*SLAP* THAT'S for not knowing! Jon McClenahan is one of the greatest animators alive today. You've just never heard of him because today's American animator is about as employable as a typewriter ribbon salesman. Which is a shame, really. (Oh, and by the way, if you already know who Jon is, you can skip this introduction--it'll tell you nothing you don't already know).

Jon is the founder of the now-defunct-but-hopefully-not-forever StarToons animation studio. I loved Jon's animation to death when it got frequent play on television, and I still do. There is a vibrant energy to McClenahan animation that is sorely missing from any other artist. He's a master of timing and comic expression and his work has no current equal in the entire industry.

Why? Because he understands what few other professionals seem to: that the pallette of human emotion is not limited to stock expressions of anger, sadness, joy, etc. If you only think of eight primary colors, then your work will be colored very stiffly...emotion works the same way. There are not just eight emotions, there are about fifty million subtle differences and shades. A true master of expression has to be able to pick and choose just the right shade of anger, sadness or happiness to show in any given moment. Proper tweaking of this can make a bad cartoon funny and a funny cartoon even funnier.

There are many examples of this I could show, but I'm going to pick the StarToons-animated "Wild West" episode of Histeria because I've already made screenshots of what I want to point out. The host is Billy the Kid, and Lydia Karaoke, Network Censor has some issues with a criminal hosting the show. She yanks him into another room and announces that through focus testing she's determined that it would be better for this episode to attract 12-year-old females. On this announcement, she promptly hurls Billy into a diabolical machine that throws electricity around for a few chaotic seconds before the smoke clears and Lydia proclaims:

"We made you a girl!

If an overseas studio had handled this scene I would have barely blinked, let alone cracked a smile. But again, it's the expressions that do it. All effort in the drawing is put into how the character feels at the present moment, frame by frame...and it makes this look HILARIOUS. (Well, not when you're only looking at two frames. It's too bad you can't see this in motion--then you'd get a better idea of what I see in Jon.)

This cel is even better. You can FEEL this guy's hatred and disgust--from the clenched fists yanking on the blouse to even the downward position of his hat. Everything works toward the current feeling, and that in turn amplifies the humor. This is all too often ignored, and any other studio besides Startoons would have made this episode mediocre.

There are so many subtle details in this one scene alone(last shot, I promise). The initial moment of surprise for Billy is almost too small to see onscreen, yet it's handled just as hilariously as it would be full-size. That position is a perfectly funny "WHAT TH' HELL??" pose. StarToons cartoons were remarkable for how much feeling they packed into an episode, which you can be sure was up against a deadline and could have been rushed over. The difference between a McClenahan episode and an overseas-produced episode of anything is like night and day.

The reason you don't see McClenahan get to strut his stuff very often is because most modern cartoons are animated in Korea. Koreans do a good job of animating as they're told and nothing more. They have a model sheet of stock expressions for happy, sad or angry, and they use the same faces for those feelings every time. Usually they don't even know what they're working on, so they couldn't get into animating a scene if they tried. There's also the fact that the majority of Eastern animation emphasizes something other than emotion--Japan, for example, puts out lavishly painted, heavily detailed cartoons--but emotion is the last thing on the list. So much so that the mouths are merely animated flapping open and shut, and the dialogue is added later.

What more can I say? McClenahan is my favorite animator in the entire world, and he definitely deserves a lot more respect than he gets. Before he shrivels up and can't work anymore, somebody has to give him a really funny script and let him go to work--it'll be a travesty if the industry continues to let him go to waste. People have seen plenty of examples of well-written cartoons....and yet they still don't know how funny a cartoon can LOOK.

I swear this introduction wasn't brown-nosing designed to get him on the site, despite what it looks like. There ARE people who HATE McClenahan animation, mainly because it is so bouncy that it's distracting. It's a good kind of bouncy, though. Not like that guy Glen Kennedy.

And if you don't know who Glen Kennedy is, well, lucky you.

Part One: Jon travels to Hanna-Barbera and gets started!