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In Defense of John Kricfalusi
Kricfalusi's art is both an advocation and criticism of white nationalism
John Kricfalusi is likely the most significant animator and cartoonist of the late 20th century, and yet, he has not received the same attention and popularity as Walt Disney, Don Bluth, or Richard Williams. This is because in 2018, his relationships with fellow intern animators, Robyn Byrd and Katie Rice, were revealed to be abusive, and thus they “canceled” his personality and art from the liberal American market. There is also a claim he possessed child pornography. Kricfalusi then painted himself in a corner by issuing a pathetic public apology and blaming his actions on so-called “mental health” issues. Both Byrd and Rice considered his apology to be “backhanded” to save himself. In 2020, Kricfalusi “retired” from the animation industry, although sometimes he blogs on his website, and his art is still shown overseas, such as in Japan.1
So who is John Kricfalusi, and why is his art important? Let alone, what are the political implications of Kricfalusi’s art, and how is it innately anti-liberal by design?
Kricfalusi’s art could be best described as a psychedelic and ironic interpretation of the golden age of American animation. Kricfalusi took down the animation principles of Bob Clampett and vividly distorts and destroys his cartoons into sadistic-minded maniacs. His politically incorrect cartoons have not only innovated the way animators can independently express themselves through exaggerated expressions but also, Kricfalusi’s art is considered the most transgressive and eclectic criticism of bourgeois white American culture of the 1950s, and its hellish consequences of the family trauma upon the burgeoning and liberal Boomer generation.
It is quite ironic, that Kricfalusi is a boomer himself, and yet, at all odds against his own zeitgeist, he became fascinated with his own generational interest in the flaws of white American culture. Rather, Kricfalusi celebrates the 1950s aesthetics, art direction, cultural cues, manners, and puns of the decade, no matter how ugly and depraved they are. The real controversy behind Kricfalusi, as I argue, is that he was unapologetic about this middle-class white nationalism, and celebrated the culture as a part of his own curated identity as a cartoonist and animator. A similar interest could be said about the Canadian cartoonist Gregory Gallant and his love for Art Deco, or Josh Agle and his love for Tiki culture. Both embrace a subculture and ideology around the art they create, and the same could be said about Kricfalusi and his art that resurrects the values of American white nationalism and its dysfunctionality.
Kricfalusi even coined the term, "CalArts style," an insult that is widely used in the present to attack the current day 2010s-era American cartoon aesthetics influenced by Anime and the twee-doodle cartoons of Fort Thunder in Providence, Rhode Island. Intentionally, “Cal Arts" was a criticism about Disney's formula of mundane animation techniques, and not about the cartoons of today.
Kricfalusi argues, in 2007,
“This is a style that is the opposite of cartoony. It's about moving things smoothly and using the poses and expressions you have seen a million times in Disney and Bluth movies. These types of artists don't have cartoonist personalities. They aren't wacky or zany. They aren't hard-bitten sarcastic men who take a grim realistic view of life and then make fun of it in their cartoons.
The Cal Arts style looks like it's drawn by suburban kids who had a normal easy life and don't have anything to say about the world except that their Mom is pear-shaped. You see the same stereotypical vacant characters in all their cartoons, whether 2D or 3D. When they get to write their own cartoons, they tend to have scenes where the Mowgli descendants marry their normal bland suburban pear-shaped Moms. (Treasure Planet, Iron Giant).
…Unfortunately for the very few existing modern cartoonists, there is no cartoon industry anymore. Cartoons are no longer mainstream. Not because the audience doesn't want cartoons, but because the executives don't understand and fear them; cartoons are "written" now by idiots, rather than drawn by funny artists with life experiences and a funny worldview to share.
In TV we have fake cartoons, imitation Spumco cartoons, or "designy" angled Cal Arts stuff. In features, we have Cal Arts CG or we have Dreamworks executive bad taste numbskull CG. No cartoony vision anywhere. Now that they have almost eliminated classic cartoons from television I fear there is nothing to inspire nature's next batch of potential young cartoonists, so they will just find some other field of work to get lost in.
It's ridiculous and criminal because cartoons are the perfect art form for regular folks. Cartoons are the folk and rock music for the unwashed masses. They are every democratic person's birthright and the modern world won't give people their due.
Cartoons are supposed to be FUN and creative.”2
Here, Kricfalusi acknowledges the influence he had on the new generational interest in cartooning, that his own criticism of Cal Arts would eventually became a caricature of his style. Even more strange, is that 20 years later, we get Adventure Time and Steven Universe, that coddles the audience to death with its liberal themes around egalitarian kindness and social justice against the interest of Kricfalusi. He saw this storm coming and realized that the ideology and culture of animation could not propagate Western culture anymore. What was suppose to be about neutral and analytical technique to improve the future of American animation became a war cry about the artists that would immediately turn against him and of the previous zeitgeist.
The Cal Arts influence is still often denied by so-called present animators and animation historians, like it's a conspiracy theory. This is rather an advocation of their own liberalism we have to endear. There is no denial that the canon of American animation has been taken over by a white-collar bourgeois elite that care more about social control and twee-escapism.
Kricfalusi’s art was both a boon and a bane to the animation industry, where the animator was liberated to draw surreal cartoonists, at the expense that full creativity would usher in a liberal class that despises sincerity and culture, thus turning itself onto consumer subcultures. The edgy art of Frank Frazetta, Alex Toth, and Doug Sneyd, slowly transformed itself into the self-depreciation and cutesy “anti-white” Trojans of Jhonen Vasquez, Rebecca Sugar, and Michael DeForge. The American standard of masculine cartooning crashed when men lost the urge to do art.
I’m surprised that the political far-right and its terminally online subculture have not examined Kricfalusi’s work sooner, and invested further in his ideological praxis. Kricfalusi is a subliminal advocate of white nationalism because he unironically and sincerely loves the reactionary bourgeois culture of the Boomer generation, and promotes it as a lifestyle choice due to his own experience growing up in 1960s rural Quebec. His latest cartoon, “Cans Without Labels,” is a story about his blue-collar dad buying random cans of food without labels, and feeding them to the family, whatever is in them. It’s hard to say if this is a culture of white poverty or a cultural zeitgeist that does not exist anymore. At least Kricfalusi is nostalgic about it, for good or for worse.
Investigating Kricfalusi is like discovering an old dinosaur fossil, where we reveal the true nature and essence of the ignorant and dumbfounded white middle-class worker. Oddly enough, one of Kricfalusi’s favorite books, according to his Blogpost User profile, is “Why I’m Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell.3 This sets him apart from his conservative and gung-ho Boomer peers who relied on Christianity for the middle-class values he loves.
Yes, Kricfalusi was born in 1955 in Canada. And yet, he grew up around the abundance of American popular culture in a country that was so alienated from it. Kricfalusi discovered his passion for animating and cartooning one day shopping around with his dad.
“I used to draw the cartoon characters that are, you know, I saw on the movies and on TV and stuff. And, then I started writing stories about other people's characters. I used to draw like Huckleberry Hound, and Yogi Bear, and The Flintstones, …Quick Draw McGraw, the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons, were the first characters that I learned to draw. And I used to make my own comics and stories about them. But it took me longer to figure out what made them move.
At first, I thought that was magic. I figured that was like, witchcraft or something. ...Listen, no matter how good you got a drawing the characters, they just didn't start moving on the page, and I couldn't figure out, like, ‘What the hell's going on?’ And when I saw cartoons, I just assumed that that was proof of magic, since there was no scientific explanation for how drawings could move.
The first time I actually figured it out was, um, …my dad bought me a Huckleberry Hound, um… It’s hard to explain, but there was a big box in a store, and it was ‘Huckleberry Hound: Make Your Own Flipbook!,’ and I didn't know what a flip book was. So I got him to buy it, I took it home, and opened the box, and pulled out all these long strips of cardboard and on the strips were individual drawings of Huckleberry Hound or Yogi Bear, or whoever, all very slightly different. Each drawing was a little bit different than the previous one. I was like, ‘Whoa, this is weird.’ And I read the instructions, and it said, ‘Cut the pictures apart, lay them on top of each other, pinch the top, and then flip them.’ So I did that, but I thought that was crazy, and I was like, “What!? What a weird thing to do, cut up all these pictures,’ but I get it, and I flipped it, and I just freaked out.
I let go to pictures, and they flew all over the floor, and I was like, ‘Eureka! So that's what makes it move! It isn't witchcraft, it is scientifically possible!’
So from that day on, I was an atheist.”4
Kricfalusi has remained critical of Christianity throughout his life and shows it with his witty and atheistic understanding of the world. By discovering animation, Kricfalusi developed an adult understanding of the art at a young age. This led him to develop an unorthodox style that not only mimicked the traditional art of Hanna-Barbera cartoons but also remained ironic to the aesthetics, through self-parody and interest in bourgeois regression of “magic” and religion.
Perhaps this meta influence was brought upon him by Reginald Hartt’s collage art showings at his “Cineforum” house in 1980s Toronto. Hartt would reintroduce archival film, and as well produce new ironic forums by juxtaposing film and music together. For example, the cartoons of Bob Clampett and Tex Avery are projected in a small room in a hipster commune house, while alternative indie music is being played in the background. This likely left a surreal and new-age impression on the young Kricfalusi, that he was getting a new hipster interpretation of the 1950s text, which became the foundation of his advocation and criticism of white nationalism. A 1995 letter reveals his close correspondence with Hartt.5 Kricfalusi writes, “…I credit you as often as possible for introducing me to a lot of great films and cartoonists. Hope you continue to inspire young artists.” Hartt, along with Kricfalusi, was also allegedly charged with the possession of child pornography.6 This is quite peculiar, as both have an integrity of collecting and researching transgressive and criminal art forms. Traces of these controversial influences can be seen throughout Kricfalus’s work.
Kricfalusi’s first cartoon was the 1981 minute-short, Ted Bakes One. 30 seconds in, it is a view of a peaceful kitchen. And on the frying pan, is a chicken that soon deforms itself, and screams in terror. He turns into a thunderbolt and dashes through a surreal, fever-dream environment. There is a reference to large, scary eyes in the background, which and reminiscent of old rubber-hose cartoons. Finally, the chicken poops out an egg, and as a broken synthesizer chimes in, the egg explodes into the number “0.” Or, as advertised, “Channel Zero,” the TV station itself. The cartoon itself is a calling card for what is to come in the future.
Kricfalusi soon met legendary animator, Ralph Bakshi, and both soon worked on an adult project that was never finished, “Bobby’s Girl.” Ralph Bakshi’s similar work, “Hey Good Lookin,” was about such criminal reality and subculture of the 1950s. Had Bobby’s Girl been made, it would have been a masterpiece in both Kricfalusi and Bakshi’s name. Early sketches showed Kricfalusi’s art direction, exposing early on his fascination with Googie architecture, outrageous and sexy white women, retarded people, cartoon animals, and the mockery of middle-class values, while secretly adoring “the reality” of such realism.
With the project being a failure, Kricfalusi continued to have a strong influence in the late 1980s, with his major remakes of Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, and The New Adventures of Beany and Cecil. Here, Kricfalusi was able to distort and transform conservative characters of the past into the psychedelic monsters of the 1980s. Adult jokes slipped in, irony was heavy, and the tradition of the Boomer childhood had become a joke on itself. Kricfalusi worked closely with Ralph Bakshi, and with these cartoons, Kricfalusi developed a cynical attitude about the aesthetics and culture of the 1950s. Like Bakshi’s art that dealt with adult themes, Kricfalusi became even more subversive than Bakshi by merely presenting trauma through signs and mannerisms. Such examples include criticisms of capitalism, the objectification of women, and the fake paternalism of the fatherly figure. The New Mighty Mouse was eventually canceled due to a scene where the main star looked like he was snorting cocaine, as it was intended as a joke. The New Adventures of Beany and Cecil faded into obscurity because the producers thought new audiences could not understand the nostalgic social cues of the generational past. As an exec said about the show, “…He just doesn’t belong in children’s programming.”7
After two failed attempts at resurrecting old cartoon shows for a new audience, Kricfalusi decided to create something new and original, catering to the Gen-X desires around the avant-garde. While conceived as a show about a group of young kids hanging out akin to The Little Rascals, the producers had a focus on the side characters of the cat and the dog. This new cartoon in development, focusing on that cat and dog, became his most celebrated work, The Ren & Stimpy Show. The show was a breakthrough under his name and became one of the highest-rated TV shows of the early 1990s. Ren & Stimpy dealt with themes of psychopathy, abuse, transgression, dark comedy, violence, adult humor, commercial brainwashing, and the self-destructive relationship of 1950s suburban living. It was incredibly close to the practice of sadism in a work ironically intended for children. Adults caught on to its disturbing nature and soon related to the text that was both mocking, and uplifting, white nationalism of a forgotten era.
Kricfalusi followed up with the even more depraved and intellectual show, The Ripping Friends, about a group of superheroes who try to save the day from nefarious and cliche forces. In the show, Kricfalusi expresses a deep cultural understanding of the American paradigm of paternalism, which takes viewers down a path of direct abuse between parent and child. Episodes include “Man Man & Boy Boy,” where the manly superhero, “Man Man,” abuses his innocent sidekick through physical abuse, and “Mr. Pungent Puss,” a fat cat that exploits and verbally abuses his host family, including traumatizing a child by defecating near him. The show ultimately feels like an incredibly nightmarish practice of child abuse among white Americans, channeling the thoughts and feelings of Gen-X liberals who hated their suburban upbringing. The Ripping Friends is a testament to Kricfalusi’s freedom of expression in an age of depraved liberalism.
Throughout the years, Kricfalusi was given more artistic freedom to express himself fully. He directed the music video for Björk’s I Miss You, created commercials for well-known brands, and created the equally depraved and evil resurrection shorts of Yogi Bear and The Jetsons. His popularity made Cartoon Network create a clone show, Cow & Chicken, where animator David Feiss tried to mimic Kricfalusi’s style, as well as seen from other independent shorts, such as similar mimicry found in Eddie Fitzgerald’s Tales of Worm Paranoia, or the CBS revival of The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat. Kricfalusi was leading a new American art movement around the depravity of middle America, and the liberal children cashed in on its irony and transgression.
Personally, when I watch Kricfalusi’s 1999 film, Boo Boo Runs Wild, the cartoon reads like a traumatic breakdown, exactly like in a horror film spiraling out of control. I feel eeriness when I watch it. It reminds me of the same artsy spookiness found in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet or Eraserhead. Kricfalusi forces us to embrace a previous white zeitgeist that made us feel uncomfortable. Only then, there is an eventual “murder” that the so-called caring parents or guardians we have want to inflict on us, like child molestation. How is this even remotely “white nationalist,” if the work in question is incredibly negative and skeptical of the previous white culture?
Kricfalusi’s transgressive love of the past bleeds into other alternative subcultures of the 1990s. On Boyd Rice’s 1995 album Hatesville, Jim Goad contributed a track titled, “Let's Hear It For Violence Towards Women.” In the post-industrial scene, this track was ahead of its time. Goad induces a hypnotic and drone walk into the abyss of the suppressed hatred of women. Consider sexist to some, the track is rather a reflection and emotions around the ignored criticisms of American women and their condescending control over the sensitive man who tries to do everything right. It's rather about this performance art of pain and the inversion of certain liberal values people take for granted. Kricfalusi feels the same with women, as his sexual harassment accusation is a reflection of treating women as objects. His art is a psychoanalytical study of the errors of suburban white nationalism, all while trying to create something new out of it.
Kricfalusi’s parody of the 1950s bleeds into the work of both Jim Goad and Boyd Rice. The “violence” being inflicted upon women may be blunt, but it is also a reflection of the wife-beating attitude of the blue-collar cartoons found in Kricfalusi’s cartoons. It’s a “Rockability hell” of sorts, or like a martial industrial song that collages the dysfunctionality and trauma of 1950s family culture. And like Gregory Gallant and Josh Agle, art becomes reflective of the personality in question. Another industrial act, KMFDM, seems to incorporate that same 1995 transgressive energy in their tracks, like the spoken word “Dogma,” or the rape fantasy, “Fairy.” Because the industrial sound is too straight to the point about these horrors, mainstream audiences have to swallow something more easy or accessible, as a light-hearted message. Hence bands like Swans or Xiu Xiu are “softer” transgressive alternatives, but not in the harsh sincerity of Kricfalusi or Goad. And while bands like Laibach and Rammstein rely on commodified fascist imagery, it can only be subverted to the sincere who become fascists themselves. The martial industrial route of eclectic collage art will only lead back to Kricfalusi’s work of dysfunctional white nationalism.
From a 1997 documentary titled “Inside Spümcø,”8 Kricfalusi stated,
“I’m a cartoonist, and I like to make cartoons, and I don’t want anyone to tell me how to make the cartoons, I just want to make the goddamn things. But that situation doesn’t exist anymore in America, it’s no longer a free country, it’s communist or something. And you can only make cartoons that are politically correct, just like everything else. You can only make cars that are politically correct, and you can only make movies that are politically correct. The internet eliminates the need for distribution, which is one of the world’s great evils.”
I believe this statement is sincere. Kricfalusi hates cultural “communism” and wants a libertarian society that eliminates “distribution” and the market from dictating art. To an extent, this is somewhat of a national socialist argument for paternalism for the people of America, and putting the artist first for his nation, by the means of freedom of expression. Kricfalusi hates the liberal culture that has engulfed America into “political correctness” and wants to create cartoons that threaten the establishment.
In addition to his anti-communist ranting, Kricfalusi is quite insensitive about gay people. As once stated in the UK documentary, “Cartoons Kick Ass,”9 Kricfalusi said,
“And Gandy Goose… who’s like a retarded fag or something… [Our Mighty Mouse episode] is loaded with homo jokes! Millions of them! It’s super blatant, and it totally got by everybody!”
Kricfalusi was quite aware of gay jokes in cartoons, and he asserts his politically incorrect self by stating Gandy Goose was a “retarded fag,” something that would be utterly censored on any platform today.
And similar to Jim Goad’s interest in violence, Kricfalusi remarks,
“You don’t have to teach kids about violence… it’s in us. We are just cavemen in clothes. …You can’t eliminate it [violence]. Napoleon never saw any Tom & Jerry cartoons, and he wiped out half of Europe. What was his excuse?”
Kricfalusi is transgressive with violence as it gets. What then, do we make of his ideology around the transgressive and the politically incorrect for anti-liberalism?
The word "aesthetics" is often used as a political buzzword to mean a selected and subjective curated art direction, along with cultural signs. It, however, doesn't do justice when the art has a sincere meaning. The problem with “aesthetics” is that it becomes a fashion statement around some sense of subjective beauty. Kricfalusi’s “white nationalism” isn’t the same as Donald Trump’s white nationalism for America or any Hiterlian racial nationalism. Hence the Kricfalusi “white nationalism” in question is purely personal and not logical.
It’s not to say we should worship the violent and evil tendencies of Kricfalusi’s art as a “preferred” aesthetic for white nationalism. Kricfalusi provides us with an unapologetic lifestyle that is not for everyone, as we look into his sincerity from the culture that produced him. It’s also true that Kricfalusi and Jim Goad may suffer from a type of “emotional addiction,” where a certain emotion is preferred and compulsively released to feel a sense of comfort, relief, distraction, or escape from reality. For example, a gay person isn’t so much someone who has a different and innate sexuality, but rather is attached to the feeling of nostalgic arousal, and homosexuality provides that as the preferred emotion, becoming emotionally addicted to those feelings that define him as “gay.” Perhaps both John Kricfalusi and Jim Goad are addicted to certain emotions, or blunt traumas, of their childhood, and this drives them towards a novelty identity of “white nationalism.”
We see this same kind of emotional addiction in the work of Peter Sotos, and in his short story, “Quality Time,” where he expresses joy and anger over harming a child. It’s not that he is a pedophile, but he is addicted to an emotion of abuse that defines him as a person. Similar writers, like Dennis Cooper, also dwell on the “ugly man” addiction of harming people as a thrill.
Trauma projection is quite evident in Kricfalusi’s work. The late 70s to 90s saw the rise of industrial music that was rooted in transgressive, harsh, and provocative themes of fascism, sexual desire, the occult, and commercial blandness, all while visually mixed with the intent of “punk provocation.” Kricfalusi’s cartoons are akin to this industrial tradition, and like Jim Goad’s work, Kricfalusi shows us a collage of the social issues we face, all while embracing that trauma.
An amazing example of this trauma projection is found in the post-Ren & Stimpy episode “Dinner Party,” where Sammy Mantis, a singing mantis, bites the head off of Liberoache, a roach version of Liberace, a gay singer of the 1950s. William S. Burroughs wrote a similar trauma projection in his short story, “Hassan's Rumpus Room,” a sadistic child-rape fantasy appearing in his work, Naked Lunch. Such a fever dream of compare and contrast is related to that same trauma projection found in Ren & Stimpy, even without the assistance of Kricfalusi on staff during Season 5. His influence still carries on as formula and foundation to this transgressive school of Industrial art.
The culture of the 1950s becomes a set of values, signs, and manners that can be regressively traumatic. Kricfalusi uses these white stereotypes of bad memories to examine something we have misunderstood. We are afraid to acknowledge that he is sincere, and loves all the negatives that come with the culture of white nationalism. If those on the far-right prefer to wear “trad” clothing or pick out a “trad” lifestyle in middle America in 2023, that comes at the cost they too are closer to the sadist depravity of Kricfalusi’s bourgeois nationalism.
Kricfalusi’s Eurocentric attitude is also apparently everywhere in his work. In his unfinished 1999 short, He-Hog The Atomic Pig, He-Hog slaps and abuses a woman like in Jim Goad’s fantasy. He-Hog also flies over the United States, titled “civilization,” while South America is dubbed “Other,” Europe as “Foreigners,” and Africa as just “Africa,” And then African barbarians try and eat He-Hog through pseudo-gay body humor. The torture against his sidekick is unbearable, and it only ends with He-Hog directly shooting his sidekick in the head, and pulling a gun on himself. It goes from chauvinist Eurocentric nationalism to sadist masochistic suicide. What is Kricfalusi trying to say in his work, if it all ends in an Émile Durkheim-esque “suicide?”
The real defense of John Kricfalusi is his unapologetic voice for the lost future that made him who he is. His sexual abuse or possession of child pornography is a psychological digression, as these are manifested symbols of the white nationalist desires he craves. It’s not that white nationalism is evil or advocates sexual deviancy. Kricfalusi misses bourgeois America and it’s chauvinism humor. And like the collage of military symbols and fascist imagery, Kricfalusi reminded Americans of a possible future where the all-white state continued in all its “degenerate nationalist” state of mind. It’s not that white nationalism was ever clean and ethical like Christianity, and we are given a new insight that an all-white society would lead to an icky and backward philistine society.
If anything, as Julius Evola argued in “Fascism Viewed from the Right,” “fascism” becomes an economic reality advocated by the bourgeoise, rather than a cultural reality. If we argue for a peculiar kind of nationalism, that comes with the terror of the mundane and stupid that could traumatize us. Kricfalusi saw the twilight of his civilization and was trying to save the culture he remembered, even if it destroyed him. His pagan efforts were futile, as he could not establish a party to defend him. He got canceled by his peers. What we can learn from Kricfalusi, is that sometimes, we become the devil when we go up against liberalism. There is no doubt in my mind that white nationalism has a huge part in the youth subcultures of the angry, and uses their anti-liberal energy as a form of transgressive shock. It is not as rational and clean as we think it is, no matter how much in-fighting is going on. We play a part in its punk-rock energy.
Kricfalusi is an anti-liberal artist because he’s an embodiment of a culture that no longer exists, and terrorizes the liberal through trauma. That’s enough to defend Kricfalusi’s significance.
Joey Anuff (November 1998). "The Nearly Invisible Animation Genius". Spin, Volume 14, Number 11. pp. 99-106.
“John Kricfalusi Interview - Inside Spumco (1997)” (https://youtu.be/zHSe1Nalh7g?si=utZH8RTMofkL1rkA)
“Cartoons Kick Ass - A History of Subversive Animation.” (Channel Four, 2000) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57p4LF6DGb4&t=1s)