What is your name and your current occupation?
Richard Pursel and I am a writer for animation primarily. I’m currently writing a feature script for a 3-D animated project in addition to developing and writing a pilot and bible for an unrelated 3-D animated series. I’m also finishing up two live-action scripts, one a feature and the other an hour-long TV pilot; both with a cartoon sensibility.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I had to deal with many strong personalities as a production assistant for music videos. Hunting down items Prince demanded be in his trailer, such as “rain scented” candles, ain’t easy! I worked as a staff supervisor at a school for multi-handicapped blind adults—that experience sure keeps me humble. I even farmed the Sodom Plain in Israel for six months when I was 21.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
My first writing credits are on “The Ren & Stimpy Show,” so of course I’m proud of that. “Powdered Toast Man” was the first story of mine that aired, though “Visit to Anthony” was the first one I wrote. I still send out my Emmy nominated premise “Son of Stimpy” as a writing sample. “Cow and Chicken” and “I Am Weasel” came next and creator David Feiss animated the title sequence for “I Am Weasel” based on my song and board. Writing and story editing “Tom and Jerry Tales” was incredible, returning to basics with those iconic, pantomime, cartoon stars. The “SpongeBob SquarePants” crew is a well-oiled machine and four seasons working with them was awesome.
How did you become interested in animation?
The first nightmare I can remember was being a cartoon pig chased by a cartoon wolf in cartoon woods, so I guess I’m steeped in it! I loved Underdog and Bob Clampett’s Beanie and Cecil, which ran daily when I was two or so. I took animation classes whenever they were available to me as a kid. Bugs Bunny was and is my god.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in Milford, Michigan—home of the GM proving grounds where my Dad worked as a safety engineer, smashing cars with crash test dummies. In fact, stock footage of one of my Dad’s tests was used in “Boat Smarts,” a SpongeBob boating safety cartoon I wrote. I showed it to my Dad and he said, “Well that brings things full circle!”
My first job in animation was as a production assistant on Tiny Toon Adventures; Eddie Fitzgerald hired me. At the time I was about to transfer to UCLA’s animation program, but Eddie talked me out of finishing school, saying, “You’ve already got the position you’d need after you graduate” and told me that I’d learn much more on the job.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Staff positions are great because I can make my office a work cave and focus. It’s tough to write from my office at home since I have two boys, ages 4 and 2. They’re adorable, but I have to flip my writing switch on and off throughout the day, taking advantage of their nap and school times to write. We watch a lot of cartoons together. Some of their favorites are the old Popeye black ‘n’ whites, Ralph Bakshi’s Mighty Mouse, Clampett’s Beanie and Cecil and Bugs Bunny.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I enjoy having an outlet for my twisted sensibility, being able to show a warped and original way to tell a story. At this point in my career it is great to be proud of my strong and fun body of work. I get to watch cartoons with my kids that I helped create, and seeing their reactions is extremely rewarding.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I’m not and extrovert, so selling myself can be awkward. I’m getting better at it though, and I sometimes relish a good pitch.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
No matter how good the resume, you still have to sell yourself. The feast or famine nature of the TV animation treadmill is always daunting. And even if you think you’re the best, companies will still just look at the bottom line and give you the axe. I always take pride in the fact that, when given a choice storyboard, artists choose my stories to work from. Word of mouth keeps you employed.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
My military-issue night-vision goggles are the best for writing in the dark. No one can look over my shoulder and see what I write, which allows for a certain freedom I don’t otherwise have. Computers are nice. I like pencils; pens sometimes. Paper.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I met Mel Blanc and got him to sign a Bugs Bunny 8×10 that I cherish. The best thing about working at Tiny Toons was that I got to meet Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble. John Kricfalusi took me along to visit Ed Benedict at his house in Carmel, which was an incredible show-and-tell adventure with Ed sharing his drawings and reference scrapbooks. John dragged me along to dinner with Ralph Bakshi and I witnessed Ralph put his cigarette out on John’s plate (in an offhand, not malicious way!) I met Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera and eavesdropped on John’s conversations with them. Let’s see: Fred Crippen, Gary Owens, Bill Melendez, Iwao Takamoto, Robert Givens. I’ve worked with amazing talents David Feiss, Tom Minton, Glenn Barr, Bruce Timm, Jim Smith, Vincent Waller, Lynne Naylor and Chris Reccardi. Both Steven Banks and Matt Wayne are incredible story editors. Matt and I grew up across the street from one another and he’s always been multitalented. Phil Roman is consulting on a project I’m currently writing and I’ll be working closely with him, which is an amazing treat and honor. I picked his brain for all sorts of animation anecdotes; his start at Disney and meeting Walt, working with Bill Melendez on the Peanuts specials and stuff like that.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
We just lost Dwayne McDuffie, who was Matt Wayne’s other best friend. The death of a close pal always puts your own life and legacy into perspective. Getting laid off right before Christmas was hard on our family. I ate camel meat once and that was pretty tough.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I’ve got a million of ’em! Actually about twenty animated series pitches and a few live-action feature ideas, but I’d hate to give away specifics. There’s a sexy skull-faced mermaid sculpture I still need to finish, plus a potty training book for boys called, “Pee Pee Poo Poo” (hey, aim low and you will always succeed!)
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
My wife showed me the cherry stem trick the night we met. Um, I can bench press my two toddlers with ease and bend forks back into their proper shape at diners with my bare hands
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Just don’t worry about being a pest when seeking career advice. In the late afternoon, go shoot the shit with someone you admire. Actively seek a mentor. When I was a young buck at Tiny Toons I would pester Norm McCabe about his early directing (“supervision” was the title back in the ’30s) and he loved that I was even interested to hear his tales. John K. trained me to be his writer because he liked my weird sense of humor and had more than enough amazing art talent at the time. Spümco, being an artist-run studio, had a rule: “You can’t write at Spümco unless you can draw.” I love drawing a sketch or doodle to help make a gag as clear it needs to be.