The Tao of Crap: An Interview w/ Trever van Meter, creator of Crappy Cat
It takes a one hell of a creative mind to crawl through the proverbial “crap” of today’s modern world and keep on coming. Better yet it takes someone with a lot of courage and determination to put their dream project on display for the whole world to see. Our latest guest, Trevor van Meter is one such artistically inclined individual whose creation, CrappyCat is quickly making its rounds as an indie success.
For those not yet aware of CrappyCat, he has been described as “drunk, down on his luck, and stuck between who knows and who cares… his only friend now is the bottle. As his past starts to unfold, however, he realizes that everything isn’t as bad as it seems… it’s much worse. The world is hanging in the balance. Can he pull his shit together in time, or are we all doomed?” Let’s ask Trevor to find out.
So Trevor, tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your background in art like?
My name is Trevor Van Meter, though I also go by VanBeater. I graduated from ECU with a BFA in illustration, but my schooling to become whatever I am (creator, illustrator, artist, A-hole, whatEv) started a looong time ago when I first discovered that I make art for a living.
CrappyCat reminds me of an alcohol-infused Danger Mouse who’s lost everything he ever cared about and has a penchant for causing mayhem. What first inspired you to create such an estranged, yet somehow charming rogue?
Ha, I love Danger Mouse; his flying yellow car and of course Penfold. I think Bananaman is pretty sweet too. Danger Mouse’s design has such a wonderful simplicity about him, something I think can be said about all the great character designs of the past. Simple & unique.
When I set out to create CrappyCat, I knew I wanted him to be a cat because people have one of two general reactions to cats: 1) they love cats and when they see one they make a “mew” sound or 2) they hate cats. That type of built-in/universal reaction helps me make an instant connection with the reader/viewer. I tried to make him look like a cat, but look nothing like a cat. I wanted to make sure the design was simple, so that people understand that he is a cat (mew), and yet unique so that he is like no other cat out there. I decided to make him a humorous self-destructive alcoholic because it allows me to drop him in to any situation and just watch the mayhem unfold.
The character first made his premiere in 2008 as a vinyl toy courtesy of Jamungo and has since appeared in a number of different media (most recently as a mobile phone app). Was it your intention from the beginning to make him such a marketable persona?
Yes. It has always been my intention to create an intellectual property (IP) of CrappyCat. All of my major childhood influences are IPs. Why shouldn’t CrappyCat be as big as Batman, Transformers, or even Frankenstein. It sounds ridiculous, but anything is possible.
Just look around and you’ll see that many of the cartoons, toys, games, etc. that influenced us as kids are still alive and kicking; some bigger then ever. They may be reinvented, reimagined, rehashed, and/or regurgitated… but they are still around. I get the chills when I think that CrappyCat could outlive me, that he could grow into the next big property. My goal is to have him in theaters by 2020. This should be enough time for me to tell the story and gain some leverage on the property.
Later that year you also released an online, Flash-based video game. How difficult was the process of transforming CrappyCat into an interactive sidescrolling adventure?
The game was very time consuming and taxing, but wasn’t difficult because it was so much damn fun to work on. If you want to discover more about what went into the game, check out Commarts online case study.
Speaking of video games, you also received a lot of recognition for being the creative director behind the ever addtictive Fly Guy game. How did that project come about?
Fly Guy was a self promotional piece that was created in 2002. I think most people with real jobs and problems want to escape and I tried to express that with black and white pixels. I lucked out because it struck a note with people and from there it spread like crazy.
Just looking at your portfolio you definitely seem to have an affinity for some 8-bit gaming fun. What are some of your favorite old school video games?
I would say that the NES was as much as an influence on me as my favorite art, cartoons and toys. I love almost all the games of that era including: Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Contra, Mike Tyson’s PunchOut, Rush’n Attack… the list goes on and on. I love pixel art and do have some plans to a CrappyCat platformer at some point. I’ve been limited on time these days though, so who knows when I’ll get around to it.
How competitive is the market for creator-owned character designs?
It is insanely competitive, just go to any comic book convention or do a search for webcomics. The world is jam packed with fat eyed dreamers like myself; many of them willing to drop crazy amounts of cash on self publishing, merch and other gear. Creating a comic is something I wanted to do for a loooong time, but didn’t because it is so easy to get lost in the fluff.
Something is happening though. I’m finally seeing a shift in how the content is being delivered. People are slowly starting to warm up to the idea of receiving the content that they love digitally. Publishing is in for some major changes and everyone who has content will have a new delivery system that requires little overhead. Self-publishing won’t be such a dirty word and digital content is going to open the doors for all kinds of creators and properties. Once this shift really takes a hold of the market the main problem will be getting it in front of the reader.
What mainstream IP would you most like to tackle if given your pick of the litter (so to speak)?
I’ve had an idea for awhile now to do a “hard boiled” uber violent Dick Tracy story. That, or a Where’s Waldo? The Silent Assassin story (also uber violent). Both sound pretty rad to me.
CrappyCat’s “devil may care” attitutde and grumpy demeanor inevidently draw comparisons to Mori Chack’s Gloomy Bear which is huge in Japan. Were there any specific influences on the artistic development of the character?
I love Gloomy Bear. It is a genius character with a story that is instantly understood. With Crappy, I like the idea that people look at him and draw a quick conclusion about him… he’s a drunken cat (mew). As the story unfolds, however, you will find out there is a bit more to it then that and maybe the reader is a jerk for being so quick to judge.
Who are some of your personal favorite illustrators or character designers working today?
I spend a little time each day browsing the latest up and coming artists and illustrators at illustrationmundo, Drawn!, Booooooom!, FFFFOUND!, and many others. I try not to get locked in on any artists or illustrators in particular. I just don’t want to be heavily influenced by another creator because I think that can be counter productive to my particular goals.
As mentioned previously, you’ve just released Crap-ter 1 of your new mobile app. How has the response by fans been thus far?
Not too bad. It’s about what I expected, actually. I have a lot of work to do to build a fan base and this was just another step in that journey. I need to prove to the people who have downloaded it and to those who are thinking about downloading it that I’m serious about continuing to fill the app with content. One annoying thing that happened was during the development stage, was that Apple decided to double the resolution on the iPhone 4 from 320 x 480 to 640 x 960. That’s amazing for that little screen. The problem is, it scales the app up to fit that resolution, so the app may feel a bit “jaggy” on the iPhone 4. I’m working to update with hd assets. Hopefully it will be updated when the next crap-ter is released.
So Trevor, what’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?
In the 2nd grade I decided that I needed a hair cut, so I went in the bathroom with a pair of kid safe craft scissors and hacked up my beautiful bowl cut. I have no idea why I had the impulse to cut my own hair, but I did. My teacher was completely horrified by the whole thing. It was awesome.
Trevor was bad-ass enough to create this eyeball explosion inducing fanart of Strange Kid in his signature crap-tacular style. Thanks T for such an awesome (and completely unprovoked) digital masterpiece of strangeness. The next round is on me.