Q&A: Joe Murray Interview

I’ve spoken about Joe Murray before, but mostly in the context of his cartoons and the influences I felt were strongly noticeable in them. Now with his new online venture, KaboingTV (a venture I too am heavily invested in), he is seeking to make a home for new, quality cartoons and animations for the web, an online version of what Cartoon Network used to be. After creating to popular hit shows (Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo) and with a book on the market (Creating Animated Cartoons with Character), he would be perfect for the job. He graciously took the time to respond to some questions I emailed him. Be sure to tune in this Friday for the next new episode of Frog in a Suit, his debut cartoon on KaboingTV.

Joe Murray holding a book

TotalMediaBridge: First question: why KaboingTV? Specifically, why venture out into the world of internet-based cartoons and animation?

Joe Murray: The internet is opening a whole new door to creator driven animation. On the internet, there is a wide range of audiences that can find your style of cartoon and connect in a way that sidesteps the gate keepers.  I have not shut the door on TV. I just advocated the internet as an alternative means to network based animated series, and figured I shouldn’t write a cook book without trying out the recipes. It’s a challenge, and I’m a sucker for challenges.

TMB: Do you see a real future in internet-based quality entertainment? Whether it’s live-action or animated?

JM: The fact is, TV viewership peaked around 2003 or 2004 and has been going down steadily since. In turn, internet viewership is rising. But the trick is, how we can the internet make the transition to funded original content? Right now, it is merely replaying content created for movies or TV. There is a slow melding of the internet, TV and DVD viewing, so why not? Of course.

TMB: What do you see in the future for KaboingTV itself?

JM: My intent is not for Kaboing to be a home for embedded videos from other sources, or replaying other material. It’s intended to grow into a home for original content. Just like MTV started out as playing music videos supplied by record companies and grew into original programming (along with cool animated programming) I see Kaboing doing the same thing. It will be a slow process I’m sure.

TMB: Tell us a bit about Frog in a Suit.

JM: FIAS has been in my head since I was editing the “I have No Son” episode of Rocko’s Modern Life“. We had an anniversary part with toads and frogs, and I thought, I have to do something with these. I had the full idea before Lazlo, but didn’t start developing it until the tail end of the show. It was originally called “Toulouse”. You can find the whole synopsis and characters on the behind the scenes section of KaboingTV.com.

TMB: A lot of people adore Rocko’s Modern Life, for obvious reasons: it was a great show. What was the inspiration behind that?

JM: I tend to think that fear was a huge inspiration behind it. Nickelodeon asked me if I had any ideas for a series, and this wallaby was a character I had used before in a comic strip. He wanted to come out and play. I infused this phobic fear of life I had at the time into a small wallaby whose basic conflict is modern living. His friends Heffer and Filburt were based on real life friends I had growing up. So there you go.

TMB: Many people seem to, in my opinion at least, over emphasize the adult nature of the show. “I can’t believe they aired this on children’s television!” is the common response. Did you actively seek to push the bar at the time?

JM: Nickelodeon said, “Do what you want”. We did what we thought was funny. Nick didn’t stop it because the pushing the edge with cartoons was getting them a lot of press and putting them on the map. Once they started getting real good ratings, and the big marquee advertisers, then they started to come down on us about our content.

I may have traumatized a few children in the 90s but now they are college 20-something fans, so that’s cool.

TMB: Camp Lazlo has its own batch of fervent fans, if not to the extent of Rocko. Any ideas why you think that is?

JM: I built Camp Lazlo to be enjoyed on a few levels just like Rocko, but not so edgy. When Rocko first ended in the 90s, there didn’t seem to be a very large fan base. It grew as those he grew up with it got older. Nostalgia always puts a nice polish on things (or is it rust?). So maybe in 10 years, I’ll be getting emails for Camp Lazlo that I do now for Rocko that say, “Dude, you shaped my childhood. Your show rocked!” Not sure how I shaped childhoods. Kind of scary to think about, but I get those emails.

TMB: What do you think about the state of animation today? Both visually and business-wise?

JM: I don’t think there is enough risk being taken today with new stuff like there was in the 90’s. Too many networks are playing it safe and serving us up vanilla. I like crazy flavors. Show me something new. Business wise, unless you are Seth McFarlane, the deals are getting worse for new creators of shows. All the more reason to have a good lawyer and to stick to your guns.

TMB: Any advice to people studying animation or the entertainment business in general?

JM: It’s a bit of nomadic life, with many party-filled, palm tree oasis’ between long stretches of dangerous desert. If you are okay with that life (I personally love it) and are willing to fight off a few bandits and sand worms along the way, the rewards are amazing.

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