As an accomplished cartoonist, Bob Flynn is a master at tapping in to that creative eight-year old lurking inside himself to create some of the most oddball and zany comics I’ve seen in a long time. Alongside his cohorts at Heeby Jeeby Comix, Flynn is spreading his special brand of light-hearted laughter with the masses both online and off. Under the alias of Jinx the Monkey, Flynn has also produced a number of short cartoons that cannot help to evoke the heyday of the Nickelodeon empire (most likely a product of his time with Nick Magazine). To shed a little light on the man behind the monkey, Flynn agreed to join us here at the clubhouse for a chat.
Let’s start things off simple… you find yourself “in a nutshell,” what do you do? What do you do?!
Teleport my way out, seeing as that’s probably how I ended up there in the first place. Next question.
Now we’ve gone all “psychologistical” on you let’s regress to your childhood. When did you first realize you wanted to be a cartoonist?
I was hanging with some friends at school who were drawing Ninja Turtles. I was 8 or 9. I remember thinking to myself, “I can do that.” So I joined in, and kept on drawing when I got home. I’d been doodling around before that, but never so committed. Really, I never stopped from that point on. I grew up watching cartoons and making comics, I guess with some notion that one day I’d like to be a cartoonist.
Moving right along, one of your first gigs as a cartoonist was working on Nickelodeon Magazine. How did you get involved with Nick?
My first assignment for Nick Mag was in 2005, I believe, for Chris Duffy and Debby Albenda. It was for a holiday issue, and they wanted me to design and illustrate a character named “Stinkerbell”—a fairy who brings underwhelming gifts to children. It was a great job, and I did more cartoons and illustrations for the magazine over the next few years. Chris would eventually invite me to pitch and draw SpongeBob comics as well.
How did your work evolve from that experience?
I don’t like to overanalyze this stuff, but in combination with my work at FableVision, over the past couple years I’ve really honed in on my inner kid again. Nick Mag left an impression on me for sure—especially after it went under in 2009. It gave me focus if nothing else, and its vision has certainly shaped how I am currently creating comics.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) was a huge influence to you early on. I can’t help but pick up on a John Kricfalusi (Ren & Stimpy) vibe as well. Who are a few of your other greatest influences?
You mentioned Watterson and John K, which probably fall early to more recent in chronology. Other artists would include George Herriman, Chris Ware, Ron Regé Jr, Jim Woodring, and Gary Baseman. In the influential category, the old Fleischer, Disney, and Warner Brothers cartoons weigh big, as do contemporary shows like SpongeBob Squarepants. I’m constantly cataloging cartoons and comics past and present. I absorb them all. Right now, Milt Gross is blowing my mind.
You’re also a founding member of Heeby Jeeby Comix. How did that project get started and what makes it different from the other work you do?
Heeby Jeeby started as a conversation with my friend Chris Houghton. It was something in the flavor of how comics have recently become more serious. Which is great, actually—I thoroughly enjoy how much the medium has expanded and grown in recent decades. But we wanted to return to simpler comics that carry you through a short story and leave you with a laugh or something unexpected. People toss around the phrase “all ages”—we don’t see it as making comics for kids. You ask how it’s different from the other work I do. This is pretty much what I’d be doing if I could save every hour of the day for making comics. The bunch of us (including Chris, myself, Dan Moynihan and David DeGrand) just do what we do, and hope it connects.
What defines the line between humor that’s safe for kids versus something that is too explicit?.
That word “safe” is a tricky one. You can spend a lot of time worrying about what’s safe for your audience. “Explicit” is a good word because it implies revealing everything or too much. My humor can be dark at times, but I’m not explicit in death, violence, language, or anything adult in nature. “Funny” and “safe” have little to do with each other, but you don’t need to be vulgar or subversive to be funny, either. I have a gut sense for what will fly and what won’t. With especially younger audiences, I get concerned about upsetting kids (nothing too disturbing) or modeling overly negative behavior. Anyway, there is plenty of room for me to navigate in this realm without worrying about crossing any lines.
You mentioned FableVision earlier, where you’re the Director of Animation. What does that job entail?
A bunch of things. I lead a crew of immensely talented artists and animators. We develop and design games, websites, films, and interactive media for education. My role is always changing to meet an array of tasks. One day I could be storyboarding a sequence explaining how your sense of smell works, another day I could be drawing mythological comics for a video game used to teach math in the classroom. We serve up story-based content for learners of all ages. I work with writers, producers, and developers as well—it’s truly a team effort. And it’s a blast. I’m currently looking to hunt down more animation work to grow that aspect of the studio.
Was it an easy transition from illustrator to animator?
I think so, but I lean on my team of animators to do most of the heavy lifting. And I’ve always had an eye on animation. I made my first cartoon as an Illustration major when I was introduced to Flash. My education in illustration informs how I color, compose, draw, and stage every frame of animation. I still very much think in pictures—which is probably why I find comics more suitable when I’m working on my own.
Wrapping things up… who is “Jinx the Monkey?” Is he a figment of mass hypnosis like Colonel Sanders or Social Security?
Not quite. Jinx plays the starring role in that first cartoon I mentioned (above). I guess at some point he evolved into me, or we merged? I needed a domain name and thought I’d be making more Jinx the Monkey cartoons (so much for that). Either way, it stuck.
So Bob, what’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?
All artwork courtesy of Bob Flynn © All rights reserved.