In a recently uploaded video, Youtube user EZ PZ claims to have been contacted by someone who not only worked in the animation industry, but has also been blacklisted due to their views. They revealed to EZ PZ, in detail, many of the underpinning issues plaguing the modern animation industry. This source, whose identity was omitted by EZ PZ out of privacy concerns, alleges that not only is the industry incestuous in it’s hiring and opportunity practices, but also that certain pillars of the industry are unsustainable in their current form.
The first allegation discussed by EZ PZ are the many that have been leveled against Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward. Adventure Time made its debut in 2010 and is considered by many to be a pioneer, if not the source, of the current state of television animation. The anonymous source alleges that Ward is completely unprofessional in his role as showrunner.
No professionals were hired for Adventure Time, with positions instead going to Ward’s friends (who, because of this personal connection, are not screened for merit). Directors, storyboard artists, and other employees on the show were given no direction or attention by Ward, who allowed his staff to run rampant with their own ideas, agendas, and insistences, which often results in disconnected and awkward references to modern social issues and theory. In fact, Ward has such little control over his crew that one of the franchises most progressive moments, the kiss between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, was the result of a rogue storyboard artist inserting her own personal desire into Ward’s creation, rather than a previously planned out story event. Ward cared more about his personal clout and likeability amongst his crew than he did about being a leader (an allegation reinforced by his stepping down as showrunner and his reasons for doing so), and when one begins to focus more on their personal status than on their work, their work will inevitably suffer.
While Ward is an example of how poorly creators run their teams and creative processes, Alex Hirsch, the creator of Gravity Falls, is put forward as an example of the industry’s rampant incestual nepotism. The source alleges that many people in important positions on currently airing cartoons received their positions due to their relationships with Hirsh. Daron Nefcy, the creator of Star Vs. The Forces of Evil, is alleged to have received her own television show on Disney due to the fact that Hirsch and Nefcy had been romantically involved during college. The fact that Nefcy’s only credits prior to working on Star Vs. are three short films stands only to support these allegations.
Dana Terrace, the current show runner for Ducktales, is also alleged to have received numerous promotions and a prestigious opportunity due to Hirsch’s influence and connections. Terrace is said to have only received the position after Hirsch, who had previously agreed to fulfill that position for the reboot, backed out of the project last minute and proceeded to promote Terrace, rather than on any of her own merits and experience. She was also alleged to be promoted over other candidates because of the fact that she was, at the time, romantically involved with Hirsch. This is supported by a quick glance at the IMDB pages of Terrace’s fellow series directors: while her colleagues have many credits including The Prince of Egypt, Transformers Prime, Ben 10: Omniverse and American Dad!, while Terrace’s credits only include a 10-minute short film and seven episodes of Gravity Falls (as a storyboard artist).
When unruly teams and rampant nepotism are the result of poor management and hiring practices of individual show runners, these factors also tend to affect the shows themselves. Nefcy’s team, after the conclusion of Star Vs.’s first season, were allegedly so frustrated with Nefcy’s laziness and incompetence that a majority of employees either quit or threatened to quit, with some of the directors planning to force Nefcy out as the show runner. This allegation is supported by the expansive list of the full cast and crew of Star Vs. For contrast, the cast and crew of similar shows such as Gravity Falls and Ducktales, see more continuous employment than those for Star Vs..
Steven Universe, a popular cartoon airing on Cartoon Network, also suffers from these industry wide ailments. Show creator Rebecca Sugar was originally hired by Pendelton Ward to work on Adventure Time based on her previous experience of independent comic work on Tumblr. After a short but influential stint on Adventure Time, Cartoon Network greenlit Sugar’s original work, Steven Universe, and placed her in charge as show runner. However, Sugar would unfortunately import the terrible work ethics and hiring practices displayed by Ward into her own production, and the abysmal outcome resulted in a long standing tradition known as a “Steven Bomb.”
‘Steven Bombs’ entail the release of several new episodes over a period of about one week, in between month-long hiatuses in Steven Universe’s airing schedule (at one point there was a 6 month gap between new episodes of Steven Universe, despite them all being produced for the same season). EZ PZ’s source states that these bombs exist to hide the devastating television ratings received by the show: if new episodes air in batches, the anticipation and short airing schedule provide a boost in numbers that the episodes would not see if they adhered to a regular airing schedule. The time slots chosen by Cartoon Network are also chosen to avoid airing Steven Universe against any competing show. This system was conceived by Cartoon Network, whom the anonymous source reports did so out of an effort to avoid firing Sugar. The ratings for Steven Universe may have been awful, but inevitable backlash and optics from firing a popular female show runner would not favor Cartoon Network.
One aspect of these allegations that is especially concerning is the fact that many companies are taking staunch initiatives to not only exclude men from being hired, but also to ostracize or fire them from their current positions in efforts to improve equality. The source claims Kyle Carrozza, creator of the short-lived Mighty Magiswords cartoon for Cartoon Network saw his show cancelled and animosity directed his way simply because he was white. They also claim that a ‘MeToo-style’ list is circulated among the industry with the names of men who are creepy or possibly sexually dangerous; yet the list does not undergo any sort of review, and names can be added at will, leading to claims that the list has been turned into a tool to slander and smear male colleagues.
Most troubling of all is the partnership of the longstanding Animator’s Guild with the group known as Women in Animation. Though WiA’s purported mission is “dedicated to advancing women in the field of animation,” and that they “envision a world where women share equally in the creation, production and rewards of animation, and we provide resources and connections to make it happen,” the organization seems to have done little for women. One Twitter artist detailed her interactions with WiA President Margaret Dean who, instead of providing resources, answers, or assistance to the woman, effectively dismissed her and ignored her, despite the woman already holding membership. During a meeting held by the Animator’s Guild and Women in Animation to announce their partnership, a team member asked how the Guild planned to meet WiA’s goal of ‘50/50’ representation of men and women, the head of the guild allegedly told those in attendance that they would have to actively fire men to achieve that ratio.
While poor artist performance, unorganized working conditions, unapologetic nepotism, and active targeting of employees based on gender or skin color is troubling for audiences, and consequently their favorite networks and mediums, these allegations are especially troubling for young artists who dream of entering the medium of animation. Promising new artists will see that an entire industry behaves like a free-for-all wasteland, hires based on everything but merit, and actively seeks options to weaponize against them to force complacency. How many of these artists will remain in the industry, and how many will turn away out of disgust, fear, or discouragement?