Does anyone else remember the time a one shot masked character named Teehee Tummytums was so beautiful that he turned every dude in Stormalong gay when he finally showed his face and everyone started throwing money at him just so they could look at him and it apparently happened all the time because I do 

First things first- I’m not a native English speaker, I suck hard at grammar and some additional things and -you know.. I’m a bit shaky articulating myself - read with this warning in mind and have fun!

Some time ago I happened to catch an episode of Flapjack on TV. Each time I see it I get more impressed by this show– each time it seems wilder and more vibrant than the last time – just the finest breed of unpredictable. And maaaan I love the location of this show. This filthy, moldy, contagious harbor, isolated in the eye of the dead sea but containing so much bursting life in its small belly. God I love the possibilities of this place – its so fun how it expands and shrinks according to the story, almost as if its it own independent character, it’s silent but it moves and talks and reacts and breathes. This makes it feel so much bigger and exiting – I could gawk  at this gorgeous art design forever, and I probably will, but I got caught of guard and distracted by the the end credits for a moment-

Well this explains a lot!

For the ones that might not know him, Alex Kirwan is a artist doodling his path trough the last 2/3 or so decades of commercial cartooning. His involvement in animation isn’t limited to just one title but is pretty much scattered around various fields of production, as far as I’m aware of he’s done character design, story-boarding, layouts.. but what I really wanna get at is his career as an art designer, because I think he displays a kind of quality that hasn’t been done this well by anyone else.

Although I’m writing this with the purpose to praise Alex, I’m not entirely sure if I’m getting my information from the right sources, I’m not even sure how much involvement he had in Flapjack but he’s listed as an  co art director (with the wonderful Paula Spence driving it til the end of the series) for the first few episodes soooooo I’m gonna milk it for the sake of explaining my point of view. And of course remember that he is not doing his job all alone and there are many many artist responsible for the creation and quality of these, artist I highly recommend looking into as well.

As far as we’re concerned here is what’s Alex been art directing-

My Life as a Teenage Robot

The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack

 Wander Over Yonder

You can see how varied the styles are and which influences they descent from – he tackles some of the most sophisticated and difficult graphic styles possible and skillfully converts them into children animation. There is a lot of sweaty work here, but also so much to give.

This is honestly the thing I am most impressed by – the lightness and playfulness he can pull out of these otherwise very intense and/or serious art-forms.  The worlds he draws seem so effortless and blissfully unaware of all the difficult construction that is holding them together,  making them ready to fully embrace the cartoony world they’re set in. It is interesting how he uses the most unnatural elements to make a world seem more natural.

Another thing I’m deeply fascinated with is his fearless use of color - this at a time where BGs were drawn traditionally and wrong decisions couldn’t afford a do over. Too much work.

Just look at it

He sense of colors is something completely different than what we’re used to. Not only does he extract a bold contrast between the characters and BGs he also doesn’t shy away from using less pleasurable shades. With that I mean that he fully embraces ‘uglier’’ tones- grays, browns, this weird dirty yellow- and manages to combine them into appealing groups using their disadvantage to either highlight some action or to convey a specific mood.

Here we get introduced to the most important value of his – designing BGs like writing a story.

We now saw that he uses good effort and skill to create environments that feel enriching to the plot and characters and uses every means he can to explore the world he opened.

What makes him stand out is his commitment to storytelling

Similar to my earlier description where Flapjacks home was silently talking to us, so do every of his other shows. The environments are responsive of the actions taking place in front of them, completely aware of their weird strange surroundings – this however, gives the viewer the impression that what we see in the background is not just a picture serving as a display of some location for the characters to stand on, but that it’s a little part of a much bigger world the characters are residing in.   It gives the viewer a itch for more.

This doesn’t depend only on the art, but it can grab our interest from a different angle.

His strong sense of graphic simplicity and stylisation allows to grow a good deal of characterization that is unique to its situation, on the other site, the flat environments does not allow much movement trough space. You can do a highly dynamic, detailed tracing shot over mountains in Adventure time for instance, where the style is much more grounded in mass, you can not do that in WOY.

Backgrounds of course are just a layer of skin, a piece of multiple symbiosis’ of a much bigger organism that is animation. The shows that are being mentioned here are respectfully different, and the art adapts to their differences while simultaneously being its own being with its own language.

Anyway, I wanted to do this analysis to direct some attention to a artist that I think is truly remarkable and was able to distribute a great experience trough a medium that is difficult to handle- and I hope you’ve got some happiness from it, I did.