John Sanford is a hilarious man. He works as a story artist at DreamWorks and has an impressive resume with Disney, Sony, and Pixar. He also has a web comic called “Chippy and Loopus” which he says “has naughty words, so don’t let your kids or clergymen read it”. I think his comic is crazy funny! So let’s go check out the man behind “Chippy and Loopus!
David: John you are a story Artist at DreamWorks and also do a comic “Chippy and Loopus”. First and foremost, how did you get started or realize cartooning was the direction you were going to take as a career?
John: I drew a lot as a kid, and seemed to be one of the better artists among my classmates. I loved animation and comic strips and comic books. I would spend hours reading Peanuts, BC, Popeye, Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck etc. In animation, I loved Bugs Bunny, Mighty Mouse, Bullwinkle and Rocky, Peabody and Sherman. I was addicted to afternoon cartoons. I also loved Mad Magazine. So I ate, drank and breathed cartoons, comics and animation, but had no idea you could make a career out of it. Then, when I was 11 or 12 my Mother brought home a book called “The Art of Professional Cartooning” by Jack Sidebotham. Great book. One of those thin Walt Foster type deals. Anyway, THAT was the book that really got me thinking of Cartooning as a CAREER. I decided that I would dedicate my life to becoming a professional cartoonist. No one could talk me out of it after that. It was a way of life. I was a stubborn little bastard.
David: You’ve worked at Disney, Sony, Pixar, (pretty impressive) and now at DreamWorks, what’s a work day like for you at a major company like DreamWorks?
John: It depends. If I’ve been issued a sequence, I come in, sit down, and after dicking around looking at art blogs for a bit, I start brainstorming. If there is a script, I read it over and over, sketching little ideas and thumbnails in the margin of the script. Once I know exactly what I want to do, I start drawing. We work in Photoshop. Each sequence is anywhere from between 200 to 700 panels. It isn’t always like that. Some days are spent on meetings, discussing the story and problem solving.
David: Now on to Chippy and Loopus, I love this comic strip! How did the whole comic get started?
John: The whole comic started as a lark. To really understand where the comic came from however, I have to start by with a little history. I tried for years to create a comic strip, but I could never come up with anything I liked. They were all derivative of things I liked, Doonesbury, Bloom County, etc. Anyway, way back in 2005, I left Disney after working there for 11 years and went to Sony. The transition was interesting. I found that I had over the years developed a “Disney Filter” which would prevent me from producing ideas that weren’t “Disney Safe”. Once at Sony, that filter was blown off, and I started doing some of the best work I’d ever done. Around this time, I started blogging with a bunch of other story artists there. We’d post gags and stuff we came up with during the day, in meetings and whatnot. I became addicted to the gratification of people coming to the blog and leaving comments. During this time, Howard Stern moved his popular Radio to Sirius Satellite radio. The show enjoyed a creative renascence. One day, friend and fellow story artist Jeff Ranjo took a little 2″x8″ strip of paper known as a dialogue strip (because duh, we used them to write the dialogue under the storyboards). They came in little pads. Anyway, Jeff filled the strip with little boxes, and then started just filling the boxes with imagery, going left to right, making it up as he went along to see if he could come up with a little story. The result was a funny, spontaneous little comic. I decided to try one myself. In the first panel I drew a little rabbit reading a book, and then I drew a wolf saying “Hey Chippy, can I bum a smoke?” The strip wrote itself. The punch line that presented popped into my head was a line for Chippy: “You fucking moron”. I figure all those years of Disney repression, coupled with the inspiration of the newer, raunchier, no-holds barred Stern show. Those two things definitely fueled the humor style of the early comics, and set the tone for the strip that continues to this day. Just then, story artist Jack Hsu walked in to my office, so I showed the strip to him. He laughed. I decided to post the strip on our blog. Then I posted another. People loved it. Jeff Ranjo and I challenged each other to post a strip a day for a year. Jeff quit his strip after about a month. I was able to continue doing mine 7 days a week for about 3 months. That was how the strip was for about 6 months, drawn totally spontaneously on a little 2″x8″ strip of paper. Then, in September of 2006, I went to work for Pixar. Pixar had long ago phased out boarding on paper, so there were no little pads of 2″x8′ strips of paper, so I had to change my process. I started drawing them on 8″1/2 by 11″ sheets of paper. I started to pencil and ink them, even write them before hand. My audience grew, but only grew so far because I was posting them on a Type pad blog where you use scroll buttons to access previous posts. Finally, in 2009, I launched Chippy and Loopus on their own dedicated site, using a Comic press to display the comics in a reader friendly fashion.
David: I must say that your comic is brassin and crass, if these are good words to describe it…and I absolutely love it, just my opinion but you have guts. It would be censored on a major comic syndicate. What are the future plans for Chippy and Loopus? Can you see it as a TV show, film, or syndicated comic?
John: Well, thanks, but I don’t think I necessarily have guts. It’s the internet for crying out loud. Why can’t the characters talk like real people? I always wanted the comics I read to be as funny as me and my friends were when we are just trying to make each other laugh. A lot of people make a big deal about the swearing. A friend of mine pointed out that the fact that the characters swear makes it seem like they are unaware that they are being watched.
After the strip had been running for a few months I was contacted by syndicated comic strip artist Brian Basset, creator of Adam @Home and Red and Rover. He encouraged me to try to turn the strip into something that could work in a newspaper, and then submit it to syndicates. I worked on it for a few months, and then abandoned the idea when I realized that 95% of what I normally put into a strip would give the average syndicate editor a coronary. I think I could see the strip as a TV series, but only if it appeared on HBO or Showtime, maybe Adult Swim. I’ve noticed that the Venture Brothers has their share of jizz and masturbation jokes. I think I could make it work there. I could also see it as a movie. The first story arc would make a good movie. I’m actually adapting the first big story arc for a graphic novel. It’s going to be big.
David: Okay last question, I always love to ask this question and a fun one. What cartoon character (comic or animated) is your favorite and you most identify with?
John: Well, my favorite comic strip character is not one I identify with, and it’s hard for me to keep it to just one. My favorite comic strip character is Popeye. In Popeye, EC Segar created one of the funniest, most interesting characters ever to grace comics or animated films. Popeye is an unlikely hero that everybody underestimates. He’s super strong, that everybody knows, but Segar also wrote him as a streetwise and uniquely clever. Popeye solves problems like no other character, and that speech pattern!! And LOOK at him!!! No other character looks like Popeye! He’s a true work of art. That strip in Segar’s hands is every bit as beautiful and intricate as a Beethoven Symphony or a Charlie Parker Solo. A true masterpiece.
This has been fun! Go check out “Chippy and Loopus” at www.chippyandloopus.com