Craig McCracken created the Powerpuff Girls as a student film that later became a Cartoon Network series. The three superpowered kindergarteners went on to become a media sensation. McCracken answered questions about the Powerpuff Girls as the show celebrates its 10th anniversary with a new special and marathon, airing Jan. 19, and a DVD release on Jan. 20.
Matt Price: Did you think “Powerpuff Girls” would be a big success? At what point did you realize “Powerpuff Girls” was going to be as big a deal as it has become?
Craig McCracken: I really had no idea. It started as a student film of mine when I was an animation student at Cal Arts. And, I got an opportunity to do a short at Cartoon Network in ’94. And I just made the show because I thought it would be entertaining and fun. I had no idea it would become a phenomenon. But I think it was maybe a year or 2 after the show premiered and some of the merchandise started coming out, and I started seeing it everywhere. On kids, or people referring to it in television or media or whatever. I started thinking, ok this is becoming a lot bigger than I ever anticipated. And that’s everybody’s dream, is that actually can happen. Any cartoonist wants to have some sort of character that resonates with worldwide audiences. But you never really think that’s really going to happen. So it was kind of surprising when it did.
MP: What about the show has made it resonate with audiences?
CM: I think it’s silly. It’s silly and it’s funny and it’s a fun, classic cartoon to watch. When we started the show, Cartoon Network was giving us a lot of freedom to go back to philosophy of the old Warner Bros. way of making cartoons. Where it’s made by cartoonists and it’s just about people who loved animation and loved cartoons making funny things for everybody.
Even though “Powerpuff” kind of gets labeled a kids show or a girls show, it was always made for all audiences, just like Bugs Bunny. We were just making ourselves laugh and trying to come up with entertaining things. I think people pick up on that sincere creative expression of just making fun cartoons.
MP: Do you think the timing as far as when the show came out was fortuitous? Was it time to have a “girl power” cartoon?
CM: I think it was. It really did hit at the right time. When I first did the short back in ’94, ’95, there was talk of greenlighting the series then, but we did “Dexter’s Laboratory” first. I think waiting a few years for “Powerpuff” to premiere at the end of 98, 99, I think it was the right time for it. I think people were ready for that type of thing, and I think it probably did contribute to it being such a hit. There was a lot of that girl power, tough girl things going on at that period. It was just right at the right time.
MP: What were you trying to accomplish with the visual style of “Powerpuff Girls”?
CM: A lot of that is just going back to the shows I grew up loving when I was a kid, like “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “Underdog.” I’ve always been attracted to cartoon images, ever since I was like 3 years old, I just loved the graphics of cartoons. There was something about those cartoons like “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “Underdog” that were really bold and highly designed that just were appealing on the TV screen.
And also one of the reasons we did it was for practical production purposes. If you’re designing a television show that looks like a Disney feature, and you’re sending it overseas to Korea to be animated in just a couple of weeks, it’s going to come back and look really crude. What you would expect from that design style, you’re not going to be getting that quality of animation. It doesn’t match the production limitations.
We designed the show simple, we designed it very graphically simple, so that an overseas studio could reproduce the look quickly but still make it look good. Also we wanted to just make it pop on the air. We were aware that there weren’t a lot of those really bold, graphic cartoons on the air and we thought, if we pick this style, it’s going to stand out when you’re flipping through channels.
And a lot of it is just us being animation nerds and liking UPA and Jay Ward and early Hanna-Barbera being fans of that stuff and thinking, why don’t they do cool-looking cartoons like that anymore?
MP: Do you have a character that’s your favorite?
CM: Probably Mojo Jojo and the Mayor are my favorite characters. I love the girls and they’re really fun to write for, but I kind of identify with both Mojo and the Mayor. They’re both kind of bumbling idiots. And they’re fun characters. The villains are always more fun than the heroes in any of these comedic superhero shows. They’re obsessive and they’re extreme. They’ve got broad personalities and they’re a lot more fun to screw with and write jokes for.
MP: I’ve read that you’re a fan of the 1960s “Batman” show.
CM: If “Powerpuff” is based on anything, it’s that show. When I was a kid and I watched Batman, it was the most serious superhero thing ever. I was really concerned about what was happening to Batman. He and Robin are stuck in a giant clam, what’s going to happen? I needed to know. And my parents were sitting there laughing the whole time. And I would get really angry with them because they weren’t taking it seriously! And then when I saw it again when I was in high school, I realized the whole thing was a joke. And I thought, that’s a pretty brilliant achievement for a television show to actually work on two completely different levels for different audiences. And so when we started “Powerpuff,” that was kind of my goal for it, to create a show where kids could watch it just for the superhero stuff and the action elements, and then adults would get the humor of it and the campiness and silliness of it.
And still when I see the “Batman” show, I just love it, it’s just a fun show. There hasn’t been a lot like that ever since.
MP: What’s new on the DVD set?
CM: The DVD, I wanted to do pretty much everything we ever did for television, so if you liked “Powerpuff” on TV, you’re going to get everything. It’s every episode, lots of the interstitials, the Christmas special that we made. It’s going to have the new special that’s going to air the day before on the 19th. So that’ll be on there. Also we did a half-hour documentary on the history of the show, the history of Powerpuff Girls, and interviewed me and a bunch of the staff and got an insider’s view on how this thing came together.
MP: Do you want to work primarily in TV in the future?
CM: I’ve been really getting interested in publishing. There’s something about doing your own comics or graphic novels or things like that, where it’s your drawings, your words. There isn’t the whole big crew and committee and getting stuff approved by everybody. It’s more like an intimate, direct approach to cartooning. I’ve been talking to some publishers and I’ve got some ideas that I want to explore in that medium. I miss drawing, that’s what it comes down to.