By Laura Wood

Joe Murray grew up in northern California during the late 1960’s. Immediately as a child, he found his love for cartoons, and that’s what he decided he wanted to be. For years he worked, mostly for newspapers and political cartooning gigs. In his early 20’s he took animation and business classes at a community college and started his own design studio. With minimal luck, he slowly grew more clientele. One person would tell him that he could see his illustrations coming to life through animation? This sparked a whole new direction. He immediately started drawing and a year later he made “My Dog Zero” about a man who was trying to take out his fat cat. His teacher loved it and recommended he send it off to competitions.

Fast forward 10 years later and he was pitching “Rocko’s Modern Life,” a zany new approach to the otherwise substandard television animation of the day. It was a time of exploration and experimentation. Always sketching on recycled paper and still nostalgic of his northern California past, he made “Spring Cleaning” and “Zanzibar” in 1996. These went on to win the environmental media award. The other show he is popular for is “Camp Lazlo” which was inspired from his youthful days at summer camp. This shows anamorphic creatures enjoying the adventures of nature, and also driving their camp counselor nuts! The theme of exploring and respecting nature come up repeatedly throughout all his shows, which is why I love to watch them.

Artists have a vast influence on the public, especially with a tool such as the Internet or television. Joe Murray used his fame and status to help spread awareness of the environment and what we can do to help. This is extremely successful not only because of the catchy tunes, but in the fun and positive way he says it. People might actually want to recycle and conserve after its stuck in your head for days!


11 responses »

  1. Grace Betts says:

    I never took into consideration how much of an environmental message Joe Murray had! I remember both of those songs from my childhood and can see the lineage for my feelings linked to reduce, reuse, recycle. I think it’s awesome when artists, especially artists that work with a child based audience, make green and saving the environment a main focus. Watching some of the more up to date children’s shows, I don’t see a huge focus on the world around us, and that’s really upsetting to me.

  2. Jillian :D says:

    I never knew he put so much thought into recycling. I loved watching his cartoons when I was a kid! Awesome stuff. I want to do something like that with my art. Just have to figure out a way to do it.

  3. I would have never thought that Joe Murray would have done anything related to environments!
    I’m actually surprised that the shows mentioned above are some what related to environmental conservation. (Partly cause the style of art)
    The style of art looks like a silly goofy cartoon that i would watch to pass the time. But now learning that it has a message, its two things for the price of one!


  4. I love Rocko’s Modern Life! Used to watch it all the time as a kid. Not that you’ve pointed out those facts, yeah, I can see the series were focusing on the environment. Funny how we don’t notice these things as kids, but as adults.

    Klarissa Parduba

  5. mvalenti (8) says:

    Growing up watching Rocko, I never got the vibe of environmental messages from it. What did I know, I was just a kid watching cartoons. I guess subconsciously it makes sense now that shows from the 90’s were really good about teaching lessons and morals (like Doug and Hey Arnold) which you don’t see too much of anymore. Now all you get are shows like Flapjack, The Normal Show, and Adventure Time which are entertaining but… really don’t teach kids anything (especially about the environment).

  6. Danielle Burke says:

    I used to watch Rocko’s Modern Life all the time growing up and I never would have realized how much of an environmental message Murray has. I guess a great part of this is due to how young i was though, and that I didn’t grow up in a family that really talked about recycling. But still, it’s nice to see a really familiar artist using these messages in shows like this that everyone can enjoy.

  7. Not to sound repetitive, but I echo my classmates’ surprise at Murray’s efforts at pushing environmentally friendly episodes and messages. The cynic in me wonders if it was not imposed by the network he was working for (maybe one mandatory environmental episode per season or something), because I remember every show having one or two of these. Cool stuff!


  8. I loved and grew up on all of his cartoons. He’s a real animation legend. I feel like the fun loving nature of his cartoons really helps kids find a way to relate to animals. I remember always laughing about everything on his shows and being like “wow animals are so fun.” I think he’s a great choice for the artist post.

  9. Hahahah I loved “Rocko’s Modern Life”! I am a student filmmaker and I love conscious creativity! I’m not generally a fan of didactic documentaries; I prefer my entertainment to sneak in the education. In this sense Murray is a champion.

    ~CJ Hipp

  10. I remember this episode 🙂 I don’t think I thought much of it when I was a kid but nonetheless it’s great to see cartoons that have even the smallest amount of a message behind it. I feel that children’s programming today is lacking educational/environmental content today and it’s really a shame!

  11. Amanda Koh says:

    I didn’t realize when I was younger that he was spreading such a wide environmental message. Its quite interesting comparing it now and thinking back of watching it as a kid.

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