“Loud” Out Loud: An Interview with Animator Chris Savino
Every once in a while, if the planets align perfectly, a cartoonist gets to make a deeply felt personal statement in his work while he also entertains his audience. That fortunate confluence of events has taken place for veteran animator Chris Savino and The Loud House, his new series premiering on Nickelodeon on May 2. Savino, a lifelong fan of classic newspaper comics, brings his long-held love for the comics to his new series (and Savino, we humbly note, is a longtime Friend of Ol’ Hogan), expressing his affection in ways fellow enthusiasts will appreciate. Hogan’s Alley editor Tom Heintjes spoke recently with Savino about the making of The Loud House and how he channels his own passions into the program.
Hogan’s Alley: You’ve described The Loud House as being influenced by the Sunday comics you enjoyed as a child. How are you expressing that influence in animation?
Chris Savino: One hundred percent influenced. When I made the switch from wanting to do a comic strip to working in animation, I always had a nagging feeling that I turned my back on comics. I still do want to sell a comic strip–where it will be “printed” in the future and how to make a living doing it is anyone’s guess. I’ve put traces of comic strip influence in previous projects such as my Cartoon Network pilot Foe Paws, but it wasn’t until The Loud House that I realized this was my opportunity to pay homage–a love letter if you will–to comic strips. I knew that I wanted The Loud House to have the same feeling I had opening up the Sunday funnies, warmth, inviting, like visiting old friends. So the color pallet derived from the limited printed pallet in the earlier days of color comics. I use a lot of spot black and shadows to emulate the balanced black and white beauty of a daily comic as well. The “camera” tends to stay at eye height mimicking panels of a strip which also makes it easier for the animators. We also use comic tropes such as fight clouds, zips and some word sound effects.
HA: Have you attempted work previously with this strong an autobiographical element?
CS: Not really. Even the original version of The Loud House wasn’t autobiographical. Originally the idea was about a boy rabbit with 25 sisters. I didn’t even consider the fact that I am one of 10 siblings—I’m number 9–when coming up with the original idea. It wasn’t until it was suggested to me to make the characters human did I start to draw from my own life experiences. And it was then that everything started to fall into place. I used my sister’s names as a start. All “L” names with four letters each (Lori, Lisa, Lynn, Luan, Lana) and used the name of the street I grew up on, Lincoln, to name the lead character. I used my school name, my favorite teacher, etc. I think somehow making the characters human made the show more grounded in reality and relatable situations that it just naturally happened. I started connecting the dots between the chaos of my house to the chaos of The Loud House.
HA: In what ways would you say The Loud House is a departure from your past work?
CS: I wouldn’t say it’s a departure so much as an amalgamation of all of my past experiences. I’ve had the good fortune to work on a lot of great shows with a lot of really talented and generous people. I’ve learned a lot about what to do as well as what not to do in running a show. The one main departure I would say is that I really wanted to have a lot of heart in the story telling. It’s not to say other shows do not have heart, but I felt I could really push the amount of heart in this show to a new level. Of course I want the show and the characters to be funny and certainly hope that the audience laughs at them and with them, but I thought why can’t I also tug at the heart strings a bit? There’s no rule that says you can’t try and make the audience tear up a bit. There are a few episodes that I think might achieve that.
One other difference is the structure of our stories. It was decided early on that instead of the main character wanting X and going after X and running into obstacles and then getting X in a fun or surprising way, we would give the character X midway through the cartoon and have him or her deal with the consequences of getting what they wanted as well as upsetting the balance of the household. In the end the character will get X or even Y, but the balance of the household all be restored. Like in life there are always consequences, especially in a big family.
HA: Could you talk a bit about what comic books and comic strips, or even individual creators, influenced you in ways that shape The Loud House?
CS: Sure! Having older siblings meant there were some reprint books of comic strips always floating around the house. I recall having Peanuts books as well as some Pogo books. I always copied them. I liked the modern comics in the newspaper as well, but it was the older comics that really drew me in, pun intended. As I got older and was able to go to the public library by myself I started digging up some really great strips-Krazy Kat, Polly and Her Pals, Dennis the Menace–although that strip is still going, the earlier strips blew my mind. And with the advent of the internet I was able to learn about and collect so many more strips that I otherwise would not have had access to–Salesman Sam by Swanson, for example. So in The Loud House, any comic fan can see the direct influence, or maybe homage, that Polly and Her Pals has on me. Even Luna Loud’s amplifier brand name is “STERRETT.” The backgrounds certainly borrow lots of little details from that strip as well as some color choices.
I try to also pay homage in some of the character designs as well. You might see some Segar Popeye design esthetic as well as Sterrett in their neighbor. As for Peanuts, that comes in to the timing and writing of the show. It wasn’t lost on me that the Peanuts characters were adults in kids’ bodies. They dealt with a lot of adult themes and issues. So in The Loud House, it was my goal to make the kids solve their problems on their own as well. If they could run to mom and dad every time then the show would be over. By not showing the parents it allowed the kids to recognize their problem and then work together to solve it. The timing of the show borrows from the Peanuts specials that we all know and love. It is slower and more purposeful. You can take a moment and just breathe with the character. This helps balance out the chaos of the show. I love the Peanuts specials so much, and I love how they make me feel; it is always such a huge compliment when someone says they show feels like those specials. If you listen closely you might recognize the engine sound of the family van as that of the rented car in Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown.