Interview with Bill Plympton: People are obsessed with their bodies

August 6, 2009

During the Animafest, back in June, I have visited master class by cartoonist Bill Plympton where he was talking about his approach to cartoons and showed us some of his latest films. Afterward, we sat and talked a little bit on his career, influences and animation…

bill_plympton.jpgPhoto taken from (c)

Because Plympton is the first animator that draws all frames of his films only by himself, you can get a picture how passionate he is about making animated films. All elements of his plots, either in short or feature films, are completely connected in one unity and devoted to some of his narrative idea exclusively.

I already presented several of his short animated films in Pocket cinema few weeks ago, so we are jumping  directly to talk with Bill Plympton right now…

You said once that the body and the face are your milieu… those are fields you like the most to explore…

BP: I think that human body is the most important part of our existence. Clothing, fashion, exercises, make up, people are obsessed with their bodies. I think there is a lot of humour in that obsession. So, I use the fascination with the human body as a source of my story telling and my humour.

I can recognize strong influence of Robert Crumb’s comics in your animation… You both definitely share opinion on women… (laughs)

BP: Yes! (laughs) Robert Crumb really had big influence on me when I was younger. Now, not so much. But, certainly his use of drugs, sex, violence, social criticism… The style and the look of drawings are very ‘like Robert Cramb’.

Bill_Plympton_Idiots_Angels.jpgFrom Idiots & Angels, B Plympton (c)

Beside Robert Crumb, have there been other artists in particular that have had a strong influence on you, or whose work you admire? Do you look to other media for inspiration, such as film and fine art?

BP: Well, yeah… Quentin Tarantino, Frank Capra… Certainly, Walt Disney was a big influence, thus Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Jacques Tatti… there are many, many artists… Rene Magritte, Roland Topor, Charles Adams who did the Adams Family and people like that… those were my influences.

When I first saw your artworkz, I thought that you are either from New York or Seattle…

BP: You know it’s funny, people think I’m European. A lot of people, when they meet me, are surprised to find out that I’m American. They think I’m from England. I think it’s because my humour is very similar to Monty Python. It’s much related to Terry Gilliam. So, I think that is why most people don’t consider me American, which is strange because I’m from Middle America, really. Oregon is like middle, middle America.

bill_plympton_1.jpgFrom The Sleazy Cartoons by B. Plympton (c)

Your cartoons are known for a very specific humour. You grew up in a big family, three sisters and three brothers… Where does your humour in cartoons come from? Maybe something from your childhood…

BP: I was not funny at home. My drawings were funny, but my father was the funny one. He could make people laugh by telling a story or joke. He taught me a lot about the power of humour and how humour can make everything seem right. So, that was my big influence.

How does the audience perceive your animated films in the context of cultural differences, for instance in Asia, America, Europe? Have you noticed so far some differences?

BP: Um, as for Asia, actually it’s more Korea, then Australia. In Europe it’s France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, those are my biggest countries. France and Spain particularly… oh, yeah, Portugal, too.

bill_plympton_5.jpgBill Plympton’s master class at Animafest 2009

They all have strong comic book industry, too…

BP: Yes! And also they appreciate humour in cartoons for adults. Whereas, most of the Americans… they think cartoons are for kids. So, there are a lot more sophisticated audience in Europe then in America. I think America is changing. I think they are starting to realize that there is a market with cartoons for adults in America. I think that is changing.

How long does it generally take to create a short film?

BP: Two months or something like that, it goes pretty fast. You know my film with Santa Claus?! That was an idea I had in seventies for a Christmas card. I was gonna make a Christmas card and I never did it; I filed it away and discovered it just few months ago. I said, hey! That’s kind of funny idea; now that I make animation I should make it an animated cartoon. And it’s a big success, I’m shocked. People really love that Santa Claus film. So, I’m very happy with that.


You do lots of master classes worldwide and you teach animation… Hence, what is your opinion on younger generations of artists that are trying to find new ways of expressiveness in animated films?

BP: I think it’s revolutionary what is happening right now. So many young kids want to be animators. In fact, you saw young people in the audience here on master class, right?! They know there is a big career opportunity in animation and they know you can make money in animation, which you know, twenty, thirty years ago was very difficult. That’s what makes Zagreb so unique. You had the studio here [Zagreb school of animated films]… successful in doing animation. I think, now it’s coming back. People see the opportunity for a career in animation. If you like to draw or tell a story, it’s possible to be successful.

What did change in your career of animator after your Oscar nominations? You were nominated in two occasions…

BP: A lot changed. It’s amazing how much difference it make. Whether your film is good or not, they say: Oh, you were nominated for Oscar you must be a genius (laughs). It’s not true. I’m not a genius, but that’s how people think. It’s kinda crazy, it’s kinda stupid you know. But the Oscar is so important in America. I don’t know whether it’s important or not in Europe, but in America it’s a very important award. It opens a lot of doors.

From ‘I married a strange person’ by Bill Plympton (c)

I noticed the name of your producer Biljana Labovic… she must be some ‘lost soul’ from our region…

BP: She is from Belgrade and she studied in School of visual arts back in LA in nineties. She moved there to study art school and she became an animator. I hired her as a young student to help me with my films. She is very talented, smart and hard working. Most people from Europe work harder then Americans (laughs). So, every time she came to work for me, I gave her more money and more position. Now, she runs the studio, basically. I just do the drawings, but she runs the studio.

What impact has technology had on your work? I mean, particularly the Internet…

BP: I like the Internet. I think that the Internet is for me very important part of my success. We sell a lot of merchandise on the Internet. We publicize a lot of my screenings and show appearances on the internet where I talk about my new films. I have a blog, too. Yeah, for me it’s a very exciting and I think in a next few years we will start seeing a lot more money for animation on the internet. That’s my hope, anyway.

bill_plympton_4.jpgFrom ‘Hot Dog’ by B. Plympton (c)

I was going to ask you about that… Because you finance yourself and care a lot about merchandise, which of them – films, books, drawings, you find the most important?

BP: The DVD’s are the most important. I did books twenty years ago while I was an illustrator. But, films really made me famous, it’s part of my career and I really love to do animation. So, particularly the new DVD, it’s called ‘The Dog Days’, it’s brand new and I think it’s my best DVD yet. It’s what I want people to get. So, they can see what Bill Plympton is about.

Besides film festivals, you are a regular visitor of Comic-Con festivals in America…

BP: Yeah, I go to those. They are very important. There is a big audience in America for comics and animation. It’s huge and I sell there very well.

From ‘Hair High’ by Bill Plympton (c)

As a former illustrator, do you know what is happening now in this field?

BP: Yeah, I follow a little bit. I’m still a member of the Society of Illustrators in New York and I’m still seeing a lot of this people. A lot of these illustrators are moving into animation. They know that animation has lots of money, lots of opportunity for work. So, it’s natural that they do both, illustration and animation.

What’s next? What are your future plans?

BP: I have a new feature film I’m working on, I was gonna show a clip, but I just didn’t have enough time. It’s a long film and a kinda serious. It’s about a love affair that goes terrible wrong, but still there is a lot of humour in it, lot’s of humour. It should be finished in two or three years, that’s my guess. That’s my plan. Two years, that’s pretty fast.

Bill, TNX a lot!

I married a stranger person!

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