Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


April 20, 2009

Cartoons for Big Kids

Web animator Dan Meth never met a meme he didn't like.

Benjamin Samuel

It was three years ago when Fred Seibert, a former president of legendary animation studio Hanna-Barbera, discovered Dan Meth. At the time, the cartoonist was producing ads for companies as varied as Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Jonny Glow, a manufacturer of toilet-illuminating stickers that glow in the dark. Though he was working for commercial clients, Meth hadn't gone unnoticed in the creative world, and in 2006 the industry heavyweight hired Meth to work at his Frederator Studios animation company. With Seibert’s backing, the animator launched what would become two of the internet’s most popular web series: The Meth Minute, a Streamy Award-winning mashup of pop culture and music, and Nite Fite, a news debate show spoof.

The inaugural episode of The Meth Minute, an animated musical tribute to the web's most notorious stars, received over three million views on YouTube alone, about as much attention as the dances and memes it parodied could ever hope for. With Meth’s baptism by pageview a virulent success, his series has continued through today.

Dan Meth. Photo by Christi Clifford
"I don’t have a message, and to be honest, my own opinions on issues change so much I don’t want to make a statement that I can’t back up."

Dan Meth. Photo by Christi Clifford

Despite the fade into irrelevance of longtime icons such as Pepe Le Pew (who, it bears mentioning, was once popular enough to win an Academy Award) and Porky Pig, Meth frequently follows in the traditions of classic cartooning. As in Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies, music plays a large role in his cartoons, and his shorts "Sid and Nancy" and "Hardly Working"—a cartoon made for the eponymous CollegeHumor show—are violent tributes to the slapstick of his forebearers.

Now 31 and living in Brooklyn, Meth started drawing comics for the student paper at Syracuse, where he studied illustration. After graduating he taught himself Flash and began designing online greeting cards and web ads, eventually carving out his own, off-kilter niche on the web. Currently, he's producing a series of short cartoons for Comedy Central's Atom Films, which he describes as "pop culture skewered like tender veal chunks over a flame of comedy."

In the following interview, which has been edited for clarity, Meth discusses his aversion to cartooning about illegal immigration, that which is the internet audience, and why some people unintentionally receive their 15 megs of fame. You can hear Meth talk about his work, alongside Julia Allison and Jamie Wilkinson, at Gelf's free Non-Motivational Speaker Series on New York's Lower East Side on Thursday, April 23, at 8 p.m.

Gelf Magazine: How do you describe what you do?

Dan Meth: I usually say I'm a cartoonist because that's what I always said I wanted to be when I was a kid, so it's fun to think I achieved that childhood dream. Also it sounds less pretentious than artist or director. And "animator" doesn't communicate that I also write and direct these films.

Gelf Magazine: The callers you animated in Episode 35 of the Meth Minute are about as unique as the characters you create. What, and who, didn't make the cut?

Dan Meth: For that episode I pretty much just picked the funniest moments of all the hundreds of calls we got. Any caller that didn't make the cut was either too normal-sounding or just not that funny. After I made that cartoon, we got tons more calls where people were trying way too hard to be funny and it lost that great authentic weirdness.

Gelf Magazine: Who is your audience, and what was the experience of animating your fans like?

Dan Meth: My audience seems to be anyone from the age of 13 to 44. Not just dudes, either; women, too. But I'd say the average age seems to be college students…I think? It's hard to tell; I've gotten emails from office drones, high-school kids, people all over the world.

Gelf Magazine: Are there any subjects that are off-limits in your work?

Dan Meth: Jesus, AIDS, 9/11, Rape, Cancer, Illegal Immigration, Israel, Iraq, Politics, etc. The bummer stuff. I try pretty hard not to alienate people. I'm not South Park, that's for sure. I don't want to pick fights or be that controversial. I really want to make people laugh and hope there's a kind heart underneath even my sickest and most twisted stuff. I don't have a message, and to be honest, my own opinions on issues change so much I don't want to make a statement that I can't back up. (Plus I might change my mind later.)

Gelf Magazine: Your cartoon "Internet People" references and riffs on some of the most notorious viral video stars, like the Numa Numa boy and the Star Wars Kid. Why do you think some videos go viral, while others (video and people) remain obscure? What makes some people more deserving of internet notoriety than others?

Dan Meth: I think it all comes down to authenticity. Ninety-five percent of internet stars are people who weren't trying to be. Those really unique incidents and characters out there weren't planning or trying to become web-famous. Many didn't even want to be. When an ad agency tries to create something like that, people can smell it.

Gelf Magazine: In light of the Star Wars Kid's alleged psychiatric care, or teens posting violent and humiliating fight videos online, should the internet have rules or ethics? And should there be a watchdog for the web?

Gelf Magazine: I hope not. I think there's far more positive stuff coming from the internet than these freak occurrences. If the internet doesn't seem to have ethics, it's probably only because certain people who use it don't have any.

Gelf Magazine: Does your commentary have a purpose? Do you have a "mission statement"?

Dan Meth: My mission statement is just to make people laugh a bit in their busy workday. I'm just making cartoons to be enjoyed by some people. Add a bit of weird humor to a serious world and hope I can get you to at least chuckle.

Gelf Magazine: Political cartoons and caricatures have been around for centuries. Do the internet, Flash animation, and other modern trappings simply fall in line with traditional cartoons, or does technology provide an opportunity to do something new?

Dan Meth: I think it totally falls in line with the entire history of cartoons. The internet is like a combination of newspapers, magazines, movie theaters, and TV…all of which featured cartoons from the very beginning. When I was putting The Meth Minute out every week, I felt like one of those newspaper cartoonists from the 1910s who got to draw an entire page of whatever he wanted once a week and then anyone in the country could read it. Only now, everyone in the world can see it instantly. It's amazing.

Gelf Magazine: The internet gives you a lot of freedom for your art, but what would it take for you to sell out and what would that look like?

Dan Meth: I think I sold out in reverse. I got my start doing ads and commercials for people. Nowadays they just want me to make funny stories that don't promote a product. Just entertainment. I like that progression better than the other way around. If by selling out you mean bigger budgets—well, that's something I'm looking forward to.

Gelf Magazine: Kids (and adults) today seem to be all hopped-up on their SpongeBobs and South Parks. Are the days of the simpler cartoons, like Tom and Jerry, dead? Is it for better or for worse?

Dan Meth: Well, South Park is not for kids, so let's not compare it to Tom and Jerry. SpongeBob has great writing and great art. You might say Tom and Jerry had even better animation, but the writing consisted of the same story over and over again. I think today's kids are smarter than they were in the days of Tom and Jerry. It's good they have interesting plots like SpongeBob to watch; I think it's much more mentally stimulating than Tom and Jerry, and also less violent. I happen to like SpongeBob a lot more than most other kids' cartoons on today.

Gelf Magazine: What are you working on now?

Dan Meth: I'm currently working on a number of short "non-sell out" cartoons for different content sites like CollegeHumor, Comedy Central, and Playboy. It's really fun to have people trust you to make up some funny films and just let you do it. There is so much less editorial interference than when you are in an ad agency or sponsorship situation.

Gelf Magazine: What are the top three reasons why Rush is heavy metal?

Dan Meth: 1) They were called heavy metal at the time. I don't think they shouldn't be considered that now just because metal has gotten heavier since.
2) Without Rush there would be no heavy metal, since the next wave of heavy metal all were influenced by them. No Rush…no Metallica…no Pantera…no Mastodon or whatever you consider Heavy Metal to be now.
3) Non-Rush fans only seem to know the handful of 1980s songs that are played on the radio. Songs from their earlier discography are far heavier than the fews songs haters have ever heard. Listen to some early shit and get educated before you start running your mouth off about what Rush sounds like, poser. End of story. (That was not directed at you, Benjamin).

Benjamin Samuel

Benjamin Samuel doesn't live in Brooklyn.

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- Comedy
- posted on Jun 21, 09

great interview! keep em coming!

- Comedy
- posted on Feb 05, 10
Stephen Treadwell

What you said about Tom and Jerry having the same story over and over again really is not true. If you've seen on T&J cartoon you have not seen them all. It's Road Runner & Tweety & Sylvester cartoons that have the same story over & over again. T&J cartoons differ in plenty of ways. For instance Mouse in Manhattan is very different from any other T&J cartoons because Tom only appears in the end & the beginning.

- Comedy
- posted on Dec 30, 14
stephen treadwell

I definitely prefer T&J to T&S or RR. It's a lot more original, a lot less predictable, a lot more interesting, a lot nicer looking &, best of all, less one-sided. Besides it has better music.

Article by Benjamin Samuel

Benjamin Samuel doesn't live in Brooklyn.

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