While kids creatives are given to pontificating about the keys to humor with the kind of certainty befitting a discussion of an algebraic equation, few can actually back up their words with belly-laugh-inducing work. But Debby Solomon is not one who struggles to walk the talk. The self-taught, New York-based animator/writer/illustrator has been keeping audiences in stitches since she embarked on her career path 20 years ago. And with a half-hour animated special airing on Cartoon Network this month, plus movie work for Disney on the go, Solomon’s quirky take on animation is clearly winning her new fans and clients.
‘What I like to do is to take things in life that aren’t very funny and make them funny,’ says Solomon. A case in point was The Blind Men & The Elephant (1997), an HBO-commissioned animated short that aired in the kids special How Do You Spell God?. The film – a parable about religious tolerance – was narrated by spiritual author Deepak Chopra, who, though an interesting writer, says Solomon, is not blessed with the most engaging set of pipes. To offset Chopra’s monotone read, Solomon opted to over-animate his character.
‘He was playing a guru – giving a little sermon to these poor men – [and] I had him spinning on his finger and doing loop-de-loops in the best yoga fashion while his flat-line voice droned on and on,’ says Solomon. The deliberate use of contrast resulted in comedic pay dirt – a tactic that has informed all of her projects to date, including the painfully funny short Everybody’s Pregnant (’98) in which she deals with the issue of her own infertility.
Stylistically, Solomon’s animation recalls the work of classic American cartoonists like Jay Ward (Dudley Do-right) and Max Fleischer Studios (Betty Boop) – with characters that are all spaghetti arms and legs. And new half-hour special Private Eye Princess is no exception. Created for Cartoon Network, Princess will air in the net’s Premiere Premiere slot on November 29.
The 2-D special stars a princess whose family is evicted from their castle. The down-on-her-luck royal is forced to work as a private eye, solving crimes for clients to make ends meet. Though she’s no sleuthing savant, what the princess lacks in gumshoe smarts she makes up in blind determination, even if it results in slapstick hijinks like her schnozz disintegrating after being covered in villain Mr. Meanie’s toxic chocolate pudding.
Though it’s too early to say whether Princess will spawn a full-fledged series, Solomon does not want for work. Currently, she’s doing the storyboards on the animated Lizzie for Disney’s feature Lizzie McGuire: The Movie, due out in theaters next May. Solomon also has show pitches in at Disney and Cartoon, and is collaborating on a live-action kids cooking series. She also continues to illustrate the kids science column How Come? (now into its 16th year), which appears weekly in more than 40 newspapers. Given her hectic schedule, though, Solomon is eager to recharge her batteries and is itching to start work on her own films again. ‘You have to go back to what you really love doing – and whatever that is fuels everything else.’