Looking in from the outside of the TV cartoon business, it’s easy to imagine a wacky funhouse where everyone wears Hawaiian shirts and has goofy nicknames and cracks each other up with silly drawings all day long. I’m not saying that never happens, but it’s low on the list of reality checks waiting for you when you embark on an extended career.
One of the first checks on that list is this: you are seldom (if ever) a member of the target audience your work is aimed at. It’s happened to me maybe…three or four times since I started in 1996. If you want to put it in very negative terms, you could say that you’d almost never choose to watch the shows you’re hired to make. The remedy is to focus on the aspects of the job that you can enjoy, like learning new and different ways to tell stories visually. That’s a skill that grows as you expose yourself to material you wouldn’t ordinarily seek out.
Preschool shows fall into this category. Very, very few of the adults who make preschool shows would ever watch them voluntarily. But working on them is a great way to strip down your filmmaking pretentions and reacquaint yourself with the basics of how to communicate to an audience. The first preschool show I worked on was Dragon Tales. I also happened to be the supervising director on its first season, and since it was much tougher than I anticipated, it taught me a LOT about my craft. So these things are never wasted experiences.
The second such show I worked on was Tutenstein, based on a comic by Jay Stephens and produced by Porchlight Entertainment for Discovery Kids. I drew six storyboards for directors Bob Richardson and Rob LaDuca in the spring and summer of 2003. And despite being completely outside the intended viewership, I enjoyed every minute of it.
The concept was that Tutankhamun, the boy king, is resurrected in modern times and lives in an Egyptian museum. His guardian Luxor is reincarnated in the body of a cat owned by a young girl named Cleo Carter. The characters were well defined, and they faced a dizzying parade of gods, creatures, and monsters derived from Egyptian mythology. The designs were lively and fun to work with, created by my fellow Extreme Ghostbusters vets, Fil Barlowe and Thom Perkins. (In fact, Thom and I have crossed paths on many shows since then, and he later designed some characters for my webcomic Pitsberg.)
One indelible memory of the show came courtesy of a network note from Discovery Kids. Although Tut was named for Frankenstein, he was all mummy. One of the running gags was for him to lose body parts at the slightest provocation. Pieces fell off him and got reattached all the time. And YET…and YET…because this was a show for little kids, when he was shown riding a skateboard in one episode, he had to be outfitted in full safety gear. Because otherwise he might…get hurt…
Other than that, I have nothing but fond memories of this show that I would never have chosen to watch. I’m sure the last couple decades of TV history are fully loaded with cartoons I completely ignored but would have liked to work on. If I were more of a cartoon snob, insisting on only making shows meant for me, I’d have much less of a cartoon career to talk about today.
Tutenstein was broadcast on Discovery Kids from November 2003 to October 2008. 39 episodes were produced over three seasons with a TV movie followup. It was nominated for Daytime Emmys three times, winning twice for Outstanding Special Class Animated Program. Most episodes are now streaming on Yippee TV’s YouTube channel with rumors of a reboot in some imaginary future time.
Season 1 episodes on YouTube
Season 2 episodes on YouTube
Episode list on Wikipedia
Episodes I worked on
9. Near Dead Experience
Tut is worried that Cleo might die from bronchitis and decides to get his own doctor, Imhotep, to preserve her. The proper ancient Egyptian way.
My segment runs from 14:55 to the end
15. Green-Eyed Mummy
Tut feels jealous when Cleo spends time at the new mammoth exhibit, so he sends the mammoth to the underworld. The three friends must then go and somehow get it back.
My segment runs from 13:05 to 18:45
18. Something Sphinx
Luxor feels left out when Tut brings in a new baboon servant named Hedgewere to help around the museum. Hedgewere gives the boy king everything he asks for. Which is the problem.
My segment runs from 16:10 to the end
19. The Supreme Tut
Tut convinces the higher ups to turn him into a higher being. But when confronted with other higher beings, he gets much more than he bargained for.
My segment runs from 14:00 to the end
21. Old Man Tut
Tut wants to see a movie but isn’t allowed in because he appears underage. When he uses his power to make himself older, he can’t stop aging.
My segment runs from 14:30 to the end
22. Cleo’s Catastrophe
Tut uses a scroll that accidentally switches Cleo’s body with Luxor’s. Only the cat goddess Bastet stands in the way of switching them back.
My segment runs from 14:00 to the end