February 15, 2011

Drawings From Inside My Mother’s Womb

An Interview with John Sprengelmeyer

Part 1 of 2 (link to
Part 2)
Click on any image to embiggenate

Not a thousand days ago, I was doing my usual walking and stalking about the Internet looking for ‘new’ and/or interesting talent to feature on the blog, when I came across an absolutely genius depiction of ‘Lion-O’ from
Thundercats ‘re-engineered’ in the classic ‘Hello Kitty’ form! Putting my own feelings of incredible graphic inadequacy aside, I immediately began looking into the artist responsible for this design.

Of course, thanks to the power of GOOGLE and my good friends at the CIA (hi guys! BTW: the oney-may is on the ay-way, I omise-pray!), I quickly identified said clever person as one
John Sprengelmeyer. And then that nagging feeling I often get these days reappeared. You might know the one: when you’re standing in a random room in your house, wondering why you’re there and what it was you wanted to do. That feeling you get when the ever-fading voice in your head is screaming ‘you know this guy!!’ ... but alas all you can rely on is what’s written on the ‘Post-It’ notes stuck near the light switches throughout the house (‘turn off lights’, ‘you’re in the office’, ‘don’t go outside without pants’, etc.).

Thankfully, a couple of clicks later, it was all too apparent: John is none other than the artist behind the all-time classic strip of ‘Captain RibMan’ (and suddenly, dozens of buzzing voices reading this are saying ‘Hey, I know that, too!’)! In addition, he’s highly sought after as a commercial and even tee-shirt designer, with projects ranging across the board, up and down the Western Hemisphere plus much, much more! As such, Ziggy Nixon was pleased to recently catch up with John for a few moments of his valuable time!


Hi John, welcome to the show! First of all, can you tell us a little bit about what you’re up to these days?
Hey, Ziggy! Thanks for the invite!

First of all, I want to say ‘thank you’ for your interest in my work and thanks for your blog. It is great to see all these artists profiled.

So, to get you up to speed about me: I am an illustrator and designer who enjoys doing a wide range of work. I love designing everything from fun children’s toys to uptight, anal-retentive corporate logos. It is this range that keeps me fresh and wanting to keep working.

How did your interest in your eclectic range of what I’ll abbreviate as ‘design’ get started?
I’ve always worked in different styles. My artistic heroes range from Leonardo da Vinci to
Gary Larson.

Da Vinci had so many interests from painter to mathematician to scientist to inventor; I think this kept his mind constantly engaged and allowed him to be so prolific in each field. And Larson... well, Larson is just damned funny.

I have so many interests and I like to design to their audiences.

While we’re busy reading from our ‘Homeland Security’ print-out, how did a nice, young fellow originally from Kansas City find his way out to California?
Back in the ’90s, I had a little comic strip called ‘Captain RibMan.’ It was about a less-than-super-hero who would always do his best to avoid doing anything super-heroic.

As time went on, there arose some interest in turning it into an animated series. So I just thought it would be easier to be near Hollywood. (More about ‘Captain RibMan’ later.) Being a freelancer, I can live just about anywhere … okay, I can’t live inside an active volcano… or on Saturn… but anywhere with an Internet connection. Anyway, I packed up and moved West.

Actually, to be honest, I just really wanted to surf.

You’ve got a fantastically interesting portfolio, where you seem to incorporate in many cases on a lot of ‘pop’ culture. Why is this so appealing to you from a design stand-point?
Okay, more artistic heroes of mine include Warhol and Lichtenstein. Pop art, to me, is an interesting way to look at the world. A Campbell’s soup can is very utilitarian, but there is still a designer behind it. When Warhol created his version, that was genius; it redefined what art is. Art is everywhere and doesn’t reside solely with the old masters (sorry Leonardo).

I have always been a sucker for pop culture, from ‘Superman’ to ‘Star Wars’. Hmmm… okay, that isn’t a very big range. I enjoy music, movies, sports (playing them, not watching them) and comics. And I always jump at the chance to combine my passions.

Speaking of chances, you’ve had the opportunity to do some nifty toy designs, along with accompanying promotional or other fun side materials (magazines, games, etc.). How did you come to get so many cool projects with what seems to be every restaurant- or fast food-chain in the world? Seriously, doing research on you has only made giving up fried food that much harder!
I must give total thanks to Bob Cutler, the founder of ‘
C3,’ (short for Creative Consumer Concepts) a terrific company that specializes in the children’s market, especially restaurants.

When I first entered the job market, Bob hired me and immediately put me to work developing toys for a national market. This was a perfect fit since it played into my strengths, allowing me to work in a huge range of styles since each restaurant chain needed it’s own individual look.

For example, ‘Olive Garden’s’ children’s program needed to look completely different than ‘Arby’s’. One of my favorite programs was for ‘Whataburger’ where I co-developed their characters and, each month, we would create new toys for them – everything from action figures to full-length comic books. This allowed me to design for 2D as well as 3D and I never get bored.

Plus, it is so much fun to see a child playing with a toy I created!

You’re also quite well-known on the tee-shirt design circuit. Why do you seemingly enjoy getting so much of your work ‘published’ in this way?
To me, tee-shirt design is a purely fun outlet. If I have an idea that makes me laugh, I draw it. If it seems to have a broader appeal, I will unleash it to the tee-shirt community. I mean, there aren’t many other outlets for an illustration of ‘
Boba Fett’ as a Mexican wrestler or ‘Lion-O drawn like ‘Hello Kitty’.

Here’s a fun side note: I did get an e-mail from ‘The Smurfs’’ lawyers asking me to pull down my illustration of ‘A Clockwork Blue’ (a ‘Clockwork Orange’ version of a Smurf), stating that it didn’t uphold the morals of the Smurfs. Oops.
(ZN: yeah right, ‘morals of the Smurfs’: a village of randy elves where all the guys run around with only pants on and there’s only one woman! Smurf that!)
(Extra Bonus Interruption: for receivers of the official ZN e-mailings, we may have ‘accidentally’ included this very image [apropos: Post-It note on the screen to remind us!!]!! Let us know if you want to join, too! The mailing list I mean, not the Smurfs...)

One aspect of all your offers seems to be an amazingly direct or straightforward way of presenting your images balanced with their messages. I ask this all the time, but how do you keep from ‘over-engineering’ a design and still keep the sense of it in intact?
I love simplicity of concept. The bigger something is, the simpler I make the design. This adds to the impact of the visual.

If something is small, you can stare at it closely and pick up more details. But on the other hand, if you are designing a billboard, it needs to be immediately read and understood. I like to convey my concept quickly – besides, usually my designs aren’t layered messages with veiled meanings that need to be unearthed.

John’s recent ‘COEXIST’ tee design, with the following convenient guide for your, uh, convenience:

C = Star Wars
O = The Lord of the Rings
E = Aliens
X = The X-Files
I = Doctor Who
S = Harry Potter
T = Star Trek

Continued in
Part 2

Drawings From Inside My Mother’s Womb

An Interview with John Sprengelmeyer

Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
Click on any image to embiggenate

John, I’d be more than remiss if I didn’t bring up ‘Captain RibMan’. I am simply astounded about some of the facts about this strip:
* From 1996 to 2006 it was the Nr.1 comic on college campuses and even in 2001 named by Yahoo! as the ‘Best Online Strip of the Year’;
* During it’s dashing and firm-buttocked run it had a number of celebrity appearances, including in animated shorts (by which we mean videos and not just illustrated underwear, although that appeared as well);
* The phrase ‘Captain RibMan’ appears in
Wikipedia and even Webster’s On-line Dictionary (seriously, see here);
* And last but not yeast, it was even spun off as an advice column and a restaurant!

But my first question is: why? I mean no offense (which is the surest way to ensure that I will no doubt cause it) but that was bizarre to say the least and certainly one of the top ‘anti-comic’ comics I’ve ever seen!
Why? You stumped me... I guess it was to have fun. But you’re right, ‘Captain RibMan’ did have success well beyond what I had ever anticipated.

I created the strip with a friend, Rich Davis. We also worked with Jake Morrissey (the editor for The Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes, Fox Trot, etc.) to get things going. Our strip started out in The Kansas City Star and Des Moines Register, but upon syndication (with both Universal Press Syndicate and Tribune Media Services) we changed our focus to colleges. From here, it eventually became the #1 comic strip in college newspapers, appearing in over 150 nation-wide, which allowed our humor to be a little more edgy.

Like The Simpsons, we wanted to have guest appearances. So, we contacted Mark Hamill aka Luke Skywalker who gladly wrote five strips for us. We were stoked! After that, we had guest writers and celebrities (like Jerry Seinfeld, Sid Caesar, Brooke Burke, Howie Mandel, Sammy Sosa, Tony Hawk, Futurama’s Bender, etc.)(ZN: too many links folks, look ‘em up!) agree to help us out. And believe me, it was also fun to work on Captain RibMan’s fake products like ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Salami!’ with Playboy’s millennium playmate twins or have a strip about Captain RibMan’s fake disco, Feedlot 54, with the guys from ‘
Mystery Science Theater 3000’.

Later, as you mentioned, we spun off a syndicated advice column called ‘Ask Captain RibMan’ where he gave poor advice on relationships, science and history. That is when Yahoo! awarded us ‘Best Online Comic Strip of the Year’ and About.com dubbed us the ‘Best Cartoon Site.’ ‘Captain RibMan’ was given plenty of media attention with appearances on ABCNews.com, The Washington Post, FoxNews and The Hollywood Reporter. We also created a few simple animated shorts featuring the voice of the brilliant Fred Willard and had a seven song promotional album produced called ‘Magical Mystery Fruit.’ Weird but fun.

In 2003, Rich Davis and I decided to open a restaurant/bar in the college town of Lawrence, Kansas (Rich’s hometown) called ‘Captain RibMan’s Meat Market’ where we continued the same humor. Sadly, although we had an awesome menu, that endeavor didn’t last too long. Perhaps it is because we did things like feature a ‘vegetable of the day’ which was typically by far the most expensive item on the menu!

Soon after that, we euthanized the strip.
(ZN: for a selection of ‘Captain RibMan’ adventures, see the end of this interview for muchos moreos!!)

I am curious though as to how you feel today still being so personally associated with this iconic strip, noting that both your ‘named’ site and
CaptainRibMan.com are one and the same in terms of where we end up? I mean, most GOOGLE entries prefer to list you as ‘John ‘Captain RibMan’ Sprengelmeyer’ than anything else! Is this for you a good thing, a slightly annoying thing, or even does it feel like a disease that eventually gets you a guest spot on some weird show on the Discovery Channel?
Growing up, I had always wanted to be a cartoonist. In fact, I was drawing Snoopy inside my mother’s womb. Looking back, I am very proud of what we did with the strip and all the people I have had the pleasure to work with over the years because of it.

Still, if I had known it would be used as my moniker, I may have chosen something more like ‘Captain Super-Awesome’ or ‘Dr. Handsome, Well-Endowed Genius.’

All kidding aside, can you please tell us about the
interesting collaboration you’ve started with Kyran Barr? What’s going on with this varied range of what appears to be a new generation and style of ‘on-line comics’?
Kyran Barr (or, since he recently got married, ‘Mr.’ Kyran Barr) and I have been working on many animated series for both online and television to varying degrees of success. So far, none can be found on Cartoon Network yet, but stay tuned!

They are a fun outlet that, again, lets me explore different styles. I simply refuse to get bored!

Finally, you’re juggling so many projects that I’m almost afraid to ask: what are you working on next?
I just started working on designing some iPhone apps and I finished writing a children’s book that I am planning on illustrating. That should keep me busy and off the streets. Whew!

Thanks again for your interest. It was a pleasure.


John Sprengelmeyer’s work has been featured in an impressive range of outlets, from concert and even game posters, CD covers, tickets and sporting programs, and lest we forget, comics of all sorts. He has been involved in projects for a wide group of customers including political parties in South America, every food chain under the sun, and even working on the spokes-character for the Latin American McDonald’s restaurants, where we suspect Ronald McDonald was far too demonic for their sensitive tastes!

As mentioned, he has worked on character developments for toys and delivered logos, corporate identity and package designs for several corporations. Last but definitely not least, his tee-shirt designs are regularly featured on the most popular design shops and are some of the hottest sellers on the market today!

An affable lad, John lists his favorite book as ‘Everyone Poops’ and has publicly stated that, yes Virginia, he does like peanut butter. An avid traveller, he’s been to all 50 States in the Union, as well as other destinations too numerous to list here in South America, Europe, Africa and Australia. When not getting in our grill with his designs (I’m sorry, that was a terrible pun), he enjoys photography and animals, apparently even at the same time.

To visit John’s home planet, we mean, site, go to

For a full range of John’s work including art, commercial projects and clothing offers, please see

And now, as promised, a delicious sample platter of ‘Captain RibMan’ strips for your viewing pressure (note: click on pics as usual for safe and efficient enlargementation).

Bon Appendicitis!

And finally, as a ‘die-hard’ Carolina Panthers fan (meaning, they make me want to die), I had to include this classic!


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of John Sprengelmeyer, including all current or previous business affiliations related to same, or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations.