From the TCJ Archives

An Interview with Victor Moscoso


GROTH: I want to get into some of the animation you did. I know that you did The Fine Art of Goofing Off, which you described as an adult Sesame Street for a public TV station.

MOSCOSO: Those were two 30-second, non-commercial commercials. So it was one minute of three half-hour shows, and they were very simplified animation. In fact, it was almost at the level of an anamatic. In other words, there’s no in-between, because it was a cheapo job. But that was all right because that way the drawing is on the screen longer and if you’re going to bust your ass on the drawing, man, might as well let them look at it.

GROTH: When would that have been?

MOSCOSO: Early ’70s I guess, or mid-’70s.

GROTH: In ’77 or ’78, you won two Cleos for KMEL commercials. Which were a combination of live-action and animation?

MOSCOSO: No. One Cleo was for the best animated spot for a radio station for television. And the other Cleo was for the best campaign. See, I was a copyright owner of their logo. We were both owners of the camel, which I developed for them.

GROTH: Is this for KMEL radio station?

MOSCOSO: Yeah, KMEL 106 on the FM dial: “the beast that rocks the Bay!” Anyway, I designed the camel, I did the animation and I was a producer. I hired Corny Cole, an excellent animator who actually worked on the last of the Road Runners. So he was a young boy when the golden boys of animation were still around. I hired him to do my animation, after I did all the key drawings, and then I did his in-betweens. I’m his producer and I’m doing the in-betweens. But, after two commercials, it was like my formal education in animation. What had actually been done was, under the guise of a job, I had hired an excellent, professional animator and learned every trick I could from him during the time. Cool, huh? I got paid to go to school. Ideal, man. And he was good.

GROTH: Did you enjoy doing the animation?

MOSCOSO: Yes! I loved it! What I didn’t like was the time element, the chore element. But there’s something that happens in animation. You draw so much that you become like a drawing machine, because it’s not even just a question of concept or doing a poster. It’s a succession, so every second is eight drawings, but actually, it’s more than that because the background is doing one thing, one character’s doing one thing, the other character is doing another thing. They’re on separate levels. I finally understood how somebody could write a symphony. I understood the musical score because if you’re an animator, you’re working with an exposure sheet, and the exposure sheet is what the animator does to tell the camera man — who actually photographs your cells and background, frame by frame — everything that’s going on in that frame, and everything is numbered, so if you have a repeat cycle, if you have a loop going within a pan, you’re looping your drawings. Let’s say you have a loop of 15 or 20 drawings of a running figure that’s going to run for maybe three or four seconds while the background is being pulled at certain speed. You got to figure this out for every panel. Every fucking panel! We were shooting 24 frames per second, which is film, and transferring it to video, which is 30 frames per second. But I understood finally, because of the exposure sheet, how you can keep track of a hundred-piece symphony orchestra by writing it down. And by grouping them. But the other part, the part that I started to get into with this, was where you become a drawing machine.

GROTH: That sounds like it’s not something you wanted to do.

MOSCOSO: Not at all. It was very hard work, but it’s very, very rewarding. What happens is, you have to become almost like a monk, and be totally concentrating on it because of the amount of work. That period of time, your hand gets to its maximum ability of drawing. You start composing things like the animated film and start thinking in those terms. And it would never happen in your regular drawings, like a comic strip, which is actually a storyboard for an animated film, or a live-action film. And I got to the point where I would be working on the film, I’d go to sleep and I would continue working on the film in my sleep, and actually solve problems while I slept. In other words, my consciousness would turn the job over to my unconscious and my unconscious would keep working. I’d go to sleep and I’d be dreaming about the film and working it out, so that when I woke up, I had the solution. The only other guy I’ve heard that about is Thomas Edison. He was a workaholic. He would be doing the same thing I was doing at the time. What you do is you work eight to ten hours, take a nap, work another eight to ten hours. You sleep the minimum. Sleep is a waste of time. You can solve problems, but you still have to get up and draw them. Thomas Edison had a cot in his studio. He would lay down for naps. He would not sleep the whole night through. He would lay down for a nap, but not only that, he would take a problem with him. When he woke up, most often he would have the problem solved. I found myself in the same situation. It was amazing to be that much in touch with your unconscious to where the difference between waking and sleeping gets blurred. I wasn’t walking around, that’s the difference. And I was asleep. You have to do that, otherwise you get to the point of fatigue, where you start short-circuiting. It’s just like in running: if you run too much or too fast, the lactic acids builds up — that’s a poison — and your body cramps. Well the same thing happens in your mind. You gotta get rid of the waste, and you need sleep for that. Sleep carries away all the garbage. In an hour’s nap you can skim the scum off the surface and see clearly again. But although it was a chore, I still enjoyed it for those reasons, plus the ultimate pleasure of seeing your drawings come to life. Animar. That means “give life.”

GROTH: And it’s a different kind of pleasure than seeing your drawings, say, printed as a poster.

MOSCOSO: That’s a pleasure too.

GROTH: It’s a different pleasure.

MOSCOSO: One does not take away from the other, but to see your drawings actually come to life. It’s like an acid trip. You gotta do it to know what it feels like. But it feels really good, and you’re happy with it. Now, if you do something that you’re not happy with, you can’t stand it.

GROTH: Jim Woodring told me that he thought you made a series of one-minute movies. Is that true?

MOSCOSO: No. I made those 30-second commercials. I did make Science Fiction Comics, which was a live action movie with some animation. It was a jam of us doing a poster to advertise the movie of us doing the poster. Cool, huh? It’s like a circle. The poster advertises the movie; the movie is us doing the poster to advertise the movie. Harvey Kurtzman flew out from New York and I met him for the first time. I have it on videotape.

GROTH: I’d love to see that. How long is that?

MOSCOSO: Half an hour. It’s a whole movie. We thought it might be a theatrical release. It shows up in Zwigoff’s Crumb — the black-and-whites of us when we’re young, drawing. That comes out of Science Fiction Comics. Its value now is historical. It shows us drawing in ’71, when we were still riding high.

GROTH: You’re still riding high.

MOSCOSO: Yeah, but I mean as far as sales, and influencing the dominant culture, as far as influencing Marvel and DC comics. After us, the artists started getting their artwork back. Before that it belonged to the company. When they saw what we were doing, they said, “Hey, man. Why can’t I get my artwork back?” After all, the artwork is worth something. You can sell it. And other changes came about. Marvel did actual black-and-white-comics — direct take-off of us.