A Chat with Ren & Stimpy’s Bob Camp

4 Dec

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Bob Camp is best known for his work with Ren & Stimpy and not everyone may see how similar this 90s show is to SpongeBob SquarePants. As a character designer and storyboard artist, he is one of many people who contributed to both series success. He enjoys being involved with the production in every step–the writing, coming up with the ideas, and developing the characters. He said, “The thing I enjoyed a lot was directing. I got to work with many greats like Billy West, June Lockhart, Dom DeLuise and Frank Gorshin (original Riddler from the 60s Batman).”

To have work that’s unaltered, unfiltered and uncensored is tough. It was hilarious to learn that the team put in tons of red herrings in the ‘toon knowing much of it will get cut. In what got past, the material that got through surprised them.

I spoke to him at length not only at Emerald City Comic Con but also Capital City Comic Con earlier this year. He loves attending these shows throughout the year. You’d think the studio keeps him busy year-round but apparently not! While storyboarding is part of the animation process, just when he is required depends on if he’s needed constantly in the production chain. Plus, I forgot to ask him in that first meeting to find out about Thundercats which is getting reworked (and rescheduled) for a 2020 release. The character designs are a far cry from what he knows.

How did you get your start?

I don’t remember not drawing. I started as a kid; I’d copy characters out of the newspaper comic strips and my mom made me a little blue suitcase with art supplies and I’d carry it around everywhere. It was what I always did what I did throughout my school career instead of studying. I didn’t care. I knew I’d be drawing for a living.

I started working at resorts and amusement parks–drawing caricatures and pretty soon, met Gary Holleran, a cartoonist in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He took me to New York, introduced me to Larry Harmon and got me a job right away. I very quickly moved to working on comic books [with Marvel]–on G.I. Joe, The Nam, Conan the Barbarian and things like that.

What was it like working on those early Conan comics?

I was fortunate to be John Buscema’s inker and I learned a lot. The thing I liked best is there were no straight edges. I didn’t have to draw perspective or buildings or cars or any of that kind – guns you know just draw like horses and caves and shacks and things like that. There were swords–I think was the most technical thing I had done.

I was asking around Marvel bullpen and the consensus was that he liked his brother Sal’s inks. So I kind of copied that style. When I ran into John at a comic con much later, he never knew who I was. I said, “I’m your inker and he laughed. He said, “Oh, you’re that guy who inks like Sal! I was thrilled since oh my God he got it!”

What’s your relationship with Dan Slott?

He’s been writing The Amazing Spider-Man for quite a while. Back in the day, he wrote a piece for the Ren & Stimpy comic. He wrote number six of the Ren & Skippy comic which was Spider-Man versus Powdered Toast-Man–which was his very first Spidy story. I think he had a lot to do with the new Spider-verse movie, which is fantastic.

How did you transition to working on television?

In the middle of the 80s, one of my roommates was a character designer on Thundercats and he quit and I got his job. I’d been working in animation ever since. After working at Rankin Bass on Thundercats and Silverhawks, it was The Real Ghostbusters. So while we worked on that, down the hall I saw another team doing The New Adventures of Bebe and Cecil. I switched over to working with them–after getting fired, it was Tiny Toons.

While I was there, I met a lot of the guys who would end up working on the Ren and Stimpy show.

Have you seen any of the early cuts for Thundercats Roar (the new iteration)?

I’m prejudiced in a way because I worked on the original. I met the creators/showrunners and could tell that they really love the original series.

The opening sequence is just fantastic and even though the characters look completely different, the animation definitely has the same feel. But who am I to judge? Let’s wait and see how it comes out. I hope that the people making this version are successful. I’m not going to judge them.

When looking back at Ren & Stimpy to what you’re doing now, what do you think makes that seminal work so special?

I think the thing that makes the show enduring is us not trying to talk down to kids. We never considered it children’s entertainment. We considered it family entertainment like a Warner Brothers cartoon. I think the best thing about that is in how you grow up and you see it with new eyes, You get the jokes in a new way. That’s the best enduring part of it.

What can we expect next from you? I see in the imdb that you’re credited for your work in Primal, in the episode, “Terror Under the Blood Moon.”

I really don’t know. I’m pitching some stuff right now and I keep my fingers crossed. But as soon as I know, it’ll be mentioned on Facebook. You can also check out Boblab Studios.

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