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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Back panel to prime time

    Saturday morning cartoons were much more appealing when Friday night bedtime was still 8 and nothing was worth staying up for. Those of us who still need our weekly dose of sugared cereal and animated entertainment are grateful for programs like “”Adult Swim”” and websites carrying episodes that are available after you’ve allowed yourself to sleep in. Starting this week, though, there’s another cartoon to add to your watch list.

    UA students may be familiar with defeated office-drone Johnsonerson and his coworkers from Smith’s comic strip in the Daily Wildcat. However, the characters are emerging from the confines of their sequential three-panel office. The television debut of Johnsonerson, a series of shorts created by UA media arts sophomore Tom Smith, will air Thursday night at 6:15 p.m. on UATV.

    The first Johnsonerson animated short was the product of Smith’s boredom as a junior in high school in Scottsdale, and his experiments with MS Paint. “”It took seven and a half months because I didn’t know what I was doing,”” he said with a sheepish grin. “”I like the way it looks, but I would never do it again.””

    Since then, the characters of Johnsonerson have evolved alongside Smith’s animation skills. It wasn’t until he came to UA that he decided to bring them to print. “”I was really worried that no one would want to watch the TV show,”” he said. “”I was planning to do a comic when I first got here anyway, but I didn’t expect it to be about the same characters.””

    While the comic strip will continue to run, Smith said he’s excited about the opportunity to put the characters back in motion. Viewers of the TV show will see more of Johnsonerson’s title character than they do in the cartoon, for that same reason: He’s the character who never talks. “”One of my biggest concerns was that I wouldn’t be funny at all when I did the comic; the style of humor is very different, because in the cartoon it’s pretty much all about awkward pacing. It’s about weird silences, which you can’t do in a cartoon,”” he said.

    Smith said that the idea for Johnsonerson came from his own personal experience. “”He was kind of like me in high school,”” said Smith. “”I had a very negative outlook on the world and I thought it was going to be just like that for the rest of my life. So the whole cartoon is sort of me imagining my future job as a loser in an office, bored out of his mind, with a bunch of a-holes for coworkers.””

    When asked whether his work has shifted focus from this personal perspective since he’s now writing for an audience, Smith pauses to think for a moment. “”I’d say that everything I do, I do hoping that there will be an audience, but when I sit down to write my material, I never have to compromise,”” he answers.

    When brainstorming ideas, Smith said he tries to look at the final comic or animation from the perspective of the viewer. “”I ask myself, ‘If I opened up the paper or turned on the TV, would I like this?’ I think back to everything that I hate or like about certain TV shows,”” he said.

    Smith says that Nickelodeon’s cartoon “”Rocko’s Modern Life,”” which aired in the early 90s, is one of the cartoons he remembers vividly and draws upon for inspiration. “”My mom was really strict about my TV-watching habits, so I definitely wasn’t allowed to watch

    Nickelodeon at home, or “”Power Rangers”” or pretty much anything cool,”” he said. “”Which maybe is why I never got over cartoons!””

    There are a few, however, that have lost their luster. The deterioration of Nickelodeon’s Spongebob Squarepants, which Smith said he thinks happened post-feature film, is an example of the kind of thing he tries to avoid. “”They’ve completely wrecked that show, and it used to be one of my favorites. It used to be a nice relaxing show with good characters and now they just scream at each other all the time. You can’t watch that for more than a few minutes,”” he said.

    “”You definitely need a strong central voice, for whatever you do. You need one person’s vision, or it’s not going to be a coherent work,”” he said.

    Smith provides that central voice for Johnsonerson. While the creation and transformation of the animation-turned-comic-turned-cartoon was his brainchild, he also acknowledges several collaborators who have provided support and made the TV show a possibility. UA music junior Zach Toporek, whom Smith has known since high school, wrote and recorded original music for each episode in the series.

    Other voices from across the country have played a part in the shaping of characters Steve, Johnsonerson and the coworker as well. Smith found voice actors to bring his cartoon to life through an online media artists’ forum. “”They’re extremely critical,”” he said, “”which makes it a good way to get good harsh feedback.””

    “”The ultimate, No. 1 thing I could ever do would be to have my own cartoon on a kids’ network of some kind,”” he said. Smith hopes that by getting his series out to the public through UATV, he’ll be able to get more of that feedback from a wider audience. Fans of the “”golden age of Nickelodeon,”” office mishaps, dinosaurs and zombies will not be disappointed.

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