Exclusive interview with Leonard Smith
who did the character design for
Kit, Molly, Wildcat and Don Karnage!
Conducted via e-mail 15 Nov 1999
SCARLET: Would you be kind enough to take a few minutes for a short interview for my site? It would be a real treat for us fans!
LEN: I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth . So help me Don Karnage.
SK: Was Don Karnage's character a wolf(ish) animal from the beginning, or were other animals discussed? (Just to confirm on what you said in the guestbook) Karnage was intended to be a wolf? Any special reasoning behind that (leader of the pack, etc.)? Did the wolves in the original Jungle Book have any bearing on this decision?
LS:. The character descriptions were already written by the creators of the show-Jymn Magnon, Mark Zazlove and Karl Guers with initial pitch art done by Bob Kline. At the time this series started I had only been working professionally about two and a half years. I started at Hanna-Barbera on such "classics" as Snorks and Pound Puppies. After that I got a job on Roger Rabbit drawing backgrounds for the Toontown sequence. When Roger ended I wound up by the grace of God on "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" where I worked with my obi-wan, Karl Guers (producer of the pooh series) and writer Mark Zaslove.
Although I was pretty new to character design (and completely self taught and completely didn't know what the hell I was doing) they handed me some character descriptions and asked me to come up with some designs.
SK: I'd say you did pretty well under the circumstances!
LS: To answer your question more directly, as far as I can remember the description of Don Karnage was of a very suave pirate--specifically an Air Wolf---I don't know if he was discussed as another type of animal.
SK: Wow, that's fascinating! Do you have any idea how long we fans have been debating back and forth about Karnage's species? Fox vs. wolf vs. coyote vs. dingo vs. dhole vs. Lord Knows What! LOL! Now we finally have an answer!
I remember at one point because we were having so much trouble making Rebecca appealing as a bear I did a design of her and Molly as foxes along the lines of the Robin Hood characters.Rebecca's design was finally solved by the great Toby Shelton.
SK: How did the earlier designs vary from the final version of Karnage, Kit and the others? Any major differences?
LS: I remember taking alot of heat about Karnage's Mickey Mousish nose ...but hey I was a rookie. I'm better now. Pretty much the designs you see on the show are pretty close to my first concepts.
SK: Is Karnage's outfit based on any real historical uniform?
LS: Karnage was described as a pirate so his costume reflects that.
SK: In an interview in the TaleSpin comic, Jim Cummings said he was told to give the character "some kind of accent". The accent he came up with is perhaps Karnage's most distinctive feature. What sort of voice did you have in mind when you were designing the character?
LS: At the time I got involved I don't think there was any thought given to the voice (at least no thoughts that were conveyed to me.) I don't even think Jim Cummings was involved at that point.
SK: In the same interview, it was said that the character's original name was "Anthrax", but the rock band of the same name objected, and "Don Karnage" was chosen instead. Did you have any part in the naming process, and if so, what were some of the other suggestions? (Ironically enough, it seems there is now a French Canadian band named "Don Karnage"! I don't know if there's any connection or not.)
LS: No involvement in the names---that was a writer thing.
SK: Was there any information behind the scenes about Karnage's personal history, origins, family, etc? What sorts of unofficial theories did you have in your head? It's a topic we fans have spent many chat sessions and fanfics speculating on!
LS: The only thoughts in my head at the time were how the hell am I going to make these guys even semi-appealing when I have no clue what I'm doing.
SK: The TaleSpin series premiere, "Plunder & Lightning" was the 1990-91 Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Animated Program (Prime Time for Programming One Hour or More). In what ways, if any, did this honor effect your career?
LS: No involvement in honors---In TV animation honors are a writer thing.
SK: Of all the TaleSpin characters you designed, which one is your favorite, or is it too difficult to choose?
LS: My favorite character is Kit Cloudkicker. Being emotionally about twelve years old my entire life I could relate to Kit best.
SK. On behalf of all Karnage's fan femmes, I have to ask... Did anyone realize how...appealing the character was to ladies? Strange as it may seem to some, there are fans who find him attractive. Comments?
LS: This is the true gift of the artist----to be able to transfer the essence of his own personality into his creations. (Wow, that was a pretty suave answer. I love that about me.)
SK: Hee hee... That sounded like something Karnage
You also designed Kit, arguably the most popular character on the show. Many fans embrace the grittiness in his character, the shadows of his dark past hanging over his head. Was the original design even "edgier" than the final one that we see on the show? Was there a push by Disney to make Kit more "cutesy"? Also, we fans have long heard about the "TaleSpin Bible", a compendium of information about the series. Did/does such a book exist?
LS: Originally in the pitch cards he was drawn a little chunkier and wearing a bandanna (is that how you spell bandanna??) around his neck. Being a big fan of the Little Rascals I modeled my version after Spanky's pal Mickey with his oversized cowl neck sweater and his backwards ball cap. Kit was described in the series bible (yes, there was a series bible) with alot of heart. Sorry if his design comes across as too cute, but pretty much there were only the two versions described above.
SK: Were there any characters that were proposed but never made it into the show?
LS: Proposing and dropping characters is a writer thing. If I don't see it I don't draw it.
SK: It's obvious from the original version of "Plunder & Lightning" and the 4-part syndicated version that many edits and changes were made. Do you know if there are scenes that were left on the cutting room floor? Is it true that "Plunder & Lightning" was originally intended for the big screen?
LS: I don't think I worked on those episodes, but I couldn't be sure unless I saw them again. If I remember correctly (I've burned alot of brain-cels in my time) there was talk of a Tailspin feature.
SK: Are there any lost episodes of TaleSpin? Episodes planned for another season that (alas) never came to fruition?
LS: Again (and I don't mean to sound repetitive ) but fruitioning is a writer thing...you should try and contact writers and creators Jymn Magnon, Mark Zaslove or Karl Guers. They could probably tell you more about fruiativity. (Is that how you spell fruiativity??)
SK: Spell it? I'm not even sure it's a word!
Thanks so very, very much for your time and answers!
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