#2. A Conversation with Katie Rice

Jason Anders:  John Kricfalusi introduces you on the Lost Episodes DVD saying that you sought him out because you grew up watching The Ren & Stimpy Show. What you were doing before being hired by Spumco, and what was it was like being hired by someone who inspired you to draw?

Katie Rice: Working at Spumco was the very first art job I ever had!  Before that, I worked at a pet store where I helped smuggle ferrets from Nevada into California (I didn't know it wasn't allowed at the time). I didn't go to school or anything, I was just kind of a bum and eventually moved to L.A. and got hired to ink on Weekend Pussy Hunt. Working there was amazing.  I was extremely shy.  I remember I would come in, sit down, working nine hours straight without lunch or breaks, and leave without talking to anyone unless it was to get more drawings to ink. I was so intimidated by all the amazing artists who were there. By the time I came out of my shell we all got laid off, which was a huge bummer. I remember thinking at that point my career in cartoons was over, and I went back to Nevada completely defeated. I bounced back though after being a waitress for three months and using the money to try again.

The first time I talked to John was a long time ago!  It started with a lengthy fan letter I sent him, probably along with some drawings of Sody or something, too. I was thirteen when I emailed him and we started emailing back and forth. I was probably obnoxious as all get out, but I remember that John was patient and enthusiastic to help me with drawing.

JA: John K. refers to you as a specialist, claiming you are the best artist in the business and the princess of "sexy girl" artists. What inspired you to start drawing the girls that seem to now be your signature characters?

KR: It's funny, people sometimes describe my girls as "sexy," but I totally don't see them that way myself.  I think they're super weird and funny, like my girlfriends that I hang out with. Not that my friends aren't sexy! They are.  Just not in that Shane Glines bombshell sense, although some of them are.  Uh oh, now I'm in trouble.   I guess there are different kinds of sexy... funny sexy, cute sexy, sexy-sexy, weird sexy... all girls are appealing in their own way, and I try to capture that.

I'm not sure why I gravitate towards drawing girls. I used to draw all sorts of things, but at some point in high school I started trying to tell stories by drawing my girlfriends in funny situations. It was so fun, and drawing girls' fashion, faces and goony poses is so enjoyable to me.  I guess it sort of stuck. I'm trying to branch out more, though!
JA: How did it feel to be recruited by John K. to be the lead artist on Naked Beach Frenzy?

KR: Very, very, very frightening. At the time I was honored and excited but also scared to death. I should also add that I wasn't really the lead artist. Obviously it's a girl-heavy episode, but I only designed about half of the beach girls, the other half being designed by Nick Cross and John himself.

Back to the subject of fear; before working on Ren & Stimpy: Adult Party Cartoon, I had almost no experience using real drawing principles. I didn't know construction, perspective, composition and had no idea how to make a good cartoon. At the time I probably wasn't ready to take on the job of designing and laying-out all those girls, but I'm grateful to John regardless for giving me a chance. 
When I look back on that cartoon, it's a bit painful. It was an amazing learning experience, however. Working on Adult Party Cartoon was by far the most challenging work I've ever done. I think the girls I designed and helped to layout for Weird Al's video, Close, But No Cigar, are how I wanted the APC girls to be, but I wasn't skilled enough at the time.

JA: What was it like actually working for a studio like Spumco? Do you have any plans for future involvement with the company?

KR: I hope so! Animation is so fickle. My ultimate goal is to be able to work for myself, but that sometimes seems a long way off. I learned almost everything I know from Spumco, and definitely feel a sense of loyalty towards all the artists who brought that studio to life.
JA: Tell me about Dumm Comics, which recently debuted, and also about the characters Skadi and Diseasoid.

KR: Oh man, working on Dumm Comics is amazingly fun! I still feel very amateur as a comic artist, having never done comics professionally before, but I love it all the same. I love all those guys that work on it with me- Gabe, Sean, Ricky, Fred and of course my boyfriend Luke who draws Skadi with me.

Luke and I work really well together, and have a great system worked out. We both come up with ideas for comics on our own. Let's say I come up with some dumb idea...I'll scribble it out super fast and show it to Luke- usually the case is that I'll add way too many details and the comic will be too long and cluttered. Luke is better at composition and finding solutions, so he'll go over my rough and fix my problem areas. Next, we'll go to separate computers (we both got cintiqs lately), and I'll draw, ink and color the characters on my computer while Luke does the backgrounds on his.

Skadi is a nomadic barbarian girl who is on a religious mission to eat every kind of meat in the world so she can be a man when she goes to heaven and sport a fine Viking beard. She's not a bad sort, but mostly acts on animal instincts and the need to survive. She has a soft spot for Diseasoid; even though she's horribly rough on him, he wants nothing more than to escape and live out his life peacefully in a bush somewhere.

JA: You have expressed a desire to publish a cartoon art book, tell me about your ideas for the book and what progress you've been able to make.

KR: So far a lot of the creative ideas are done.  My art is all scanned and I have ideas for the layouts. But I really don't know much about book publishing at all. I'd prefer to have a real book publisher help me out rather than do the self publishing route. I've seen self-published art books and they look amazing, but I'm not really good with that kind of thing. I need someone less scatter-brained to help me! I lost steam a little with making this book a reality when I started on Dumm Comics, but I still plan on doing it in the near future.
JA: You mentioned you were really inspired by both Alberto Vivanco and the manga artist Moyoco Anno. Tell me about them and other girls' mangas you love.

KR: First off I have to thank Shane Glines for sharing his collection of Vivanco art on his Cartoon Retro site! I only just heard about him, and really love his effortless way of drawing hilarious men and beautiful girls. He's great at a ton of things... the way he draws hair and eyes on girls are simple and beautiful. And Moyoco Anno is great! I am a huge sucker for any girl's romance comics, even ones that aren't drawn very well. Anno's are really cool to me though. She has a great sense of fashion, plus she's funny and draws hilarious expressions. Another thing I like about her comics is that the main characters are never your typical heroine.  Often times they're abrasive, use bad judgment and are irrational just like many girls in real life! As for the other mangas I read, I've probably read most of them. I love Gokinjo Monogatari and other comics by Ai Yazawa. Actually, besides the artists of Spumco, she is one of my oldest artistic influences.

JA: Tell me about your music with Kot'n Katie and Kali Kazoo. Have you considered cutting an album or perhaps touring with your music and art?

KR: Yes! We both really want to do all sorts of silly stuff with this. It's a dream come true for me having someone to sing with. As a young girl I wanted to be a musician as much as I wanted to be an artist, but ended up concentrating only on art. I absolutely love singing. I wish I could play an instrument though...actually I own about 20 instruments but can only play one song (if that) on each one.

JA: Do you remember the moment in life that you decided to become a cartoonist?

KR: Probably since Ren & Stimpy came out when I was nine years old. I was obsessed in a pretty scary way. I don't think I even watched any other TV shows at that time, nothing else held my interest. I used to pause the episodes that I'd taped and draw each expression and pose over and over until I had almost storyboarded whole scenes. Then in high school I got really into anime. I know a lot of artists look down on Japanese cartoons, but they are the same as American cartoons... there is some boring stuff, and there is some amazing stuff. I find a million things to be inspired by in Japanese cartoons, in their culture, humor and ideas as well.

JA: Tell me about your experiences working at Nickelodeon on El Tigre: the Adventures of Manny Rivera.

KR: Definitely the best experience I've had working in a major cartoon studio. I was surrounded by friends and artists that I'd known for years. Jorge and Sandra, the show's creators, are wonderful people and working on their show felt great. Working hard and doing a good job wasn't just for my own satisfaction- it felt great knowing that the work I was doing would be appreciated by artists that I respected and looked up to.
JA: Do you have a favorite cartoon of all time?

KR: That's a really hard one! I guess the answer is no. It'd have to be between the Betty Boop cartoon Mysterious Mose, the Ub Iwerks cartoon Little Boy Blue and the Ren & Stimpy episode Big House Blues. But I love Disney's Pecos Bill, too.  There are too many!

JA: What are your thoughts on the censorship that Pecos Bill was put through?
KR: I think it is really annoying! When I bought Pecos Bill on tape a few years ago and discovered that they had chopped a whole verse off the song to hide the fact that he had a cigarette, I was really mad. I love that cartoon, and the song as well! I thought it was strange that they took out the cigarette, but left in the part about "Redskins." Obviously, I'd rather they leave it be and not cut anything, it goes to show that cartoons sure don't get a lot of respect as being real art. Lots of old movies and music might have "questionable content" that today's PC parents wouldn't approve of, but you don't see that stuff getting hacked to pieces!

JA: Do you remember while watching The Ren & Stimpy Show as a kid noticing when it was taken over by Games Animation?

KR: I remember this well! I was really young when the Spumco episodes stopped and the Games ones started, maybe eleven or something, so obviously I was pretty ignorant with art and didn't have the same kind of observational abilities that I have now. However, I definitely noticed a change. Even though Spumco sometimes has the reputation of making "ugly" art with bulging eyes, popping veins, and gross close-ups, the first thing that drew me to the show as a kid was it's undeniable cuteness. Look at the designs in Big House Blues. They're really cute, amazingly cute!

I had never seen anything in that kind of style before. And not only that, the show is very honest in its stories and the personalities of the characters. When Stimpy leaves home to be a Hollywood big shot and leaves Ren at home all sad and lonely, it really pulled my heartstrings! I was hooked. And even though I respect a lot of the artists who worked for Games Animation, the episodes that came out after Spumco left me feeling sort of flat. And the cuteness was gone. There were definitely some nice looking drawings and paintings in the Games episodes, but I was no longer involved with the show the way I had been. Ren and Stimpy were no longer "real" to me. I remember waiting for more cartoons to come on that were like the ones that had me so obsessed originally, but they never did.
JA: What are your thoughts on theatrical animation today?

KR: I'm not really a big fan of most new theatrical animated movies. Like I said with the last question, two things that get me really excited when I watch a cartoon are whether it's cute; and by this I mean appealing, not cutesy in a Hello Kitty sense, and whether the characters are represented in a "real" way. This is kind of hard to explain actually- One could argue that the exaggerated acting in a cartoon like Sven Hoek, where Ren frightens Stimpy and Sven, is too over the top, but for me it feels motivated by real emotions rather than the sort of acting in cartoons that is popular nowadays, where the animators seem to try to emulate live action acting, but without honest motivation.

It's really hard to explain why most modern animated movies don't grab me, many just don't feel honest in the acting. This is really difficult to put into words, because technically the old Disney movies that I love have somewhat flat acting... but the music and mood and level of artistic skill is so high it doesn't matter to me. I suppose I should add that art and design definitely goes through trends, and the trends that are showing up in modern animation are not to my taste at all.

JA: You've made mention of a "new" and "secret" project that you are working on, and have even showcased some of the characters you've created for it.  Are you able to leak any hints at all as to what it might be?

KR: I only said it was "new" and "secret" to get people intrigued. Actually, I've mentioned the project a few times before, but never went into too much detail about what it was. But now I will! I'm working on my own personal comics that are based on real things that happened to me and my friends in high school. It's called Stupid Girl Stories, although there are also lots of boy characters in it too. I really remember those times in school as the best times of my life. We did so many lame things, and we were all so dysfunctional. The kinds of people I knew back then and the dumb stuff we did is really what my drawings are all about; doing pointless stuff in the name of fun, making fun of everything, and acting like an idiot. I also don't think there are too many comics or cartoons that portray girls the way we really are, and I want to try my hand and see if I can do it. These comics would be different from Skadi, in that they'd be longer stories with less gags and more dialogue.
JA: How are you enjoying working on Skadi for Dumm Comics?

KR: I'm really enjoying it! I've always wanted to be a storyteller, but never thought it was a strong point of mine. Working on Skadi however has really made me want to work on it and get better. We put a lot of time into each comic, although it differs depending on how busy we are that week with other things, like paying jobs. The first comic we did for Dumm Comics, which will never ever be seen by anyone, was finished pretty quickly.  Maybe in one day, but not putting in too much time or effort. But as we kept making more, we started putting in more time and hard work. I'd say our best ones might take about fourteen hours in all. It's hard to say because both Luke and I will sit down to work, but noodle around on the Internet for an hour or so, and we take a lot of breaks. Some comics will definitely have more love and work put into them than others.

JA: What were your favorite comics growing up, and have you discovered any as an adult that you've fallen in love with?

KR: I wasn't a huge comic reader as a little kid, but my dad would buy all the Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side books when they would come out, and I loved those. I am pretty sure my eyes got as screwed up as they are from trying to read The Far Side in pitch darkness night after night, no joke. I should also add that I went through that typical "mom tears up comic books in front of kid" situation that you always see made fun of! The only old comics I had as a kid were some Disney ones. I don't even know where I got them, or whether they were actual vintage comics or reprints. Anyhow, my mom caught me with them after lights out and tore them into tiny bits! Shame!

Now that I'm older and more mature, I am a bigger comic nerd. I have a giant collection of manga that is constantly growing. Also I love Peter Bagge's comics! His comic, Hate, is a big inspiration to me. It's semi-autobiographical, but not in that self-important annoying way. Also, the characters are drawn in a super cartoony and funny way that I love. And best of all, it's got that honesty thing I'm always talking about, where the characters feel like real people that you actually care about. I hope the comics I'm working on now can be a fraction of how entertaining his are! I also want to learn more about vintage comics. I'm pretty sure I could get into superhero comics, but there are so many that I don't know where to start. I love vintage romance comics though, I've got a pretty big collection of those. And Sergio Aragones! I've got almost all the Groo books. Oh, and I can't forget Harvey Kurtzman and Milt Gross! Two of the best comic masters, in my opinion! I'm sure I'm leaving out a bunch.

JA: We talked earlier about theatrical animation, but what are your thoughts on today's televised cartoons?

KR: I really don't watch very many! Every once in a while I get brave and click to the cartoon channels, but it's usually disappointing. Disney seems to only have those weird live action shows. Nickelodeon should probably just change it's name to the SpongeBob channel. Not that I've got anything against SpongeBob, but it seems like it's the only thing on. Everyone has been telling me the Cartoon Network series Chowder is really cool, but I've never seen it on! I saw some designs though, and the main character is really cute, so maybe I'd like it. Ugh, it's a bit embarrassing calling myself a cartoonist but not even knowing what's on television!

JA: You recently wrote about the generic designs of the girls created for Altruists, writing your thoughts about even Disney princesses all looking the same; John Kricfalusi has even made comparisons to some Disney boys being the same design as the girls, why is it that personality is something artists are afraid to give their characters today?
KR: Most artists aren't afraid to give their characters personality.  I think they want the characters to have personality, but it's just really hard to do; Especially if you want to please a large amount of people. It's easy to trick people into liking a bland character who doesn't really do anything to make you dislike him. But to take a character that has many flaws and is super-specific and make them likable is very different, and you run the risk that some people just might not like it. Also, design and personality are two pretty different things- obviously, the personality of the character will effect the design, you can instantly tell bad guys from good guys in most cartoons, but I don't think it's smart to go too far with that.

An example: I remember working on a project with John once where we had to design an artistic girl. John thought the girl should be based on me, and the end design was a happy looking blonde girl with a big nose and round features, and a curvy figure. When we showed the design to people, I was a bit surprised to see that some responded negatively- they thought she was an airhead, a dumb girl who would be into shopping and trends. People saw the blonde hair and big boobs and fell into a trap. I remember thinking to myself that it would be so much fun to actually animate the design and give it life, and put a nerdy, obsessive personality into her. The easy route would be to make the "artistic girl" have the obvious traits- maybe she's skinny, hides behind her hair, or only wears black or "kooky" artist clothing. That gets boring if you ask me!
Artists don't get a chance very often to ignore stereotypes or break the mold. Wow, maybe I should do a blog post about this- I could go on and on but I should probably stop. I hope I kind of answered your question!

JA: What is it about Kiraz, Sokol, and Frazetta that stand out to you in their designs; and what have you learned from studying their work that you're able to apply to yours?

KR: The first thing that stands out is how amazing each artist is skill-wise. I am more familiar with Sokol and Frazetta than I am Kiraz, so most of what I say here is aimed at them. I think sometimes people look at artists like Frazetta and Sokol and only see the surface details, or only see what the painting is of, and not the incredible amount of skill that is there. When I look at a Frazetta painting, I don't just see a girl with a spear or a monster fighting a warrior- I see power, emotions, and an extremely intimidating amount of talent.

I guess what I have learned from these amazing artists is the ability to see myself for what I am- an artist with a long way to go. I have definitely been inspired by some of Sokol, Kiraz, and Frazetta's design choices, but to say that I have sat down and studied their drawings and came out a better artist would be dishonest. Superficially, I could also say that Kiraz's way of stylizing girls' hair and clothes, Sokol's way of drawing eyes and lips, and Frazetta's ability to make a potbelly on a girl look cute are all things that have influenced me design wise.

JA: What was your most recent drawing of?

KR: Something weird! Wanna see?
JA: If you could sum up your work as an artist in one word, what would it be?

KR: It depends on the week.  Lately, though?  Barbaric.

JA: What is one word of advice you have to offer aspiring cartoonists?

KR: Definitely stick close with other artists. Seek out and talk to artists you look up to. Learn from them and never get a big head about your work- you can ALWAYS grow and improve, and learning is half the fun. Another important reason to get acquainted with lots of artists is because the easiest way to get a job at a studio is through a friend. This isn't exactly fair, but even if your portfolio is amazing, the person who is hiring might take their friend over you. Also, the person looking at your portfolio doing the hiring might not even be an artist! The industry is in a tight spot right now, and it isn't always easy for a cartoonist to find satisfying work. Just stick in there and keep working hard to get good so cartoons can make a comeback!
Follow Katie on Twitter: @KatieJRice
Visit Katie's website: FunnyCute