Interview | Nick Cross, Angora Napkin/Yellow Cake/The Pig Farmer

Nick Cross is the other half of Angora Napkin, although he’s better known for his short animated pieces.  The Waif of Persephone (2006), Yellow Cake (2009) and The Pig Farmer (c. 2011) touch on subjects like classical mythology and reactionary politics, while animated in a 1940s-inspired cartoon style.

Cross worked on both The Ripping Friends and Ren & Stimpy ‘Adult Party Cartoon.’  John Kricfalusi loves the man’s style.  When I mentioned the possibility of a Nick Cross interview to Cartoon Brew‘s Jerry Beck…well, let’s just say Beck wasn’t unenthusiastic.

Nick Cross fans don’t need me to tell them why he’s worthy of an interview.  I’m amazed I’ll publish this interview three days after Troy Little’s.  Hell, I’m even timely in this one.  Hold on to your butts.  You’re watching me pimp in record time.

Your work is frequently compared to John Kricfalusi’s, and you worked with the man on both The Ripping Friends and Ren & Stimpy ‘Adult Party Cartoon.’  What are your thoughts on the man, curmudgeonly as he sometimes is?

I was a fan of John’s work since Ren & Stimpy was first on the air in the early nineties.  I was in college at that time studying illustration, but I was still a huge cartoon and animation fan.  I never would have thought that one day I would be working for the same guy that created it, so when the opportunity arose, I leapt at the chance.

[John K.] is definitely very difficult to work for, since he has no qualms about telling you exactly what he thinks of your stuff, and making you redo things over and over until he is either satisfied or sick of looking at it.

Having said that, he is also one of the greatest teachers of animation and cartoon drawing there is.  He has tons of patience and will always take the time to teach an artist if they don’t know something.  His lessons on his blog are testimony to this.  Luckily for me, my natural drawing style was close to what he was looking for, so I didn’t have as difficult a time of it as some animators did.

What are the chances, in your opinion, that Angora Napkin will become a series?  The comic book’s Eisner nomination gives the show some momentum, but then, you’re competing against eight other pilots.  I asked this to Troy Little, and I’d like to know your take on it.

It has tremendous potential for an animated series.  However, the nature of television programming is very elusive and changes all the time.  Some of the best ideas never see the light of day, simply because they are pitched at the wrong place at the wrong time.  I’m not really sure of its chances.

Also, we aren’t really in competition against the other pilots…I think the voting is more of a way for the network to figure out what the public thinks of each one individually, as opposed to a contest-type format.  That’s just my thoughts on it.  I could be wrong.

How is work coming on The Pig Farmer, by any chance?

Great!  I’m nearly finished, and I hope to have it completed by the end of the year.  I began it in January [2010], so it will have only taken me a year to produce from start to finish.  That’s not too bad, considering I was only working on it part-time.  I’m excited about this one because I tried out a more experimental narrative, as well as…working for the first time with a composer.  His name is Neal Williams, and he is great.

You have used IndieGoGo as a way to fund The Pig Farmer.  How do you think crowdfunding will work in the future?  I know Picnicface is crowdfunding Roller Town, but how could crowdfunding sustain even a low-budget series?  You officially only reached $3,991 of a $5,000 target.

I think the concept of crowdfunding is still a little unknown to most people.  I tried it more as an experiment than to actually attempt to fully finance a film or a series.  As it becomes more mainstream, I think that [crowdfunding] could potentially work as a good supplement to the traditional financing route.  I’m still pretty skeptical that it could finance an entire production, unless it was undertaken by a really famous artist or filmmaker, and with a lot of hustling for donations.

You worked for Yo Gabba Gabba! and Spliced!, two shows that LOVE the ending exclamation mark.  What was it like working on both shows?  I’m a fan of Spliced!, something no 29-year-old male should readily admit…BUT I WILL.

They were both different.  On Spliced!, I was just a storyboard artist for one episode.  I didn’t even get into the full swing of the production.  With Yo Gabba Gabba!, I directed two short pieces, which was really fun.  They gave me a lot of creative control, and basically let me run with my ideas.  However, the one thing the two shows had in common was that they were both pretty quirky and cartoony, which I love.

Algonquin College recently fired Neil Hunter and Paul West, longtime co-coordinators of the Animation Program.  What are your thoughts on that, aside from the (and I quote) “???????!!!!!!” response you gave to Canadian Animation Resources?

I know both Paul and Neil personally…when I made that comment on CAR I was under the impression that they had been fired completely, so I was a little concerned.  I don’t really know the ins-and-outs of the animation program at Algonquin, so I don’t really know why they were replaced as co-ordinators…I can’t really comment.

[Note: at the time I wrote this interview (weirdly enough, the same day I published Troy Little’s interview), there was no official word on Hunter and West’s position within Algonquin College.

According to Design Studies chairman Peter Larock, Hunter and West are still employed by Algonquin College.  The new co-ordinators are Derek Bond and Tom Crook.

This news is inside baseball to me, but it should be interesting to the animation community.  As George Carlin once said, “people like it when you’re topical.”]

What do you think of the Canadian television industry as it stands now?  Is animation in better shape than live action, overall?

I don’t really know much about the live-action industry at all.  I’m firmly planted in the cartoon world.  The Canadian animation industry still seems to be doing quite well with the possible exception of the Maritimes, which is sort of suffering due to some changes to the tax credit system out there.

What does the future of animation hold, in your opinion?  Will animation migrate to the web, as a lot of it has, or are commercial television & film still the carrots that drive the stick?

I think that the web will become more and more integral to the future of animation.  Most, if not all, of the best [animation pieces] being produced right now are short films that are shown exclusively on the web.  Sites like Vimeo are doing a lot to raise the bar, by only showing original work in high quality.  I don’t think television or cinema will die out, but they will have to share their audience a lot more with the web.

What’s currently being produced in animation that you enjoy, either on television, film or elsewhere?

Again, I think that most of the interesting stuff is only available on the web, or at festivals.  My most recent favourite animator currently out there is David O’Reilly.  His work is genuinely fresh and original, and I always am excited to see his next project.

Addendum to this interview: the Spliced! cartoon Cross storyboarded is “Sgt. Snuggums,” where main protagonists(?) Peri and Entrée tease woobie/wannabe explorer Fuzzy Snuggums.  Fuzzy gets pissed off, hulks out and sees everyone as robots.  Mike Smukavic, Sahle Robinson and Blair Kitchen are Spliced!‘s most frequent storyboarders, so it’s surprising to see Nick Cross get a cartoon in.

To end this interview, here’s Yellow Cake in its entirety, from Nick Cross’ YouTube.  Enjoy!

C. Archer
Le Social