When I talk about art with my fellow artists, we don’t talk a lot about the business of things, most of those stories are the same for all of us. What really sets us on fire is the reason behind the art. Usually that discussion will end up with us wondering out loud about the artist either showing fidelity to his own vision or making some kind of compromise for his or her audience. Some go farther and put it in crass terms of the artist vs. the audience. But that’s a misnomer because the artist is actually in a position of trust with the audience.

If you think about it, you put your trust in everyone else at some point. When I order a hamburger from the drive through, I trust the cook didn’t put rat poison in my food. I trust the plumber to come into my house where my children are running around. I trust the people who work in the factory that built my car. We’re interconnected in a way that forces us to be vulnerable to complete strangers. I’m not saying people are all trustworthy, but we couldn’t function in life if we didn’t trust the people around us in general.
from a distance

Given we already trust other people all the time, the artist might as well trust an audience if for no other reason than the audience has to put some form of trust in the artist. One example would be when I take my kids to the movies. I trust the story-tellers aren’t going to smash-cut to a hard boiled murder scene in the middle of a story about a cute little bunny. Instead of thinking of the artist-and-audience relationship as adversarial, it ought to be one of humanity and trust.

For this reason the artist has a responsibility to be trustworthy in his or her expression. There are a lot of stories I write or paintings I craft that I know the audience won’t understand, appreciate, enjoy or even tolerate. I’ve seen a score of art shows where the painter seemed to hate the people who came to his work. This is a betrayal of trust, even in modernity when an audience seems to be okay with that betrayal.

It seems that artist and audience has drifted apart over the last half century. We used to all like the same kinds of things. Now we’re splintered into a thousand different cable channels because we can’t culturally come together. My hope is that in the future we can meet in the center somewhere, some day.

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A Remake of Earthworm Jim

January 22, 2018

One of the great problems of making something that was once great but will undoubtedly be dated over time is that what we remember about old things don’t necessarily translate into our modern tastes. For Years I’ve heard people demand a new Earthworm Jim, but that could go any number of directions, most of them wrong in my opinion.

The bigger question is “Why do we have such fond memories of old things?” For instance, I love the old Gumby shorts that were crudely animated in the 1960s. They were bought up and broadcast on the cheap in the early 1970s when I was five or six years old. When Gumby was remade as a series in the late 80’s it had a polish and a production value that didn’t interest me. Part of what I liked about it was the clunkiness. It’s like if you remade the 1977 Star Wars today it wouldn’t hold my interest. I don’t love that old Star Wars to have it remade with high end digital effects, better actors and an expanded story line. I like it the way it was.

Commission of EWJ and the Princess. Ink and brush on paper.

This seems to be the key problem to any modern remake of an old idea, a new Earthworm Jim would need to have higher production values. The original Earthworm Jim of 1994 had the best production values for that time but a new game would likely be smothered in high-end CG effects and over-the-top explosions. That would make for a really cool game, but it wouldn’t make you feel like you did in 1994.

I don’t argue that new remakes can’t hold their own as a great gaming experience, but can they make you feel charmed like you did when you first played the original? Here’s the challenge; tell me if you can think of any modern remake that makes you feel the way you did when you saw the original.

About Doug TenNapel

January 21, 2018

Doug TenNapel is the creator of Earthworm Jim, an award winning animator and graphic novelist who moved from California to live in Tennessee with his wife and four children. He has won an Eisner Award and has managed to publish sixteen graphic novels, selling half of the properties into Hollywood. He created animated shows like Earthworm Jim, Project Geeker and Nickelodeon’s Catscratch. He served as the Show Runner/Exec Producer of the Netflix/Dreamworks series VeggieTales in the House, which earned him his first Daytime Emmy nomination.

While Doug’s mass media career has spanned over twenty-five years, he has been a fine artist since his first art show in 1988. His show “A Beautiful Day in the Neverhood” was the start of his desire to bring fine art sensibilities into video games. After the success of Earthworm Jim, Doug met with Steven Spielberg (at his house!) and pitched The Neverhood for the newly created Dreamworks. Spielberg agreed to bring The Neverhood into Dreamworks and the clay-animated game became the first property they picked up, developed and released as Dreamworks! Most importantly, The Neverhood became Doug’s first foray into professional clay animation, started his partnership with musician Terry Taylor, and helped him continue to work with Mike Dietz, Ed Schofield and Mark Lorenzen, Doug’s old college friend.

Doug TenNapel has lectured around the world about video games, character creation and making comics including; Japan, France, UK and Canada. He was a professor at HBU and taught classes on graphic novel creation, video game design, faith and culture, screen writing and history of animation. He blogs and vlogs about story theory, art ethics and defends his claim that Beauty is not subjective. He is known for remaining accessible to his fans and began broadcasting live comic inking sessions from his studio.

He spends his free time writing, drawing and raising amphibians. His current zoo includes a siren (a water salamander with full gills and only two front legs found in Florida swamps) and nine Tennessee cave salamanders.

Education: Point Loma Nazarene University/Cal State University, Fullerton

Location: Franklin, TN

Inking Fast

January 15, 2018

True story, if you’re going to ink with energy, it’s good to ink fast. In my view the reason for doing pencils before inks is so one can ink faster. Once a drawing is penciled, you don’t have to think about nailing proportions, but you can think about putting energy into the final line of your drawing.

Look at the ink sketch of Earthworm Jim below… see how his front leg has a line that breaks up? You can only do that with inks if the brush is running low on black or gotta draw the line so fast that the ink can’t flow out fast enough. The broken line creates speed, which is useful when your character is running.
EarthwormHappy

Cat Videos

January 8, 2018

Think about how much we love animals. Our family went to the Chattanooga Aquarium and we saw animals from all over the world. There were chatting lemurs, sea turtles, starfish and hissing cockroaches. But I liked watching the people watching the animals. Human beings are strange. We have a wide range of strange emotions and motivations. As weird as that turtle is, if you did a documentary on any of these people you would find and epic soap opera beyond belief!

The most interesting animal isn’t as fascinating as the dullest human.

I’m a lists kind of guy. You know, that means my schedule is covered in little bullet-points, post-its and to-do lists. If I didn’t write it down then it probably won’t get done. I don’t know if this is the right way to go through life or if it’s just a system I’ve adapted to but this is how I accomplish things, and I accomplish a lot.

There is a hierarchy of goals: big dreams (but difficult to accomplish) all the way down to very easy things to accomplish. I try to focus on small, achievable goals because those are the kinds I tend to pull off. If they lead up to a big dream type of goal all the better. But I’m mostly just trying to get a small action down on my calendar that I can do right now. That’s how I get scripts written, ideas executed out to some kind of finish and it’s how I’ve completed all sixteen of my graphic novels.

Making goals that can be accomplished right now that lead to a big dream goal is how those big dream goals get done in my life. I don’t end up going to the gym most weekdays for four years by making a goal like “Go to the gym for four years” I do it by writing a goal out like “set alarm for 4:30am”. I can set an alarm right now. I have no idea if I can do it for four years. I have a dream goal of making twenty graphic novels in ten years. I have no idea if I can pull that off, but I know I can ink two pages today.

Why I have Favorite Fans

September 7, 2016

Everyone feels like an outsider at some point. I learned that in my teens when I felt like a geek, uncomfortable in my own skin. The isolation, being 6’8″, there had to be something wrong with me and I thought I was the only one. Then I talked to the Prom Queen, the Football Star and the Straight “A” Student and they were all crushed under the feeling that there was something seriously wrong with them… to a point that one of them was contemplating suicide.

Show me someone who has it all together and I’ll show you someone I’m generally not interested in. It’s not that people who have it together have it easy, it’s that I don’t have anything to offer them. They don’t need me and my fragile, traditional male ego needs to be needed or I will shrivel up and die.

So I’m at Comicon and I have normal-people fans, and then I have my favorite fans: they drive up in wheelchairs and can barely talk through drool, pour out every plot point of my books in a row to a point that I can tell the fan is sporting either Aspergers, Autism or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I love my slow readers, sweaty fat kids and the socially crippled to a point that they can’t finish a sentence. I love-love-LOVE them! Why?

When I was in 7th grade I read the entire book of Luke in a teen Bible study. It’s one thing to feel like a freak among normal kids at school, but I even felt like an outsider in my own church youth group. That’s being an outsider among the outsiders. It struck me that I would always feel a little off, and it wasn’t really the rest of the world’s fault. It was me. But I read the book of Luke and chapter 14, verse 12-14 stuck in my head, hopefully forever:

“12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. 13 But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

These few verses are so wise about human nature because they reveal that our generosity is often rooted in selfishness. I get a lot from my friends and family, so I’m paid in full by what I get from them, but Jesus has a higher way, to enjoy the company of social outcasts because they can’t repay you in the way that your family can. Loving social outcasts isn’t just to get a reward in heaven, because even that would be selfish, but it’s implied that the outcast is so important to God that he is willing to pay us to treat them with dignity.

I found a special home in the religion of my church because I wanted to belong to a God who sought the crippled, the lame, the blind, if for no other reason than they were in a low position according to society. So when I get to go to dinner with my best friend’s autistic kid, I’m the lucky one. When I would rather be with the autistic kid than the non-autistic kid, I feel some bad form of myself being transformed into something more like Jesus Christ. My favorite fans are being used to turn me into something better, and I have nothing but gratitude for those miraculous fans.