartoon to precede the next SpongeBob Squarepants movie. But those reprisals will always be lacking for the same reason the original show was profoundly lacking after Kricfalusi was fired in 1992 and took several artists and writers with him: like all the great Golden-Age Hollywood cartoons, Ren & Stimpy had several key architects. Remove too many and the whole foundation falls apart.


Two of those creative forces were Bob Camp and Bill Wray. There are very few scenes throughout the entire series that don’t show either of their influences in some capacity—or in just about every cartoon made since. Wray is inarguably the most important background painter of animation’s modern era. Camp’s storyboarding methods on the show and after have become adopted and ingrained as standard industry practice. Along with their respective animation gigs of late, Bob currently teaches at the School of Visual Arts and Bill exhibits his beautiful fine paintings of Southern California at different galleries.

Talking to and about them over the years, I came to realize how distinctive they were as artists and personalities, making them similar to John K. and markedly different from their peers on the show. Their contributions are broad and forceful, and therefore impossible to overlook, whereas many of the other artists were just as important but so soft-spoken that the spotlight misses them. Fortunately, as you’ll read, they’re more than happy to give credit where it’s due.

I wrote about Camp and Wray’s work at length in Sick Little Monkeys: The Unauthorized Ren & Stimpy Story, my 2013 book on the series’ history. I was able to get plenty of input from Bob while writing it, but I never did get to talk to Bill (at the time he insisted on keeping the drama behind him and was done talking about the show). He was not the only one to shut me down. Despite that almost the entirety of the original Spumco crew is now on good terms with each other, the show’s infamous nuclear fallout still stings to this day. Fortunately, I was still able to form a complete narrative without all of the players granting interviews. Based on the book’s reception, I can safely say Sick Little Monkeys is an accurate and fair account of the series’ controversial history.

I’m currently revising the text to incorporate new information and interviews (but mostly to do a better copyedit), which I hope to have ready this year for the 25th anniversary of the series’ premiere. In the meantime, this panel interview I conducted with Bob Camp and Bill Wray will give you a fairly good idea of the history behind the show’s legacy and lunacy.

The interview took place April 17, 2016 at the East Coast Comicon in Secaucus, New Jersey.

Thad Komorowski: You guys both have extensive backgrounds in illustration and cartooning… What kept bringing you back to animation through this really horrible period?

Bill Wray: Fear.

Bob Camp: Fear of starving… And I honestly think that… I teach animation, storyboarding at the School of Visual Arts. And I tell my students, “Unless you really want to do this, unless it’s all you’re good for: stop. Don’t go any further, because it’ll kill ya, it’ll turn ya into me.” Because it’s a terrible industry full of horrible people. Luckily, some people managed to make good cartoons in this realm of horror. But it’s not an easy job.

BW: What’s interesting is that Bob and I have the most in common of any of the Ren & Stimpy people, because we both came from Marvel Comics. We both could paint, both could cartoon, although he could always cartoon better.

It just seemed like yesterday when I was seeing Bob in New York once in a while in Larry Hama’s office. And then I’d come back out for summer vacation to see John K., who I used to work for when I lived in California. And then [one year], there’s Bob. It’s like, “What’re you doing here?” I was like, “He’s kind of a comic book inker, what’s… Well, I’m a comic book inker…” So who am I to say. And then I saw his drawings and his paintings, and I totally got why John hired him.

Left To Right: Bill Wray, Thad Komorowski and Bob Camp

Left To Right: Bill Wray, Thad Komorowski and Bob Camp

TK: Tell us a bit about what you did before Ren & Stimpy.

BW: In the briefest of strokes… I wanted to do animation, always wanted to do comics, always wanted to be a painter. So over the years I managed to do all of that. At first, I was trained in the animation business, because school was so shit. They didn’t teach you tradition. So I gave up being a painter. I just started working as a cartoonist in the animation business, where I get paid to learn. Did that for a long time.

John K. and I, he denies this now, because you may have heard there’s been a little bad blood, but we were actually partners. And we did some early formative cartoons together and tried to sell shows like Ren & Stimpy for a long time. And I gave up and just said, “I’m going to be a painter,” and move to New York. And I studied that and did comic books. I think one summer I did some little project with him and Bob for some game…

BC: The “Ugly Druggies” game.

BW: And then they sold Ren & Stimpy. Part of me wishes I had stayed partners with him all those years, he’d have had to work me into the contract.

TK: So, Bob, you’re a co-founder of Spumco…

BC: I made up the word Spumco. It was almost Loadco. And if you get the joke, you’re entitled to it. [Audience laughter]

TK: And Bill, you’ve known the players longer than anyone… Tell us about the origins of the studio and Ren & Stimpy.

A Bob Camp design on Thundercats (click To Enlarge)

A Bob Camp design on Thundercats

BC: Well, I was working for Rankin-Bass in New York, working on Thundercats, Silver Fox, Tiger Sharks, Street Frogs, and who knows what else.

BW: Paradise.

BC: Paradise. While I was still working at Marvel Comics. And I thought, “Wow, animation’s kinda cool. And they actually pay you money you can live on!” So I jumped out with Vincent Waller and we headed out to California. I got a job at DiC, a big animation studio that was doing about 10,000 cartoons a week, they were just churning them out.

BW: Really high-quality, too. Very memorable cartoons, mostly.

BC: Captain Planet! And Inspector Gadget!

BW: And then there was Gadget Planet.

BC: And I got a job working on Alf Tales. And within two days, I quit, and went over to work on The Real Ghostbusters for Will Mineo and Michael Gross, the original producers of the movies. And that was great because I was sitting next to Bruce Timm before he was Bruce Timm. And I’m watching this guy draw, it was like watching a sewing machine.

BW: He didn’t have a beard yet.

BC: Yeah, he was a beardless youth, he was all shiny in those days. Kind of the color of silly putty.

BW: He has more hair now, but he’s the same color.

BC: But he would draw, it was like: drrrrttt-drrrrttt-drrrrttt! His pen was so quick… and chain smoking! Smoking thousands of cigarettes all at once. But I picked up on something. Bruce Timm was a sponge. And I’m a sponge, I can walk in and look at your drawings and say, “Oh, okay, I see how he does it,” and I can pick it up and I can steal it. That’s why no one wanted to work with Robin Williams, because he’d steal all their jokes. And I started picking up on his stuff, and this thing happened. We started riffing drawings back and forth, it was like going to art school, it was pretty cool.

Meanwhile, down the hall, I’d become friends with Jim Gomez, who is the unsung hero of Ren & Stimpy, one of the actual creators of the characters. But only got kicked in the teeth for it, but any way… He said, “Hey, why don’t you come work on The New Adventures of Beany & Cecil with John K.?” So I worked on that. Within a few weeks we were all fired. But it was the Mighty Mouse crew, the Ralph Bakshi Mighty Mouse crew, so that’s why we all got fired.

BW: And other reasons.

BC: And other reasons. After that, I went and worked on Tiny Toons. A lot of great people came in there, the most amazing crew worked on Tiny Toons and now they’re all big shots. And John was at home, having beer on ice, and couldn’t get work.

BW: Heineken. Always Heineken.

BC: Heineken, right. And so we decided to start a studio. So we rented a room from Carl Macek and Jerry Beck, who were doing Streamline Pictures at the time, trying to get people interested in an animator named Miyazaki. They were trying to distribute his films in those days.

We didn’t have any furniture, we sat there on the floor, drawing on our laps. And did this stupid anti-drug game, it was some guys trying to cash in on the new “no-drug” craze.

BW: How’d that work out for them?  [Audience laughter]

BC: This meticulous game that you can now buy online on eBay for about three bucks.

BW: Some great drawings in it, though.

BC: Great drawings in it, and Bill did the cover. Meanwhile, Carl helped John get a meeting with Nickelodeon. They pitched Your Gang, which is a Our Gang comedy parody. Ren and Stimpy were minor characters in it. And they said, “We like the dog and the cat, make a cartoon out of that.” So we made a pilot, and next thing you know, we’re making a cartoon.

sexy-stimpy_borderBW: To jump a little earlier, years before that, John and I were very close friends. And I was friends with his girlfriend Lynne [Naylor] when I worked at Filmation. And I met Lynne one day in front of Filmation, “Who’s this beautiful girl that can draw?” And I was totally infatuated. We start talking about cartoons, and she’s like, “You need to meet my boyfriend.” [smacks table; audience laughter] I don’t wanna meet your boyfriend! Anyway, she dragged me kicking and screaming kind of. Turns out we were kindred souls, really weird and felt completely alienated from the business. And he was so weird that he couldn’t get a job. His drawings were so weirdly extreme. Primitive early versions of the Ren & Stimpy style.

But eventually, he had that entrepreneurial spirit where he wanted to run a crew. Getting a few artists together and doing layouts for Hanna-Barbera or whoever would do it. During that time, we would usually just get really, really drunk and hang around with these two kids, friends of his from Canada, Jim Gomez and Felix Forte. And they all kind of came up with Ren and Stimpy. I was there, but they really had come up with the first drawings, this is a sort of Tom & Jerry setup, but weirder. I probably threw in a few jokes, but they were the three. Felix at one point had a mental breakdown and went back to Canada and became a carpet salesman or something and never was part of the Spumco studio. Jim did work at Spumco as a writer.

We tried to sell a variation on the show that Bob described for years, we couldn’t get anywhere. That’s why I quit and went to New York to paint. I said, “John, we’re never gonna sell this thing.” Little did I know that Nickelodeon would form out of nothing.

Over the years John’s said some disparaging things about them. With my limited contact with them, they were wonderful people. And they gave us this giant chance, they had all this faith in him. I don’t know why he turned that whole story around, but I shouldn’t get too political.

BC: They were really great to work with, and you can’t discuss the show without mentioning Vanessa Coffey, who was the visionary behind Nicktoons. And she convinced Nickelodeon it was important to give creators the chance to direct their own shows and make cartoons that were their vision.

BW: She did that. That was back when it wasn’t an executive board, where twenty-five people spread the responsibility. It was her convincing the money men.

TK: Tell us about the day-to-day working at Spumco, because it wasn’t a normal studio.

BW: For a long time it was one of the best experiences I ever had. Particularly at the beginning. John can be difficult, he was demanding on his vision and all that, but generally he was fun and respectful and we were all just so excited to be doing this thing. Somebody’s paying us to do these crazy cartoons. We already knew if this thing got through, we were going to change everything. I know it sounds braggadocious, but it wasn’t that we were that great, it was just that everything was so bad. Other than The Simpsons, it was just a death world out there that had been strangled by well-meaning mothers working on censorship boards that just took the life out of cartoons.

BC: It’s psychologists.

BW: We all just had our own little funky rooms, it wasn’t set up like cubicles or anything. And Bob pretty quickly went from briefly doing a bit of everything to running the writing department to directing his own cartoons. And I ran the background department.

Painting by Bill Wray

Painting by Bill Wray

BC: I want to say to Bill’s credit, you can’t look at a cartoon today without seeing Bill’s influence on the industry. When I look at Ren & Stimpy, I see Bill’s hand in every scene. Except the backgrounds in the first season, which he won’t take responsibility for.

He was talking about the great opportunity and the joy early in the show. It was cool that everybody was dedicated to make sure the next cartoon was funnier than the one before it. Always. Somebody would do a storyboard and we couldn’t put it into production before someone was grabbing it out of their hand and Xeroxing every page, and practicing trying to draw like Chris Reccardi. Which I still can’t do.

BW: Well, most people at the studio were ready to do cartoons like this when we were 15, and we had to wait until we were 35.

BC: Yeah, exactly!

BW: And spent 15 years working in shit houses thinking, “There’s no hope left. It’s just never gonna happen.” And then it happened.

TK: So tell us a bit more about the other key players besides yourselves and John K. You mentioned Reccardi…

BW: I would say someone very, very important would be Jim Smith.

BC: Yeah, Jim Smith, baby.

BW: He’s the guy… the most famous, iconic pose of Ren and Stimpy that was first on all the t-shirts, where they’re arm-in-arm or whatever they’re doing, he drew that. And anything that had to do with big lummox characters, or poses that looked like Jack Kirby. He did all of it, and he did the layout styling for most of the backgrounds. Bob could do all this stuff equally well, but he had to do other things. Well, he did plenty of it, posing in the storyboards… But Jim was the king of layout. And laying out animation used to be everything, because it’s all the posing. And really, if you do the layout right, the animator is there to make it work, but a lot of the design and thought and joke is already set out for them.

BC: Who else…. Chris Reccardi, who is now married to Lynne Naylor…

BW: Bastard!

BC: Chris is one of those infuriating people who’s just the best at everything he does. He can play music, guitar, jazz, blues, any of that. He’s a brilliant illustrator. He did the Pat the Stimpy book, which won all kinds of awards. He directed Ren & Stimpy. His storyboards were always perfect. And by perfect, I don’t mean pristine or shiny. I mean hilarious, simple, well-designed, well-thought out stuff that would blow our minds.

BW: And to get gossipy, since you heard my obsession with Lynne Naylor. Lynne and Chris met on Ren & Stimpy, fell in love. After the relationship fell apart between John and Lynne, Chris was dumped out of the studio [for dating Lynne]. That was the pre-explosion before the end. And when John was fired, and Bob was put in charge, and we couldn’t wait to hire Chris. He was just starting to get where he could do this incredible work, and then he’s gone. So we brought him back.

BC: And nobody could draw Ren like Chris. Because Ren is impossible to draw, don’t even try.

BW: There’s probably only four people, Bob’s one, John of course, Jim, and Chris, who could invent new poses of Ren and Stimpy. Maybe some other guys a little bit, but generally the rest of us were just recycling what they did, because they could see it somehow completely in their brain and just give birth to a new drawing of Ren we’d never seen before.

BC: Yeah, but I’m almost incapable of doing anything else, so it all balances out.

TK: You mentioned Lynne, can you tell a bit more about her? Because we never hear anything about her.

BC: You know, when I first met Lynne Naylor, we were working at DiC on The New Adventures of Beany & Cecil. Which we all got fired from… and everyone stole everything. My friends and I went to lunch and got drunk when we found out we got fired. We came back, everything was gone. The ex-Mighty Mouse artists just took the animation disks, they took equipment, they took chairs, it was completely empty. It was great.

But Lynne would hang out in the lunchroom on a different floor, and just sit in there all day drawing. And I kind of discovered, there’s this kind of cute girl upstairs in the break room, and she’s sitting there by herself kind of mumbling and drawing really great girls. And you know that “John K. style” of drawing girls? Eh-eh. It’s the “Lynne Naylor style” of drawing girls. And all of us, me, him, Don Shank, everyone who draws those Ren & Stimpy, post-Ren & Stimpy girls, we’re all copying Lynne Naylor. She took Betty and Veronica and made them sexy. She really understood that way to draw girl characters. But she was a great layout artist, really talented animator. She still is.

BW: She gave credit to John training her, but she also is a very modest person. She definitely brought a lot to the table. I always thought her drawings were the sexiest and John’s would do kind of a version of that was this hybrid style they kind of co-invented. But his stuff was always a little more masculine for some reason. But hers had a feminine, sexy quality to it.

TK: Speaking of all these sexy girls, you guys pushed the envelope quite a bit on the show. How‘d you get away with it?

BW: They didn’t really notice completely. They did start to see some things…

BC: They were pretty naïve!

BW: Part of it was that they didn’t have dirty minds. They weren’t sitting around looking for stuff to find a problem with. They were just happy that we were all doing cartoons and this whole thing seemed to be working out.

BC: And to Vanessa’s credit, she stood her ground, said, “No, you’ve gotta let these guys do this stuff,” she fought for the jokes.

BW: I did a cartoon over at Games called “Sammy and Me”, which was not shown, because I drew [Stimpy] as Sammy Davis Jr. with a glass eye. Stimpy had a glass eye to emulate him, he gouges his own eye out to have a glass eye just like his idol.

BC: See, that’s children’s entertainment!

BW: It somehow in the storyboard wasn’t noticed and after production was done, “You’re gonna have to change the whole cartoon.” And at that point, honestly, I expected Vanessa to cave, but she said, “Nope. Not changing it.” So what happened was is they didn’t show it for a little while, but in the process of repeating it, and putting it here, and putting it there, they just forgot. So it’s back in the collections and everything else.

BC: Any production company, anybody that makes cartoons, they have a department within called “broadcast standards and practices”. And it’s their job to in-house police their own comment, to make sure the FCC doesn’t shut them down for indecency or whatever. I called it “double-standard and practices.” Because one week you could say “crap”, and the next week you couldn’t say “crap.” Things would change. But we would put in red herring jokes that we’d hope they would cut out. Because you have someone sitting in an office and it’s their job to find something wrong, right? So, why let them pick what’s wrong with the cartoon? We’ll pick what’s wrong with the cartoon.

BW: And they’d miss some of those jokes and they’d get through.

BC: And they got through! They would miss the red herring jokes which we were surprised about, but then they’d cut plot points out. I tell this all the time, my favorite thing is, there’s a cartoon called “Prehistoric Stimpy”, which is just full of innuendo, just jam-packed with off-color humor. But the note I got was, “Please remove the marijuana trees from the background.”  [Audience laughter]

BW: They were just stylized palm trees.

BC: They were ferns! We had a good laugh about it. I was like, “Well those imbeciles, those morons, I’ll show them a thing or two!” I forget who said it, it might’ve been you, Bill, “No, Bob, you tell ‘em, ‘Oh you caught us! You’re smart! You tricky you!’” It was just kind of a game.

I’ve got to admit, at first, Bill will back me up on this, I was kind of John’s dog. John would say, “Sic ‘em!” And I’d turn into a maniac and scream at people.

BW: But you were a bit of a natural at that, it wasn’t so…

BC: No, no, I can’t blame that on John. But it certainly helped. I had to deal with broadcast standards and practices all the time on the phone, it was my job. And it’s not because I’m qualified or tactful, or have any social skills. No, it’s because nobody else would do it, and I’m stupid enough to say I’ll do it.

BW: Well it’s better not to have the creator be the asshole. It’s better to have somebody else like Bob be the asshole for him.

BC: Like I said, it came naturally.

TK: And on that subject… the infamous split. There’s a lot of misinformation about it out there… Tell us some of the things leading up to it and how it all went down.

BC: We were way behind schedule, we were way over budget, and we were in trouble. We were making a cartoon… what was that cartoon called with George Liquor?

BW: “Man’s Best Friend”. It’s actually my fault, I pitched the idea to John. And he fell in love with it and turned it into a cartoon they wouldn’t show.

BC: The network was complaining, “We want you to cut this cartoon,” and John refused and he locked himself in his office and wouldn’t come out.

BW: Well, he took bathroom breaks.

BC: He did take bathroom breaks. I never actually saw him do that, but we assume he did. The cartoon was kind of brutal, and so the network said, “We don’t want to play this cartoon.” And he refused to cut it, and said he couldn’t be held responsible budgets or deadlines any more. So, he got fired.

It was terrible. It was terrible, the idea that somebody who created something this wonderful was fired from their own show. It happens. They asked me to continue the show, I said, “No, I can’t, ‘till I talk to John.” I went and talked to John, and I said, “Look, they want me to finish the show.” He said, “Do it with my blessing because I got us fired again.”

I said, “I’ll tell you what, I’m gonna finish your cartoons.” How many of his cartoons were in production, like five?

TK: More than that.

John K.

John K.

BC: Yeah, he had a bunch of cartoons that were in various stages of incompletion. “I’m gonna finish your cartoons first, I’m gonna work on them personally, I’m gonna put the best guys on it, we’re gonna do 100 percent layout, and I want to make them the best of the series. And I want you to be proud of me and I want you to know I’m gonna protect your vision.” I said that to him, and he thanked me. Then we went on and made the show.

It’s so funny, as angry as we were at John, however mad he was at us, whatever bad blood was there… we all, and Bill will back me up on this, we all fought for John’s vision still. Throughout the rest of the series, we said, “Is this something John would like?” “No, this isn’t right, this isn’t the way the show was designed, this isn’t his vision, so we’re not gonna do it.” We’re gonna try and do shows that he’d be proud of, whether we wanted to strangle him or not.

BW: There was a little period of time when he was first fired where… he came in the room and he told us, and he cried. We were all destroyed by it, because we had all really pinned so much hope on this, and we knew what it was. And, here we go again. It’s like, something that could be great is going to be stopped in its tracks. I can’t tell you how many projects that I worked on that were too good for networks so to speak, because the creators were too wild.

He told me, he confided in me, I went in his room later, like, “Oh my god, what are we gonna do…” blah, blah blah. And it’s just like, “Don’t sweat it, I’m relieved. This thing was killing me.” I’m like, “What?” Really, he had put himself under so much strain that this was a relief. But what happened, when he had some time to get away from it, he started to realize what he had lost. And what’s difficult for him is to take personal responsibility for a difficult personality. It’s very difficult for him, if possible at all. He couldn’t blame himself, so he had to blame a fall guy. And that’s what happened, in my opinion.

I told him, “Well, I’m probably going to work for Bob.” And he said, “Couldn’t you get a job somewhere else?” And I said, “Not on a show like this. You know what I’m talking about.” And he goes, “I know exactly what you’re talking about. You can have my blessing.” I got the blessing, too, the pope signed off on the two of us. But he would never admit that.

TK: You both directed on the show. Can you describe making a cartoon on Ren & Stimpy, and what was important to you?

BC: To me, it’s all about the funny. You’re sitting around with a bunch of the funniest guys in the studio, Bill was always there, we would throw ideas out. Then we’d go off in our separate corners and we’d make storyboards from one or two page outlines. We had the freedom to write the dialogue to make it as funny as we wanted. And the one thing that we did, is we didn’t have a script, which was written in stone. And that’s what everyone does now in animation. And you’re not allowed to deviate from the script, because the writer in a cartoon is more important than a cartoonist in a cartoon.

BW: More important than God.

BC: And they get producer’s credits. But we’re not bitter, are we Bill?

BW: Not bitter at all!

BC: We’re just telling it like it is.

BW: Who could be bitter at God?

BC: So we could make the cartoon better at every stage. We weren’t slaves to that original piece of paper where those ideas were written down.

BW: Although down in the recording booth, we would modify if Billy said some really funny line that was different.

BC: God bless Billy West. He was like Mel Blanc times three. You could bring him in and say, “What’ve ya got for us today, Billy?” And he’d just make us pee our pants laughing, taking our jokes and making them twice as funny. And he could do anything.

REN_sketchBW: And at the beginning it looked like he was going to do both voices. Maybe you know the story better than me, but I’d heard it was something along the lines that Nickelodeon was concerned it would be too much power in the hands of one artist, or some variation on that, and that John had a desire to do voices. But later when Billy did Ren, he’d already perfected it a long time before that.

BC: We all did some voices on the show. I was directing on the top-rated show on TV, I was like, “Hell yeah, I’ll do some voices.” I get to pay myself? I get a SAG card? Yay!

BW: And the only royalty in the business.

BC: We did a cartoon called “Reverend Jack”, which was about John K., a love letter to John.

BW: Love letter.

BC: It really was. You ever have a bunch of friends that you hang around with… think of Howard Stern… where everybody’s funny and everybody’s fair game… if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. So you make fun at each others’ expense, and you’re always funny. That’s what it’s like being in our world. And John’s not a kind person, he’s not the kind of person who worries whether or not he’s hurting anybody’s feelings. And I figure he’s fair game. I don’t mean to brag, but I can be just as mean as John! He’s seen me do it! You don’t wanna get on my wrong side, ‘cause you’ll be dead. I’ll be so funny you’ll kill yourself.

BW: Or yelling as loudly as he was.

BC: Or yelling as loudly as I was. So I got to get Frank Gorshin to do the voice of John. The Riddler! And to this day it’s the high point of my life. I remember trying to feed him a line, and he went, “Nooooooooo!” He nailed it. He started off as Burt Lancaster and slowly turned into Kirk Douglas. If you haven’t seen “Reverend Jack”, you should see it. It doesn’t make any sense at all, but it’s still funny. But to somebody who knows John, you’ll go, “Ohhh…..”

BW: Let me tell the cheese story… The main joke in that cartoon was them putting cheese and lunchmeat on his head, like they were anointing him in a religious ritual. That actually happened at a party of John’s when we were all so drunk we couldn’t walk. And Bob Jaques, the animation director on most of the better Ren & Stimpy cartoons, walked over to John, and he had a big platter for the party… And he put a piece of cheese or meat on John’s head. And John was too proud and too drunk, he couldn’t even lift this arms. He said, “I’m sure you think that’s funny.”

BC: “I’m sure you want to waste perfectly good lunchmeat like that!”

BW: And he built a sandwich on his head.

BC: So it ended up in a cartoon.

BW: So it was a true-to-life cartoon.

TK: So “Reverend Jack” is obviously a favorite, what are some of your other favorite Ren & Stimpy episodes? Not necessarily ones you directed.

BC: Certainly, because those are the best. I didn’t direct it, but I’ve got to say “Stimpy’s Invention”. It was my idea, I storyboarded it, except for the beaver scene. I wrote it and I’m proud of it. We threw a big party for that cartoon when we premiered it at the studio. And everybody from Hollywood showed up, a lot of famous comedians…. And we showed “Stimpy’s Invention”. And I’m sitting on the floor in front of the screen, looking around. And people are laughing, doubled over with tears running down their faces. I was like, “Holy cow, I’ve never seen anyone actually laugh at a cartoon before!”

BW: You might be onto something.

BC: People were bursting out uncontrolled laughter! What’ve I done? I was like, “Okay, I can die now, because this is the high point of my life. I’ve made a cartoon that makes people laugh this hard.” It’s like the Super Bowl of being an animator or cartoonist.

But I want to say a couple of other cartoons… Tom McGrath, he’s a brilliant animation director, makes big-budget movies now. But he started working on Ren & Stimpy, and he made a cartoon called “I Was a Teen-Age Stimpy”. And I think it’s a perfect cartoon. It’s about Stimpy hitting puberty. “Space Madness” too. What do you think, Bill?

Sketch by Bob Camp

Sketch by Bob Camp

BW: I think you hit the high points, I have to agree. Tom was so modest, he used to come in my office and ask for advice. And it was the first cartoon he ever directed and it was a homerun. And he was an example of why we were so unhappy that the show ended when it did. Bob already had it down, and John did his brilliant cartoons. But guys like me who were getting their first shot, we’d only done it for a year, we were still too green. You can watch my cartoons and you see promising notes in them. But truly none of them were great. I might’ve done great cartoons in a second year, and Tom certainly would’ve.

Chris Reccardi’s cartoons tended to look the coolest in a way, didn’t they? They had a certain graphic quality. I kind of have a fondness for “Hermit Ren” because I wrote on that. There’s lots of great ones, lots of stinkers too…

BC: Well, Thad, what do you think? Hey, if you’re here, clearly you like Ren & Stimpy. Thad wrote a book about The Ren & Stimpy Show, from the very first, earliest stories of us getting together to the Adult Party Cartoon. And he interviewed everybody except a few grumpy people….

Ren-Stimpy-bookBW: That would be me. [laughter] I apologized to him already, because at the time I didn’t really want to talk about Ren & Stimpy ever again. I’m over it now.

BC: And John wouldn’t be interviewed of course. But I’ve gotta say, it’s a pretty objective, and fair, and true book about how it went down. You know, it’s not all easy to read, and having been there, I was telling him today… I learned stuff reading it, and I was there. “Wow, I didn’t know that! I said that?” If you really like the show and want to know what’s going on, please go and buy a copy of Thad’s book, because it’s really well-written. And in the back, he’s got a list of all the episodes, breaks them down, and his reviews of them—which I don’t always agree with, Thad. But I appreciate his criticism because at least he’s honest.

BW: One thing I wanted to say, because we talked some shit up here today… And I truly believe this… One of the reasons the breakup of this crew was so bitter, and certain people are still bitter, bitter, bitter angry about it….

BC: I used to be…

BW: Let me finish… I’m sentimental today or something…. We all loved each other and it was really like a family breaking apart. So that’s why the betrayal on all sides was so bitter and still is today.

BC: I remember the day that they fired everybody and they closed down the studio, we all felt like we were dying. And then when they asked me to finish the show, I went and hid in my studio behind my house for like a couple of weeks, and didn’t talk to anybody, didn’t answer the phone. And just thought, “Okay, am I going to finish the highest-rated show on cable TV that I love more than anything and thrown my heart into and betray my best friend? Am I gonna do that?” And it wasn’t easy. And I have friends to this day who I consider mentors, dear friends, who still won’t talk to me. Because they’re convinced I stabbed John in the back. Bill, did I stab John in the back?

BW: Hollywood is more complicated than that. And when a studio fires you, they fire you. Bob not going to work for them wouldn’t have made them hire John back, I promise you that. That was an opportunity that they took, and they were smart, that’s what they should’ve done. What else would you do but hire the second-in-command if you had a show that was a success? Did that enable them to be tougher with John? They fired John before they talked to Bob. So that’s just not part of the equation.

BC: So the fact that lifelong friendships were torn asunder by it, that says something to the passion that we all felt for making the show, and for what we had done together. It’s something we all still share. And the real sad part is that I run into people who were in the same kind of work situation as us, working for this person. That we all feel like we need psychological help, like we’re all crazy. We’re good crazy though, but also bad crazy, you know?

BW: Most comedians are out of their minds.

BC: Yeah, yeah. But, I have a table here, and I’m doing prints and stuff, sketching for people. And I’m not doing that because I need the money or have to do this to make a living. Well, yeah, that’s why. But, I do it because I love Ren & Stimpy. With all my heart. And I’m not gonna make pornographic cartoons starring Ren and Stimpy, because it’s wrong. I’m here to protect the characters and their vision, and who they and what they mean to people.

The one thing I hear most, and I know you hear it too, Bill. Some of you have said it to me today: “Thank you for my childhood.”

BW: Actually, the most common one is, “Thank you for not having me go crazy.” Because it was like an outlet for nutty people.

BC: It is, because Ren & Stimpy is about a dysfunctional couple.

BW: That’s kind of what we all are, in one way or another.

Games_Animations_Logo-230BC: And that’s the thing, I think, Thad, you’ll agree with me, that the thing that makes Ren & Stimpy important to people is that it’s relatable. Because it reflects relationships they’ve had, dynamics they have with members of their family….

BW: The anger.

BC: The anger. I want to tell you a funny story. One time we were in a hamburger joint in Beverly Hills, across where Games Animation was.

BW: You would see Dean Martin and Slash in there every day. Nice combination.

BC: Yeah, yeah, and we’re sitting there, and Bill says to me, “Bob, Bob, look, it’s Kirk Douglas.” And I look over, and sure enough, sitting across the room is Kirk Douglas. And Bill tells me, “Bob, go talk to him.”

BW: He was up at the highest point in the restaurant, and he was sitting there eating, and he looks like he’s surveying the room, “Why don’t you recognize me?”

BC: “I can’t talk to Kirk Douglas, what’re you nuts?” And Bill says, “Screw it!” And he stands up and he kind of storms over to him… “What’s he gonna do? Leave him alone, Bill, he’s an old man!” So he goes across the room, and he says something to him, and I can’t hear what he’s saying… And Kirk Douglas goes… “Yes. The anger!” [Audience laughter] What did you say to him?

BW: I think I briefly set up kind of what who we were and what we were doing. And just how much we admired him because he was the angriest actor ever. And he embraced that.

BC: How many of you guys know Sid Caesar? He had a show, Show of Shows, and a guy on it named Howard Morris. And he’s known for being a character on The Andy Griffith Show. He’s a little-bitty guy and kind of a funny voice… Remember Abner and Ewalt on Ren & Stimpy? Ewalt is me doing an impersonation of Howard Morris. So me and Bill and Jim Gomez were sitting in that restaurant, gagging up a cartoon. And there’s an old man sitting behind us, and we could just see the top of his head, and two ladies who were clearly his daughters, they were saying, “Pop, you okay, you get enough to eat?” And they say, “Okay, pop time to go,” and they get up… And he says, “I’ll be right with you.” So he gets up, and he’s walking by, and he’s looking at me out of the corner of his eye. And I go, “Oh… Howard Morris!” And I go, “Hi, we’re…” And he goes, “I know who you are. Y’know… You boys say the word ‘fuck’ an awful lot.” And I’m like, “Oh, I’m really sorry…” “No, it’s okay. I kinda like it. Y’know, sometimes I say it too, and my wife makes me go stand in the backyard.” And he walked out.  [Audience laughter]

BW: Sid Cesar ate there too. Yeah, Hamburger Hamlet was like the hot-spot of has-beens.

TK: So how would you sum up the legacy of Ren & Stimpy?

BW: It starts to sound self-aggrandizing after a while, but we were just part of a team that brought cartoons back. It brought funny, irreverent ones where characters had emotions and relationships and character development.

BC: I gotta say thanks to Nickelodeon for allowing us to make the cartoon. Some people like to complain that a lot of jokes were cut out. Well, they’re businessmen and they make cartoons for television. They don’t always agree with your vision. But they were really great.

BW: At the time we would freak out, but I came to know, and I now counsel younger show runners when they happen to talk to me, don’t be married to a joke that the network asks you to change. Because what we would do is change the joke and make it more subversive. We just made it a little harder to understand.

wilbur-cobb-leftBC: I’ve got to tell you the best example of that. We made a cartoon called “Prehistoric Stimpy”, and there’s ton of innuendo and barely hidden off-color stuff. But there’s a scene… Jack Carter did the voice of Wilbur Cobb. I love Wilbur Cobb.

BW: Well, you created him.  [Audience laughter]

BC: No! You and Jim Gomez did!

BW: We did?

BC: Yeah, because you were making fun of Will McRobb!

BW: Oh, right. Well, you did the drawing.

BC: Will McRobb was the story editor for Nickelodeon. And he had the dubious job of having to rein us in. And God bless him for even trying, because we were such a bunch of jerks.

So there was a line in it where Wilbur Cobb is telling Ren and Stimpy, he’s the tour guide, why the dinosaurs died out. He goes, “Well, I’ll tell ya why the dinosaurs died! They were runnin’ with scissors! No, no, they went swimming too soon after they ate! No! No! It was jock itch! Really bad jock itch!” [Audience laughter] Well, we loved that, that’s really funny, right? So Nickelodeon said, “No. You can’t say ‘jock itch.’” What!? “All right, I’ll call you back.” So I’m sitting in my office, I’m stewing, and I thought, “What the hell, I’m gonna try it.” So I call up, “Hi, it’s Bob! How ya doin’? I got an idea for that joke! Can we say hemorrhoids?’” “Oh, sure, you can say ‘hemorrhoids!’” I nearly lost my mind! And so I call Jack Carter and say, “Get over here fast. We may have a really important moment in your career!”  [Audience laughter]

BW: And remember, bleeding assholes are a lot better than clothing for penises.

The most fun I had directing was with was Tommy Davidson [doing Sammy Davis Jr. in Sammy and Me]. That was just an unlimited riot. You could tell he was pleasantly surprised that he was allowed to go as far as he was allowed to go, and we kept encouraging him.

BC: And Bill got to direct Dom DeLuise. We told the people, “Okay, you’ve got to bring a lot of food in, Dom DeLuise likes to eat.” So we had a huge table, a banquet… And Dom DeLuise comes in, and I said, “Dom! We have a little time before we starting recording, would you like something to eat?” He goes, “Oh no. I couldn’t.” [Audience laughter] So we’re wetting ourselves, it’s Dom DeLuise doing Marlon Brando. And so when he came out, he ate everything. And we’re just sitting there laughing. Because it was like we get dinner and a show.

BW: There was actually one point where I tried to direct him, which was a mistake. “I’ve been doing Marlon Brando since before you were conceived!” After the whole thing was done, he came to me and apologized to me privately.

[We took questions from the audience, and someone asked if there was something behind the “Happy Happy Joy Joy” song.]

BC: When I came up with that cartoon, I wanted there to be a song sequence. And were playing around with this character Stinky Whizzleteats. Burl Ives, because we were all obsessed with Burl Ives. Because Burl Ives is this interesting character, he did two really cool things in life. One is he played huge, murderous bullies in movies, and he made children’s records. And if you listen to his children’s records, “Oh, that’s kind of cute.” And then, “Oh my god, what did he just say there? That’s twisted.”

I can’t take credit for the song. I storyboarded it, “Here’s where they sing the ‘Happy Happy Joy Joy’ song.” But you gotta credit John, Jim Smith, and Chris Reccardi.

BW: And you’ve got to credit me, because my room was directly across from the recording studio. And it took them all day to record that song. You have to credit me for not going in there and killing them. [Audience laughter] But I’ve learned to like it.

[Someone asked if they’d bring the characters back.]

BW: Well, this is the news of the day, because it looks like John is doing a cartoon for the next SpongeBob movie. So, I hope he finishes it and I hope it’s great, but we won’t be working on it.

BC: We’re not invited to that party.

BW: I can’t speak for Bob because he’s got more issues with John, I mean I’ve got mine. But I actually would, because I love the characters more than the feud. But he’s not going to have me. He likes to work with young, inexperienced kids and train them, that’s his thing. But a new Ren and Stimpy cartoon is still cool, and it’ll be cool in some way if he gets it finished.

BC: And it means there’s still some life in that franchise.

Left To Right: Thad, Bill and Bob

Left To Right: Thad, Bill and Bob

A new Ren & Stimpy short has not been formally announced or confirmed by Nickelodeon, but Bill was not the first person I heard this news from. At Annecy this year, John K. screened an animatic of a R&S short that would have opened the last SpongeBob movie, Sponge Out of Water, but was never produced. It’s been posted on social media that he’s starting a new studio for a “big project”—word is that it’s indeed a new Ren & Stimpy short. As with anything in this particular world, buzz and animatics may be all we ever hear and see. Regardless, it’s clear the Sick Little Monkeys‘ story is far from over.

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Not Anonymous

    they fucked John K and you guys continue that legacy by interviewing guys who screwed an animation brethren over.

  • Thad Komorowski

    “Not Anonymous”‘s comments are just that: words from a writer who lacks the conviction to sign his name, and too stupid to buy a book (never mind read one) or think critically. No doubt that works fine for some people, and it’s exactly why I continue to press on.

  • Andrew Hunt

    Great piece! I loved reading it — it’s a wonderful trip back memory lane for us R&S lovers. Thank you!!

  • I was wondering when the revised edition would come out. How far is the process?

  • Ken Martinez

    Bob mentions that Nickelodeon told John K. to cut Man’s Best Friend, but John refused (Bill Wray tells the same story in SLIMED!).

    It really sounds like if John had relented and compromised all those years ago, Nickelodeon wouldn’t have fired him.

  • Jason Meadows

    “He likes to work with young, inexperienced kids.” Well well well! I like the sound of that being a young inexperienced kid myself going through his blog lessons right now.

    It’s interesting hearing Bob Camp’s side of the story. I’m a huge fan of all of them no matter what went on. That show is literally the reason why I want to be an animator. Ever since I saw it as a kid for the first time, I remember thinking, “I want to be one of the people that makes cartoons like that.” No other animated show ever did that to me until I saw Ren and Stimpy. Just lit a spark to draw. Thanks Thad for putting this together.

  • Berkatse

    They did screw him big time! They screwed everyone at Spumco, except the traitors that followed them to the new studio! Nickelodeon promised give the show to Camp and a big pay raise! Why don’t you interview John K and Eddie Fitzgerald and get the rest of the story? Billy West is a traitor too. Without Camp and West Nickelodeon couldn’t have pulled it off.

  • Thad Komorowski

    Ah, shut up.

  • Anonym

    You gotta be a real disgusting human being to back up someone Kickstarter just to promote your slanderous book on him.

  • Thad Komorowski

    Yup – another anonymous tool. Shaddap.