Interview: “Gumby” comics writer Jeff Whitman – Animation Scoop

Interview: “Gumby” comics writer Jeff Whitman

This time, the puns are fitting: the flexibility of Gumby has made him one of pop culture’s most resilient images since he leapt from Art Clokey’s dexterous fingertips over 65 years ago. From his first appearance in the film Gumbasia, Gumby was as innocent as he was sophisticated, as surreal as he was homespun.

Gumby comics have taken the same approach in recent years with a number of top drawer artists and writers creating new adventures and adapting classic episodes. Last year, a highly eclectic new series was introduced at San Diego Comicon and the entire collection has been assembled into Papercutz’ 50 Shades of Clay, which is enjoying the widest retail reach of any Gumby comic.

“It’s the first time a Gumby graphic novel has had a wide release like this,” says Writer and Assistant Managing Editor Jeff Whitman. “It’s very exciting because now it can get into the hands of more Gumby collectors and soon-to-be Gumby collectors.

Even though the look of Gumby, Pokey and their friends are relatively simple, there was no need to adhere to severe design restrictions. Each story has its own style, feeling and mood, yet they all share the classic Gumby love of inventive play. Gumby can, after all, become almost anything and go anywhere.

Art by Kyle Baker

“In the original TV episodes, he was usually in a toy store, and he has also had a home base,” Whitman explains. “He’d be at the kitchen table eating with his family, but he’d also jump into books and go anywhere he wants. There’s a fine balance there for stories.”

Part of the balance was keeping everything true to the vision of Art Clokey and his son, Joe, who now helms the Gumby organization known as Premavision. “They loved our enthusiasm,” Whitman says of the Clokey family. “We had extensive conversations with Joe Clokey, even about things like the sound Gumby makes when he jumps into books, and what sounds the moon creatures make from ‘Gumby’s Moon Trip.’ Joe grew up with it all, so he’s dedicated to keeping his father’s legacy intact and making sure that Gumby makes his magic for each new generation. They’re currently reissuing the episodes and movies on DVD and streaming, plus there are still all the toys. There’s going to be a new movie and TV series.”

On his end, Whitman is seeing Gumby comics reaching both kids and adults. Parents remember the animation or the toys, but he gets plenty of emails from kids about the comics. With so many properties getting reboots, Gumby seems most viable, especially in the wake of acclaimed stop-motion films by Laika and Wes Anderson. But the most interesting turn of events for Papercutz seems to be the growing audience of kids for comics in an age of tentpole movies, video games and TV.

Art by Mike Kazaleh

“Childrens graphic novels and comics are actually a booming industry now,” Whitman says. “Everyone’s getting in on the game. You see more and more new things announced each day.
There are a lot more than when we started 12 years ago. We try to grab the next big thing. We just launched Hotel Transylvania, for instance, and we’re doing a lot of originals and translations.

“Comics promote reading, so a lot of educators and librarians have gotten behind the comics movement. To have favorite characters in comics makes it accessible to kids who might drag their feet otherwise. Reading isn’t going anywhere.”

GUMBY Panel by Laurie E. Smith from 50 Shades of Clay


Papercutz 50 Shades of Clay Gumby comics are available in comic book shops and at Target stores.

Greg Ehrbar

Greg Ehrbar

Greg Ehrbar is a freelance writer/producer for television, advertising, books, theme parks and stage. Greg has worked on content for such studios as Disney, Warner and Universal, with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. His numerous books include Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney (with Tim Hollis). Visit gregehrbar.com for more.
Greg Ehrbar
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  • 50 Shades of Clay, eh? Didn’t realize ol’ Gumbo had it in him

    Gumbasia doesn’t contain Gumby at all, just coined the name and general weirdness..