Texas Living

Meet 4 Texas Cartoonists Behind Your Favorite Animations

By Peter Simek 3.4.22

The history of American animation is firmly rooted in Los Angeles, where studios such as The Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. pioneered new styles, techniques, and approaches to the craft.

But did you know that many of the most well-known and iconic animated films and characters were dreamed up by native Texans? Meet the brilliant Texas cartoon artists who have left an outsized mark on the world of animation and shaped nearly a century of popular culture.

Texas cartoon

Tex Avery, “Looney Tunes”

The first name among Texas cartoonists, Frederick Bean “Tex” Avery, is responsible for the creation of some of the most iconic and memorable cartoon characters of all time, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd. Born in Taylor in 1908, Avery grew up in Dallas and, after studying at the Chicago Art Institute, moved to Los Angeles in 1929 with hopes of breaking in as a newspaper cartoonist. After he couldn’t find work at a paper, he took a job at Universal Studios working for Walter Lantz, the inventor of Woody Woodpecker.

After a salary dispute, Avery moved to Warner Bros. in 1934, where he would develop his most iconic characters for “Looney Tunes.” Avery said Daffy Duck was inspired from memories of the ducks at White Rock Lake in Dallas. Bugs Bunny made his debut in 1940 in a short that was nominated for an Academy Award. Avery’s style is known for its zany humor, irreverence, surrealism, and absurdity, and he is among the most influential cartoonists of all time.

Texas cartoon

Don Bluth, Disney Classics

Don Bluth was born in El Paso in 1937. As a child, he remembers riding a horse to the local movie theater to watch Disney films and then riding home to recreate the Disney characters he’d seen on screen. When his family moved to Santa Monica, California, in the mid-1950s, Bluth had the opportunity to work for Disney as an assistant on the film “Sleeping Beauty” but quit a year in. After graduating from college, he returned to Disney where he worked on a string of classics, including “Robin Hood,” “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too,” “Pete’s Dragon,” and “The Fox and Hound.”

It wasn’t until the Texas cartoonist left Disney a second time that he really began to carve out a reputation as one of the best animators of all time. In 1979, Bluth founded a studio with several fellow Disney alum and created films that would rival Disney both critically and commercially. Bluth’s studio began with the cult classic “The Secret of NIMH” in 1982, and over the next decade produced films like “An American Tail,” “The Land Before Time,” and “All Dogs Go to Heaven.” Bluth has also left his mark on the world of gaming, developing the classic arcade game “Dragon’s Lair,” which was released in 1983.

Texas cartoon

Matt Stone, “South Park”

When you think of “South Park,” you think Colorado. But co-creator Matt Stone was born in Houston before his family relocated to the mountainous state. Stone met his creative partner Trey Parker while they were undergraduates at the University of Colorado Boulder, and the pair would string together a few low-budget feature films before coming up with the unforgettable characters that populated the snowy world of “South Park.” The inspiration for “South Park” came after a Fox television executive asked the pair to create a whimsical Christmas card for his friends. Stone and Parker invented a crew of crass grade school friends, the video went viral in a late-1990s sense, being copied VHS-to-VHS and circulated throughout groups of friends.

Stone and Parker signed a deal with Comedy Central to turn the Christmas card idea into a series, and the rest is history. “South Park” has been on the air for 25 seasons. It has been made into a feature film, video games, and all sorts of merchandise. Stone and Parker went on to make more live action films as well as the acclaimed Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon,” but they will be forever associated with the cut-paper stop-motion animation that brought the satirical world of South Park to life.

Texas cartoon

Pendleton Ward, “Adventure Time”

Pendleton Ward was born in San Antonio, and from an early age, he was in love with animation. Ward’s mother was an artist who sometimes worked with animators. He began creating his own animated flip-books and comics in the first grade. Ward moved to Los Angeles to study animation at California Institute of the Arts, and it was a short he made during his time there that landed him his first animation job at Frederator Studio. While at Frederator, Ward worked on shorts, one of which became the basis of his “Adventure Time” series.

When “Adventure Time” made its debut in 2010 on the Cartoon Network, it was lauded for using animation to create a world that reveled in pure imagination. Ward’s style combined surrealism, layered humor, and beauty, and he told stories that appealed to both children and adults. The elegance of Ward’s style has been compared to that of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki and his surreal visual gags have also been compared with that other great Texas cartoon animator, Tex Avery. Since his success with “Adventure Time,” Ward has gone on to develop the adult animated series “The Midnight Gospel” for Netflix.

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