Kali Fontecchio: As a child, my father would bring home Laserdiscs of all the Disney classics, some Looney Tunes, and even some early work by Pixar- I would watch these for hours on end, which I think was a tactic my mother used to keep me quiet. From watching early Mickey Mouse cartoons I learned invaluable lessons such as: boys wear pants with buttons and fedoras, whereas girls wear pillbox hats with a slightly limp daisy perched on top. This is how one can tell the gender of a cartoon character. I held that notion to heart for many years.
As the years went by I realized it was my only choice for succeeding in life, so I chose it as my permanent profession at age six or so (I did not live up to the whole deal I made with myself, cartoonist/rock star). But the real reason it is a passion comes from an indescribable feeling that is like a gut reaction to something. If someone swung their arm at you, you would duck, and if someone gives me a pen and paper, I draw.
KF: My attitude has definitely changed. I came into Otis pretty cocksure. Growing up in a small town where no one, for the most part, could draw, let alone cartoon-type stuff, I always got a lot of encouragement and compliments as being some sort of amazing creative talent. I usually clung to those statements- for the rest of the time I was the outcast. At Otis I discovered that there are so many talented people in the world, on all different levels in their respective fields. At this point I think I had an identity crisis and slacked off the whole first year at college. It wasn't until the second year I gained speed.
JA: How did you end up in the company of John Kricfalusi and the Spumco gang?
KF: I'll take this opportunity to make a short story long. My friend from high school worked as a DJ at KXLU 88.9 FM Los Angeles. While visiting him there I met another fellow DJ, Maki Tamura, who happened to be friends with the band Deerhoof. After going to one of their shows I ate ice cream with them, and much fun was had. Excited to tell someone that I got to do so, I told the only person I knew at the time who would be jealous, a UCLA student I briefly talked to sometimes online. She recommended a web comic, QuestionableContent.net, that would occasionally mention random obscure bands. She linked me to a specific one about Deerhoof. Out of sheer boredom I returned there every weekday to read and see if he'd mention more bands I had seen or met. Over the years it eventually became a habit, as I had moved on from that sort of music and back to my roots, oldies.
The next morning, I scoured John's blog looking for an email, and eventually I found one he put up a long time ago for people to request caricatures and such. I emailed him and apologized profusely for not attending his soirée. He replied some time later and apologized for being late on returning the message, he was in Canada or something, but he'd like to meet me and see my sketchbook and such. We've been meeting ever since.
The first time we hung out, I remember this pretty vividly, he said "how would you like to meet world famous Uncle Eddie?" I, of course, yelped a nervous, "yes!" I had never previously heard Eddie's voice, having only read his blog, and it was quite the shocker. We met in a very spacious Thai restaurant, kind of swanky, very echoey. John and I sat down, and I could see out the window a very funny man walking with an odd bounce carrying a book. It was Eddie! We were introduced, and Eddie started to laugh, and it echoed and echoed. I had never heard such a loud laugh! I was almost frightened, actually. But then after talking, and much sweating, I had made new friends.
That turned out to be more verbose than I had originally intended, but oh well. It was a turning point in my life, thus it is very important to me.
JA: Many of your influences come from outside of animation- one that stands out is Buster Keaton.
KF: Buster Keaton is one of my heroes. He, to me, sums up what entertainment means; something not everyone can do, something that is funny and inventive, something that affects you and has an impact. Buster does all this to me and I think there is an audience out there that would agree. With much fortune, I grew up in a town with a silent film theater equipped with an original Wurlitzer.
JA: Is anyone doing that kind of comedy today?
KF: Jackie Chan comes to mind, and so does Stephen Chow, in terms of Buster's "spirit of innovation." Hong Kong cinema seems to still understand what the viewer wants. I have seen many good Hong Kong films. There will never be another Buster Keaton, ever again.
KF: I love them! They Stooge to Conga, maybe? I'm one of those people who are okay with Shemp, I think he's really good. Curly is a genius but Shemp is the one who started it all as the older brother. My favorite Stooges shorts are the ones that have super cartoony gags. There's one where they're tree doctors and they go to Africa to find a tree to mate with a male tree, and Larry gets his foot caught in an alligator. In the same short they are trying to cover their tracks so that the Natives don't follow them, so they literally pick their footprints up off the ground and collect them. I'm a sucker for those visual gags. 1938-1945 are the best shorts they created.
JA: I recently read your observation of Bob Clampett's short, Baby Bottleneck. What are your thoughts about the director, and are there other shorts of his that stand out in your mind at the moment?
His cartoons are extremely "appealing", part of the Nine Old Men's principals, but a lot of people overlook "appeal" as a strong part of everything Clampett ever did. I don't think he gets a lot of credit for that. Books mentioning Clampett mostly say the same thing, that he did surrealistic cartoons and typically point to Porky in Wackyland- I think he needs to be reanalyzed in the history books for his animation.
The next scene is pure genius, it is so chock-full of ideas that I almost fell off my bed watching this for the first time, every gag built up so well to the next, every pose gained momentum, the movement was so rapid, yet clear! I'm a little lost for words right here. It's a feeling I can't describe! As I was putting together this post, some classmates of mine started to giggle in the background. I had the screen paused each time I took a picture, and the lone frames themselves evoke a pure feeling of joy, pure ecstasy!
JA: If you had to define your work with one word, what would it be?
KF: I remember when I was eighteen my friend had just bought a used copy of the Betty Boop video tape set. I literally sat indoors for like three days watching them all in a row. Immediately the music had me captivated, and the way things were moving, everything was fun and quite refreshing. They epitomize fun in every way, well the early ones do, pre-code mostly. Everything is alive and based around music. I could see how well this worked for people of the Depression era, escaping their reality to go see these pictures, they have it all.
KF: Thank you! I have always kind of had her in my mind, mostly because she is pretty much the vision I had of myself as a child. I have come up with a bunch of liner notes and writings in my sketchbooks about her. I plan on basing her actual situations off a friend of mine, Sean Batton, who is a music and film aficionado from that period.
KF: Popeye is probably my favorite comic to read, it is hilarious and has cool drawings, a double-whammy! Visually, I like a ton; but recently I have been admiring Hot Stuff and Little Audrey. Like the other small Harvey characters, they are all pretty much the same design, but they are so cute and the pictures so nice that I don't really care.
KF: Well, I am of course partial to the handsome Robert E. Clampett. He is most definitely at his best when he is allowed to do as he pleases. I think Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarves and Baby Bottleneck are good examples of Clampett in his element. I chose those two for their different types: the first being more musically oriented, and has a big rubber hose influence; the second, because of the amazing acting and exponential intensity of Porky and Daffy.
KF: I actually prefer the shorts like Presto to the feature films, in the end. I wish they would do more shorts instead. Wall-E was a breath of fresh air, in that there weren't many annoying and famous actors who can't do good cartoon voices. They relied mostly on computer sound effects to create the robot sounds, which I liked. The overall effect the film had on me was depression.
JA: How about television animation?
KF: Perhaps Mighty B for the pretty backgrounds. For live action I enjoy watching What Not To Wear and Bridezillas- they're great because it's all women who are super crazy, so it's kind of like watching caricatures of real people.
KF: My favorite cereal box character?! Holy crap! This is the hardest... I love so many, and the tasty treats they keep for me in their bags o' cereal. Hmm...the original Tony the Tiger! Yes.
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