Cyanide & Happiness on Plushies, ComicCons and a New Animated Series
I walk through a somewhat ordinary office -- some desks, chairs, white boards -- to a storage area in the back. It's dark in here. Stacks of shipping boxes line the walls and litter the floor. Someone hits the lights, my eyes focus, and I see them. Round, beige heads poking out from behind open cardboard flaps. There are dozens of them, their little black eyes fixed on the walls, the ceiling, me. The back room at the Cyanide & Happiness headquarters in Richardson, Texas, officially belongs to the Plushies, the stuffed versions of the characters from the popular web comic drawn and written by four artists -- Kris Wilson, Matt Melvin, Rob DenBleyker and Dave McElfatrick, who hails from Ireland. Rob and Dave work out of the Richardson shop while Kris and Matt telecommute from Fort Collins, Colorado, and Los Angeles respectively.
Among the common Blue and Green Plushies and the newest Plushy members -- Dead Plushies -- are some rare Purple-shirted Eye-stabber Plushies (a popular reoccurring character). Those are reserved especially for the people who donated this past spring to C&H's Kickstarter campaign with the goal of funding The Cyanide & Happiness Show, a totally independent online animation show. The goal was $250,000. They raised $770,309 -- more than three times that goal, allowing them to create not just series but an entire year of animated shorts, too. Probably because they have a proven track record with animated shorts. Everything from a fun-filled race in the park to a man with the most comfortable ass in the world to the most epic fucking beer run ever goes when it comes to these guys.
The origins of Cyanide & Happiness can be traced back to Kris, who started drawing the comics when he was 16 years old. As he says on his deviantART page, he created C&H "because I can't help but draw stupid looking characters to spew out my stupid ideas." He posted those stupid but genius characters to the now defunct Sticksuicide.com, which was founded by Rob in 2004. Meanwhile, Rob and Matt had been working on stick-figure death movies together, posting them to Newgrounds.com, where Rob, Matt and Dave were all forum webmasters. Through the power of the Internet and nerdom, a group was formed. Branching out from stick-figure death videos, Rob, Matt and Dave formed Explosm.net and brought Kris on board. Cyanide & Happiness has lived there ever since.
The first comic went live on January 26, 2005. "Kris kind of nailed the style for us,"Rob says of C&H's characteristic stick-people design. "We worked around his style. Made it our own." Now, eight and a half years later, with one glance at the comics, you can tell who drew what. "I think our styles have evolved over the years," Dave says. "Mine's kind of morphing into shorter little people. Every couple of years we try something new. Keep it interesting." But there are definitely some artistic limitations to stick figures, especially for Kris, whose characters' large heads and tiny arms make some actions impossible, like reaching around other characters or scratching their heads.
But for the artists, limits are disappearing. C&H are everywhere, even comic conventions, like San Diego Comic Con. When they first went back in 2007, Dave was blown away. "That was insane. Insane!" he says. "That was the first time I was in the United States, and I rarely leave my home in Ireland. The whole world blew up in front of me." Animators that they used to go "fan boy" on were becoming friends, including Marc M. from Sick Animation. The guys knew it was time to take C&H as seriously as they had taken art as young kids.
Rob was drawing super heroes in the fourth grade, creating characters like Weirdo Man, who was part man, part turtle, part bird and part fish. Rob's mom photocopied the comics featuring Weirdo Man, and Rob traded them at school. Dave has been focused on drawing ever since he was a young kid in Ireland. He went to his career adviser and told him he wanted to be an artist or an illustrator. The adviser's response was not positive. He claimed there was no market in that. "Up yours, career adviser," Dave says now. We're glad Dave didn't listen.
On August 22, they unveiled their first new short, ""Birthday Boy"," which is a minute and a half of party hats, a horsey and murder. Typical C&H. They've toyed with creating a show since 2007, even traveling to L.A. twice to pitch their idea to studies, but it was never a good fit. "They were treating us like something completely new instead of as an asset that they could bring on," Dave says. "They were giving us very basic deals," Rob says. "And I think they would have diluted it very much, as well," Dave says. After 10 years, they weren't willing to give up control. Now, through Kickstarter, they've got 11 full-length episodes coming this fall with celebrity guest voices, musical numbers and more. Up yours, indeed.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Dallas and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.