February 7th, 2015

D’OH! MEARS Goes Direct To the Source To Meet The Animator of “The Simpsons”

During the weekend of February 6th-8th, 2015, animator Phil Ortiz visited Madison, WI to attend the Wizard World Comic Con convention. While exhibiting at his booth in “Artist Alley”, MEARS CEO Troy R. Kinunen had the opportunity to meet with this legendary comic artist on Saturday.

Born 1953 in East LA, Phil Ortiz is an award winning American animator. He has worked for more than 30 years as a professional artist, ranging from daily newspaper comic strips to animated cartoons. His most notable work was on the cartoon hits Garfield, Smurfs, Masters of the Universe, and his breakout show, “The Simpsons”. Ortiz had the distinction of animating the very first episode titled, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” also referred to as “The Simpsons Christmas Special”.

Since its debut on December 17, 1989, the show has broadcast 564 episodes, and the 26th season began on September 28, 2014. The Simpsons is the longest-running American sitcom, the longest-running American animated program, and in 2009 it surpassed Gunsmoke as the longest-running American scripted primetime television series.

The episode, being the first to air, lacked the now famous opening sequence which was later added in the second episode when Groening thought of the idea of a longer opening sequence resulting in less animation.

Simpsons “Roasting on an Open Fire” was the first independent episode of The Simpsons, with the previous episodes, the Ullman Shorts, having only been aired as part of the The Tracey Ullman Show. It originally aired on December 17, 1989.

The storyline for the first episode shows the viewers how it’s a not-so-merry Christmas for the Simpsons, when Mr. Burns decides to cut the Christmas Bonuses and Marge has to spend the family’s Christmas savings to erase a tattoo Bart thought would make a great Christmas present. In order to hide the fact that he did not get the bonus, Homer takes a second job as a mall Santa.

It is my personal opinion that it can be argued that this is the single most important episode in cartoon history, as it was the start of the franchise’s record breaking run. Although very modest, Phil must be given a lot of credit for his role in bringing this franchise to its loyal followers. Much like Charlie Brown and Bugs Bunny, “The Simpsons” are now a part of cartoon royalty.

Phil’s influence and animation continued throughout the first season of the show. He was also the lead animator of, 

“There’s No Disgrace Like Home” is the fourth episode of season 1. It originally aired on January 28, 1990.

“Moaning Lisa” is the sixth episode of season 1. It originally aired on February 11, 1990. The episode was written by Al Jean and Mike Reiss and directed by Wes Archer. It features the first appearance of Bleeding Gums Murphy.

“The Crepes of Wrath” is the eleventh episode of season 1. It originally aired on April 15, 1990. The episode was written by George Meyer, Sam Simon, John Swartzwelder and Jon Vitti. It was directed by Wes Archer and Milton Gray. Agnes Skinner, made her first appearance on the show in this episode, although her voice is different from that of later episodes.

Phil Oritz stayed involved with show and eventually took over the duties as animator for the shows comic book. 

On Saturday, I met with Phil and commissioned him to draw a series of sketches. Using a blank white index card which is popular in our industry, Phil drew a series of Simpson characters. Bart, Homer, Maggie, Marge, Side Show Bob were all represented in my commission. I was simply amazed at watching the artist at work. Using a blue pencil, Phil effortlessly sketched each character. Watching the lines dance under the guidance of his left hand and take the form of the characters that we know and love was quite the sight to behold. Effortlessly Bart took life, his form and personality captured by the artist. As he was trained, he inked the outlines for which he had drawn, and the characters were complete. He added his cartoon style signature to the bottom of each creation. Unlike the slop modern athletes and celebrities provide when signing autographs, cartoonists take great pride in their brand and the signature is part of the image design.

Proud of what they have just produced, each autograph is stylized, and makes a great punctuation to the work.

Cartoon original art and autographs are a new venture for me, but after the experience of meeting Phil Ortiz, I will be working with several other cartoonists, specializing in super hero comic artists from the 1970s. Questions can be directed to Troy R. Kinunen at troy@mearsonline.com.