Acclaimed cartoonist and animator Bill Plympton has made a number of animated films and shorts—including the Oscar-nominated Your Face and several couch gags for The Simpsons—over the course of a storied career, but he considers his upcoming animated feature, Slide, which he wrote, animated, directed, and designed, to be the most personal film he’s ever done.
“The character, the action, all takes place in my hometown, in Oregon,” he said, discussing the film at his Artist Alley table at New York Comic Con. “And the music is my kind of music. And the humor is my kind of humor. So I think it’s probably the most personal film I’ve ever done, and I think that people will really react well to it, because people need comedy. We’ve gotta have humor in these perilous times.”
The experience of growing up in the country was what inspired the film’s aesthetic and ethos.
“There were a lot of loggers up there,” Plympton recalled. “A lot of logging trucks [would] go by our house, making a big rumble. And I wanted to make a film that… reminded me of that era, when I was young. My dad, who was a banker, listened to a lot of country music. Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash. So I wanted to put that music in there. I wanted a real rustic Oregon kind of a life experience.”
Plympton describes Slide, which is decidedly not for children (“It’s not a kids’ film, it’s not a Pixar film, it’s not Disney.”), as the kind of film Mel Brooks would make if he’d been a cartoonist. The main character is a musician called Slide, described as a mysterious, Clint Eastwood-type who plays the slide guitar, which Plympton also plays. While the film is titled after this heroic character, the bad guys are Plympton’s favorite part.
“To me, the bad guys are the best part of a film,” he said. “So this has probably more bad guys than any other film you’ve ever seen. Probably about 200 really evil, dirty, scroungy guys. And for me, that was the fun part… And, also there’s a lot of a stuff about sex…. It takes place in a bordello. A bar, club, a gambling club that is also a bordello. And I thought that was funny, there’s a lot of humor there.”
Alongside the humor, the film also includes a few messages. “It’s kind of environmental,” Plympton explained. “It talks a lot about saving the country, the beautiful forests, the lumber industry, how it just sort of levels the ground, so there’s a lot of stuff going on… [Slide] comes into this strange, sort of tragic town, and with his guitar, he’s able to defeat all these evil guys with guns and daggers and dynamite and stuff like that. So it’s a very pacifist kind of film, even though there’s a lot of bad guys in there.”
Plympton employs a very traditional animation process. “I used actually a ballpoint pen,” he said. “Pen and ink. And then I color them with colored pencil, and then we scan ’em, and then they’re composited, and they make the film.”
The 80-minute film required tens of thousands of drawings, and Plympton did every single one himself. “Every drawing on the film, background and the characters, is done by me,” he said. “So that’s about 30,000 drawings… I did every frame. And everybody said, ‘Oh, no, that’s impossible. You hired someone to in-between it.’ And no, I don’t have the money to hire in-betweeners. I just like to do all the drawings myself.”
The soundtrack is inspired by country western music like that of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. With so many characters on screen, was Plympton tempted to voice any himself?
“I did very minimal voice parts… we’ll say the screams,” he said coyly, before imitating one: “AAAAAH!”
After a two-year delay because of Covid—when Plympton was unable to teach and had to put the film aside to do commercial work—he expects Slide to be completed by the end of November. It will screen at upcoming film festivals, including International Film Festival Rotterdam.Shortened versions have already screened at a few film festivals, including Annecy International Animation Film Festival and Market in France and Woodstock Film Festival, where it received a positive reception.
“But again, it was a work in progress,” he said. “It wasn’t a finished film. Now, it’s all coming together. All the pieces are coming together.”
To learn more about Bill Plympton and Slide, visit https://www.plymptoons.com/.
View a trailer for Slide below: