The history of animation on Nickelodeon, the U.S. children’s cable network responsible for some of the most enduring TV animation of the last few decades, is a rich one, and a panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego today, moderated by our own Chris Hardwick, took a look at the network’s animation past, present, and future, with some of the people behind the hits on hand. The assemblage included Hey Arnold! creator Craig Bartlett; Chris Viscardi and Will Mc Robb, whose classic The Adventures of Pete and Pete wasn’t animated but who are involved with the current cartoon hit Sanjay and Craig (starring Chris Hardwick as Craig the snake); Sanjay and Craig creators Jay Howell and Jim Dirschberger; and Steve Bors and Gary Doodles, creators of the upcoming Breadwinners.
After a video retrospective highlighting the network’s hits over the years, from Doug and Rugrats to Ren and Stimpy and Spongebob Squarepants and many more, the panelists discussed the inspiration for their creations. Bartlett said that he made the first Arnold short in clay after working on the clay-animation Penny shorts for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse; Regarding working in animation, he noted, “You have to laugh at your same jokes over and over and over.” He added that he is developing a new series called Sky Rat, about a rat with amnesia rescued by friendly pigeons (“sky rats”) who dreams of flying himself.
McRobb, who was in the promo department at the network, said that the original 60-second versions of Pete and Pete was inspired by wanting to live up to the network’s mission of being by kids, for kids, adding that the best episodes revolved around “the little things,” and Viscardi recounted how the promos led to a special and then four more specials before it became a series (“They said, ‘Why don’t you make it a series?’ We thought, “about time you figured that out!'”).
Viscardi dodged Hardwick’s question about a reunion show, noting that the live reunion events held for the show have been successful; he discussed the show’s use of eclectic guest stars like Iggy Pop (“we said, sure, why not? And someone at Nickelodeon gave him a call”), Michael Stipe, Patty Hearst, Steve Buscemi, and many more.
Dirschberger and Howell recounted the development of Sanjay and Craig, for which Nickelodeon hooked them up with McRobb and Viscardi. Dirschberger said it was “great” to have McRobb and Viscardi’s input on Sanjay and Craig, with Howell interjecting, “We didn’t know what we were doing.” Hardwick noted his pleasure in getting scripts that continue to get weirder and weirder (“there’s just some intangible things that happen… it’s just so much fun to work on”).
Borst said that he and Doodles met at Mad, joking that the two met in the copy room, “where all true love stories begin.” The partnership began in 2011 and, after pitching ideas to Nickelodeon that didn’t fly, the network bought Breadwinners; asked what the best part of the experience, Borst cited the collaboration (“like two halves of one brain coming together.”
The panelists also advised aspiring animators on entering the field, with Dirschberger noting that the stories should be “the stories only you can tell” and McRobb saying to “throw out the rules.”