September 22, 2019

The Way of the Samurai

You couldn’t miss animation director Genndy Tartakovsky at last week’s San Diego Comic-Con International.

Like Secret Service agents blanketing a presidential gala, Cartoon Network operatives plastered posters everywhere, spreading the word of "Samurai Jack," Tartakovsky’s new series debuting Aug. 10. (Tartakovsky directed episodes of "Powerpuff Girls" and his own "Dexter’s Laboratory"). Not bad for a 31-year-old who arrived as a Russian immigrant speaking little English.

Tartakovsky will be among the hot names attending next week’s Eighth Annual World Animation Celebration. Co-sponsored by Animation Magazine and Variety, the Hollywood festival will kick-start a week of symposiums addressing cartoon industry issues.

Tartakovsky was 7 years old when he arrived in Chicago from Russia.

"The kids at school grip onto the easiest stereotype," Tartakovsky told The Journal, referring to the days when he was branded a Communist. "My parents never tried to hide the fact that we were Jewish."

The future animator learned English watching Warner Bros. cartoons and reading Marvel Comics (which inspired his "Justice Friends" superhero parody). "Dexter’s Lab" came about serendipitously after Tartakovsky was storyboarding Hanna-Barbara’s "Two Stupid Dogs," and a producer saw the young artist’s pencil test for a "Dexter’s" short. Instead of working his way up the animation ladder, Tartakovsky received his own series, Emmy nominations and commercial success. The popularity of "Dexter’s" and "Powerpuff" helped expand Cartoon Network’s viewership from 12 to 72 million. Tartakovsky called the experience "the most unrealistic thing you could think of."

"When I moved to America, I wanted to fit in and be American," said Tartakovsky, now married and expecting his first child in September. "We never tried to be too heavy handed with ‘Dexter’s, but if you look at the underlying themes of the show, it’s about a little kid trying to fit in."

The Studio City resident promises that "Samurai Jack," a valentine to cinematic masters Lean, Kirosawa and Hitchcock, will not resemble anything on television. Cartoon Network is already developing episodes for the third season. "A lot of experimental filmmaking will bring in an energy that we haven’t seen before."

"Dexter’s Laboratory" runs daily on Cartoon Network, which will premiere "Samurai Jack" on Aug. 10, 8 p.m.

The Eighth Annual World Animation Celebration runs Aug. 7-12. For information, call (818) 575-9615;