Wile E. Coyote may have been incinerated by a blast of TNT, but Loony Tunes left out the real blood and guts. No coyote entrails dripping from the camera-he simply disintegrated like burnt salt.
Back then, cartoons were for kids. Come 2004, cartoonists have stripped their G-rating and are aiming for the adult audience. While you may not be into Fuck Force 5 or hardcore Hentei action, even casual fans (those who've peeped a Spike and Mike Festival of Animation, for instance) have learned to appreciate chainsaw wielding, shotgun-toting, internal-organ-grubbing toons.
That might explain the cult success of the Happy Tree Friends-a group of cuddly, pastel forest creatures with a knack for losing limbs, eyeballs and even heads.
For Ken Navarro, a typical Saturday morning as a kid involved watching Daffy Duck get his head blown off.
“All those shows got me into crime and cartoons-I kept the cartoons and left the crime behind,” says Navarro, who talks with the easy, never-too-serious manner you'd expect from an adult who gets paid for child's play.
He and Happy Tree Friends co-creator Rhode Montijo are part of a cadre of whacked animators at Mondo Media in San Francisco, where they've specialized in drawing decapitated critters since 2002.
Navarro says his pent-up aggression toward cutesy cartoon characters probably stems from his sister, who subjected him to the likes of Care Bears and Rainbow Bright 20 years before they were kitsch items at Hot Topic.
San Diegans may have caught the two- to three-minute gore-fests at Spike and Mike Festivals in La Jolla, or at ComicCon. Navarro says both have been valuable tools for spreading his particular brand of horror.
San Diego's a big market for Happy Tree Friends, although the Internet means that fans from Iceland to Japan hum along to the high-pitched, sing-song theme, which is mumbled in the Friends' signature chatter, a language somewhere between Jawa-ese and a car alarm. Navarro says fans regularly assault the creators with their own renditions of the annoying ditty.
Of course, not everyone is thrilled with Navarro's bleeding bunnies. “We get calls all the time!” he says. “Concerned parents or whatever, saying we should be locked away or run over by a truck or something... ironically.”
Mondo Media just released its third Happy Tree Friends DVD, Third Strike. To see bunnies bleed, visit www.happytreefriends.com.